With each passing day, society slips a little further down the bottomless pit of moral degradation. From the broken election promises to corruption at the institutional level, evidence of the great ethical decline is inescapable.
Moral erosion has even permeated the business world. In fact, many aspiring entrepreneurs are so consumed with bagging large profits overnight that paying bribes to get their way is a ‘no brainer’; but certainly not Terrence Campbell!
This 53-year-old’s rise to arguably becoming one of Guyana’s most thriving entrepreneurs and the largest franchise holder within these shores cannot be credited only to his sheer fiscal proficiency.
Campbell is at the top of the leader board and will remain there for quite some time due to his unwillingness to compromise his principles. Above anything else, Campbell’s professional integrity is his most guarded attribute. And while doing the right thing may not always come easy, the life story of this astute entrepreneur proves that it is certainly worthwhile in the long run.
In a profoundly wide-ranging dialogue with the Guyana Inc. Magazine, it was apparent that there are several intricate, yet fascinating facets to this business magnate. Below is an extract of our findings regarding Campbell; the family man, the shrewd businessman with a keen sense for taking calculated risks and the firm believer of integrity.
A native of Queenstown, Essequibo, Campbell was born on February 16, 1964. By the age of seven, his family made moves to the city where their first two years would be spent in Kitty and then another two years in Campbellville, before finally settling in the tranquility of Republic Park. He stayed there through most of his teen and early adult years. Overall, Campbell asserted that his childhood years were marvelous.
“Queenstown was a closely knit village where everyone knew everyone and people were, in some form or fashion, related. You referred to each other as cousin this or cousin that and, very often, it was because they really were cousins. My parents, as well as my grandparents, were from Queenstown. So it was much like living among an extended family.”
“Even after I left, I returned to Queenstown several times for vacation. I have very fond memories of being there. In Essequibo, I was protected because I was the only child for my parents. The average boy was allowed to jump into the trench to learn how to swim. But I was not allowed to do that… It was the only thing I missed out on, but I got to climb trees.”
Campbell’s parents, Robert and Carmin, passed away before he turned 51. He still recalls, however, the invaluable life lessons and the uncompromising value system they gave to him.
The businessman said, “Both of them were contented people. They lived a simple life. They were not interested in material possessions. I can’t say I am that way, but I am not overwhelmed by it. They were hard working too.”
“My mom was a seamstress and my dad, a public servant. They were honest and had integrity and I took that. I don’t bribe; not a policeman or a customs officer. So I took the value of hard work from them; honesty, integrity and the power of generosity. They are both Christians and I try to be, as well.”
Campbell related that his educational journey began in Essequibo at St. Bartholomew’s Primary. When he moved to Kitty, he spent about three years at St. Ambrose Primary School. He also attended a private school called Henry’s Under 12. It is now defunct. He would then progress to Bishops’ High School in 1975. He noted that he spent seven phenomenal years there and remains passionate about giving back to the institution.
At the University of Guyana, Campbell shared that he did Law but was unable to complete the programme due to financial constraints. This meant foregoing plans to head to the University of the West Indies (UWI). Campbell shared that in those days, students completed one year of legal studies at the University of Guyana, which he did, and would then move on to completing two years at UWI to obtain the Bachelor of Laws. He subsequently did two months of basic training in the Guyana National Service (GNS).
A TASTE OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Since financial difficulties prevented Campbell from taking the next step after UG, he decided that between 1983 and 1984 he would request a leave of absence from UWI. He plunged head first into the exportation of limes and pines to Barbados. But this venture did not result in the profitable end he had imagined. In an effort to ensure that all was not lost, he bought tyres in Barbados and shipped them to Guyana for a quick turn over. This helped him to break even and repay the loans he took to support the venture.
TIME FOR A JOB
After his taste of entrepreneurship turned sour, Campbell decided that it was time to look for a job. It took him a couple of months before he could actually secure one. And finally, he found a place at Income Tax for one month.
Campbell was hired in December of 1983. He was told that they couldn’t hire him as a trainee inspector and he was subsequently offered a job as a clerk. He left after one month.
Six months later, in July of 1984, Campbell turned out at Hand in Hand Trust as a Management Trainee. He worked there for six and a half years.
