Danish-Indonesian Pottery Industrialist

A Danish mind combined with an Indonesian heart. This is how the Danish businessman Michael (a.k.a. Mike among friends) Mantzius Andersen describes himself.
      You could call it my “curse or blessing in life”. When I am in Denmark, I miss Indonesia. And when I am in Indonesia, I miss Denmark, Michael Mantzius Andersen explained when we met in Bandung, the regional capital of West Java and Indonesia’s fourth largest city.
      Bandung is known mainly for its – in domestic terms – remarkable universities as well as its excellent footwear and garment industries and in particular for its aircraft industry with exports world wide. In the future, pottery might be added to this list. This is what the 42 year old Dane is currently trying to make happen.
     A few years ago Michael Mantzius Andersen invested all his personal savings in setting up his own company and acquired a closed down ceramic roof tile factory with adjacent land in West Java. His idea was to change the production to pottery and ceramics. When eventually he had to accept he couldn’t succeed on his own he chose the alternative best thing; he entered a strategic sales and production alliance with two successful Italian entrepreneurs who already had just completed commissioning a modern industrial pottery manufacturing plant of their own in Bandung.
     “They had heard about this crazy Dane somewhere in West Java with too much factory and land with too little money” Michael says.
     “So we met up. The arrangement is that initially I have joined their company, P.T. IDUE. Later when our current production facilities eventually become too limited we can also utilize the factory and land facility I acquired as an extra production unit for selected types of pottery export as well”.
      “In retrospect, it seems my long and often strangely winding road has been leading up to this particular point in time. The Italian principals had, in a very impressively short period of time, created the first Indonesian “semi-automated” industrial pottery manufacturing plant. Today we export to some of the biggest pottery customers in the world on all major markets. It seems I have joined them at exactly the right moment, where we can benefit from each others backgrounds, knowledge and experiences in doing business both in pottery and more particular in doing business in Indonesia.”
      Michael Mantiuz Andersen’s background is indeed a far cry from the ordinary Danish expatriate living in Indonesia.
      His story begins in another Indonesian industrial town, Jakarta, where his father was local EAC manager of the old school. His mother was from a prominent Indonesian family and the couple became one of the first Danish-Indonesian couples to marry after the Second World War. They lived in Jakarta – still called Batavia at the time – until the first president, Sukarno, was pushed aside by the later president, Suharto.
     During the four years of domestic social unrest, which led to this change in power, EAC suspended most of its activities in Indonesia and the Mantzius Andersen family was instead moved to Ghana and Nigeria in Africa. Here the four year old Michael continued his post colonial-style expatriate life.
      “I remember that our first garden in Africa was a little bigger than the one we had in Jakarta – about the size of three football fields put together,” Michael jokes.
     “If you have seen the film about Karen Blixen, “Out of Africa” then you have a pretty good picture of what my early childhood was like”.
     When Michael was eight, the political climate in Indonesia was calm enough for EAC to re-open its activities and it was a natural decision to move the Danish-Indonesian family back.
     “We returned to a very quiet country without cinemas nor television, no MacDonald’s, the only form of entertainment was social gatherings or private parties,” Michael recalls.
      “When I was 12, my Indonesian mother again brought forward her firm wish for me to learn Danish properly and my parents decided that I should attend the well-known Danish boarding school Herlufsholm. Here I found incredibly good lifelong lasting friends. I see many of them every year I return to Denmark. Some have also visited me in the Far East. Apart from being in educational terms an excellent school, the wonderful friendships are for me the greatest lasting gifts I got out of attending Herlufsholm,” Michael states.
      This proved true at the time when Michael was drafted for Danish military service. As a half Danish – half Indonesian young man he was not tall enough to join the Royal Guards. So his friends decided not to join the Royal Guards either out of solidarity with him. Thus his class was the first in the history of Herlufsholm that did not deliver any personnel to this regiment.
     Thus class of 79 was one of the few in the history of Herlufsholm that did not deliver any immediate personnel to the Queen that year.
     Having completed his military service, Michael crisscrossed the USA in an open sports car for six months returning home to study political science. But his heart was not really in to it. This was when it started to dawn on him that he had to carve out his own future from scratch – unlike many of his friends from Herlufsholm. Many of them had all their life known that they would eventually take over the family estate or participate running their family businesses. It scared him. He could not see himself working for 30 years in a bank to eventually advance to the position as deputy director.
