Wood, boats and aeroplanes make one happy Swede

Laying back in the bar of his Kura Kura resort in Indonesia, Swede Sören Lax is very pleased with the way his life has turned out. He owns a factory on Java making teak furniture and the Kura Kura Resort has its own boats and four aeroplanes to fly guests back and forth to the mainland.
         Working with his three passions – wood, boats and aeroplanes – he is thriving in a tropical environment so very different from his place of birth.
         He was born in Överturneå close to the Finnish border in Sweden in 1949. His first five years on Earth were spent near the artic circle. Then the family moved 60 kilometres south to Kalix where he graduated as a civil engineer from Kalix Engineering School in 1969. Military service sharpened his passion for boats and in the Navy he worked as a radio operator in a submarine for 18 months, patrolling the Gulf of Bothnia and the west coast of Sweden.
         In the early 1970’s, his education as a civil engineer led him to a job in the Swedish Road Administration (Vägvärket), where he started as a surveyor and was promoted to the post of supervisor handling all kinds of road projects.
         In 1978 he rented some heavy equipment from a guy called Lennart in Luleå, a move that turned out to be very important in Sören Lax’s life. Lennart moved to Indonesia in 1979 and two years later Sören Lax saw in the Swedish employment pages that a supervisor for construction projects in the Indonesian oilfields on Borneo was needed. 
         He decided to apply for the position. 
         “When you live in Kalix, you want to go anywhere,” Sören Lax laughs sitting in his colourful shirt with a San Miguel beer and cigarettes within reach.
         However, there were other reasons for wanting to go abroad. 
         “I thought it would be fascinating to go overseas, and it gave me a chance to make more money. And perhaps more importantly it gave me the chance to see something other than Sweden. Eventually I made so many friends from all over the world. People just like me…entrepreneurs, people who wanted to do something with their lives and achieve something,” he says.
         He worked in Borneo for six years and describes those years as “probably the most memorable of my life.”
         “I met my wife Dinawati in Borneo and we got married in 1985. Just working there was so great. It was challenging work and everything was so different from what I was used to. In Borneo I was in the jungle and saw snakes and orangutangs…it was so fantastic,” Sören Lax says enthusiastically. 
         However, in 1987 he decided it was time to move on and the budding entrepreneur wanted to do his own thing. In 1988 the family moved to Jakarta and Sören Lax decided to start making furniture.
         “I think it has to do with bloodlines. My grandfather was a builder, my father had his own carpentry so perhaps its not surprising I really find satisfaction working with wood. You can do amazing things with a piece of iron and some wood. The product coming out of your effort is so great, not like moving paper in an office,” he grins.
         He did some research and decided to start making rattan furniture and in 1988 in Cirebun set up a partnership with an Indonesian.
         “I found the Sweden yellow pages and called some companies and some of them started buying from us. That was very profitable till 1994, when rattan started being smuggled from Indonesia to Malaysia, which made prices drop,” Sören Lax explains.
         In 1994 Sören Lax received a call from one of his customers asking whether he could do garden furniture in teak. He had never heard of garden furniture done in teak, but found some on Bali. He decided to shift from rattan to teak and to do it all on his own. He built a new factory in Jepara and that turned out to be a good idea.
         “It is not as lucrative now as it was in 1998 when the profits were tremendous. But I have my own resort and I aeroplanes…so what more can I say,” he smiles holding his thumbs up. 
         The idea of setting up his own resort started in 1995, when friends of his asked him to help them find a good place for a dive resort in South Sulawesi.
         They found the right spot, but after 18 months they had seen no progress from the authorities and that caused the group to split up and abandon their plans. It also made the Swedish entrepreneur angry.
         “I wanted to show the authorities that we could do something. I went to Karimunjawa in 1996 when a new ferry route opened and I just could not believe how beautiful it all was. I decided to build a resort here and the local authorities were so helpful. I bought the island in 1997 and applied for permissions the following year in February. By April we had all the permissions and started building and in July 1999 the resort opened. The authorities were extremely helpful from day one knowing that we did not buy the island just to make a profit. We wanted to do something right and for the good of the province,” the determined Swede says.
          Today the staff makes sure that everything is beautiful and well organized. But Sören Lax wants more.
         “We really want the guests to tell us if there is something they are not completely pleased with. We do not do everything right and we want to improve so we can stay one step ahead when the competition out here increases. In five years these islands will be on the world map. Not like a new Phuket or Bali, but much more known that now, so we have to keep ahead,” he says.
         Some of the things guests have suggested are miniature golf and a tennis court, but Soren Lax needs to do a little research to bring one particular suggestion to life.
         “Some guests have asked for a spa, but what the hell is that,“ he laughs.

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