“They were a good six and a half years because I joined a programme where, after you spent about two to three years with the company, you were promoted to junior supervisor. But during this period, you were rotated through several departments. So before I joined, I spoke to a friend who had experience there. I asked him about the exams that you would have to take in insurance so you can get a fast promotion. He said that there was the Fellow of the Life Management Institute (FLMI) exams and the Associates of the Chartered Insurance Institute (ACII) exams.”
“One was British and the other, American. I started the job and probably on day one or two, I signed up to do three subjects of the FLMI. I wrote the exams in November of 1984 and I passed all three. I did the other six in May of the following year. In less than one year, I was attempting to do all nine subjects. I decided to do them simultaneously; five subjects of the ACII, when the recommendation was that you shouldn’t do more than three.”
“ACII exams were once a year and it was in April. Everyone thought I was crazy… But results came out and I passed the FMLI with distinction… ACII came out and I passed four out of five. After that, I promptly resigned from Hand in Hand. I didn’t have any place to go, but at the time, the most anyone there had was about four of the FLMI and I had nine of it. But I knew the company wasn’t going to let me go…”
Determined to hold onto Campbell for a bit longer, Hand in Hand offered the professional a new position as Junior Supervisor in November 1985 and the Berbice Branch Manager position in August 1986.
He worked in Berbice for six months before returning to Georgetown as Assistant Manager (Marketing) in February 1987.
Being the contrarian that he is though, Campbell decided that he had to be on his own. He had a hard time wriggling out of it, but he finally got through. His last working day at Hand in Hand was December 31, 1990.
A NEW PLAN
After moving on from Hand in Hand, Campbell made contact with a packaging company in Barbados and another in the United Kingdom. He said that the companies made packaging materials which he supplied to local businesses. It was a profitable project which kicked off in 1991. For his first three months into it, he made US$10,000 per month.
He made his first trip to the United States of America that same year and after doing some market research, he realized that there was no Federal Express (Fed Ex) in Guyana.
He eventually made contact with the relevant officials and Camex, short for Campbell’s Express, was launched in Guyana in March 1993. Following this was a rental company, called Camex Car Rentals, which had a fleet of 30 cars. This was a great boost to the tourism sector, which was booming at the time. But this venture subsequently died.
Campbell noted that even though he had left Hand in Hand in 1990, he still pursued the completion of his ACII in 2000. This was the equivalent of a Degree and it only reignited his desire to pursue an academic career.
“I got the itch to go back to school. I told myself that life can’t be just about making money and having fun. I left Guyana in September of 1996 and I went to the University of Westminster. I did a Masters in International Business and Management and I graduated with Merit. That took one year. I had just become a resident of the USA and I moved there in September 1997. ”
“I joined the University of Fordham and I felt business wise, I needed to know about finance. In two semesters, I knocked out the Graduate Certificate in Finance. I, then, applied to do a Doctorate in International Business and Economics at Pace University. In 1998, I went to Pace where I did my course work. But I had to return to Guyana in December 1999 because both my car rental business and Fed Ex was not doing well. I returned to focus on business.”
In 1999, Campbell related that four of the top Sales Executives at Hand in Hand resigned and joined him to form Apex Insurance Brokers. One of the partners has since died, but the other three and Campbell continue to operate Apex. When it started, Campbell was Apex’s CEO and President. Today, he serves mostly in the capacity of a consultant.
Furthermore, Campbell’s return from his studies would see him launching Camex Suriname N.V. in 2000. Seventeen years later, it is still doing well. In 2001, he launched Consolidated Cargo and Aviation Services Inc. When his new businesses seemed to be stable, Campbell made a return to the USA in 2002 to study and write his Comprehensive exams.
“I returned to the USA and spent a month locked up in a hotel room, in New Jersey, just studying. I wrote the Comprehensive exams and I passed. Now, when I started the programme in 1998, I had 10 years to complete. So I had six years left to write my thesis. But, I got caught up in negotiations and business to get the Church’s Chicken franchise in 2005.”
“When I started the Church’s brand, I did not have enough money. It was a crazy, crazy journey. To go back a little bit, back in 1991 when I went to the USA, I not only tried to contact Fed Ex but also Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). KFC told me that I needed to have net assets of US$250,000 to get the franchise. I don’t even think I had US$1,000, so it was a waste of time trying to get them.”
