Keep business simple, Stewart tells youngsters
“If I had to run the organization that I run today, with the experience I had when I just started, I couldn’t do it.”
That is the confession of top Caribbean top hotelier Gordon “Butch” Stewart, as he tutored eager entrepreneurs on the ways of business and avoiding pitfalls, or climbing out of them, on the road to success. The Sandals owner and chairman was last night night in conversation with four finalists of the Barbados young entrepreneur promotion programme Bank On Me, Season Two at the Savannah Hotel.
Created and produced by Blue Waters Productions, and presented in association with Scotiabank, the 2013 launched Bank On Me is a reality TV show for young entrepreneurs. It focuses on how entrepreneurs can attract various types of financing, including loans, equity and grants.
Janelle Mitchell, Michael Holder, Sean Carter and Dario Greenidge were chosen for the conversation with Butch Stewart because they had completed their business plans and advanced to the investor phase of the competition.
Speaking to the four in the presence of a roomful of businesspersons, including Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss and veteran businessman Rawle Brancker, Stewart advised the young entrepreneurs to keep their enterprises simple. Stressing the need for simplicity of operations until the business owner mastered other concepts, this owner of world-renowned award-winning resorts in six Caribbean territories said his first venture into business was as an air conditioner salesman.
“I had a little thing behind my desk, and every bill I got I put it back there, and every month I’d draw a cheque for every bill. I didn’t need an accountant. I might have got supplies from one company ten times; I gave them ten cheques. Keep it simple.” Explaining his reason for venturing into business, Stewart said: “I think it is the eagerness to do something for yourself, and I never wanted a one-man business. I didn’t have a lot of money; I started with US$3,000.”
Stewart said he did the sales work prior to arrival of the air conditioner units in his native Jamaica.
“So before that US$3,000 of air conditioners came, they were sold.”
And there was no set time for delivery of goods, as the priority was satisfying the customer.
“It was a question of giving service. People wanted one at midnight. Seven o’clock in the evening . . . . That’s business. You do it when you can.”
The hotel magnate and car dealer said he didn’t have “downs” in his rags to riches career, with the exception of the loss of a son.
“My biggest fear was being able to make payroll at the end of the week. They’ve been periods when it’s been difficult, but rather than cave in, I’d find a way to make it work. “There was a period that –– probably three years after starting –– I was good at selling but not good at collecting; and there was a period that I had more money on the road and I couldn’t fund it [the business].”
He warned: “Businesses go out of business because the costs get too high, generally.”
And he spoke of the experience of pressing too hard and falling into the classical position of “not seeing the forest for the trees”. Recognizing his intensity on the job, friends coerced him into taking a vacation.
“When we came back I saw things vividly. I closed the business; I put everybody we had on the streets to collect money, and we collected it.”
Stewart told the young entrepreneurs that a tough part of starting a business was the sacrifice of true family life in the early days.
“My family has suffered. You are not made out of metal. You are not a machine; so you can’t work long hours every day all week. When you start up businesses you go seven days a week. And when you’re young sometimes you don’t even know you’re tired.
“You mightn’t be thinking clearly, but you don’t know it. So you have to pace yourself.”