LOSING his mother at the tender age of six and dropping out of school in Class Seven did not deter Jimmy Pickering Qalovaki from achieving his dream of being a successful businessman.
"It was through hard work, patience and God's grace that I was able to make it to where I am today," said Jimmy, the proud director and owner of Island Tropical Forest — a timber exporting company based in Veisari outside Lami.
Nicknamed "the Garbage Man" by his colleagues in the timber industry for the nature of his business, as Jimmy only deals with "garbage" or left overs of mahogany from areas that have been logged out, Jimmy is a true opportunist.
"When the cutting of mahogany is completed in one area then it's my turn to come in and collect the waste mahogany that has been left behind and whenever I come around they will say here comes Jimmy 'the Garbage Man' because I clean up the left overs," said Jimmy.
Jimmy hails from Salia, Nayau in the Lau Group and is the only iTaukei miller in Fiji. He is now exporting his products straight to China trading with the Zhuan Xin Teakwood Manufacturing Co. Ltd. However, Jimmy's success only came about through his hard work and determination to succeed against all odds.
"I gave up my education to give the chance to my other siblings being the eldest male and I had to assist my dad in looking after the family."
His first jobs was as a garden boy among a long list of other odd jobs. He then ventured into fishing buying a fibreglass boat from his savings starting his diving business. Commercial fishing followed soon after and he was part of the management of the Great Pacific Seafood — a company that was opened in the early 1990s.
"This is where I learnt a lot about business. Being a primary school drop-out you would understand how difficult it was to be involved in business."
Jimmy's involvement with the fishing industry ended when the industry suffered in 2002.
"In 2003 Fiji Hardwood Corporation Ltd (FHCL) started cutting mahogany logs and I took this opportunity and ventured in to the timber industry. I sought advice from FHCL and they encouraged me to go ahead with my business because I wanted to buy waste logs from them.
"I'm utilising waste mahogany wood which is 0.9m in thickness with varying lengths. This is very good because it maximises the use of trees that have been cut to not only generate money but also employment. I didn't want to deal with logs but I opted with the waste because when you cut a tree about 40 per cent is used and the remaining 60 per cent is waste and simple mathematics would suggest that they is more waste so more business for me."
Jimmy won the 2006 Exporter of the Year Award and what was supposed to be a stepping stone to greater things instead took the opposite turn when local businesses that he relied on for hiring machinery began to close their doors on him.
"In 2007, I couldn't cut any timber. So I went to China to purchase my own mill and likewise look for possible buyers to buy my products. I was also able to acquire this 20-acre piece of freehold land in Veisari for my mill.
"I didn't have much capital because of my purchases so a friend of mine told me to try Fiji Development Bank. I thank the bank for their financial assistance which made it possible for me to build the shed for the mill, electricity and working capital."
Jimmy was assisted under the Reserve Bank of Fiji's Import Substitution and Export Finance Facility (ISEFF) administered through FDB. The ISEFF is targeted to assist exporters and large-scale agricultural farming businesses to borrow at a concessional rate from Commercial Banks including FDB and other licensed credit institutions. ISEFF is aimed at Export Finance - advance the competitiveness and ensure the availability of credit to the export sector and; Import Substitution — promote commercial agricultural production; advance the competitiveness of local agricultural produce and to assist the reduction of imports on agricultural products.
This facility is available farmers, sole traders, partnerships, private or limited liability companies and co-operatives. The purpose of the loan is to provide working capital needs such as: purchase of raw materials; stock; licensing requirements for export and transportation; for export consignments and contractual transportation; storage and packing costs and; purchase of plant and machinery, farm vehicles.
Early this year the mill was fully operational with the new machines in place and the first load of 10 containers gone to China in mid-August.
"My contract states that I need to produce 10 containers minimum per month and maximum is up to 200 containers. My buyer is willing to buy right down to 0.35 cubic metres which means I can utilise more waste pieces. I have 42 people working for me and for a small operation this is quite a big number and I'm looking forward to expanding so I can increase my quantity."
The advantage that Jimmy has is that he has an official from his Chinese buyer present at the site who inspects all of the products before they are packed for export. This ensures there are no rejects and all the products are sure money makers.
Jimmy sure puts a whole new meaning to garbage disposal being the opportunist that he is.
* Lote Raboila is the media and community relations officer of the FDB.