The automotive industry has emerged as an international trading force in the 20th century. An instrument of economic growth and success, it is characterized by generations of industrious “command and control” leaders locally and beyond.
In Guyana, the automotive industry remains a steady sector with ever changing conditions that test the resilience of its members. But regardless of the trials that came over the years, Tony Ramcharan remains the undisputed champion of the industry.
In this series of the Guyana Inc. Magazine, we delve into the life of the owner of Tony’s Auto Spares, the largest auto spare parts dealership within these shores.
Ramcharan grew up in the unassuming sugar estate community of La Bonne Intention (LBI), East Coast Demerara. He is the third of eight children born to Jerry and Joan Ramcharan. He attended the LBI Primary School and later moved onto the Cummings Lodge Secondary School.
The businessman was unable to further his studies at the tertiary level since this pursuit could not have been afforded by his parents at the time. He informed this magazine that his father worked as a Clerk at the LBI Sugar Estate, while his mother was a housewife who tended to the family’s kitchen garden and would sell some of the produce from time to time.
For him, growing up in the sugar industry was always enjoyable. In the afternoons, he and his friends would indulge in a “good game of cricket, fishing or a visit to nearby cinemas”, particularly at Starlite Drive-in at Montrose and the then Tivoli Cinema in Beterverwagting, which is the village east of LBI.
Although he experienced a tough life growing up, he still considers it to be a time when persons could have had more fun than nowadays.
In this regard, Ramcharan stated, “I grew up with eight other children in the home so life was generally not easy. However, it was more fun. I actually enjoyed life then and it was a lot easier in terms of not worrying about where you are going and so on.”
THE WORLD OF WORK
At the age of 16, Ramcharan related that he began working at the LBI estate. He was assigned by his supervisors to work in the fields to bail punts, throw limestone, plant cane and at one time, he was even made to catch rats.
However, after doing this for some time, his supervisor advised him to apply to be a messenger for the estate since there was an opening.
“A Messenger in those times was one who would ride this big carrier bike and pick up the mail from the post office and deliver it to the different managers and to the various departments.”
Ramcharan said that he did this for one year after which, he began working in the estate store. This is where he learnt about “Spare Parts”. After acquiring much experience in the field, he subsequently left there in the mid 80’s and began working with Hack’s Auto Sales in Charlestown, Georgetown.
THE FAMILY MAN
The entrepreneur noted that during that time, he made the decision to marry his childhood sweetheart, Nadira, who was practically his neighbour. Today, the couple has three children; Jasper, Stacy and Joel Ramcharan.
Speaking to where his children are today, Ramcharan noted that Jasper manages the day-to-day operations of the company’s La Resouvenir, ECD branch store. His only girl, Stacy, was in 2014 crowned Miss Earth Guyana. He said that she has since pursued the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) examinations and has become a well-known name in the local modelling and fashion industry. Tony’s third child, Joel, has completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration in the United States of America and is now moving on to do his Masters in the same field.
Though he has his son Jasper already involved in the business, Ramcharan says that in his ideal world, he would love to have his other two children eventually become a part of what he is doing in some way or the other.
He described his children as being “solid young people who are kind in every way.”
Ramcharan noted, “Fatherhood is an amazing experience. I’m blessed that I have three kids; if I had to describe them in one word, I’d say they are solid kids. They are very kind, they are easy to talk to, we can sit and we can talk, we won’t agree on everything but there is always common ground. At the end of the day, the most important thing for me with kids is if they are kind.”
Ramcharan shared that he believes this quality is of utmost importance especially if children grow up in a business environment where they did not have to experience the struggle which their parents went through. With this in mind, he strongly believes that the key thing is to keep them grounded.
The entrepreneur even recalled that he became a father at age 25. He said that during his time, transitioning from being a young man to a father was practically a huge deal.
“Fatherhood is something every man should experience. When Jasper came along, it was a good experience, and then my daughter came along, then Joel; when you have kids and they are healthy and they are good kids, no business or anything can compensate for that. Fatherhood has been a real blessing.”
Not taking the credit for the upbringing of his children alone, the humble Ramcharan said that his wife Nadira has been a remarkable mother to her children. “When they were growing up, she would normally take them to school and wait all day on them under the tree nearby the school in the car.”
All of Ramcharan’s children attended the Mae’s Private School. He said that his wife has always been protective of her children and did everything to ensure that they were well provided for.
In 1991, Ramcharan said that he was faced with a tough decision. It was either he invest some $5000 he had in savings into a business or be a conductor for a minibus in greater Georgetown.
Choosing the former was perhaps one of the hardest decisions he had to make. He noted that in the initial stages it was harsh but with hard work and dedication, success soon followed.
The young businessman at the time started his own business in Shell Road Kitty called Tony’s Auto Spares.
After marketing the business properly and trying to buy into customers here and there, the company soon became a name to be reckoned with and in 1998, Ramcharan moved to Bel Air Springs where he currently resides.
In those days, there were only a few auto spares shops since only a small number of people knew the trade.
