16 May 2019
Noni Purnomo leading the largest taxi service in Indonesia, leaving a legacy behind
Winner of the 2019 Alumni of the Year Award
Winner of the 2019 Alumni of the Year Award Noni Purnomo is a powerhouse businesswoman, philanthropist and entrepreneur in a male-dominated field: the taxi industry.
As President Director of Bluebird Holding Group, the largest taxi service in Indonesia, Noni oversees its passenger land transportation, logistics, heavy equipment trading, property and IT supporting services.
In major cities across Indonesia, one will invariably encounter Bluebird’s ubiquitous fleet of blue cars. Bluebird services are currently available in over 20 cities including Jakarta, Medan, Padang, Pekanbaru, Batam, Palembang, Banten, Bandung, Semarang, Surabaya, Bali, Lombok and Manado.
The company was founded by Noni’s grandmother, Mutiara Djokosoetono, when Noni’s grandfather passed away in 1965. Looking to supplement her income, Mutiara had the idea of offering a 24-hour limousine service to Hotel Indonesia and the expatriate community using the family’s two cars, an Opel and a Mercedes.
“My uncle and father were the drivers, while my aunt and my mother took care of the calls,” Noni reminisced. “The demand grew and my grandmother began asking neighbours if they were willing to rent out spare cars.”
In 1971, the Governor of Jakarta opened taxi licensing opportunities, and on 1 May 1972, the family company began operating under the Bluebird name. By then, it had amassed a fleet of 25 cars.
Noni quite literally grew up with the company. “The house doubled as the company’s office,” Noni said. “During breaks in high school, I would help out with data entry and in the maintenance department.” It was her experience in that department that sparked her interest in pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering at the University of Newcastle. Noni continued to help out at the company during summer breaks.
Realising that Bluebird was lacking long-term marketing strategies, Noni went to the USA to pursue a Master’s in finance and marketing, establishing Bluebird’s Business Development Division upon returning in 1997. Her visionary outlook helped the company become the indomitable force it is today, with around 39,000 cars and almost 50,000 drivers and staff despite the rising popularity of online taxi services.
It takes guts to lead such a large company. Noni attributes her confidence to her time in Australia. “I used to be extremely shy and an introvert,” Noni laughed. “My experience in Australia prompted an exponential character growth.”
Noni made Forbes’ “Power Women in Asia” list in 2015, Globe Asia’s “99 Most Powerful Women” list in 2017, and has received the 2017 Endeavour Indonesia Mentor of the Year award. Still, Noni believes her greatest impact has been through the philanthropic arm of Bluebird Group: Bluebird Peduli (Bluebird Care), which provides diploma and undergraduate scholarships, and Kartini Bluebird, which empowers the wives of Bluebird drivers and employees.
“Education is highly valued in our family,” Noni noted. With a grandmother who was an educator and a grandfather who was a law professor, Noni was inspired to launch Bluebird Peduli in 2002. To date, the organisation has provided a staggering 25,000 scholarships to the children of Bluebird drivers and employees.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough funds to also provide scholarships for junior and senior high school education,” Noni said. To counter this, she launched Kartini Bluebird, named after the Indonesian women’s emancipation figure and national hero.
“We aim to find ways for the wives of Bluebird drivers and employees to earn additional income so they can provide for the education of their children,” Noni said. “What differentiates us from other companies with similar goals is that while they provide resources for women to earn income outside of their home, Kartini Bluebird helps these women to be able to earn income from their own home.”
Kartini Bluebird offers six-month sewing courses to over 40,000 wives of Bluebird employees and places orders for Bluebird uniforms through them, letting these women earn income while still in training.
“We also offer cookie baking and catering courses, providing them with skills to offer food services for up to 100 people,” Noni said. “Indonesians often have family and community gatherings. Catering is a huge opportunity for additional income.”
Noni fondly recalled such gatherings with the taxi drivers at her grandmother’s house when she was growing up. “Our family would have chats over dinners with them. They really were part of our family,” Noni smiled. “Even to this day, we invite drivers and employees to break the fast at my parents’ house during the month of Ramadan. There’s never a VIP section, just floor mats where everyone can sit and mingle during the eight-day open house.”
Beyond Bluebird Peduli, Noni personally supports the education of 120 children. Bluebird Peduli and Kartini Bluebird aren’t the only philanthropy organisations that Noni is involved in. Bluebird has also provided transportation and coaching for the Indonesia Mengajar (Indonesia Teaches) program since its conception. The program recruits and trains volunteers to teach across Indonesia for a year.
Noni is also a founding member of Angel Investment, or ANGIN, which empowers women entrepreneurs through investment, mentoring, and networking opportunities. She also serves as board member of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia-Indonesia Institute, chairperson of the Intelligent Transport System Indonesia Chapter, Indonesian Transport Society Board of Presidium, Board of Advisors of the Indonesian Management Development Institute (IPMI), Coca Cola Amatil Indonesia, advisor to Antler Asia, and has been a Young Presidents Organization Member since 2003, among the many other positions of mentorship that she holds.
Most recently in March 2019, Noni was appointed as a member of Universitas Indonesia’s Board of Trustees for the 2019–2024 period. Asked why she continued to accept these positions despite her extremely busy schedule, Noni smiled.
“The more you have, the more you can give,” she said. “These are all positions of mentorship, this is my way of giving back. It is not about how much money you earn, it’s about what legacy you want to leave behind.”
In the many startups she has mentored and with the many children who had a chance to a higher education thanks to Noni’s efforts, her legacy will definitely endure.