“Stay in Guyana and work to make it better, we each have our share to contribute.”
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
“Life is a stage where each man must play his part.” That quote from the popular William
Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, is quite appropriate in explaining the outlook of this week’s special person—Mahadeo Panchu. The way this patriot sees it is that life is only made meaningful when one can create a legacy that lives on in the hearts of many, even after the body would have decayed.
Panchu cares deeply about contributing towards the health and well being of his family, friends and country. His story is one that highlights the value of determination, ambition and bravery.
Panchu is not one who was born with the proverbial ‘gold spoon’ in his mouth; he came from humble beginnings. However, the now successful businessman has moved from not being able to pursue his dreams of becoming a lawyer because of inadequate finances, to being able to send his only son—Arvind—to any school of his choice, in or out of Guyana.
“I BELIEVE IN HELPING PEOPLE”
Knowing what it felt like to be poor, Panchu said that he now finds it absolutely important to include charitable practices in his everyday life.
“I believe in helping people, especially the less fortunate. I do it almost every day.”
Panchu now feels accomplished knowing that he has been able to provide a comfortable life for his family and has done so while leaving his footprint in society’s sand of marked achievers.
Mahadeo Panchu was born to Jeanette and Cecil Panchu in De Hoop, Mahaica. He is the fifth of 11 children. His parents were both farmers.
Panchu said that he feels forever indebted to his parents for the good training they provided.
“We were taught to show respect and love to people, irrespective of race. We were never trained to be racial.”
The businessman recalled “Aunty Hannah (Hannah Pompey), a villager. She was a lovely woman. And growing up in rural Guyana we could have gone into aunty Hannah’s pot and her children could have gone into my parents’ pot, that’s the love with which we grew up.”
Audrey Payne, a high school teacher, also of African heritage, was singled out by Panchu as one who positively impacted his life and “helped to shape me into the man I am today.” Unfortunately, Payne was killed in 2001 in a road accident.
Continuing in high praise of his parents who are both now deceased, Panchu said that other values instilled in him resulted in a balance of content and appetite for betterment. That balance has allowed him to reach for greater heights but not become greedy.
Despite being poor, Panchu said that he and his siblings were never without food.
“We had lots to eat and drink; vegetables, eggs, milk and fruits were in abundance…we even had domestic chickens.” He said that his parents, being farmers, were self-sufficient “so food was well covered.”
Panchu attended De Hoop Primary School. He recalled being happy if given 10 cents to go to school with,”that would be big spending.”
After writing what used to be referred to as Common Entrance, Panchu secured a spot
at Bygeval Secondary. He recalled holding History and Literature as his favourite subjects and absolutely enjoyed the book—‘Far from the madding crowd’. It was at Bygeval Secondary that Panchu met his lifelong partner Shanta. She is truly his peer. They have been sweethearts since third form.
“CHAMPION OF A WOMAN”
Panchu now resides in Continental Park with his lovely wife and son. And, just in case you are wondering…no, his wife is not the proprietor of the food joint ‘Shanta’s. However, Panchu boasted that “she can make a damn good puri.”
Shanta is a certified accountant. The two got married in 1987. Panchu expressed that he feels lucky to have scored the life companion he did. He described her as a “champion of a woman” who supports his every venture.
“She is hard working and easy going. A very simple woman who sometimes thinks I spend too much on gifts for her, but nothing is too expensive for my love.” Panchu said that Shanta is 100 percent supportive, very contented, and “there is nothing like greed in her heart”. He boasted that they have been together for 40 years.
A few years after writing CXC, aged 18, Panchu started teaching at De Hoop Primary. That was his first official job which he held on to for one year.
At 19, he moved to Georgetown and landed a job as a Clerk at GaiBank. He lived at that time in Pike Street, Kitty. The ambitious youth spent eight years at the bank during which time he got married and moved to Thomas Street,
Kitty. Panchu then studied Communication at the University of Guyana. After completing his studies at that institution, Panchu started working at Stabroek News, where he stayed for three years.
Panchu said that he loved journalism, but soon realized that the pay from that profession could not have afforded him the lifestyle he aspired. So, he started to look for greener pastures. Soon enough, an opportunity presented itself for him to work as a Public Relations Officer of a rice company—Grains Guyana Limited.
Panchu stayed at that company for six years during which time he moved from Public Relations Officer to the Head of the Export division of the company. It was at that institution that he learnt the international trade. Excelling there, he was able to buy his first car, in 1991. By 1996, Panchu found it was time to move again to greater heights, so he left the rice company.
