To leave behind a well-paying job to start up your own firm is a monumental gamble. Most would readily admit that they do not possess even the courage to entertain such a proposal in the form of discussion.
But taking this road of high risk in the corporate arena is one that Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Laparkan, Glen Khan, knows all too well.
Today, this entrepreneurial giant, and daredevil in some respect, is reaping the high rewards of his “gamble” as he sits at the helm of a business that has become iconic in name and nature. In fact, this revered business mogul runs an organization with over 700 employees, has offices in nine countries and a network of over 6,000 agents worldwide.
In managing such a dynamic company, Khan exudes an entrepreneurial prowess that is like no other. In any discussion, he brings a wealth of experience and sober advice. However, be sure not to make the sorry mistake of expecting him to be an explosion of thoughts and emotions.
In this exclusive interview with the Guyana Inc. Magazine, one learns that Khan is economical with his words, only revealing what he believes is necessary. This is arguably a trait that strikes at the heart of wisdom.
Taking a trip down memory lane, Khan was eager to indicate that despite how far he has gone up the ladder of success, he has never lost sight of his humble beginnings.
Born on November 20, 1950 in New Amsterdam, Berbice, Khan was the youngest of four brothers. He also has a younger sister.
During his formative years, the businessman recalled that his mother made tremendous sacrifices so that her children could have a good life. He related to the Guyana Inc. Magazine that his hard-working mother owned and operated a business in the Bourda Market.
Growing up, he lived in New Amsterdam for several years where, together with his three brothers, he was taken care of by Marjorie Ceres. Ceres is an Afro-Guyanese woman who was popularly known as Aunt Margie. Khan described her as a phenomenal foster-parent – “if you want to put it that way.”
The erudite businessman believes that his early exposure to other cultures, customs and beliefs were instrumental in shaping his perspective of life and, at an early age, he recognized that love is indeed a precious gift.
Additionally, Mr. Khan shared that his elementary learning began at Christ Church School. While that learning institution provides secondary education today, it only provided primary schooling during Mr. Khan’s time. He later enrolled at Chatham High School, which was located on Regent Street, and subsequently, the Indian Education Trust College.
Reflecting on his days in school, Mr. Khan said that he recalls skulking (playing truant) from Christ Church Primary School for almost a year without anyone knowing—well until, now of course.
“It didn’t affect me that much. I knew all the donkey-cart people in those days, but I would not recommend it for the young people now,” he said while laughing uncontrollably.
“I knew all the alleyways. It was a challenge of what you do with your time, because Christ Church School was being renovated and they had moved us to a new location.”
“School, at that time, was more like a pain; but in retrospect, when I look back at my life when I was a youth, I believe it helped me to be the person that I am today, because it gave me more knowledge about my environment. Back in those days, the alleyways were cleaner than what we have today.”
“We used to go and raid the people mango and genip trees and things like that. One day, I got caught in the mango tree and the lady (owner) walked up and I was scared. But instead of getting angry, she looked up at me and said, ‘Son, as you up there, pick some for me.’ (Chuckles). So when I look back at my youth, would I trade it for anything? No!”
THE BIGGEST GAMBLE
In spite of his naughty ways in school, Khan’s academic performance was nothing short of admirable. He also had a flare for passing many other exams too.
In this regard, Mr. Khan shared, “At school, I had a knack for passing exams, and while at the Indian Education Trust College, I obtained 13 GCE O’ Levels (some repeat subjects) at three sittings.”
But despite being “reasonably qualified”, Mr. Khan shared that it actually took him almost 10 months to secure a job. Sure enough though, an opportunity would come knocking at his door.
“I finally started on October 25, 1968 as an audit clerk with Pannell Fitzpatrick & Co. While at Pannell, I started my quest to qualify as an Accountant. I qualified as an ACCA in June of 1973. It is my understanding that I was among the first set of Guyanese to qualify locally.
In 1975, I joined the Guyana Bauxite Company Limited (GUYBAU) in the audit department. Since 1969, I was involved in the audits of the Demerara Bauxite Company Limited (DEMBA/GUYBAU) and spent an average of three months per year in Linden. I left GUYBAU after having a disagreement with management and I was blacklisted and could not get a job in Guyana. At that time, the only solution was to migrate.
In 1976, I traveled to London, which is the recruiting center for accountants worldwide. Ultimately, I had three job offers – one in Jamaica, one in Malawi and one in Zambia. I chose Coopers & Lybrand in Zambia. I never looked back.”
The 23 year-old at that time gave the world of accounting about nine years of his life. It was a field that he loved and adored. But the innate passion and drive to take his development to the next level eventually led to Khan making the biggest gamble of his career.
It was during a business trip to Japan that Khan was struck with the idea of forming his own company.
He, along with two friends, John LaRose and Terrence Pariaug, established the company, LAPARKAN Trading after recognizing the need to provide West Indians with a reliable channel to send supplies, gifts and other personal effects back home to their families in the Caribbean.
The formidable entrepreneur expressed, “I moved to London in 1983, at which time LAPARKAN was established with my two friends, Larose and Pariaug. The name LAPARKAN is an ACRONYM born out of our last names – LA-PAR-KAN. Our initial office was in London, then Toronto, followed by Guyana, New York and Miami. We later set up offices in Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica, Suriname and Panama. In the barrel business, the door-to-door concept was pioneered, which was an immediate success.”
“On February 5, 1992, we started our first all-cargo flight from Miami to Georgetown. I got advice from several sources that this project would bury LAPARKAN. However, I proved the naysayers wrong. Today, we have a weekly flight from Miami that covers Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname.”
Additionally, the businessman asserted that in 1995, LAPARKAN made another bold step to establish another entity along the same vein.
