Eco push, pulp friction

Mr Anderson Tanoto has ruffled feathers within the company by going for greater environment- friendly practices, say insiders.
Mr Anderson Tanoto has ruffled feathers within the company by going for greater environment- friendly practices, say insiders.

When pulp and paper producer Asia Pacific Resources International last month pledged to eliminate deforestation, Mr Anderson Tanoto was the face of the high-profile announcement to diplomats, government officials and green activists.

As the Wharton-educated scion of one of Indonesia's richest families confidently took questions, it was easy to forget he is still not 30.

The 26-year-old, who spent two years in Singapore working for consultancy firm Bain & Company, is the youngest of four children of paper and palm oil tycoon Sukanto Tanoto, whose personal wealth is estimated by Forbes at US$2.7 billion (S$3.6 billion). He returned to Indonesia in 2013 and is tipped to succeed his father in the business.

He is a director at Royal Golden Eagle, the parent company running Asia Pacific Resources, and prefers to live by a mill in Kerinci, in Sumatra's Riau province.

On why he spends most of his time at the mill, he said: "I am committed to learn the business (from the) bottom up."

Insiders say he has ruffled feathers within the firm by pushing for greater environment-friendly practices, pledging to conserve as much land as it has in plantations. During a briefing with journalists, he said such a pledge was "the right thing to do".

And he has said he wants to prioritise transparency in the way the business is managed. He told The Straits Times that because most of the business is done in rural areas, transparency was the only way to show that the company can benefit communities. "(It) is 'out of sight, out of mind' for many stakeholders that we interact with. It is our responsibility to be transparent and communicate what we do on the ground so more people can understand about our business," he said.

For now, the company's harshest critics are willing to give it, and him, a break. Greenpeace suspended its campaign against it, while WWF called it a "big step we need to appreciate". "This is what I call 'from confrontation to collaboration'," he said.

The bachelor says he brings a fresh perspective on tapping technology to improve productivity across plantations and workplace efficiency. "While I may have international education and global exposure, there are still so many new things to learn," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline Indonesia's young heirs: Eco push, pulp friction. Subscribe