      “The economies and social developments in Asia were moving well ahead and with my background in both cultures, I thought I should be looking for a future in Asia. One step in this direction was when he joined the prominent Danish businessman Ebbe Baron Wedell Wedellsborg’s shipping group Weco-Dannebrog as a shipping trainee in Weco-Shipping.
     “I kept on studying business administration in the evenings and when completing my shipping education I wanted to work at Dannebrog shipyard, a part of the group’s businesses in Aarhus then. I wanted to be knowledgeable about building cement carriers and go to our Hong Kong office and sell cement carriers in the Far East, but my idea was not approved. My bosses said I was too young.”
     Then Michael went on vacation “back home” to Indonesia where he incidentally met a Danish Director representing a large Danish consulting engineering group, who offered him a job as Secretary to the Board responsible for government sales contracts.
     “This was a very interesting period which gave me many high-level contacts among people close to President Soeharto. As a result of this government sales work for a Danish company, I was even offered a job as a trade advisor for the Indonesian Government,” Michael says.
     So at the age of only 26, Michael established Indonesia’s first trade section at the Indonesian Embassy in Denmark. This put him in close contact with several of the major conglomerates clustered around the Soeharto family. So close, in fact that he married a daughter of one of the members of the families surrounding the president.
     Those years on the inside of the extended Soeharto clan is a period in Michael’s life, which he doesn’t talk much about these days.
     “Well, it’s enough to say that the party lasted for four years. Then it was time to move on.”
      Michael does not see the current democratic rule in Indonesia as much of an immediate improvement, although he is in principle in favour of democracy.
     “Here democracy is perceived as giving you the right to do whatever you like. Few follow the rule of law as the ability for law enforcement is limited” The transition period is a painful but necessary process in which transparency will produce its own check and balances with an increasingly educated middle class”.
     The right moment for him to move on from the old power clique came when he met people from an American strategic business advisory firm “Harvest International Inc.” He joined as a strategy advisor and helped to set-up several large Fortune 100 joint ventures in Indonesia during Indonesia’s boom years.
     The surprising move into pottery took a detour over Vietnam.
     “It started with a Danish headhunter, Michael Bern Ascot of Amrop International in Bangkok, who was looking for a candidate who could help implement management improvements in a well established Danish IFU funded company in Ho Chi Minh City – Tropic Dane,” Michael recalls.
     Tropic Dane manufactures and exports pottery, ceramics and garden furniture and it was while working with these goods that the dream of having his own business and taking charge of your own destiny came back to him and started taking shape. He would establish his own production of pottery and ceramics back in Indonesia after accomplishing the management task and in the process learning the trade from his boss and friend, Carsten Lehn, Tropic Dane’s founder.
     So after a few years, Michael packed up and moved back to Indonesia, founded his company Pradha Pottery with his own savings as basic start-up capital and acquired his own run-down ceramic rooftile factory.
     “I feel really good about it. It is somehow also an opportunity for me to pay back my debt to Indonesia for all it has given me since I was a child,” he adds.
     Hard work and all his savings was, however, not completely enough. Half way through realizing his dream, Michael ran out of funds and had to look for a way out. Persistency paid off. Enter two successful Italian entrepreneurs who offered Michael the chance to continue.
     Not surprisingly, the now 42 year old – and in the mean time also divorced – Dane has every reason to be pleased with this sharp turn of events in his life.
     “I finally feel I have found my path in life. Our business here is run very much in the spirit of an Italian family. Either you are involved 100 percent or you are not at all a member. I like this involvement and IDUE’s founders, the principals Messrs. Diego Lucatello and Gianni Cobalchini with whom I work with daily are incredibly charismatic entrepreneurs with a bold vision and clear strategy.
     Also Michael’s personal life seems to finally be coming together. For the past year, he has been seeing a Dutch-Indonesian former model, Indonesian swimming champion and electrical engineer Astrid Darmawan. She lives in Jakarta with her daughter Mikaila, but there are plans of them moving to Bandung.
      English version written by Gregers Moller

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