Two-time re-migrant takes second tilt at investing in Guyana
At 57, Anthony Sarjoo has just embarked on his second tilt at doing business in Guyana. In 1990, the former New York Realtor returned to Guyana to set up Computer Traders, an information technology hardware service provider which, he says, was the largest operation of its kind in Guyana at the time. “We were doing extremely well,” he says. “We were securing both public and private sector contracts for computer hardware and we were expanding rapidly.”
Ill luck, Sarjoo says, struck during the early years of the new millennium in the form of political instability and a crime wave that intimidated the population as a whole. “The demonstrations, the bomb scares and the killings had a serious impact on business. Our contracts dried up. At one point we were losing around US$50,000 per day. All told we must have lost around US$1 million.
Deflated, Sarjoo returned to New York and to the Real Estate business. But his luck had turned there too. His remigration to the US was “a financial disaster” and just over a year ago the Buxton-born businessman who had spent 34 of his 57 years in the United States returned home for the second time. Isaaac Investment Computer and Electronic, is a decidedly modest successor to Computer Traders. It is situated in a tiny area of a Church street building that houses various other small business operations offering various services including travel agency and real estate. “It’s a start,” Sarjoo says. “We are prepared to work and grow.”
Six months into his new enterprise, Sarjoo is about to make his first move in the direction of expansion. From September 1 Isaaac Investment will acquire additional premises inside the Regent and Wellington streets Multi Plex Mall. “It will provide us with an opportunity to offer customers a show room; and we will use the Church Street facility as a service centre.”
When Stabroek Business visited Sarjoo earlier this week he was scrutinizing a tender document relating to the supply of IT hardware to a state-run institution. “I’m hoping I can win this tender,” he said.
What brought Sarjoo back to Guyana this time around was what he believes are the greater opportunities that abound in the IT sector. “The competition has grown but that is what business is all about. It’s about competition and about who offers the best products at the best prices.” Isaaac Investment is seeking to make significant inroads into the market through Dell and HP products.
For the moment at least Sarjoo has two employees, a studious looking technician named Mennon Inverary and Amanda Yusuf his fiancée. It is a far cry from the 28 employees who used the staff the now defunct Computer Traders, but “it’s a start,” Sarjoo says.
Growth with diversification is Sarjoo’s immediate term aim. “I believe that there is probably more money in the service end of the IT market. Everybody is using computers these days and maintenance is a major market. His expansion plans are also taking account of the opportunities afforded by the launch of GT&T’s new submarine cable. “I believe that the IT sector will expand significantly and obviously that should create openings for the services that I offer,” Sarjoo says.
Sarjoo says that what is otherwise a promising business climate in Guyana is marred by some critical constraints. “The electricity supply situation could seriously affect the IT sector in Guyana. Power surges can damage computers in various ways. They can affect the memory, the hard drive, the system board and the power supply systems. To stay safe you need to invest in additional equipment. That is a big problem.” He is concerned too about the need to hasten the pace of developing critical infrastructure that will help attract more investors to Guyana. “Roads, water and electricity supply are the things that investors look for. We need to work on those,” he says.
The re-migrant is also critical of what he says is the conservative policy of the local commercial banking sector. “Part of the problem is that lending is too collateral-driven. In the United States, for example, securing bank loans has to do more with your creditworthiness. The better your credit score the better your chances of securing a loan,” he says.
Sarjoo talks about the development of Guyana with enthusiasm, bemoaning the divisive politics which he says is “holding Guyana back” and asserting in the same breath that not enough is being done to promote Guyana abroad. He says he hates the tension and the violence that attends election time. “It’s bad for business and its holding Guyana back,” he says. As far as the marketing of Guyana abroad is concerned Sarjoo says that fewer people know about Guyana than we think. “Sometimes when you talk about Guyana abroad people think you are referring to Ghana. When I was operating Computer Traders I once had a consignment of goods assigned to me sent to Ghana instead.”
Sarjoo broached the subject of Caricom, asserting that he felt the region offered far too small a market for the goods and services Guyana can offer. “If we want to grow we need to look to the potential of the South American market. Caricom is far too small. I understand the history, but we are part of South America.”
Sarjoo insists that he is back to stay and that he has put the experience of his earlier business venture behind him. “I travel back and forth but I have established a new business here and I look forward to working with it, to watching it grow,” he says.