SUNBIZ

Patel Finds Satisfaction In Land Of Aplenty

It’s 1984. The late Michael Jackson’s hair catches fire in a TV commercial, India’s first female Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated and Apple Computer releases the Macintosh personal computer.
17 Jun 2015 10:15
Patel Finds Satisfaction In Land  Of Aplenty
CPL Group Chairman and Telikom PNG Chairman Mahesh Patel

It’s 1984. The late Michael Jackson’s hair catches fire in a TV commercial, India’s first female Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated and Apple Computer releases the Macintosh personal computer.

It’s also the year when Fijian-born Mahesh Patel and New Zealand pharmacist graduate applied for a managerial position at a pharmacy in Papua New Guinea and found his business acumen too.

Mr Patel, head of one of Papua New Guinea’s top conglomerates and largest retailer, CPL Group was the guest speaker at the Fiji-PNG Business Council networking session at Holiday Inn on Monday.

His Group operates pharmacies, supermarkets, hardware stores, building solutions, coffee shops, household and appliance stores, multiplex cinemas and a pizza chain.

 

Beginnings

His journey began in 1975 when he left Ba town to study in the ‘land of the long white cloud’.

“During my internship year in 1983, I was discussing with my peers about my ambitions beyond Fiji and thought of going to places like Nauru where in those days everybody drove a Mercedes!”

“My colleague then showed me a job advertisement for a pharmacy manager in PNG and encouraged me to apply.”

While the job application required someone with at least five years of experience, he applied anyway.

And once he got the offer, it was about this time when he looked for a world map to locate the country with a current GDP per capita of $4296 compared to Fiji’s of $6976.

“Most of my family and friends discouraged me from taking this position saying it was too dangerous a place to go- which actually made me more determined to go and explore this country.”

He tells of his arrival in Port Moresby on a hot Sunday afternoon with only AU$35 in his pocket.

After two more years in PNG, Mr Patel made his first venture into business, with one of PNG’s longest-established companies.

The CPL Group today, whilst built on its pharmacies, is a diversified business.

Today, from just handling two employees back in the beginning, CPL boasts 3000 employees, 60 per cent of them women. 95 per cent of his staff are Papua New Guineans.

The Group turnover has in access of K500 million (FJ$382 million).

 

Philanthropy

While it may be all about building the group to what is today, there’s another area in his life which he is often spoken highly of in PNG’s business circles.

Mr Patel’s company commits to a number of corporate social responsibility programmes.

His passion in philanthropy, he says, is what drives him day in and day out of the office.

“We started this women’s programme: ‘Pride of PNG’, which we adapted from Australia. I had my staff in tears when I pitched the idea of us trying to do something for women.

“We’ve got a big problem in violence against women there. It’s a very male chauvinistic society. And we’ve got zero-tolerance.

“If you assault or touch a female you’re fired.

“Over 60 per cent of our workforce are females. Once you understand the culture, once you know interest is right and your heart’s in the right place they’ll die for you.

“People say to me ‘why don’t you go to the Solomons, why not East Timor’ but I say ‘hang on we’ve got eight million people here and literally we’re only servicing about two million’.

“We’ve set up a foundation which we’re doing in the community. We chartered an aircraft and went to some remote places and said ‘Hey, can we get you guys to start agriculture?

“We will buy it and support your village’ provided all the children go school.”

These are just but a few of the initiatives he drives.

He is also chairman of the Telikom PNG.

“I deliberately make a point that my school fees go to a school library.

“The young Papua New Guineans are such amazing, amazing talented people. They just need leadership and guidance and that’s what we provide.

Why PNG?

“My point is that a small investor (or a large one) can model off not only Australian or New Zealand, but models used in Fiji over the last four decades and create their own brand in a new market.”

Feedback: ranobab@fiijsun.com.fj

 


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