He said, “We set up the Guyana National Industrial Company Inc. (GNIC), a joint venture company with the employees to acquire the business of Guyana National Engineering Co. (GNEC), which was being privatized.
In the meantime, LAPARKAN had diversified in Guyana in the areas of Office Services operations (we are the Agent for Canon), Money Transfer and William Fogartys (acquired in 1986).
We had also acquired the Bata Shoe Company, Jim Bacchus Travel Service, opened the Caribbean Rose Restaurant and the Laparkan Automotive Services, which have since been relinquished. Even with our success, we have also had our setbacks and failures; but despite it all, it has strengthened our team and we continue to grow from strength to strength.”
When asked about the challenges of doing business in Guyana, Mr. Khan expressed, “Guyana is a very small market and in order for us to succeed, we had to diversify to numerous activities. We are challenged, like many other businesses in Guyana, in retaining good quality personnel.”
“This is as a result of major migration of Guyanese to North America and in the Caribbean. This will continue to be a headache for all businesses in the future and Guyana may end up being an expatriate base economy. There are good economic signs on the horizon and there are significant opportunities but these have to be tempered with finding the right personnel to get the job done.”
With over 35 years of service to his company, Khan has proven to be the proverbial shark of the corporate world, so much so that his vision and business acumen combined with his spirit of assisting the less fortunate are unmatched. He has cemented his name amongst the most reputable and successful business persons in the English-speaking Caribbean and its Diaspora in the post-colonial era.
While this achievement is one to be honoured and respected, Khan believes that right on par with it should be the unparalleled love that abounds within family.
In fact, when it comes to his wife and children, the cheeks of this shrewd businessman easily turn red. He is very protective of his home circle and, in this regard, quite economical with his words.
He currently resides in the United States with his wife, Sandra Beharry, and his two children; 10-year-old Joshua and14-year-old Isabella. He also has two adult sons—Duane and Gavin—from a previous marriage, who also reside in the United States.
But the question of how he met his wife stunned him for a while before he exclaimed, “I’m married to a wonderful woman. We’ve been married for over 20 years and she helps me with the business and is very supportive.”
Pressed to reveal the story of how he met his true love, Khan threw back his head and stared at the ceiling, in an effort to try and hide his uncontrollable blushing.
True to his “economical” nature, he would only divulge that he met his queen on a flight to Guyana.
Furthermore, this business mogul expressed nonetheless that he is quite content with his life and is determined to continue the legacy of his iconic company.
To the upcoming generation he says, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good for the great…”
PLANS FOR 2017
Mr. Khan was kind enough to share some of his company’s plans for 2017. In this regard, he disclosed that he is personally looking at opening branches in Europe in an articulated way by re-establishing operations in the United Kingdom (UK) and also establishing operations in the Far East.
“All these things are still percolating within our organisation. Plus, we want to establish more offices. We want to be in Los Angeles, California. We have an agent there but would like to set up our own operations there. We want to be in Houston, Texas. We want, also, to increase the number of flights within the region.”
The businessman said that he will also be looking to start a newspaper in Florida and he has already gotten the name. It will be called, “The Caribbean Diaspora”.
“There is a hunger for news about home. They (Caribbean people in the Diaspora) want to know what’s happening back home. I am going to do a paper based on the perspective of the Diaspora; how the people overseas see the community that they left behind.”
MORE THAN JUST BUSINESS
Over the past decades, this business guru has successfully piloted the diversified activities of the LAPARKAN Group of Companies with its range of services, which include ocean shipping, air cargo, manufacturing, retail trade, money transfer and travel.
Khan has even earned several awards and honours for his contribution to the development of Caribbean society in the post-Independence era. His awards and honours have come from various Caribbean organizations in the region and in the Diaspora, as well as from City and County Governments in the United States of America.
But even in the face of those noteworthy accomplishments, Khan’s main concern has always been, “How can I give back to my fellow man?”
This most profound and soul-searching question has led this business giant on a humanitarian path that he has never strayed from.
Take, for example, the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti in January 2010. Mr. Khan was actually on the forefront, lending assistance in any way possible. After the tragedy, he immediately made available, free of cost to relief agencies, some 25,000 square feet of warehouse space to facilitate the efficient dispatch of relief supplies to Haiti. He was honoured in May for this magnanimous gesture by the Americas Relief Team (ART) at a special awards ceremony presided over by former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush.
As a result of his gesture and his vision, LAPARKAN and ART have set up a permanent Disaster Emergency Relief Centre within LAPARKAN’s new warehouse in Miami, Florida.
“We are a very humanitarian organization, as people come first,” said Khan.
“We try to help and support various causes. We started a benevolent fund for the Disciplined forces in Guyana to help with scholarships, etc. We also contributed approximately US$900,000 to help with the great floods in 2005. We contributed to various charities and relief efforts and this is an ongoing exercise. Our commitment is to help our people as best as we can.”
Back in 2010, Khan was behind LAPARKAN’s move to donate $1M to the Ministry of Education to facilitate the 2010 Teacher of the Year Award at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD). LAPARKAN even collaborated with the Ministry to re-launch the award, which at that time was themed “Recovery begins with teachers”.
Additionally, Mr. Khan has made significant contributions to disaster relief efforts in Grenada, Jamaica and St. Lucia, among others.
Furthermore, Mr. Khan was also a speaker at the 2009 Miami Conference in the Caribbean. The prestigious meeting brought together officials from the Caribbean basin, the United States and Canada. It provided a platform for governments and the private sector to determine feasible and practical ways of helping their respective nations deal with the effects of the 2008 global economic recession.