“Then, I tried to get the Popeye’s franchise and that did not work out. But one day, I was reading a Trinidadian newspaper and I learnt that Church’s Chicken was launched there. After doing some research, I learnt that Popeye’s and Church’s were owned by one company called AFC Enterprises.”
Campbell noted that he made contact with the officials of Church’s, but for some reason or the other, plans were always falling through. In 2005, he received a call from the entity and an official was able to make it to Guyana’s shores. A deal was subsequently signed in June 2005.
“I got around to building the restaurant but I did not have enough money at the time. So one of the guys from the Church’s team told me that it was a pity that they were now getting around to me because they just closed five stores in Jamaica and the guy in charge there was selling the equipment for a song. What he sold it for was less than it would cost for me to pay for just one store, and this was five stores.”
“The equipment was supposed to be sold to someone in The Bahamas, but then, out of the blue, I got a call from the guy in Jamaica and he said that he was going to sell his equipment to me. I never met him or spoke to him before. I made my way to Jamaica. He raised the price on me, but we bought it and shipped it out of Jamaica. I finally opened the store in March 2006.”
Today, Church’s currently has 15 branches in and around Georgetown.
Speaking to the addition of Mario’s Pizza, Dairy Queen and Quiznos, Campbell said he was always of the view that Guyanese would love to go to a single location where they could get their pizza, ice cream and fried chicken at the same place.
The entrepreneur said that in 2016, Camex Restaurants made a huge plunge by investing in the space at Camp and Robb Streets and also at the Giftland Mall.
“When we did Quiznos, we felt that it was a good idea; that Guyanese would want healthy meals too. But this only appeals to a certain demographic. So it did not work out as planned. We didn’t build the additional stores.”
“Last year, we also made another huge plunge with the addition of Pollo Tropical. It was a decision that almost took us under because the idea was to change the narrative of simply serving the people fried chicken. Besides, it was an area that was getting overcrowded. How much fried chicken can people actually eat? Pollo has its followers, but it has not taken off the way Church’s has. We took the risk last year thinking we could change the narrative, but I suppose that will take a couple of years.”
Campbell never likes to leave loose ends lying around for too long. In this regard, he returned to his studies. His 10-year deadline for his first Doctorate was up. He eventually looked for a new programme and, two years ago, he started a Doctorate in Business at Edinburgh Napier University. He hopes to be finished by mid-2018.
For the time being, Campbell said he has no plans for expansion on the restaurant front. Part of the reason, he says, has to do with his life cycle.
“The restaurant business is a very demanding one. We are working on managing business, redoing some aspects, doing some major upgrades to stores around Guyana. But I will tell you this; in business, you need to have a plan and belief in divine intervention, if you believe in God.”
“The reason I say this is because the agreement with Church’s Chicken was granted in 2003. It would have been a failure because at the time Church’s was not doing spicy chicken. That would not have worked in Guyana. So sometimes, you can want something, but if the Big Man upstairs says it is not ready for you, then you won’t get it. Everything happens at the right time.”
Campbell is of the firm opinion that the APNU+AFC Administration needs to become more entrepreneurial. He insists that more should be done for the development of local businesses. He stressed that the Government needs to take a leadership role in this regard since the private sector cannot do it alone.
The entrepreneur insists that more can be done in Guyana in terms of attracting investments if the nation’s regulatory systems were addressed. In this regard, he said that agencies such as the Mayor and City Council and others need to be cleaned of corrupt elements, which make it hard to conduct business without passing a bribe.
Campbell said too that the banking system needs to be addressed. He said that it is extremely difficult for young businessmen and women with plans to get start up loans.
“You have to go crawling on your knees to get a loan. It is not easy. How does the young Kiana or the young Glenn Lall get started if they don’t have the resources to start up their business? We need to get more competition in the banking sector. Young entrepreneurs need to be able to get better access to financing. Interest rates also need to be revised. They are just too high in Guyana because of limited competition and the cartel-like operations of the banks. ”
GREATEST LIFE LESSON
Campbell’s greatest life lessons relate to debt and integrity.
