Entrepreneurship - The Engine of Growth
Anyone familiar with the economic difficulties through which Guyana
passed in the seventies and eighties would not be surprised at the success
of Guyanese business persons in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the
Year 2001 Programme. For close to two decades so-called informal
entrepreneurs were demonstrating true entrepreneurial grit by taking all
kinds of Guyanese products abroad and returning with "banned
items" of which flour, bread and toilet paper became a negative symbol.
Unfortunately in that period the policy was not only to discourage but to
penalise and criminalise entrepreneurship, treating its practitioners as
enemies of the State and worse than drug dealers.
Meanwhile the State - usually the least enterprising sector in any
economy- took charge and under the concept of party paramountcy, the
country's leading companies and sectors came under the control of
politically dominated boards with the CEO's often operating at best at the
level of middle managers. To compound the problems "profit", the
lifeblood of a business was considered a bad word, eliminating one of the
most important incentives and measures of business success. Through all
sorts of devices including misguided economic policies, stifling
bureaucracy, bungling and incompetent management and soul-destroying
corruption, a band of entrepreneurs comprising what was then regarded as the
parallel economy, took it on themselves to keep the economy afloat if not
Entrepreneurs Of Necessity
With no foreign exchange available through the official banking system,
America Street responded by providing money-changers from whom US Dollars in
particular could be acquired delivered here in Guyana or at an address
abroad. Interestingly, those arrangements were invariably honoured certainly
by the more reputable dealers, many of whom now operate licenced Cam bios.
The collapse of the road transportation system spawned the advent of the
mini-bus and it may escape our memory that one of the country's top
businessmen began his path to success and honed his entrepreneurial skills
with two buses on the West Demerara. With a decreasing range of items on the
stores shelves, a number of women in particular turned to trading and for
better or worse set up shop on the pavements and then onto the streets,
often directly in front of long established trading houses. The unfortunate
result in many cases was that a number of these trading houses went into
decline and eventually disappeared.
Another remarkable piece of modern entrepreneurship made Business Page
possible. David DeCaires, a leading corporate attorney gave up a lucrative
law practice to set up the Stabroek News when former President Hoyte,
following the death of his predecessor, introduced his brand of perestroika
to Guyana. To have successfully established two separate businesses makes
Mr. DeCaires one of this country's truly remarkable entrepreneurs.
Business Page makes these points to emphasise the importance - both
negative and positive- of government policies. Even in the poorest country,
there will be opportunities for the truly enterprising person. But a country
needs not only a few outstanding entrepreneurs but a strong economy driven
by policies that allow many businesses to thrive. Former Vice-President Al
Gore recognised this in his letter to the Chairman of the Ernst & Young
Entrepreneur of the Year Institute when he wrote "Providing effective
support for the entrepreneurial economy has been a key component of our
Administration's policy over the past six years. Thousands of new businesses
and hundreds of thousands of new jobs that entrepreneurs have created during
this period have contributed significantly to the economic revival of
communities across the country"
Entrepreneurship of course is not new to Guyanese and we have excellent
examples of men who have demonstrated vision, courage, determination,
adaptability and business judgment in establishing businesses that last.
The name that comes immediately to the fore is the late Peter D'Aguiar, the
founder of Banks DIH who also set up a highly successful brewery in
Barbados. The John Fernandes empire which began in the earlier part of the
last century continues to expand creating opportunities for second and third
Mr.Yesu Persaud who celebrated his seventieth birthday several months
ago, combines leadership and entrepreneurial skills and in launching new
initiatives including the Demerara Bank Limited he demonstrated the same
restive energy that makes DDL such a successful company. Some would ask if
Mr. Persaud is indeed so good why did GA2000 fail so soon after he led a
group of Guyanese investors into the venture. The real reasons are yet to be
clear but there is no doubt that the airline was woefully under-capitalised
and could not survive the setbacks for which this highly volatile industry
is well known. It also underlines the fact that not all initiatives will
succeed and that entrepreneurs do make mistakes.
Mr. Kayman Sankar, the Ultimate Rice Magnate, whose pioneering efforts
revolutionised the rice industry and made him into an icon courted by
politicians and bankers alike, provides is an example of the proverbial rags
to riches story. The problems which his legacy are now going through are
well known and it is a matter of speculation whether those have anything to
do with the issue of succession planning or cyclical difficulties facing the
The forestry sector too has been characterised by entrepreneurship while
in gold the pioneering spirit of the pork-knocker is legendary. Times have
changed and many of our first generation entrepreneurs are no longer around
while in the case of the forestry sector and mining, the increasingly high
standards demanded by the marketplace leaves little room for the small
One of the misconceptions about the entrepreneur is that he is a
maverick: a wild risk taker who is more of an individual than a team-player
but our group does not conform to that inaccurate stereotype. When we take a
look at these persons, who are without doubt la crème de la crème of our
business class, it can be seen that like all entrepreneurs they have been
forced to overcome obstacles that would deter the average individual. This
is the true essence of entrepreneurship which when linked with vision,
unswerving commitment to quality and single-mindedness of purpose produces
the legacies left by these persons. They have built businesses which, while
bearing their mark, have long left the realm of the sole trader and have
evolved into entities of substance.
The real entrepreneur is not a gambler but one who seeks out
opportunities and pursues them with evangelical favours. Where the risk lies
is the fact that starting a business is generally only feasible in
industries where there are usually no barriers to entry, no brand or other
proprietary asset and where failure could be costly if not fatal. In Guyana
we have a very unsophisticated financial market and unlike the USA and even
some of Caribbean territories there is no venture capital. With their
commitment to protect depositors, commercial bankers have little interest in
supporting or forgiving mistakes.
Another fallacy is that entrepreneurs are born not made. While successful
entrepreneurship does require strong personal qualities, many of the tools
and techniques including business planning, management and organisational
strategy, can be acquired. Since its inception IPED has been running
training programmes mainly for very small entrepreneurs but opportunities
for the medium size operations are very scarce.
Many tertiary institutions in the US offer programmes in Entrepreneurship
and some of the more successful entrepreneurs in that country hold MBA's.
Not only are such programmes not available in Guyana but many of our
entrepreneurs treat formal training as a waste of their time and money.
Regrettably, only a few of the entrants in the recent EOY Programme found it
possible to attend the E&Y sponsored Conference in Trinidad & Tobago
which would have exposed them to some of the region's top consultants and
Entrepreneurs are often seen as loners but the truly successful one
builds a team of talented individuals and provides them with leadership and
inspiration. Entrepreneurs usually have very strong personalities and
sometimes too much confidence in their own ability. They have to allow each
member of the team room to exercise their talent, initiative and skills to
While the world reads with amazement of the mind-boggling wealth of some
of America's top entrepreneurs, money is not the sole focus of this breed.
Indeed, they recognise the importance of giving something back to the
community. That endears the community to them and comes in useful when the
business faces difficulties, as it inevitably will.
Entrepreneurs are necessarily hard workers, some say they work too hard
but then that is the price of success. With few staff, inadequate finances
and no brand to rely on, the entrepreneur inevitably finds that he has to
combine several roles which consume the better part of twenty-four hours. In
the early stages of the business, he has no choice but as the business
expands he has to balance his commitments to work with those to his family,
the community and to himself. Life is clearly not only about money and work
- what is the value of success if you do not have time to stop and smell the
roses or at least enjoy the rewards of your efforts?
Whilst there is no manual on entrepreneurship, next week Business Page
will look at some of the practices that can improve the entrepreneur's
chances of being successful.