N. Rhodesia

In the early eighties, an affliction that an entire country suffered from could be summed-up in one word, “greed!” Greed of corrupt government officials at the top and it trickled down to all levels. It gripped an entire nation and striped it down to its naked core. A nation that was left devoid of functioning roads and a malnourished populace that did not need to be fed or provided services to for much longer because most of them were already dying…dying of an illness not previously known: HIV/AIDS. Despite this knowledge by the health department, no immediate alarm bells were rung nor any of the preventative measures prescribed. The country’s entire infrastructure not only of roads and bridges, but in providing basic public services related to health, education, general welfare and safety was rapidly deteriorating. A basic necessity such as cooking-oil was hard to come by and when it became available, those that could afford it hoarded anything of this sort. Such was the sad fate of the country of my birth, Zambia. A south central African nation that I fondly remember before it succumbed to this failed state status. A nation governed by greedy overlords bent in filling their own offshore pockets and stripping a once bountiful, lush and a growing nation of its sovereign wealth. It was in the early eighties when our family walked away from a modestly furnished three bedroom home, with the family car still parked in its garage and immigrated to the United States to never look back again.

With the ingredients, ‘passion’, ‘zeal’ and ‘perseverance’, I have a recipe, that may not entirely be original, but the outcome of which I believe will result in a good measure of financial success. I refer to this as my ‘twenty-year doctrine’. Here’s the general gist: If one is to focus on one type of business that they are really passionate about for about twenty years with the mindset to grow, then the inevitable outcome will result in a sizable fortune. This is my story of an entrepreneurial journey I have traveled that highlights a seemingly unimportant encounter with a less than colorful personality, but it results in highlighting how meaningful it is to grow one’s social skills by encountering the most varied personality types.

Although, the twenty-year span is quite considerable. A catalyst I can think of in shortening this time is by absorbing the virtues and withstanding the academic rigors of earning a business degree. Besides the academic pursuit, however, another learned and invaluable byproduct will be gaining social skills in communication that you will undoubtedly encounter meeting so many people in that environment. Challenges along the way in business, to include lack of seed capital, a restrictive general business climate, etc., are obstacles that are not insurmountable. I wish to think, the true obstacle is time itself and your own limitations of what you believe cannot be done.

For my parents, coming to the United States to start all over, I can only imagine how daunting a task that would have been especially when they had five children in tow and my Dad had just turned fifty. It meant, the ‘twenty-year doctrine’ had to start all over again. I dwell in providing this backdrop only because my anecdotal reference emanates from when I used to help my parents sometimes tending to customers as an eleven year old at their store.

In the thirties, Zambia (then known as Northern Rhodesia, named after the Anglo, Cecil Rhoads, credited with ‘discovering’ this land) was a colonial outpost nation under British rule. It was then that copper, the rich mineral wealth was found in Luanshya, a laid-back dusty little town where I was born. The first copper mines opened here that provided the much needed jobs.

At my parents’ store, the customer base was broadly categorized in two; they were either white Anglos, mostly British, that made-up the management and general administration of the mines; or, the indigenous black Zambians that comprised the back-bone of the hard-working miners. For me, despite the lack of racial diversity in our customers, the familiarity of encountering their varied personality types most definitely provided me with a depth of understanding that I consider a social skill so crucial in sales. After all, I consider ‘salesmanship’ the ability of one to engage another in meaningful conversation leading up to a close.

In our town, we only had three high schools and the whole country, only had one university. The prospect for most Zambians to uplift their economic standing through higher education was not an easy one. For the majority, working at the copper mines was not a bad deal. Without the mines, there were no other major opportunities, particularly in Luanshya.

In appreciation of their life’s service working the mines, for those that put in twenty-five years, the miners were awarded a stainless-steel, all waterproof, rugged Tudor watch (made by the Rolex watch company in Switzerland) with their name and ‘in appreciation of twenty-five years…’ engraved on the back of the watch case.

It was precisely this watch that I had slung across the showcase toward me one day when I was working at the store. I recollect this story with fond amusement but it was by no means a life-changing moment; it served, rather, as a highlight to the varied personality types I have had the good fortune to encounter and learn from.

Getting back to the story, it involved me helping a customer that had walked-in for a watch repair. Incidentally, ours was the only jewelry store in town that did watch repairs and being the watchmaker, my Dad was mostly the point person to take-in all such repairs. It was perhaps the customer’s lucky break when he approached me instead and thus avoided my Dad’s short-tempered wrath and an argumentative style of “helping” his customers.

“It’s fuccup!” the crusty old miner said matter-of-factly in letting me know the general predicament of his watch.

Upon saying this, he proceeded to turn his back probably in anticipation that it will very likely take this eleven-year-old some time to figure out what exactly was ‘fucked-up’ with his watch.

At that age, I must have found the whole incident so amusing that it was indelibly etched then in my mind’s eye and I fondly remember it so vividly many decades later.

Fast forward to 2014, and I wish to think despite crossing my own twenty-year doctrine, the entrepreneurial journey continues and it keeps strengthening. This encounter, with the crusty old miner, most certainly of minor importance, is one of many colorful stories that I like to think is like a thread; and, along the journey, a multitude of such threads weave through and strengthen to form a fabric. It is this fabric of experience that enables and forms an even more effective communication skills-set. Personally, the learning aspect never ceases and as I meet people of varied backgrounds with myriad personality types, my horizon broadens and opportunities emerge.

 

Yogesh Govindji is a partner at Govindji’s LP, a jewelry store that specializes in South Asian designed twenty-two karat gold and diamond jewelry. Govindji’s is also an authorized retailer for the world’s most iconic luxury brands such as Rolex, Breitling, Tag Heuer, and many others. He is also a licensed attorney with a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas; and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. Yogesh calls Frisco, Texas home. Married to Swapna and has a son, Shiv and a daughter, Shriya.

 

The Ship Log posts introspective entries by entrepreneurs. Have a story to share? Contact us at curators@theshiplog.com