On the latter, the shrewd businessman said that integrity is integral to one’s personal and professional life. While he still aspires to achieve near perfection in his personal life, he insists that the principle reigns supreme in his professional life.
As it relates to the former topic, Campbell humourously said he has found that debt is the leading cause of death of businessmen.
“I have been doing a lot of reflecting and I am trying to change that aspect of my personality, always wanting to take on huge risks. As business people, we have to do that. But you just have to watch it.”
“What I have always found particularly disturbing in the business community is that if you take a risk and you fail, people are quick to celebrate your failure rather than celebrate that you even took the risk. We need to change that culture.
We have to encourage people to take risks so that they can develop. But, as I said, it is something that you have to keep an eye on; for risks, which can lead to debt, have often resulted in the death of businessmen.”
According to Campbell, integrity is everything, especially in the world of business. To the aspiring businessman or woman, he says you can build a business and keep your honour.
He stressed that you don’t have to join the corruption, regardless of the seeming benefits that may be hanging in the balance.
Additionally, Campbell advises that every entrepreneur should strive to have some form of uniqueness with their business idea.
“In Guyana, if I open a store selling chocolate on a corner and everyone sees I am doing well, 10 more are going to open up doing the same thing.
My advice in this regard is to try to develop some skill or service that makes it hard for others to imitate; get into a business field that people can’t jump into with great ease and that is how you are going to get long term success.”
“Last I would say is, young people are going to have to come out and speak out on the corruption that holds the business community back. I have been guilty of not wanting to speak and I now realize that that was the wrong thing to do. So speak out, or else we will end up with a country that none of us likes.”
MARRIAGE ON THE HORIZON
Campbell is not married at the moment but he indicated to the Guyana Inc. Magazine that he hopes to fix that quite soon.
He said, “I have never been married. God knows what the future holds. Hopefully that is something that will be corrected soon.”
In the meantime, Campbell indicated that he has six wonderful children. Teressa is his eldest daughter. She is 27-years-old and an Attorney-at-Law. Campbell stated that Teressa does not practice law but she is a consultant. His other daughter, Safara, is a primary school student at the New Guyana Primary School. She recently turned 11. His beautiful five-year-old daughter, Keren, is in kindergarten.
As for his boys; Campbell related that Terrence Junior is 32-years-old and is an Engineer at Du Pont in Memphis, Tennessee. His 20-year-old son, Craig, is a senior at the University of Rochester studying Politics and Philosophy. Christian, on the other hand, is the baby of the lot. He is four-years-old.
Campbell said, “If I had to live my life over, I would have been married in my 20s. My life took some unusual turns. I did Law at the age of 18 at the University of Guyana but didn’t have the money to continue.
Then I went to work to support my kids and I thought I needed to give them all of my attention. I thought marriage would have been incompatible. I was traveling a lot and felt it would be unfair to be away for such long periods of time from my spouse.”
He added, “My perspective on that has changed. I am not opposed to marriage, but 2018 may be the year. Let’s see.”
PUBLIC SERVICE, POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS, AND ROLE IN RISE
While Campbell may be the ardent businessman, he has also volunteered his time, since February 2016, to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Guyana National Printers Limited. This company, which was previously hemorrhaging money, is now stable and being retooled for even greater success after he retires from that role in January 2018.
He is also a fighter for Constitutional Reform in Guyana. He believes that there is a crisis in leadership in the nation; but through Reform, Inform, Sustain Educate (RISE), a nonprofit organization, he has been making efforts to bring about a change for a better political system in Guyana.
“I do believe that it is the lack of leadership that has us in the position that we are in today. And for us to get where we need to be, there has to be Constitutional Reform. RISE is not meant to be a political party or third force, but an education force in terms of constitutional change. Guyana is perhaps just as divided as it was back in 1966, or even more so.”
Campbell stated that while he has zero interest in taking a place in the political space, he would have no choice but to do so if there is no effective reform soon, perhaps by 2020.
“Many of the persons from my generation, or many who have been around since independence, will be departed. And the question that abounds is, ‘What will our legacy be when we leave?’”
“We must have a change, we must demand it and every citizen has a responsibility to leave a better Guyana behind!”