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Interview with an entrepreneur

economy

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Interview with an entrepreneur

-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-

Report

'Success is a journey, not a destination.' - Ben Sweetland

Success is achieved when a stretch goal is met overcoming problems and difficulties by conscious effort and by application of capabilities, resources and methods. It is to be differentiated from luck, chance and doing what comes naturally without effort.

Like everyone else I have spent some time thinking about why some people are so successful in life and what factors in success are under more personal control than others.

When I think of a definition of success I remember what Soichiro Honda said ’’Success is 99% failure’’. And then I remember what Thomas Edison said ’’I have not failed. I’ve just found 10 000 ways that won’t work.’’

Everyone wants to succeed in life, but the main question is how. What skills must one have in order to materialize his dreams? In order to get some answers to all of my questions, I interviewed a person who turned out to be one of the most interesting people I have ever met, Mr. Ahmad Ahmad.

Very charismatic and with a great personality, I remained fascinate by his ideas, his plans and the advices he gave me in only that hour I spent with him. He is one of my family’s friends and he was the first one I thought about for this assignment. So, I had to make an appointment, but as he is a busy person it proved to be a little troublesome to find a right day and place, but it could be done eventually after a few phone calls to his office. I used a voice recorder as I found this to be a quicker and easier way of conducting the interview and also a better way in order to ensure that I got all the details from my interviewees’ answers.

 

The opportunity:

 

  Mr. Ahmed came to Romania in 1990, after the revolution, because he thought that time was the key moment for an entrepreneur to start a business. After the communism, the Romanian market was, in his own words ‘’like a new born child’’, it needed to grow and to develop. It was the proper environment for anyone who wanted to start a business.     

So, initially he opened two mini-markets in Cluj-Napoca with goods from the Orient. After three-four years, he started to import for his mini-markets, and he started some other small businesses.

In the fifth year he got the support of one of his suppliers in order to start a new business in Russia. It was a good, but dangerous move .On one hand it wasn’t a very safe place to be after the fall of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Russia represented a big market and every company’s dream to be in the biggest country in the East of Europe.

He went in Russia, he studied the market there and he found all that he needed to start another small business. He started to import Western candy bars in Moscow, the business was going excellent, but as he thought, it was a very dangerous place and after a confrontation with a Russian criminal organization, he left the country after losing almost everything he invested.

From opportunity to business:

He came back in Romania eager to start again, ‘’a fresh start’’ as he said. With a capital of 3.000 dollars, he had an idea frozen food. With this money, he bought one tone of frozen food. It was the beginning of 1999. Gaining the trust of both the suppliers and the costumers, he founded the company Ideal Aliment Prosper. ‘’Everyone needs food’’, he said and Romanian white meat was not enough. “I started importing because the romanian meat products are less competitive comparing to the international standards. And, after Romania’s adhesion to the European Union, the taxes reduced considerably. “If you are the kind of person who works best working for themselves, the meat industry offers you unlimited chances. With knowledge and training, the meat sector is full of potential if you have the drive to run your own business. Whether it’s running a specialty meat boutique in the big city or a neighborhood butcher shop in a small town, you have the opportunity to build the kind of business you want and that suits you.”

He said the running your own business is not for everyone; but if you have the entrepreneurial spirit and drive, the meat industry has lots of opportunities. Being your own boss means you not only have all the responsibilities of running an efficient operation to serve your customers, but you also have the responsibilities of being a small business owner. That means taking care of details like your business premises, hiring staff, looking after bookkeeping and other business activities to grow the operation.

He based his actions on what he believed in: “I believe that there are two big systems in which a man can be successful, the public system and the private system. For me the public system means birocratism and hierarchy. Imagine if you a want, a pyramid, at the top is the most powerful. For me all the public systems are like that. I chose the private system because it suited me best. It’s the place where I can show what I can do.”

So, he started to buy frozen chicken and fish. It was very difficult for him to develop his small business. With not enough capital, he made some debts and the suppliers stopped delivering some of the goods. Also, there were not enough costumers to purchase the merchandise.

