Jose Thomas

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THE FIRST HURDLE
Saturday 16th October, 2010



     

 

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Dear Friends,

I want to thank all of you for supporting my endeavor in sharing my experiences. I can see my readers have increased substantially. I am very confident that I will be able to continue doing justice in sharing my posts. I have a long way to go and I want to touch upon various subjects that people generally do not want to address.

My new story is linked to my last post.

Here’s where I ended my last story ……the United States Lines failed. What next?

I was quite taken aback by the United States Lines failure and having to go back to depending completely on Ceylon Shipping Corporation and the ailing seafood business. The seafood business during this time (the mid 80’s) was using the block frozen technology (very outdated in comparison to today), which was processing raw shrimp into frozen blocks. This block frozen shrimp was exported to many countries overseas, especially the United States, where these were imported by companies and sold to people whom I didn’t know. Every ignorant exporter in India, including my company, used to deal with these importers. I was under the impression that consumers bought our products, but I was wrong. The business of the Indian exporters dwindled day by day and so did mine and my company’s survival was still dependent on my shipping business.

I always knew I had to assume responsibility for my actions and that I was the only one who could direct the path of my company’s future. I didn’t depend on external factors.

I often thought of the supply chain that was involved in the seafood business right from the fisherman who caught the shrimp to the housewife who consumed the final product. I knew there were too many people in the chain – the fisherman, the broker, the exporter, the importer, the distributor and finally the supermarket or the wholesaler. At this point it struck me that I could bridge the distance and get close to the customer. Too many links in the chain was resulting in increased cost of shrimp.

Whenever I visited the U.S., I interacted with these importers. I noticed that each time I met them, they looked happy and prosperous, whereas the exporters in India were not doing well and always complained. I visualised that there was a way to shorten the distance between the fisherman and the consumer in the supply chain and an idea cropped up in my mind. “Why don’t I open an office in the United States and provide value to the consumer, with myself being the processor and the exporter at the same time?”

I continued to pursue this dream even though I knew it was difficult and that it was impossible to get the necessary permission from the Government of India to set up overseas offices and subsidiaries. At this time (the mid 80’s) India was facing grave foreign exchange shortages and hence the impediment.

I insist on doing things within the legal frame work and wanted to do it the right way round, here too. Accordingly, I wanted to start an office with the name ‘Choice’ in the United States. I have always strongly believed in my identity.

Considering a “NO” from the Government, I could have probably started this office in someone else’s name, but then I would never be able to use the name “CHOICE”. I had made up my mind to “go for it”

I started to pursue my dream. I saw road blocks everywhere, no word of encouragement and lots of negative feedback. I approached the Reserve Bank of India for permission and the answer was an outright “NO”. The Government of India was very cautious considering the fact that they had challenges with managing the foreign exchange of the country in permitting requests, especially from the private sector for opening offices abroad and trading as an Indian company, thus exposing the country’s foreign exchange potential liabilities. Hence I got a “NO”.

I was almost on the verge of giving up, but as usual something kept telling me, “never give up, you can do it” and I said “yes, I won’t give up”.

I contacted some of my friends in political circles, sought their help and after a prolonged wait and lots of hard work, we finally got the permission from the Reserve Bank of India in early 1986 to establish a wholly owned subsidiary of Choice in the U.S. The permission stipulated many tough conditions. Today our country is so liberalized, with the Government of India encouraging Indian companies to participate in overseas ventures. See where India is today. Indian companies have even bought over foreign giants like Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover and Corus. However I faced major challenges to set up an office in the U.S. with a capital of $8000 as sanctioned by the Government of India.

I was overwhelmed when I got the permission letter but did not feel very encouraged as my own colleagues felt that $8000 was inadequate to start a trading business, that too in America. They were extremely negative of complying with the conditions stipulated in the permission letter. I thought someone from my organisation would volunteer to move to the U.S. to accomplish this dream of mine. But to my utter dismay, there were not many takers because, I guess, they had their own doubts whether they could make it happen.

You know I have always dreamt dreams and have strong convictions and beliefs and I decided not to give up. “To give up is just too easy”.

I am writing this story today, from New York City looking back on the 24 years that have passed, with lots of good and bad memories.

I decided to move to the U.S. and landed in New York with my family (my wife and two small children, aged 3 and 1). When I used to visit the U.S. previously, I was always met on arrival by my importer friends who used to take good care of me. However, this time, there was no one to receive us. It was just my family and the permission letter from the Reserve Bank of India, backed up by my guts and a vision for the future.

I knew I had very little money to spend, but wanted to fulfill a dream and had to make it happen.

As I set foot in the John F. Kennedy airport, I took a deep breath and walked outside and I said to myself “here I am in the Big Apple, the capital of the commercial world, where opportunity awaits the deserving”.

I will continue to write all that happened in the next 24 years while establishing Choice, U.S. Today, my company’s brand ‘TASTEE CHOICE’ is available in supermarkets across America and is highly rated by consumers. Friends, from here on my life changed, it was a turning point.

I had arrived on the international scene!

Stay tuned and enjoy reading.

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