Cover Story / March 2019

Ensuring a Sustainable Journey

At the time, women working in transportation was a rarity and it still is today. Reflecting on her struggles at the time, Eka sees that many of the challenges that hindered women in the industry back then still do today.

“It requires a lot of traveling. Especially in Indonesia, you must be able to travel to very remote areas. Some of the areas do not have restrooms for women. Even small things like that make women reluctant to join this industry,” she says.

Eka oversees the Lorena Group, a transportation services company established by her father G.T. Soerbakti in the 1970s. The group is currently engaged in passenger land transportation, logistics and hospitality.

Eka says the group is also looking at strengthening its logistics arm, ESL Express, which has a diverse client base, ranging from animal feed producers Japfa Comfeed Indonesia to merchandise seller Shabby Chic Jakarta.

“We have 260 million people living in this country. And we are a country that is politically very stable. A large portion of the population is young, between 25 and 40. This means that there is a large group of people who love to use and consume something. It’s a good place to be and do business in,” she says.

Eka says she expects increasing competition from foreign players eying the country’s freight and logistics market, projected to be worth about $383 billion by 2023.

“Over the next five years, sustainability will be our focus,” she says, adding that the company must have a proper strategy in place to be adaptable to change.

“We have to embrace IT. Automatization should be part of our big game. The ability to manage our finances and have support from the financial industry will also be crucial,” she says.

Commending massive improvement in Indonesia’s infrastructure over the past five years, she expresses hope that the government will come up with the right policy to allow innovation in this industry to flourish and divert resources for the training of future logistic talent.

“The biggest challenge for us in this industry is the quality of human resources. We do not have any education or vocational training in transportation and logistics. There are some transportation schools in Indonesia but most of them teach economics. They are not teaching technical aspects that are crucial for transportation and logistics,” Eka says.

The Lorena Group’s focus on sustainability comes from its own bitter experiences. The group’s listed bus operator business, aptly named Eka Sari Lorena, is now plotting a revival after fighting a losing battle against cheap air travel over the past decade.

The company has overhauled its strategy by upgrading its fleet and rearranging routes. It also joined a digital marketing initiative last year, along with other bus operators and online travel aggregator Traveloka, one of Indonesia’s four unicorn startups.

“The most important thing for us now, is that people can access our service, either online or offline, like at minimarkets,” she says.

The company also hopes its presence on a platform such as Traveloka – which is now available in most of Southeast Asia and also Australia – would provide the bus operator with access to a rapidly growing market: foreign tourists.

Caesar Indra, senior vice president of business development at Traveloka, says bus operators such as Eka Sari Lorena would complement the train routes and flights already offered on its platform and “allow customers to choose modes of transportation most fitting for their traveling needs.”

Indonesia expects to welcome 20 million foreign tourists this year, double the number five years ago.

Bus operator Eka Sari Lorena would likely see some of the more adventurous travelers opt for its buses, just like locals who travel between smaller cities that are yet to be served by train or airplane.

The company has made it clear to shareholders that its strategy in the coming years will involve steering clear from routes where it would be in direct competition with other modes of transportation.

“With buses, we have had quite a significant challenge over the past five years because airfares are very low, plus there has been a major improvement in Indonesia’s train services,” Eka says.

“We look at routing for our customers. If it’s not profitable because it takes too many hours, and infrastructure in the area does not support us as an operator, we think we should not be in that area,” she says.

So, instead of offering a route between Jakarta and Surabaya, East Java, with a full range of buses for example, the bus operator prefers to only operate its most luxurious buses on this route, while using its lower-cost buses to serve smaller cities such as Wonogiri and Kudus in Central Java.

Eka is confident that her company can match the upmarket service levels often seen abroad. Eka Sari Lorena obtained ISO 9001:2000 quality management certification in 2003, becoming the first land transportation company in Indonesia to do so.

The company’s motto is “patient, polite and smile,” reflecting its ideals in treating its customers. Eka says she follows the same philosophy in dealing with stakeholders, from suppliers to business partners and regulators, and also in her interaction with her team.

“You must have strong compassion. It’s crucial,” she says.