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Passion for Paint: Indra Laban

Not too long ago, if you wanted to paint your bedroom wall, the only decision you had to make was which colour to use. And even then, most seemed to choose Magnolia or whichever off-white shade was trendy at the time.

Indra Laban, President Director of Akzonobel Decorative Paints Indonesia

But these days, paint isn’t just paint. Some astonishing technological breakthroughs in the last decade have meant that the water-based liquid coating your interiors does more than just cover the embarrassingly outdated hue you’d daubed there 15 years earlier.

There are brick and masonry paints made from elastic so they don’t crack, fungicidal primers you can apply over mould that stop all new growth, latex paints that reduce unpleasant odours to improve air quality, and ceiling acrylics that appear pink when brushed on so you can see any areas you’ve missed before drying in a brilliant white.

“The innovation in the sector has been amazing,” says Indra Laban, President Director of AkzoNobel Decorative Paints Indonesia (ICI Paints Indonesia).

“We have anti-microbial paint for hospitals, flame-retardant ones to keep people safe and even those that reflect infrared light to make homes more energy efficient. There is even one that makes houses cooler by bouncing solar rays back into space.

“It was all this new thinking that made me fall in love with the company. I love that we have developed paints for the outside and inside of aeroplanes, and for every single surface of the airport itself.”

Such advances have seen the global paint industry grow rapidly to be worth US$146 billion by 2019, though the collapse of new infrastructure projects last year caused a temporary 17% decline.

The perfect hue

The unveiling of the Dulux Colour of the Year is a big event in the interior design calendar. Colour specialists and international design gurus discuss global trends and social insights before translating their thoughts into one key colour that reflects the mood of the moment. This year’s winner is Brave Ground, described as a “warm, natural neutral that’s enabling and stabilising” and “a versatile shade that lets other colours shine”. The judges declared it reflects that “we’re all reassessing what really matters … taking stock and finding a positive way forward by having faith in ourselves”.

AkzoNobel is a global frontrunner in the paint and coatings industry. Its major global brand is Dulux, first produced in the UK nearly a century ago, and famous for its old English sheepdog mascot.

Today there are more than 1,200 colours in the range. In Indonesia, it has been used on such iconic buildings as The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Grand Kuta Hotel and Residence, Pondok Indah Mall, the State Palace and Baiturrahman Grand Mosque.

Indra joined five years ago and took over as President Director in November 2019, the same month that reports of a new strain of coronavirus began emanating from Wuhan in China. Within weeks, it was clear that the company was going to have to make major changes very quickly.

“People couldn’t come into shops and discuss their needs, so we switched to advising them online,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “We couldn’t chat to them in person, but we still had to give them the inspiration they needed to choose the perfect colour for the projects they were planning.


“Then we introduced a hotline to give people tips on their renovations, how to paint a wall properly, the best applications and so on. We had a whole team of people dedicated to it. They’d ring us and say, ‘Hey, if I use this colour, would it mess up this room?’ Or, ‘If I combine it with this one, would that be better?’”

Although demand certainly dipped, Indra reveals there was an upside to having millions of people socially distancing at home. “No-one could travel anywhere, or even go to the office, so everyone stayed in their houses and every room was used more than it had been, so a lot of them needed patching up,” he explains.

“The way I look at it, painting became an essential service that helped people function properly.” The company’s successful Visualizer app, which shows what each shade of paint would look like in situ, took on a new life as it started a delivery service to distribute the thousands of online orders.

“The pandemic completely changed our priorities. Suddenly everything was being marketed and sold online, though in truth, that trend had begun earlier,” Indra says. The disruption led to even fiercer competition between AkzoNobel and competitors vying to take advantage.

“Everyone wants to be market leader, but you can’t do that if you don’t have the right people working for you and the right products. Our teams are passionate about the paints we sell, they really believe in them and know how great they are, and that the company stands for integrity and being proud of our achievements,” Indra says.

“Whether it’s B2C or B2B, we have to make sure we are always evolving to produce the highest-quality paint and give the very best service.” To that end, Indra recently launched the Dulux Promise to all his Indonesian customers.

“It states that our paint will give the perfect colour with a uniform finish and the coverage stated or we’ll replace it. So if a customer doesn’t love the colour when they have finished painting, we’ll give them another,” he says.

“It’s only possible to make this promise because our suppliers are also passionate and guarantee excellence themselves. The expertise goes upstream from us and creates relationships that are deep and strong. In fact, we don’t call them suppliers – they are our partners, and we are united in trust to deliver the best products in the industry.”

But even with scientists using quantum mechanics to devise paint with space-age molecular technologies, it’s reassuring to know that Dulux customers can still opt for Magnolia, even though it’s now called something more aspirational like Seed Pearl, Hog Bristle or Clay Pipe.

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