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Tanri Abeng was born in an isolated, rural village on the island of Selayar in South Sulawesi on 7 March 1942. His parents were poor, like most of the people in his village, they were farmers and so were reliant on the small income that they earned from selling their produce at the local market. Because his parents did not have enough money to put him through junior school, Tanri had to sell bananas from his village to fellow students in order to pay for the books and other materials than he needed.

By the time he was 10, both his parents had died and he was sent to live with relatives in Makassar. His relatives were not very well off either, so to finish his education, Tanri sold stenciled copies of his school notes to other students. He realized early on that that he would need to do well in school to better his circumstances, so he studied hard and was able to earn money by tutoring students whose grades were not as god as his. At that time, Tanri’s main goal in life was to become teacher; he admired his school headmaster and one of his class teachers and wanted to be like him.

After finishing school Tanri was selected for an American Field Service (AFS) Exchange program, which gave him the rare opportunity for someone of his background to spend a year living in the United States. This was to be a formative experience. He learned to speak English and was exposed to the openness, creativity and achievement-oriented nature of American culture. He also developed a close bond with his host family, the Gibsons, something that prove crucial when he returned to the United States a few years later. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Tanri’s subsequent success has been due in part to the assistance and encouragement provided by the Gibsons during his time in the United States.

At the end of the AFS program Tanri returned to Indonesia to continue his studies at Hasanudin University in Makassar. In the United States he had been told that a career in business would be a good way to achieve personal satisfaction and contribute to society, so he decided to enroll in courses in business administration and economics. Again, he had to find a way of funding his education, so he worked part-time as a manager at a local commodity export business and taught English at local high school.

Because he was busy trying to support himself, he spent little time at university but was able to complete his studies by borrowing friend’s notes and reading the prescribed textbook at home. Tanri studied hard and gained a scholarship to study for Masters of Business Administration degree at the State University of New York in Buffalo. Consequently, he returned to the United States and to the home of the Gibsons, who graciously offered to support him while he was studying. Eighteen months later, he earned his MBA.

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