I asked him how he was able to surpass all the obstacles he encountered, and he answered

’’ I believe that for a business to succeed, it requires a businessman who:

• has an experience

• knows how to purchase products and services

• knows how to negotiate with his suppliers

• knows how to raise money

• knows how to sell and how to market’’

Than he added ‘’there is very little knowledge that can’t be obtained through effort. With knowledge you can determine the state of any business or opportunity and find a course to gain an advantage. For even the smallest businesses, there are usually multiple people involved. They can concentrate on building the brand while also creating the company and promoting the product itself.’’

In his business, he said that the most important thing is interpersonal communication, in short the relationship with the employees. He believes that in many businesses there is no devotion; “employees work so that they won’t get fired and employers pay them so that they won’t quit their jobs. My goal is the keep my employees satisfied so that they respect me and respect their job. If my employees are satisfied, I am satisfied. Also, I have to tell you that all of my employees are hired legally, we have a contract which is signed by both parts, for a non determined period of time. Today, my company has 16 employees.”

Also, he gave me another useful advice “In this business one has to know how to negotiate, you have to get what you want from those who want something else from you.”

Through many efforts, after a few years, in 2003, he was clear of debts and the company was prosper, was a known and trusted brand. ’’I have worked hard for my money’’, he said.

But the major problems were yet to come. In March 2007, all his stores were burned in a fire along with some other companies. “It was God’s will”.

When I asked him if he could tell me how that disaster was produced, he said that one night, he received a phone call from the police telling him that a fire burst and all of his stores were damaged. With a very calm voice, he said “It wasn’t the first time when I had lost everything.” And then he added “More debts came, but by that time I had suppliers who believed in me, costumers that trusted me and they followed me. The most terrifying thing was that I had no insurance. Until now, no one knows which circumstances led to the fire.” Building his company was far from easy. Panic and anxiety were common feelings during the years, Ahmad says.

 

The entrepreneur’s network:

Starting a business in a country that was passing through a period of radical changes had advantages, but also disadvantages. Being a foreigner, banks didn’t trust him so he could get finance from nowhere else but from his own pockets. Fortunately, he was coming from a wealthy family, disposing not only of money, but also of the proper education in order to know what he had to do and how to establish a business. As he confessed:”My father was my mentor. I grew up in a big family, with 11 brothers and sisters. It’s not easy to support such a big family. My father was a small business man, he is one of those men who know exactly what people want. He taught me that in order to succeed I should have an open mind, a purpose and respect for others. So because my father being involved in several small businesses, the choice of being self employed was made on a young age.

Actually, he was the one who suggested me to come to Romania.” “It was not easy for me to leave my family and my country. But I knew that Romania, after the fall of communism, was the place where I could succeed.  There are some key points in the economy of each country that open doors for people, and I knew that was the door that had opened for me.”

The future:

 

Now, in 2008 his business is more prosper than ever. He is very confident in the future of his company. “I import now besides frozen food also olive oil and cheese.” He has contracts with important suppliers from Holland, Bulgaria, Spain and even Syria. For the future he wants to continue diversifying the area of products that he imports, but also the stores he distributes the products to. He aims the towns from Moldova, for example.

“I guide my business after another principle – quality services and minimal prices”.

The next step he has in his mind is to build his own factory. “like for any other business man, my plans never stop.  Now, I have under construction a factory which is meant to be a slaughter house.  I want to produce myself what I am selling, my own products. Why? Because first of all, in Romania, it doesn’t exists a slaughter house that can satisfy our market needs and I can assure you that most of them do not fulfill the European Union’s standards. For example, I alone need 100 tons of chicken leg quarters per week. Now you can imagine the demands of the Romanian market.”

 

Analysis and conclusions:  

The key of his success is “hard work, confidence and patience”.

“Being successful is not a mystery, it requires besides hard work, passion and devotion. Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.”

Then he gave me a piece of advice “Feedback is the foundation of success.”, but a lot others came. This seemed to me a very concise and true one, even though, maybe not so easy to put into practice. I felt honored to be in the presence of such a man, not only successful as a businessman, but also modest as a person, because looking at him, outside the context of his office he looked like an ordinary man.