Ramcharan was lucky enough to have extensive experience with mechanics and spare parts, particularly with the Land Rover brand. He acquired this experience during his time at Hack’s Auto Sales as well as his time at the estate. At the latter, he worked diligently as a mechanic for certain officials who drove Land Rovers. He might just be one of the last Guyanese who knows Land Rover parts from “back to front” as he puts it.
“There was always a market for land rover spares, and when we started, we specialised in land rover spares because I know those parts very, very well and a lot of the companies which had land rover vehicles started to support us.”
Upon establishing a name in the Land Rover brand, the company soon branched out to supply other brands of parts. The company was then able to acquire its own building in Light Street, Albertown and this, coupled with the already established reputation, improved business.
According to the businessman, his company has the lowest turnover rate for employees. “The same people who worked with us then, work with us today. We currently have about 45 to 50 people working for us. I really appreciate those who have become permanent staff.”
In 2008, the company ventured into the auto sale business; that is selling auto sale parts and quickly became known for selling the Toyota brand of pickup vehicles. “I can confidently say that most of the pickups that sell in Guyana nowadays, we usually sell them. It’s like a niche market and we have a good control over that market.”
In his fair description of doing business in Guyana, Ramcharan said that it can be quite challenging, however, he believes he has been fortunate to have a great group of people working with him.
Like in any other business, there will be issues which will arise that have to be dealt with, but due to the hard work of his employees, they have managed to overcome those challenges.
Ramcharan said, “Our human resources are our biggest asset; our workers generally wear their hearts on their sleeves. There have been a lot of challenges but we are up for it because at the end of the day, we have the people who can deal with it.”
He credits the commitment of his workers to the ‘family like’ atmosphere which is encouraged at his offices whereby everyone looks after each other and they are the ones responsible for keeping the company open day in and day out for the past 25 years.
Ramcharan, also shared that he has never missed a day at work and attributed his personal drive to ensuring the success of his business to simply liking what he does.
“At the end of the day, if you like what you do, you don’t see it as going to work but doing what you love. I won’t exchange my job for any other profession. I absolutely love what I do.”
He relayed that spare parts is a unique industry and only some people have managed to be successful in the business. Ramcharan, who did not receive any formal training in the field, said that his only regret is that he does not have a University Degree along with his business.
“I wouldn’t exchangev this for a degree but if a degree had come along in the process, I would have felt a bit more complete.” There is no substitute for experience according to the businessman.
In terms of commercial support to the business, Ramcharan said that a lot of support has been provided by the company’s bankers. He noted that the majority of his customers come from government agencies, the gold industry and the sugar industry. This is in the form of selling spare parts, tyres and batteries. Due to the wide range of services offered by the company, it is always busy, even when one section might not be doing so well. The diversification and wide inventory has helped to keep the company thriving in an increasingly competitive market.
Ramcharan said that the nature of the business requires a relationship to be established with each client so as to understand the situation they are in and to further figure out the best way they can be helped.
The businessman believes that his humble beginnings has allowed him to relate to the ordinary man who would come to the store looking for aid with a part since he understands what it means to be in tough situation with limited means.
“So when I get a customer, I try to put myself in their shoes. I may get a customer and for all you know, the person bought a car with all the money they had. Therefore, this man needs to get value for his money. What I want for myself is exactly what I would want for others.”
In order for his children to develop this quality, Ramcharan encourages them to be involved in charity work. The business over the years has been involved in various charitable outreaches as well.
In this regard, Ramcharan said, “For the last fifteen years, we, along with other people in the neighbourhood, have been sharing out hampers to different communities. Every year, we would do a children’s party in LBI and every year we would take hampers to different persons in LBI who are over 60 years old.”
In addition to giving back to his community, Ramcharan also partakes in doing charitable contributions for a number of underprivileged homes and orphanages around Guyana. “That is something I’m very involved with and that I am very proud of.”
Ramcharan does not give because he can afford it but for the simple reason of understanding what it means to have come from the ‘ground’.
“You see, when you come from the ground, you don’t give because you can afford it; you give because you understand exactly how it feels to be down there.”
The auto business has become a bit saturated over the years but the company has remained second to none, according to Ramcharan. Most of the company’s customers are repeat customers due to a well established client base.
The next step for Ramcharan is to open a modern Auto Centre to complement the existing branches. Since the company sells vehicles and parts, the Centre will provide a place to have vehicles serviced.
Reaching to the position which he now enjoys in the business arena was a long, hard but rewarding road for Mr. Ramcharan. He believes that his success has made persons around him proud.
He said that when doing business, one has to be patient.
“That is one of the problems with the young generation out there now, they are not patient enough. You have to see the larger picture and you have to keep working towards that larger picture and you will get there. The future of this country looks bright with the young business persons in Guyana once they put their minds to achieving their goals.”
One of the important factors in business according to Ramcharan is taking calculated risks. He said that it is necessary that persons identify what they are good at and exploit that quality to their benefit.
In addition, “There will be setbacks. Any big businessman will tell you that but you just have to keep pushing because when you keep doing that, the door has to open at some point.”
His favourite pastime is to be at home playing with his dogs. The businessman completely adores puppies and believes that they have so much love to give humans but are most times taken for granted. He enjoys walking his Pomeranian dogs. Additionally, he enjoys throwing back and soaking up a good movie or out and about hanging out with his close friends and relatives.