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Robert d'Albenas is the Owner/Managing Director of The d'Albenas Agency Ltd., a successful Nassau-based food wholesale company.

RBC Caribbean Business Growth Series

We’ve put together some business stories of lessons and inspiration right from the mouths of business owners across the Caribbean. Read about the experiences that shaped their enterprises and how their own families and mentors helped them grow. Learn how you can, too.

When Robert d’Albenas‘ s father started The d’Albenas Agency Ltd., he had nothing but desire and a letter of reference to get started. Today, the business that Robert has taken over is a successful food wholesale and distributor based in Palmdale, Nassau, Bahamas. Being an entrepreneur has been part of Robert’s DNA.

In the Beginning

My father started this business when he wanted to import sugar out of Canada – Redpath Sugar. But he needed credit and he needed a reference from the bank. So he went to the bank manager here in Nassau and asked for a letter for a reference to take to the supplier in Canada. So, the manager wrote a letter, sealed it and put in an envelope. When he went to Canada, he handed it to the supplier. The supplier opened the letter read it. He looked at my father and asked, “Have you seen this?” My father replied, “No, it’s addressed to you. I don’t know what it says”. The manager said he had never seen a reference letter like this and read it: “I would like to introduce Donald d’Albenas from Nassau, Bahamas. He has nothing. But he’s a man of his word and whatever he says he will do, he will do.” And that was the reference letter that got this company started.

Lessons from My Father:

My father was always one to live a life of integrity and honesty. That was extremely important to him. It was passed on to our company and has been translated into the values our company have today. That means, you always do in private, what you would do in public.

On Integrity

You shouldn’t be two different people. Your reputation, your honesty is more important than anything else. And that’s something that’s been passed down through all of us. We deal with customers every day and we’ve become a business that is trusted implicitly.And we have very loyal suppliers, some of which have been with us for over 50 years, like Campbell’s, Kellogg’s and SC Johnson. We’ve represented these companies for over 55 years and it’s because of our integrity and our honesty in doing a good job.

On What I’ve Learned

You don’t try to do everything yourself. You hire good people and let them do the job. You ask questions. If they mess up, you need to be aware of it and then you can step in and try to fix things. But don’t micromanage.

On Creating Loyalty

You can’t have a business without good employees and if you treat your employees well and treat them with fairness and respect, it’ll be returned. It’ll be returned with loyalty. Most of our employees have been with us for well over 30 years. We have a very low turnover rate.

My father was very fair when it came to employees. The employees came first. He came second. I remember when I was young, there was this one year my mother asked for money to buy Christmas presents. He said he couldn’t help her until he paid his staff. He paid the staff first. They got their money before he brought any money home even to buy Christmas presents.

On Defining Your Own Style

I tend to do things my own way. My predecessor was like a big brother to us and I have a lot of respect for him. When he took over from my father he did an excellent job, growing the business for many years. But he was one of those people who always kept a clear desk. My desk is always full of papers. He’d say that a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. I’d say an empty desk is a sign of an empty mind. So we both lost on that deal! I’ve been influenced in many ways with people I work with and around me, including my older brother and my predecessor. I learned from all of them but I pick from what they do well. It’s a matter of keeping your mind open.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

I would probably take more chances and expanded more rapidly than what we have done.

On working with outside consultants Most of it has been very good. You don’t always get what you think you’re going to get. But you can always pick a few kernels of truth from everyone. It’s the same with executive courses or working with coaches or consultants. I’m always willing to learn. I recognize I don’t know it all. I don’t have all the answers. So the more I can learn from others then the better manager and owner I can be.

On Growing the Business

Part of it is financial and looking at what you can afford to do moving forward. Part of it is the need. Sometimes you can’t afford to expand and sometimes you can’t afford not to. Those decisions are harder. The company has changed and grown over the years. You run a small family business when you’ve got 50 or maybe a 100 people. But when you’re well over 200, you need a proper structure in place.

On Not Just Showing Up

You’ve got to be willing to work hard. That’s one thing my father always did. He worked many long hours. It didn’t just fall on his lap. He had to really put a lot of work into it. Some of the newer people we hire are surprised that I’m still putting in 10-11 hour days. They say, well, he’s the boss, he doesn’t have to do that. Yeah, I do have to do it if I want to make sure things are happening! I’m not retired yet.

On Working with RBC

RBC is very helpful. They recognize we do things a little differently. They provide us understanding and leeway. That’s important. They’re always willing to help us.

On Working Capital

Among other things, RBC helps us with overdraft. And it’s like an instant loan. Hopefully down the road, we will be looking at expanding again and I will need access to money. I’m confident RBC will be there. We can rely on that as needed. Whether we use it or not, it’s available to us.