The interview took place in a cafeteria in the center of Bucharest and lasted about 1 hour. Mr. Ahmad seemed to me very sincere and he answered with calm to all of my questions.

The interview

1.      Would you tell me about yourself before you started your first venture? Did you have role models?

For me my father was my mentor. I grew up in a big family, with 11 brothers and sisters. It’s not easy to support such a big family. My father was a small business man, he is one of those men who know exactly what people want. He taught me that in order to succeed I should have an open mind, a purpose and respect for others. So because my father was involved in several small businesses, the choice of being self employed was made on a young age. Actually, he was the one who suggested me to come to Romania.

It was not easy for me to leave my family and my country. But I knew that Romania, after the fall of communism, was the place where I could succeed.  There are some key points in the economy of each country that open doors for people, and I knew that was the door that had opened for me.

2.      What was your educational experience? Was it helpful in starting your own venture?

To tell you the truth, my entrepreneurial education was given to me by my father mostly. We have an entrepreneurial history in our family. I have a brother who has an orchard of olive trees in Syria and another who owns a chain of restaurant here in Bucharest.

I was 6 years old when my father took me with him for the first time to see how the business works. I remember that I that time my father was importing ready-made-clothes. 

Since then, I went with him every summer to his stores.

I finished Law School, but I never worked in a law firm.

3.      How did you decide to become an entrepreneur (instead of taking a job with someone else)?

I believe that there are two big systems in which a man can be successful, the public system and the private system. For me the public system means birocratism and hierarchy. Imagine if you a want, a pyramid, at the top is the most powerful. For me all the public systems are like that. I chose the private system because it suited me best. It’s the place where I can show what I can do.

4.      How did you get started in the specific line of business? How did you spot the opportunity?

If you are the kind of person who works best working for themselves, the meat industry offers you unlimited chances. With knowledge and training, the meat sector is full of potential if you have the drive to run your own business. Whether it’s running a specialty meat boutique in the big city or a neighborhood butcher shop in a small town, you have the opportunity to build the kind of business you want and that suits you.

I came to Romania in 1990, after the revolution, because I thought that time was the key moment for an entrepreneur to start a business. The Romanian market was like a new born child. The private system almost didn’t exist. It was the perfect opportunity for anyone to start his own business.

I initially opened two mini-markets in Cluj-Napoca with goods from the Orient. Afterwards I left for Russia where I started to import Western candy bars in Moscow. I came back in Romania, I study the market and I had the idea of importing frozen food guiding my business this time after the principal that everyone needs food.

5.      Did you have a start-up business plan of any kind?

In my experience, I have seen many businesses failing after only a few months. When starting a business you have to be aware of the risks implied. You have to anticipate potential marketing, management and financial problems. In doing this, you decrease your likelihood of failure.

6.      Did you have partners or start by yourself?

I don’t believe in partnership. Money always creates problems. Yes, during the years I had some help from my brothers, from the people who believe in me, but I don’t have an associate.

I started my business by myself.

7.      What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?

If you have the entrepreneurial spirit and drive, the meat industry has lots of opportunities. Being your own boss means you not only have all the responsibilities of running an efficient operation to serve your customers, but you also have the responsibilities of being a small business owner. That means taking care of details like your business premises, hiring staff, looking after bookkeeping and other business activities to grow the operation.

8.      What were the biggest challenges you faced at start-up? And what keeps you awake at night today (your biggest challenge today)? (e.g., finding customers, suppliers, marketing, finance, hiring people, balancing work and family life)

Very rarely I envoy a good night sleep. Even though I have my suppliers, you never know what can happen. As I said is a risky job.

9.      What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?

 I believe that for a business to succeed, it requires a businessman who:

• has an experience

• knows how to purchase products and services

• knows how to negotiate with his suppliers

• knows how to raise money

• knows how to sell and how to market’’

From my experience I have to tell you that being successful is not a mystery, it requires besides hard work, passion and devotion. Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.

10.  How would you rate the future of your business? (very bright, bright, not so bright, worrying)

I aim for a very bright future. It’s not easy but nothing is and life thought me that with hard work, passion and devotion you can accomplish anything.

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