Matthieu Lavoine (H.06)
Business is business

Jakarta. Indonesia is an archipelago of more than 17,000 (thousands yeah !) islands. All these islands are mostly powered by coal and Matthieu is CEO of one of the biggest coal transporter in the country.

Read full transcript…

HU: Hi Matthieu, as usual we are going to start with a Chinese portrait to get to know you better. So, if you were … a color?

ML: Blue.

HU: An animal?

ML: Lion.

HU: A meal?

ML: I would say Nasi Goreng, we are in Indonesia now so…

HU: A song?

ML: Demain c’est loin, IAM.

HU: A movie?

ML: Forest Gump.

HU: A sin?

ML: Wrath.

HU: An object?

ML: That pen. Helped me a lot!

HU: A sport or a game?

ML: Boxing.

HU: A book?

ML: A Farewell to Arms, from Hemingway.

HU: A hero or a super hero?

ML: Hemingway, I am quite found of him.

HU: Thanks! The Chinese portrait is over. Now, could you sum up your professional background in 30 seconds?

ML: Just after HEC I started my own trading company in commodities. I did it for two years. After that I went to consulting for three years and a half, specializing in natural gas and electricity trading. Then I travelled for a year and then moved to Louis Dreyfus as business analyst and after one year I was transferred to Singapore and Indonesia to take over Louis-Dreyfus’ shipping business in the region.

HU: How did you join Louis-Dreyfus and the shipping industry?

ML: It was a bit by accident originally. I was willing to work for big families, such as Louis Dreyfus because I like the value they have, loyalty and reliability of people and the fact that you can have direct access to important people. So I applied through family connections, I had seven to ten interviews and I got the job. It seems I was not too bad because after one year they promoted me at a CEO position.

“We started with two completely different entities, with people from different companies looking at each other with guns so to speak”

HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?

ML: Indonesia is a challenging country and I have the feeling that with SLM (Sinarmas Louis-Dreyfus) things are moving in the right direction. When I looked where we were two years ago and where we are now there is a tremendous difference. Everyday thinking that my teams and I are changing things means a lot to me.

HU: What happened in the past two years?

ML: Louis Dreyfus Armateur have been present in Indonesia for 25 years before the JV with Sinarmas, doing mostly bulk transportation and port operations. We merged with Sinarmas shipping activities in july 2014. So we started with two completely different entities, with people from different companies looking at each other with guns so to speak. We are talking about joint ventures, people are afraid, they think they are going to be fired etc. Two years later we achieved that everyone understand they are in the same company. No more ex-Sinarmas or ex-Louis Dreyfus, they are SLM. And I am very proud of this.

SinarmasLouis dreyfus armateur

HU: What is SLM’s business?

ML: We are doing bulk transportation, coal, palm oil and we are also doing port operations. All in all we employ 600 people scattered all over Indonesia. We have a head office in Jakarta but also offices in Surabaya, Lampung, Calimantan and consolidation is done in Singapore.

HU: Have you copped with a difficult choice in your professional life? What have you learnt?

ML: I was given four days to give my decision to move from Singapore to Indonesia. It meant living my fiancée at that time to move all by myself in four days. This was a difficult choice to make.

“It is complicated to avoid corruption completely so you need to be very careful with that. I know some expats who have been sent to jail because of it.”

HU: What have you learnt?

ML: Being a little bit selfish from time to time. It can help for your career.

HU: What are the usual tasks in your job?

ML: When you are managing people you can be sure that everyday is going to be different. If you think you are going to do strategy and things like that forget about it: you are going to handle issues. I am in an operation business, we have 50 vessels navigating all over Indonesia and there is always something going on. They are late, there is problem with fuel consumption, people are detaining our vessels or whatever… My job is to solve issues and to guide people in the company to do it in a proper way. Another big part is to liaise with the shareholders. As our head office is far away in Paris, the shareholders need to trust you. And for that you need to communicate regularly with them so that they don’t feel like they are losing the contact.
SLM 1

HU: What are the biggest challenges for your company at the moment?

