Name: Fikdanel Thaufik
Title: Vice President, Japan, Korea & U.S. regions, Garuda Indonesia (since August 2015)
DoB: July 25, 1962
Years in Japan: 2
Fikdanel Thaufik cannot pinpoint exactly how many languages he speaks.
“For sure, Indonesian,” Thaufik said laughing. “And English — that’s international.” But as the vice president and representative of Garuda Indonesia’s Japan, Korea, and U.S. regions slowly lists off languages, whereas most of us would recall time spent in a classroom or poring over textbooks, Thaufik appears to be flitting through memories of all the places he’s lived and the countless people he has met throughout his life.
Among the many on the list there is Urdu, because of his time with Pakistani and Indian coworkers. Surprising smatterings of Tagalog as well, partly because of its similarities to Indonesian and partly because of his Filipino landlords in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who were part of the city’s sizable population.
Since joining Garuda Indonesia fresh out of college in 1990, Thaufik has spent the last 27 years living in different parts of Indonesia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
“That’s a very short time,” he quipped. It’s a career that demands adaptability, but Thaufik appears less world-worn and more at peace, with his easy smiles and relaxed cheer. Sometimes an assignment only lasts several weeks and other times an employee can be abroad for several years.
For the past two and a half years, it’s been all about Japan — “180 degrees” from his six years in Jeddah as general manager of the Saudi Arabia and Middle East division. At 55, Thaufik is a prime example of a global citizen, adamant about open-mindedness and embracing new environments.
“If you’re reluctant toward anybody or any other country’s style while you live there, you cannot survive,” he said. Thaufik emphasized that even though it is not always easy in the beginning, persistence will bring enjoyment.
“None of us in the world can choose to be born of a specific nation. It’s already by default from God,” Thaufik said. “Like me, I was born as Indonesian — it’s by default. I cannot just want to be Japanese or American.”
This mentality and his penchant for philosophy were fostered early on. Because of his parents’ jobs, Thaufik grew up partly in Bangkok and Hong Kong (yes, he can speak Thai and Cantonese).
“I went to Indonesian school, but after school I played with local kids,” he said. Thaufik also was, and still is, an avid reader drawn to books about Japan’s samurai and China’s history and martial arts.
His multicultural childhood and curiosity would eventually evolve into a passion for the airline industry. He started in a hands-on training environment that covered everything from reservations to unloading cargo in the cycle of pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight activities before he was eventually assigned leadership positions in business and sales.
“So, in this circle, all knowledge, all disciplines are involved. Starting from geography, history, mechanics; just name it. Anything,” Thaufik said. “Any kind of knowledge is involved in the airline business. Even theology. Whenever you’re gonna take off you say a prayer, right? So theology is involved. I mean electrical, physics, planning, everything is there. It looks simple — carrying a group of people from one place to another place, but everything is involved.”
The allure of constant dynamism and unpredictability continues to be a large draw. “It’s fun to handle irregularities,” Thaufik said smiling. “You have to say it’s fun. Otherwise, you’ll get a headache.”
And it was five weeks of unpredictability that would give Thaufik one of the biggest self-confidence boosts of his career. The company assigned him to fly alone to Amman, Jordan, to head a project intended to expand flights there. “I never even dreamed of going there,” he said. “So, they assigned me and (I thought), okay, I’ll do my best.”
Despite not knowing anyone and having to quickly adjust to culture and individual personalities, Thaufik was successful. Garuda Indonesia no longer flies to Jordan, but for Thaufik it remains a high point where he successfully navigated a complete unknown.
Thaufik’s determination to adjust to any setting mostly relies on connecting through its lingua franca and culture — “Japanese food is either nice or very nice,” but a more universal language often crops up — love of sports.
In earlier years, you could find him on the badminton or tennis court. Nowadays, he tries to play golf at least once a week, be it for business or pleasure.
“Playing golf is like running an organization,” said Thaufik. “In business, you have a target. In golf, there’s also a target — the hole. From the tee box to the hole, there is a fairway. In business, there’s a business field. Along the fairway and along the business field there are hazards.”
Thaufik elaborated that to overcome all sorts of obstacles, using your clubs is essential.
“So, if you want to reach the target — the hole — you need tactics and strategy. We cannot use the driver all the way,” he said.
Unlike other sports where competing against an opponent is a given, Thaufik is intrigued by golf’s focus on facing yourself. He is quick to point out, however, the necessity of teamwork and his love for his colleagues at the Garuda Indonesia Japan office. “Without my team, I’m nothing,” he said.
“I don’t need Superman or Supergirl; I need Superteam.”
Long career across the Middle East and Asia
Born on July 25, 1962, Fikdanel Thaufik has been with Garuda Indonesia for 27 years. Since 2015, he has worked as the Japan, Korea and U.S. vice president and representative at the Tokyo office. He graduated from Andalas University in Indonesia with a degree in management and began his career with Garuda Indonesia shortly afterward in 1990. Thaufik spent his first three and a half months taking part in a commercial course. Following that, Thaufik worked in various positions, including commercial automation and ticketing. From 1997 to 2000, Thaufik worked as the sales manager in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Upon returning to Indonesia, he was appointed senior manager of marketing and sales at the subsidiary, Abacus, from 2000 to 2005. After those five years, Thaufik was assigned back to Saudi Arabia from 2009 to 2015, where he oversaw the Saudi Arabia and Middle East regions as a general manager before moving to Japan.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.