Jakarta, CNBC Indonesia – Becoming a Pertamina employee is the dream of many people. His life is prosperous. The salary is very large. You just need to work well until you retire and your life won’t be poor.
It’s not surprising that Kwa Sien Biauw alias Tirto Utomo also wants to work there. As a result, after graduating from the UI Faculty of Law in 1959, he rushed to send his application and was fortunately accepted. At Pertamina he held an important position.
Sam Setyautama in Ethnic Chinese Figures in Indonesia (2008:136) stated that Tirto Utomo worked directly under General Pattiasina (Pertamina’s Operational Director) and held positions in public relations, marketing, administration, handling law and culture.
With a position like that, Tirto’s life is very secure. Moreover, he is close to the Pertamina boss and is predicted to become a boss too in the future. However, fate said otherwise.
One day at a state-owned company event, an unpleasant incident occurred. During oil revenue sharing negotiations between Pertamina and an American company, the wife of the US company boss had a stomach ache. The event immediately fell apart. Pertamina bosses were deeply embarrassed, as was Tirto Utomo.
Photo: White Water Illustration (Photo by Karolina Grabowska via Pexels)
After investigation, the cause was because the water he drank was not clean. As a publicist, Tirto then realized that Caucasians were not used to drinking boiled water. They usually drink sterile filtered water.
“I then thought about how to provide clean water in practical bottles,” admitted Tirto Utomo, as quoted by Muhammad Ma’ruf in 50 Great Business Ideas From Indonesia (2010:37).
Quote Business Management of Leading Mineral Water Companies publication Tempohe then wanted to set up a healthy drinking water factory that complies with World Health Organization (WHO) standards, namely bottled drinking water (AMDK).
AMDK itself is commonly found in developed countries. Even Indonesia’s neighboring country, Thailand, already has a Polaris branded AMDK product that has been running for 16 years. It is on this basis that Tirto and his brothers want to make Indonesia’s first AMDK.
Tirto Utomo also sent his younger brother Slamet Utomo to study as an apprentice at Polaris. During the learning process, Polaris provided many ideas and inspiration.
The AMDK prototype made by Tirto is similar to Polaris, namely 500 milliliters (ml) in a glass bottle. And the trademark is Puritas, which indicates the purity of the water it produces.
From there, with capital of IDR 150 million, Tirto started setting up a factory in the former rice fields in the Pondok Ungu area, Bekasi, in 1973. And this year he also resigned from Pertamina, even though his career was very bright there.
Photo: Doc. Aqua-Danone
A year later the factory officially operated under the name PT Golden Mississippi and marketed the first AMDK product in Indonesia under the Aqua brand. The factory is operated by 38 employees and is capable of producing 36 500 ml bottles every minute.
The water source comes from an artesian well which is filtered through five stages. The marketed price is IDR 75, more expensive than the price of gasoline which is IDR 46 a liter. As a result, the products are not accessible to ordinary people.
Even when marketing Aqua, Tirto was laughed at and belittled. “There are probably people who sell mineral water. Even though people can get it for free. That’s why the price is more expensive than petrol,” people think.
However, that doesn’t matter. Because Aqua’s target market is Caucasians in Indonesia. Even though the price is expensive, Aqua has proven to sell well.
However, Tirto had to think hard to reach ordinary people. In 1982, Tirto discovered a new water source in the Ciawi mountains. Since then, he switched from wells to mountain springs.
This change made Aqua re-brand. The packaging has a picture of a mountain and the slogan has changed to “mountain mineral water”. Thanks to that, Aqua is starting to become cheap and affordable to ordinary people. After that, Aqua not only sold in glass bottles, but also in 200 ml plastic bottles.
Sales increased with the increasing frequency of product appearances in advertising and sponsorship of major events. Since then, Aqua has become the king of AMDK in Indonesia and has inspired other companies to make AMDK products that challenge Aqua.
Despite this, the fact is that Aqua still dominates the Indonesian market and has become a pronoun to refer to bottled drinking water. Aqua’s success made it noticed by the French company, Danone.
In September 1998, Danone officially bought the majority of shares in Aqua. It is recorded that Danone owns 40% of Tirta Investama’s shares and increased it to 74% in 2001.
All share trading is listed on the Jakarta Stock Exchange via PT Aqua Golden Mississippi (AQUA). Then on April 1 2011, AQUA was officially delisted or left the stock exchange.
This effort to withdraw does not shake Aqua’s throne, AMDK is still king in Indonesia. And success in occupying the top position for decades is the fruit of Tirto Utomo’s sweat.
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