In 1997, armed with savings, Panchu started the rice export trade on his own and that continued until 2007 when he found that the industry started experiencing some difficulties. During his years in the rice industry, the businessman found many challenges, including a “fight down” in Jamaica, which was one of the primary destinations for the rice he shipped. However, “I always worked to overcome.”
CHANGE OF HEART
In 2007, Panchu started a shipping company which he named International Shipping Agency.
He focused his attention on that company for about five years until he decided that he wanted to embark on another business venture, which was in 2012. In that year, Panchu was ready to buy a rice packaging plant. He visited Germany to sign the deal, but had a change of heart.
Starting KSM—Khaninwattie (wife) Seukumar (son) Mahadeo Investments was a big step for Panchu who admitted that he often found himself nervous during the birthing stage.
KSM Investment Inc is a block-making company. Panchu had no interest in the construction industry. But when he went to Germany, the receptionist at the hotel asked if he was there to visit the expo that was going on about two miles away. He responded to her in the negative, but ventured to the site for curiosity. At that expo, Panchu was impressed with what was displayed. He saw the people who were advertising the plant, and the rest is history.
Panchu recalled calling his wife and telling her that, even though days away from signing the rice packaging agreement, he wanted to now buy the block-making plant.
“I was absolutely blown away at what these men were showing me.”
He returned from Germany and visited Brazil and a few other countries to “satisfy my mind” that he was making the right decision. By 2014, he purchased the plant, which he says is now the only of its kind in the Caribbean.
“THIS IS NOW MY FORTE”
The plant was installed in 2015 and Panchu was ready to operate in 2016.
The factory now sits on almost four acres of land at Good Hope. Panchu recalled his biggest challenge was converting the “swap land I bought into what you see here today. I stood outside on the road and saw what looked like a jungle. I questioned myself what I was getting into, I liked the location and the size of the land, but I knew it was a big undertaking to transfer the land, I was nervous.” Panchu said that that alone cost him hundreds of millions—buying and transforming the land.
The businessman now hosts 20 workers at his fully mechanized factory.
He boasted that he only had positive feedback from all customers who purchased rock solid blocks which is the name of Panchu’s block which is mostly made of stone “not sand.” “This is now my forte.” Panchu said that he likes quality and nice things, so though he does not have a history in construction, he is in his comfort zone providing quality hollow blocks and concrete “not sandcrete” pavers. Panchu said that he feels satisfied “knowing that my product, (the pavers) is used to beautify surroundings.”
While Panchu does not see himself moving away from this business, he is simultaneously operating the shipping company and has launched a new magazine which he intends to make the magazine of the construction sector. The name of the magazine is ‘Hardscape’.
Even though he is now a big time businessman, Panchu still grounds himself in his childhood training and holds dear to his heart the lessons of the past.
“I will never forget the bridge I crossed. Some people end up in problems because they forget from where they came; living in the now is not always good. I was taught to remember the past so that it can guide me into the future; it is not within me to forget my past.”
Even though his mom and dad have passed on, Panchu is satisfied that he was able to offer them a good life and they benefitted with trips around the world. He said that in honour of his parents, he will forever remain true to who he is and never allow race hate to hinder his peace and well being.
“I DO NOT SEE COLOUR”
“I do not see colour; I am an equal opportunity employer. However, if there is anyone who says that there is not a division problem in Guyana, they are lying through their teeth. But it is time we move away from it. Because it is our history and some people were trained to be like that, it may be hard, but one at a time we can work to move away from this and cling towards a better future.”
Panchu’s racial impartiality is visible in his workforce. A balance in the ethnic makeup of the workforce is clear to see. Further, Panchu noted that he also endeavours to treat his employees well and with respect. He said that “employee welfare is a priority for us”
This was backed up by a few of the employees with whom I spoke, including Fawaud Alli. Alli is an accountant at KSM. He said that Panchu is very understanding when it comes to the needs of his staff.” “He gives you the opportunity to redeem yourself if you are found in the wrong.” George Prince, Jainarine Maiko and Colin Gravesande expressed similar sentiments. Particularly, Gravesande, who reflected that he has found himself progressing significantly. “I have seen progress in my life working here. This speaks to the comfortable salary that employees are offered.”
Asked to offer advice to fellow Guyanese, Panchu said, “I would tell them to stay in Guyana and work to make it better, we each have our share to contribute.”
The businessman said that many people fail to realize that when you migrate you are often relegated to become a second or third class citizen “let us stay and make our own country better.”
Panchu was asked if he had to do one thing differently in his life, what it would be. “It would be to go into business at a much younger age,” he asserted.
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