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Q&A with Nicholas Galt
1 How many years have you been in business?
I have been in business for the past 44 years. I worked in various fields including being a technician in the audio and television fields, as an oilfield rig worker, and as a salesman for a company involved in office machine and furniture sales and service.
During the last period, I realised that there was little future in selling office machines if I were to realise my ambitions. This was specific to the rates of commission paid and to the market opportunities.
Consequently I sought and received approval from my then-manager to import a programmable machine as well as the necessary books for self-teaching and committed to teach myself how to write code and further committed that I would ultimately sell the unit in question at a profit for the company. Several months later, having successfully written my application, I sold the device to a local bank to carry out the computation of cable testing for transfer by cable. I duplicated this effort in Barbados shortly thereafter.
Several years later, the owner of the business for which I worked as a sales manager passed away and I had an opportunity to become a partner in acquiring the office machines and furniture division alongside two equal partners. The year was 1979 and the company formed was Trinidad Systems & Office Equipment Company Limited.
This name would morph to Trinidad Systems Limited in 1982 when we began to focus primarily on computer sales and software development. We were among the first in the Caribbean to work with microprocessors as far back as 1978. In fact, these were the harbingers to the PC. All in all TSL has been in business now for the past 38 years.
2 What has been your biggest success?
My biggest success thus far has been building an organisation where people are delighted to work.
TSL provides a family type environment, which is not driven by the almighty dollar but rather thrives on its customer satisfaction\ index. Building customer satisfaction to the heights, which we have achieved, was extremely difficult. We were small, we were not taken notice of and because of the overwhelming change in computer technology from main frames to PC server-based systems, companies were simply scared to work with us and chose instead to work with the better known brands. This was a long arduous journeyand had to be fought strategically.
3 Have you ever failed at any endeavour?
Yes, we have had several failures over the years. Two in particular were major hurdles for us to overcome. An international vendor requested us to set up operations in five more countries in the Caribbean.
This in return would provide us with exclusive representation for a product line, which was strategic to our operation’s success.
In light of this, we opened companies in Jamaica, Grenada, St Lucia (through an affiliate), St Vincent (through an affiliate) and Barbados.
We entered in to what appeared to be an honourable agreement in Jamaica, which after three years turned sour. In Grenada, the economy turned on us and there was no control to keep the company afloat.
Fortunately, we had beet luck with our affiliated and in Barbados where our company TSL Barbados continues to do well.
4 What makes you decide whether you want to enter a new venture?
We are a technology company. We understand all of the bits and pieces of same. A new venture would have to fall in line with our expertise. We carefully examine the market potential and the business plan before seeking investment or partners. In the case of investing in different countries, once the plan is feasible we seek persons of high integrity and strong moral principles. Moving in to another country, except you have the ability to be present at all times is difficult as the culture of each country, even in the Caribbean we differ from one to the other. Once the business plan has been carefully analysed and the return on investment is adequate we then apply these next steps before proceeding any further. If we cannot find the correct partner, we simply go no further.
5 Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
This is a very important message to all who would read this article. Do not give in to opportunities, which come with a price. In turn, do not attempt to bribe anyone to get business. This is not business. These are simply corrupt practices. Be able to sleep at night despite the fact that you have lost deals because you were honest. You will never have skeletons in your closet and consequently you can stand strongly against corruption knowing that no one can ever point a finger at you.
6 Have you ever felt like you could lose it all?
I am no stranger to failure. In fact I see failure as part of the road to success. Once I have failed, I analyse the reason why. Then I take a different approach. I never give up. Giving up is failure. Have I felt that I could lose it all? Yes, in fact knowing that I have so many families for whom my group is
responsible that I am driven to finding ways to new opportunities so that these responsibilities (which I consider to be personally mine) will not be affected. I have been at the brink of losing it all as far back as 1985 and several times since then.
7 What drives you? There are several driving agents here. 1—The fear of failing which will redound to my family and my staff firstly and then to all who would be impacted by that failure. 2—The need to achieve as much as I can achieve and not to settle for mediocrity. 3—A desire to be successful enough that I can carry out the work of the NGOs in which I have been intrinsically involved for the past 22 years. 4—The need to contribute towards building these beautiful twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago and to see us counted among the best in the world.
8 When did you recognise that you’d “made it”? This question is a loaded one. You make it and you lose it until one day you make more than you lose and you reinvest that into your company and begin to experience growth. We saw a tremendous amount of growth in 1997 and it was at this time that I probably realised that we had all of the ducks lined up and that the journey would really now begin.
Despite our size and our very mediocre accommodations at 80 Woodford Street, Xerox came calling as they had recognised that this little company then TSL, was absolutely committed to customer service. In negotiating with them, they committed to train our people over a period of 53 weeks to transfer good business practices, technology, process improvements etc.
We started with a market share of 4% in 1996 and towards the end of 1998, through an independent foreign survey country-ably assisted by a local company we had achieved a market share of 34%. I guess this was the moment that I knew that we had finally got it right or we were on the right path. Today, our success speaks for itself.
9 What do most people think about you that may or may not be true?
Tough one. I am a humble man and would like to think that people see me as a person who spends much of his time giving back to society.
I would like to think that I am seen as someone of high integrity and strong morals. I would also like to think that my success can pave the way for young entrepreneurs to follow. For that matter, I encourage young people to come visit with me and discuss their plans and their foresight in the hope that I may be of assistance to them.
As to what they may think of me which is simply not true: 1—I have all that I have because I was given it on a plate. 2—I make money and don’t help the poor and the needy. 3—I am in this business only for myself and care not for other. I guess the list can go on and one.
10 What do you believe are the key factors to succeed in business?
This is a very good and important lesson and I suspect that you may hear similar responses from all of the great pundits and businessmen. Firstly one must define success. What is success? You will hear on a daily basis of the many rally calls against business deemed to be corrupt.
Sadly in Trinidad and Tobago. There are not many legitimate business which hold the ethics and moral position which should be held. Corruption is strife. Persons walk around with amazing wealth realised over just a few short years where those of us who put in the time have had to spend many years to do so.
Therefore, I refer not to those entities, which call themselves businesses at this time.
I refer to what a truly successful business needs to follow to realise its full potential.
1—Firstly define a code of ethics which you and your staff all sign off on and agree to follow.
Yours is to the first and most important signature of all. 2—Separate good business from bad business. Not all business is good.
Do business with those companies for which you have respect. Stay away from those which can tarnish your good name. 3—Instill in your staff a feeling of belonging and comradery.
Understand that your staff are the front-liners of your organisation. They are the ones who will mostly interface in the many interactions, which your company will have with its customers. In fact your staff are your greatest asset. 4—Develop your staff. Educate them constantly. Keep them at the leading edge of the business community. 5—Reward your staff commensurate with their productivity but consequently you must be able to measure productivity in order to do so. 6—Take advice from your staff. Ensure that they are aware as to what direction you are taking so that they can contribute as well as be proud to be included. 7 Develop a culture which aligns all members of staff. This could be a number of simple things. For example never pass a member of staff in the hallway without acknowledging him/her, despite the fact that you may have done so five minutes earlier. 8—Place your customers first. Give your staff the ability to ensure that the customer is satisfied by allowing them the discretion of replacing or reimbursing the customer for faulty solutions. 9— Strive to represent only the best of breed lines in the business in which you operate. 10—And last but not at all least, ask the Almighty for continuous guidance in all that you do.
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