From Lowly Office Boy to Citibank Indonesia’s Vice President

Houtman Zainal Arifin

From Detik:

The Story of an Office Boy Who Became Citibank’s Vice President

His name is Houtman Zainal Arifin. He was born on July 27, 1950 in a city called Kediri, located in East Java province. His life experience is very inspirational and needs to be shared with everyone. Initially, he was just an office boy until he eventually was promoted to the number one position in Citibank Indonesia as its Vice President. In addition, he is acting as a director in a private firm, financial Controller at several private companies, State Audit Committee, consultant, writer and also post-graduate lecturer in a university. He was born into a very poor family. His life story actually began when he graduated from high school and moved to Jakarta to fulfill his dreams of having a successful career. He realized that life in Jakarta was tough but he chose not to give up.

With only 2.000 Rupiah [USD$0.20] that he borrowed from his friend, he became a jewelry merchant selling fake jewelry. He made a lot of profit from that business. Unfortunately, God gave him a hard lesson not long after as street enforcement officers came and destroyed every item that he had. He learned about the harsh reality of living in Jakarta through this experience.

Houtman Zainal Arifin in Citybank (Citibank)

Even with tough circumstances, it didn’t discourage Houtman’s dreams and aspiration to become successful. One day, Houtman was relaxing under a bridge and saw many luxury cars drive by him. The passengers in those cars were neatly dressed and some even wore ties. The young Houtman was inspired to be like them so he could drive a car with air-conditioning, wear neat dress shirts and earn tons of money. Without further hesitation, young Houtman created his resume and began submitting job applications to every nearby big and tall buildings that he could see. He even spent some of his savings from his past street-vending business to pay the costs for attending these interviews.

On his third day, he received a letter stating that he was accepted to become an office boy in Citibank, a well-known financial banking company from America. Houtman immediately started to work as an office boy, a low-paying job within the company and was assigned with various duties which include cleaning the offices, washrooms and other rooms.

Houtman Zainal Arifin in Citybank (Citibank)

While employed as an office boy, he was often interested in joining various training programs. However, most people ignored him due to his lowly position within the company. Even his English conversation skill was very basic at that time and he could only say yes or no. However, he was very determined and he promised himself: “I have to do something, I have to become smart like everyone else!” From that day onward, he stood outside the training class to learn everything that was taught during the training. Eventually, the training officer disrespectfully asked him to join the training. However, he wasn’t allowed to take part in the exam like other trainees. He refused to accept this discrimination and insisted on taking part in the exam, which the instructor eventually agreed to.

Afterwards, Houtman challenged himself that “I have to pass!” even though he barely graduated from high school. Despite competing with others who graduated from top universities such as University of Indonesia, Michigan University, University of Ohio and Bandung Institute of Technology, his exam result was ranked in the top 4 out of 34 candidates. He was then later sent to Europe [for further training] in 1978.

Houtman Zainal Arifin in Citybank (Citibank)

Houtman did all of his tasks flawlessly when he was an office boy. He even helped his other co-workers voluntarily at times. After finishing all of his tasks, Houtman tried to expand his knowledge by asking other staff about banking terms and definitions. He refused to give up even though most staff made fun of him. He was eventually able to understand various banking terms such as Letter of Credit, Bank Guarantee, Transfer, Clearing etc.

Houtman was a quick learner and performed well on all of his tasks. The Citibank staff eventually became more willing to share their knowledge due to his helpful nature. Based on his achievements and competencies, one Citibank officer promoted him to a regular Citibank employee despite only having a high school diploma. News of Houtman’s promotion became controversial and many wondered how it was possible that a lowly office boy became one of the bank’s staff.

Houtman Zainal Arifin in Citybank (Citibank)

19 years after Houtman joined First National City Bank (Citibank) as an office boy, he finally became its Vice President. It is the 2nd highest position within Citibank Indonesia. Up until now, there has been no one that can break his transition record from joining the company as an office boy with a high school diploma to then retiring as its Vice President. Prior to his retirement, Houtman also occupied several important positions such as Staff Expert in Citibank Asia Pacific, one of the governor’s Financial Advisors and CEO of several other companies. He is still an inspiration for many people who dream of success.

Comments from Kaskus:


So cool,
yet I feel depressed after reading this news. =(
I’m way too relaxed in my work,
so I’m not sure if I could ever be as successful.


This article is so inspiring, boss!!


His life experience is so motivating!!
We should learn from him, boss!


I’m so touched by Mr Houtman’s persistence [to improve himself].. It is true that other than being intelligent, one should also possess good characteristics such as being generous, helpful and not being easily satisfied.
This thread is so inspirational!


Two thumbs up to him for his strong determination..


This story is very inspirational.
I am more confident in reaching my big dream now!


His epic struggle is such a fascinating story!


This is awesome, boss!.. It’s true that we have to be gutsy to try new things these days.


I think he has extraordinary motivation and strong will.
Thanks for the inspiration in 2013, boss!!


Well, that is what we call fate and effort… I was once a food vendor in a train but now I’m a diplomat.


No one knows what could happen in the future. Even though we try hard to be on top, it won’t happen if God isn’t willing.


“It might be fate that we were born poor but it’s totally our fault if we also die poor” said Houtman. I’m so motivated now, boss!

Marshal habil:

Very incredible and inspiring story, boss! Where there’s a will then there is a way indeed.


If everyone were as ambitious like him, then there wouldn’t be any more employees, boss! Hahaha…


Well, I think it was already a remarkable achievement to obtain a high school diploma in 1974.


This guy just passed away last week, boss =(
Follow @jamilazzaini, his adopted son.

Who inspires you?

Houtman Zainal Arifin

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