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Encouraging business between Côte d’Ivoire and Great Britain

CICCGB Launch 4

Here is my speech from the launch of the Côte d’Ivoire Chamber in Great Britain (CICCGB) at Hilton London Tower Bridge Hotel on Thursday 17 March.

Good evening Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to join you at the launch of the Cote d’Ivoire Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain.

President John F Kennedy said: ‘Things don’t happen. They are made to happen.’ So I want to pay tribute to Kady Doumbia, Lamine Konate and their team for making this event happen. They are strengthening the relationship between Great Britain and Cote d’Ivoire. Today’s launch has been possible because of their hard work, passion and vision. This is leadership in action. Please join me in giving them a huge round of applause.

I would like to share with you my story, the journey of an entrepreneur from India to the UK. You will hear how I was able to realise my dream of owning a successful business: top business skills, substantial savings and a global profile. I believe that this chamber can fulfil its mission by following a similar approach and become a leading business network in the coming years.

My story began 7,000 kilometres away from here in India, where I grew up the youngest of 11 children and went to state schools in Delhi. During my summers as a child, I would stay at my sister’s house. Her place had no bathroom, no running water and one electric light. I remember collecting five buckets of buffalo dung every day. I’d shape them into pancakes, slap them on walls to dry and then use for fuel. Believe it or not, I was the local dung collector champion!

Through hard work at school, I won entry to the Indian Institute of Technology and earned my Bachelor’s degree in engineering. Afterwards, I obtained a scholarship for a Masters’ degree in engineering and went to New York to purse higher education.

But my excitement of flying for the first time at the age of 22 was short-lived. The second I stepped off the plane I dropped to the bottom of society. I was dirt poor. For the first time in my life, I was a fish out of water: a different culture, a different language and a different socio-economic level.

I reminded myself that I had come to New York to fulfil my dream of owning a business.
And I would work day and night to achieve this goal. At this time, I realised that in order to be a successful entrepreneur in a highly competitive world, I needed to acquire a combination of three ingredients at the same time.

First, I would need the best education so I could compete with talented people and win business. Second, I would need savings so I did not have to rely on the bank. And third, I would need to build the profile of a global manager to conduct business seamlessly with international clients.

I estimated that it would take long hours, determination and razor-sharp focus for 10-15 years. Implementing my plan, I decided to save 50% of my monthly scholarship, which was no easy feat, I assure you. I never ate out in New York for the first 12 months. But I still had the most delicious food everyday… because I cooked it myself!

In spite of suffering a brain haemorrhage, I stayed focused on my education and graduated with a Masters’ degree in engineering. Having scraped by on minimum wage by cutting grass, I got a job as a project engineer and set an ambitious goal of saving $50,000 in three years.

I worked overtime all the time. When not working overtime, I would use my time to volunteer as a fire-fighter and work on my funny accent. By the way, I had no accent problems in India! I can’t tell you how happy I felt when I had saved 50,000 dollars, enough to pursue my next dream of studying for an MBA at UCLA.

In 1992, I completed my MBA – my third graduation – with the Dean’s Outstanding Student Award, the highest honour given to any student. And, I had no outstanding student loans.

I then joined Sales and Trading at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. I immediately set a goal of saving one million dollars in ten years. Would you believe I was interviewed 31 times before I got that job!

Having worked for Goldman Sachs, I decided to build a profile of a global manager – the third ingredient. In subsequent years, I lived in London, Tokyo and Zurich while consulting with senior investment bankers. After working for 80 hours every week, I achieved my goal of saving one million dollars three years earlier than planned.

Armed with my business education, my savings and my international profile, I launched Global Markets Consultants, a management consulting firm, in London and New York in 2002. I am proud to share that my company has created hundreds of senior management jobs and contributed millions in corporate and individual taxes to HMRC.

My company was chosen as a Preferred Supplier of Deutsche Bank every year from 2005 to 2013. My business has remained sound despite the financial crisis we faced in 2008 because we have maintained excellent client relationships, provided superior value for money and ensured the success of all our staff. Furthermore, I’m proud to say that we didn’t let go any staff during all these years and have never even thought of looking for a loan.

Since retiring in 2010, I’ve been pursuing my charitable, travelling and community interests.
I support over 20 charities as patron or trustee. I’ve raised £200,000 for them by completing challenges, such as running London Marathon, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and cycling 500 KM in Vietnam.

I enjoy travelling. I’ve been to 100 countries and all 7 continents… and my next destination is Cote d’Ivoire! I’m looking forward to eating Alloco!

I love my community. I’ve already committed three million pounds of my savings and 60 hours per week of my time to promote social inclusion and build one London.

To recognise my entrepreneurial contributions to the UK, I was invited to have lunch with the Queen on the top table for a Diamond Jubilee celebration.

On reflection, all of this has been possible because of the opportunities provided to me by the US and UK. And I have pursued these opportunities relentlessly to build a successful company, career and community profile.

I believe that this Cote d’Ivoire Chamber of Commerce can also flourish by identifying and pursuing growth opportunities. It can realise its goals by setting SMART objectives and achieving them following a three-step approach. First, obtain recognisable credentials for the chamber by working hard. Second, develop sustainable revenue streams by building lasting relationships with members and corporates. Third, build a global reach by connecting with other business chambers in the UK, in Africa and across the world.

I hope this chamber will serve as a conduit for more business for both the UK and Cote d’Ivoire and go from strength to strength in coming years. In due time, it can also act as a gateway to other West African countries. One thing I am sure of is that this chamber can count on my full support, including my resources and network.

And on this note, I would like to conclude by once again congratulating Kady Doumbia, Lamine Konate and their team for launching this chamber today. I look forward to working with you and supporting your efforts. Together we can build business links, encourage entrepreneurship and connect communities between Great Britain and Cote d’Ivoire.

As Henry Ford said: Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.

Thank you very much

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Written by Prem Goyal

Prem is a City entrepreneur, political activist and community organiser. He is a Magistrate, charity Trustee and active Patron to a number of community organisations in Southwark.