What you should know before doing business in Indonesia

Organization of the social system
Indonesia is a very diverse nation, both geographically and ethnically, and people tend to identify themselves first on a local basis and only later on a national basis. There are cultural differences deriving from the economic level of the families of origin. The diversity of the religions practiced also implies a great effort by the government to maintain the cohesion of the country: the motto of Indonesia is “unity in diversity”.

Indonesians attach great importance to the family and therefore prefer the group to the individual. Respect for status, power, position and age is a basic foundation for any kind of relationship.

Punctuality and time management
Time in Indonesia is experienced in a very relaxed and flexible way. Indonesians do not resort to business negotiations and often do not take the time to design everything in detail. Indonesian attitude towards time is a reflection of the expression: “time is not money”.

Women managers who go on a business trip to Indonesia should hold a very professional attitude with male colleagues, avoiding obvious signs of friendship that could be misunderstood.

Business cards are formally exchanged during the initial phase of the meeting; they must contain your title and, although not necessarily, have a side translated into Bahasa or Chinese, based on the interlocutor: this is a sign of respect. Business cards are donated and received with both hands, with the right hand holding the card and with the left hand supporting the wrist, and examined before putting them away.

In the cities, being now very westernized, Indonesian life follows the rhythms familiar to us: the working week goes from Monday to Friday, with the classic office hours and the shops remain open 7 days a week, often with extended hours. 

So how to do business in Indonesia in perspective of personal and professional relationship?

The role of women
Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, yet many women occupy positions of power within organizations and female visitors are unlikely to encounter any hostility from male counterparts.

Women with blond hair and blue eyes attract more attention in Indonesia, characteristics not very common in the local population, very clear skin is considered very attractive. Women entrepreneurs have the opportunity to make invitations for dinner, but remember that it is advisable to invite the wife of your interlocutor to avoid embarrassment.

Keep in mind, in working relationships, that family ceremonies are a priority: your interlocutor might be absent because his extended family has been in mourning and he has an absolute obligation to attend.

Feelings and emotions should be made to leak very little and in a discreet way, the people with whom you are conversing must never be put in embarrassing situations; it is also good to avoid ridiculing, offending or shouting with someone.

If you want to give a gift to an Indonesian you should pay attention to some details: never give scissors or knives because it is usually associated with the end of a relationship; also avoid products or photographs of dogs, are considered impure. If your interlocutor is of original Muslim, avoid giving away alcohol, for Hindus it is better to avoid giving leather goods and for those of Chinese origin it is better to avoid umbrellas (means that you do not want to see a person again).

Common places and stereotypes
Indonesia is often described as a poor country, but this is commonplace. The government has tried to focus first on democracy and this has also given impetus to the economy. Today Indonesia is seen as an emerging and very attractive market for Italian companies to Indonesia, especially in the mechanical, energy, environmental, automotive and luxury goods sectors.

The work/ free time relationship
Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world and celebrates Ramadan and other Islamic festivals with great participation. In Bali, where the majority follows a religion of fusion between Hinduism and Buddhism, it is necessary to extricate themselves from Muslim festivals (now many immigrants live on the island from Java and in any case public offices follow the Muslim calendar) and local festivals. These are repeated twice a year, as the Balinese calendar lasts six months.

Many Indonesians can make a slight bow or put their hands on the heart after shaking hands to give more meaning to the greeting. Muslim and Hindu men and women, for religious reasons, do not touch in public and women should not be greeted with a handshake by a man, but the gesture is reciprocated if the initiative is female.

Gaffe to avoid
While eating is forbidden to speak, the conversation is reserved for the before and after the meal. Remember not to use your left hand at the table because it is considered unclean. It would also be better to avoid staring at a person for a long time, because it is considered a challenge.

Method of communication and relationship
The hierarchy is very important for Indonesians, bringing respect to people who occupy important roles or who are more senior than their own is a fundamental and very welcome gesture.

The Indonesian businessman is usually an educated man, superior to his employees, who owe him respect; all this does not imply an attitude of arrogance. In companies of purely Indonesian culture the head (baba) must be respected both from the formal and the substantive point of view. Respect is shown visibly by avoiding that your head is higher than its own, if you are tall, you should give it a small nod if you have to pass in front of it or keep a posture slightly inclined to mean respect.

During the 1990s, Indonesia developed a development strategy that enabled the economy to be relaunched and significant progress made in all major sectors. The results obtained were encouraging, especially in terms of economic growth: all forecasts see Indonesia among the top six world powers by 2030. If you are from Italy and want to expand your business to Indonesia, you should at least read this website.

The profile of the businessman
Defining the profile of the Indonesian businessman is not very easy. The Indonesian people are a mix of ethnic groups and this makes it almost impossible to outline a standard identikit for this profession.