By DALE LUMA
MAHESH Patel arrived in Papua New Guinea with only $A35 in his pocket in 1984. He took his chances in the land of opportunity and today owns and runs one of the biggest retail and wholesale companies in the country.
The City Pharmacy Limited Group he started in 1987 is celebrating its 33rd anniversary this year.
He was born into a family of nine in Fiji. The name Patel is synonymous with business in Fiji.
Mahesh himself learned while growing up the basics – doing small jobs such as a packer and salesman in his parents’ “small corner store”.
At the age of 15, he left Fiji to pursue studies in New Zealand. He graduated as a pharmacist in 1983.
“I arrived in PNG with 35 Australian dollars in my pocket on June 10, 1984 to work as a pharmacy manager at Taurama Pharmacy.”
He married Usha, a pharmacist from the United Kingdom, in Port Moresby in 1988. They have two sons: Nikhil who is working in New York, and Ajay who has been in the business since 2018.
In 1987, after noticing the lack of pharmacies and modern retailing in the health sector, Mahesh decided to venture into them.
“We started with one pharmacy at Garden City, Boroko in May 1987, and added the next one at the Steamships Plaza in town in November the same year.
“Since then, we have added another 30 outlets across the country.”
In 2005, he acquired the Stop & Shop business from Steamships. And in 2008, he took over the Hardware Haus business too.
In 2015, the CPL group set up joint venture businesses – Jacks of PNG and Prouds Duty Free. Jacks and Prouds now have stores at Waigani Central and Vision City.
The City Pharmacy Limited group of companies today operate pharmacies, supermarkets, duty-free good outlets and fashion cloth outlets.
“My real passion and personal mission is to make an impact and improve the lives of every person in Papua New Guinea through business enterprise and sincere community service.
“I have been the chief executive officer and chairman of the CPL group in the past 33 years since we started. It has been an amazing journey.”
He is determined to stick to “our vision, mission and values. This has to be in our DNA”.
Vision: Helping the people of Papua New Guinea live healthier and better lives.
Mission: To be the preferred shopping destination by delivering outstanding value, exceptional customer experience and maximising shareholder value
Values: Be customer-focused, be responsible to our people, our community and our environment, win together as a team, deliver on commitments, deliver quality through continuous improvement.
“ My real passion and personal mission is to make an impact and improve the lives of every person in Papua New Guinea through business enterprise and sincere community service.”
“We have had our ups and downs and challenges, like in other developing nations. We have been resilient and focused on looking at the positive side of things rather than dwelling on the negatives. I see the glass half-full, rather than half-empty – as the saying goes.”
Mahesh sees the cost of doing business in PNG as high – rental, electricity, unnecessary security costs, logistics and transport.
“We are still struggling but slowly winning, though, with our fresh produce supply-chain.
“I think the key issue I would like to see is improvement in infrastructure and utilities.
“Another key is a level playing field for all business as far as tax and compliance are concerned.
“The other important factor will be land issues, so we can look at large scale farming in this country.
“While we are all going through a rough patch now, and we have had situations like this before, there is a real positive outlook in PNG.”
His advice to those planning to start, or are building up a business is: “You need a long-term plan and vision for what the country and its people offer.”