Text: Derek Rodriguez
Professional strongman. CEO of a fintech company. Author of books. Podcast host. Lifelong learner. President of an alumni association and member of an alumni advisory board. Mentor for start-ups. This isn’t a group of accomplished individuals, but just one person – Johnny Widodo, the man behind the incredible 10-ton bus-pulling feat at NTU Alumni Homecoming 2023.
"People say I'm out of my mind. I know it’s entertaining but there’s a deeper message. You know that thing you can’t do? With motivation and discipline, you’ll be able to achieve what you thought was impossible,” says Johnny, whose journey in fitness started when he realised the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle after his late mother had a stroke in 2005.
Johnny with his late mum when he received his bachelor's degree on his convocation day at NTU.
Truly, the secret of this multihyphenate’s success is focus, motivation and discipline in all aspects of his life, from his career to his personal pursuits.
Often dubbed “The Strongest CEO in Indonesia”, Johnny has two decades of experience in start-ups and industries ranging from fintech and e-commerce to aquaculture and manufacturing. He has also led several companies in Indonesia, and today, he is the CEO of a financial services enabler, Ringan Technology Indonesia.
As someone who has successfully scaled the corporate ladder, Johnny finds satisfaction in sharing his experience with the next generation of entrepreneurs and fellow NTU alumni.
“When I became the top man in the company, I developed a desire to be more well-rounded. I wanted something that would give me a sense of achievement in my personal life. So I consciously stepped up my strongman training as well as my efforts in sharing my expertise through mentoring, a podcast, books and NTU alumni activities,” he explains, adding that making an impact on other people’s lives gives him a sense of happiness and accomplishment.
Being part of the NTU alumni network and President of NTU Alumni Association (Indonesia) has helped him to expand his business network and opened doors beyond NTU circles.
Johnny (fourth from left) at an NTU alumni event in Jakarta.
“Through the alumni network, I’ve made friends with people outside of NTU, like from the other universities in Singapore and even people from the Singapore government, embassies and the Singapore Chamber of Commerce & Industry,” says Johnny, who also sits on the Nanyang Business School Alumni Advisory Board.
Finding success is about seizing the moment as well, and saying “yes” to opportunities that come your way, such as agreeing to pull a bus for the NTU community.
Over dinner at an NTU alumni event in Jakarta in August this year, Johnny pulled out his phone to show Prof Ooi Kim Tiow, NTU Associate Provost (Alumni), a TikTok video of himself pulling a bus, leading Prof Ooi to invite him to repeat the feat in NTU. Johnny’s close ties with his alma mater meant there was only going to be one answer.
“I’ve only been in two schools throughout my life,” says Johnny with a laugh. “My first one from kindergarten to high school, and NTU where I got all my three degrees.”
After receiving his bachelor's degree in materials engineering with first class honours from NTU in 2002, Johnny stayed on to complete a master’s in the same discipline two years later. When he decided to take an MBA in 2008, NTU was the natural choice, though the fact that he could study part time and the quality of NTU’s professors helped make his mind up.
Johnny receiving his third degree - an MBA - from the university.
One of the highlights of his time at NTU was during his MBA stint when he led an NTU team to Montreal, Canada, for the prestigious John Molson MBA International Case Competition in 2010.
“We were like a bunch of stooges,” jokes Johnny. “We were the dark horse and never really thought we had a chance to win. Unexpectedly, we went all the way to the finals and had to change the dates of our return flights and extend our hotel stay. I remember being on the phone with Assoc Prof Chung Lai Hong, the director of Nanyang MBA, who was very excited for us and offered all her support.”
His team were the first Asian team to ever make the finals of the competition and eventually finished third.
“Yes, we were the first team to fly the NTU flag in Canada for this competition,” beams Johnny.
"Be proud to be an NTU alumnus and be a brand ambassador for NTU. And as an alumnus, don’t just ask ‘what’s in it for me?’. Think about how you can contribute to the university too." - Johnny Widodo
Click here to watch Johnny showcase his incredible strength.
This article first appeared in issue 4 of U, the NTU alumni magazine.