Jamaican-born United States citizen Fred Hylton is beginning to see light at the end of an investment tunnel in which he and his wife have dwelt here in Guyana for more than five years.
The couple own and operate what is now a thriving hardware store on the Grove Public Road on the East Bank Demerara. It is a good location for a hardware store, within ‘striking distance’ of some of the fastest growing housing projects in the country. Building materials are in demand and over the past three years F&H’s sales have grown.
It was not always that way for Fred Hylton, however, He had lived in the United States for must of his life and his decision to invest in Guyana was made only after he married his Guyanese-born wife. “She loves her country. She does not want to live anywhere else: so we decided to start up a business here,” he said.
Unfortunately, Fred Hylton was to find that the integrity and trustworthiness to which he had grown accustomed in business elsewhere was absent among the people whom he chose to trust in Guyana. The first two years of his stay here were riddled with difficulties associated, he said, with the dishonesty of people whom he felt he could trust.
Hylton says that his first mistake was to recruit a local woman – whose name he gave to Stabroek Business – as a business advisor. Appar-ently, she has been in the business of aggressively marketing herself abroad to potential investors. “She convinced me that I needed to give her power of attorney to conduct certain business on her behalf,” he said. “The rest is history really. I came into a new environment expecting a standard of conduct to which I was used in the first world economy and I was fleeced.”
Hylton says that his first two years in business were spent in Saffon Street, East La Penitence. It was not the ideal location for business and during that time he suffered two burglaries.
But that was only part of his problem. His ‘business advisor’ whom he had given Power of Attorney robbed him of a large sum of money and filed a claim against the Saffon street property. “I ended up in court fighting a stranger for things which I owned,” he said.
According to Hylton, resort to the legal system offered little respite. He hired an Attorney (whose name was also given to this newspaper) to support his quest for justice against his “business advisor” and another person who had taken advantage of him only to find eventually that the Attorney was also representing one of the two parties against whom he was pursuing a lawsuit. “I could not believe that this Attorney was doing this…it is obvious that there would be conflict of interest here and I believe that because I was the outsider no one would even attempt to see that I was treated fairly,” Hylton told Stabroek Business..
Reflecting on his experience Hylton says that there is need for stronger regulations to protect potential foreign investors from being ripped off. He believes that these are sadly lacking.
Two years into his stay in Guyana, cheated and frustrated, Fred Hylton decided, nonetheless, to make a fresh start. He and his wife moved to their current Grove location and opened the F&H Hardware Store. He had, however, learnt from the Saffon Street experience. He had come to know Guyana, to understand the local market and to learn more about what the local market required. He understands that the current preoccupation is with housing and at F&H he has made a shift to building materials including imports, some of which he acquires to order.
Last year Fred and his wife were again confronted by bandits who broke into their premises while they were asleep and terrorized them for several hours.
The police investigations have led nowhere and Hylton says that he is not optimistic that there will be any dramatic change in the direction in which the investigation is heading.
For all this Fred Hylton retains an abiding faith in his pursuits.
He does not conceal the fact that business has “picked up.” Two weekends ago F&H Hardware took its place among scores of other exhibitors at the Building Expo at the National Stadium, Providence. Like so many other local investors Hylton is seeking to take advantage of a growing housing development market; and he is even taking about expanding his operations here in the future.