ML: One of the biggest challenges we are facing, but it is a problem every company has to face in Indonesia, are the hurdles of the administration: everything takes ages. And corruption as well, it is complicated to avoid it completely so you need to be very careful with that. I know some expats who have been sent to jail because of it. You have to be careful and not blindly follow what Indonesian people are going to tell you. Ok, bribing will ease the situation but the risks are just to high so you should be very careful with that. Apart from that, there are many challenges that arise from Indonesia being a developing country: infrastructure is poor and everything is to be done. But that is also what makes the job interesting!

Iles Gili

Gili Islands near Lombok from the sky

HU: What are you doing on Sunday afternoons when your company is fine?

ML: Weeks are pretty challenging so I must admit that I like to rest during the week-ends. I will go to my condo’s swimming pool, I will go boxing and hanging out with a couple friends. People think that working in Indonesia will allow you to go to Bali or Lombok every week end. Actually you can only do that if you don’t have much work during the week…

HU: Imagine you only have 24 hours left to live in Jakarta. What would you do?

ML: I would go one more time to the fish market. It is the most fascinating thing I have seen in this city. It is a slum, so it is dirty but you can see very nice people, offer you to take you on a fishing boat to enjoy the scenery. It is a particular experience and very fascinating.

Fish market 2 Fish market

HU: What do you like most about people in Jakarta?

ML: They are very friendly and always smiling. This I like.

HU: According to you, what is Indonesia’s main challenge today?

ML: I would say it is building new infrastructure in the country to smoothen communications between the different islands. As you can see (pointing the map) it is an archipel with many islands. It will help a lot when infrastructure gets better.

HU: What do you think is Louis Dreyfus’ role in the country’s development?

ML: We are moving commodities and we are doing it well. Take coal for instance. Most of power plants in Indonesia are coal fired. So if the supply of coal is not reliable from the mines to the power plants there is no electricity in the country. So in that respect I am proud of what we do. We help improving the situation of people. This is not obvious when I talk about transporting coal but this is what happens in this country.

pointing matthieuSLM magazine

HU: What was your favorite place on the HEC Campus?

ML: Le Zinc!

HU: What is your best memory from HEC?

ML: The Caribbean Cruise. I did it during my second year at HEC, it was fantastic, fantastic…

“Now I can tell you, when I wake up at night I always check my phone!”

HU: Would you advise someone to go to HEC today? Why?

ML: Definitely. If I take my personal example, I don’t think I would be where I am without HEC. First because of the reputation of the school: it opens a lot of doors, but mostly in French companies. As I am working in a French company I benefit from that. Moreover, from what I read in the newspapers the school is internationalizing more and more, this is positive.

HU: What would be your advice to a young HEC?

ML: Travel, just like you guys are doing. Because it opens your eyes. Discovering new cultures, meet new people… Take a bit of time for yourself before merging yourself in active life. It is going to last 40 years you know…

HU: Is this the reason why you traveled around the world when you were 30?

ML: Yes. I thought it was the last time I could have the opportunity to take 8 months only for me, discovering new people and new places with no stress, no phone. Now I can tell you, when I wake up at night I always check my phone!

HU: Did this traveling make you a better manager?

ML: Yes, I think that was the best decision I ever took in my life actually. Taking a break, travelling, looking at myself, taking time. I don’t know if I am a better person but I am definitely a better manager.

HU: For which reason would you like to be contacted by an HEC alumnus?

ML: If someone who is looking for a job or suppliers contact me through the network I will have look at what they propose for sure. I won’t give the business or the job to them because they are from HEC but I would take time to meet them and listen to them.

HU: HEC’s motto is “the more you know, the more you dare”, what is your own motto?

ML: Vae victis. Woe to the vanquish.

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