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Humble beginnings

by December 16, 2016 General

HE dropped out of school at the age of 9, worked on a cane farm as a labourer before joining a mining company in Udu Point and saved the little he earned to achieve his dreams.

Those struggles and hardships of growing up with eight siblings in a cane farm of Korotari and single-handedly raised by their dad, has turned Bashir Khan into a successful businessman.

He believes one does not need to be rich to be successful.

Instead, Mr Khan is certain that it takes dedication, commitment, hard work and a lot of sacrifices to become successful.

The youngest of nine siblings, Mr Khan lost his mother when he was five years of age.

“My father was a policeman but he had nine children to look after so it was not easy for him financially and that’s why I dropped out of school in Class 4,” he said.

“I attended Vunimoli Islamia Primary School for classes one and two and in Class three I went to Wairiki District School where I had all iTaukei friends.

“But in Class 4, I could not return to school and started working in the cane farm which was not easy because I was still a small boy.”

He clearly remembers those days when he’d get home from work, feeling tired and only wished his mum was around to pamper him.

“I missed her a lot but I had to stay strong because I knew that if something happens to my dad, who will look after me?

“So I remained in the cane farm as a labourer and after a few years, I found a job in Udu Point where I worked for Bano Mining Co.

“Then, I saved money from there and whatever I had saved from both my jobs, I managed to buy a tractor.”

Although he can’t remember the price, he said it was cheap and bought it to till the land at the family farm in Korotari.

“We are talking about the prices in the late 1970s when machineries were affordable and the cost of things was also cheap,” Mr Khan said.

“When I bought that tractor, people hired it and that’s how I got extra income and then I planned for a bigger business.

“It was always my dream to own a business and give back to the community especially to contribute to the development of Labasa and the Northern Division.”

Logging contract

In the late 1970s, Mr Khan got into a partnership with the Fiji Forest Industries sawmill in Malau, Labasa doing contract work for the company.

“I bought my first truck and did logging contract work for FFI and was successful because the nature of work at that time was good,” he said.

“There was a lot of logging work done at that time and business was healthy.

“So this nature of business rewarded me with good revenue that helped me start my own sawmill in 1980.”

New sawmill

With only 20 employees, Mr Khan opened his first Vunimoli Sawmill and supplied timber to local and international markets.

“At that time, competition existed but not as tough as it is today because there were not many sawmills around in the North then,” he said.

“So I supplied timber to Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and to all my local clients and the demand was usually high.

“Logging business in Vanua Levu at that time was good with many opportunities to expand the business and employ people.”

The international demand, he added, was just as high as the local demand.

“Our customers in Australia, NZ and Singapore always wanted Fiji native wood because of its quality so that provided a good business for me,” Mr Khan said.

“We started off with only 20 employees and over two years, our workforce increased to 120 workers and knowing that your business support 120 families are most satisfying.”

Business growth

In hindsight and without a regret Mr Khan has described the past years of business as a transition period that has challenged him with many circumstances.

“But I have no regrets at all because business has grown and expanded into many branches,” he said.

“I believe it has come this far because of the hard work we have done together as a family and with my business team.

“The journey to getting where I am today is because of the fact that I believed and had the guts to do it anyway.”

This week, he opened the $4.5 million SB Khan mall — another investment of Vanua Levu Hardware Ltd — his parent company.

At the celebration of Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, members of the Vanua Levu Muslim League joined Mr Khan in the opening of a mall.

“This mall is another commitment of mine to the development of Labasa Town and I believe we all have a role to play in helping this town grow,” he said.

“It wasn’t easy at all building this mall because I faced a lot of challenges with government authorities in getting licences and other necessary documents done on time.

“But I didn’t give up and kept pestering them until everything was done and now we still have spaces available for rent in the mall.”

Mr Khan said there had been high interest from people wanting to rent spaces in the mall.

“We have business people from China wanting to come in to set up different kinds of services for our people in the North and this is encouraging,” he said.