Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 6th 2014 Contents APRIL 2014 • WEEK ONE www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
PROFILE | SBG7
At 28, Sheldon Stephen is a self-made mil-
lionaire with an estimated net worth of over
$60 million. It is a fortune he amassed
through hard work selling mobile phones
and developing real estate up and down the
value chain. Anyone who knows him can
testify that he created his wealth the old-fashioned way;
through hard work and perseverance, Stephen told the Sunday
BG in one of three interviews, the most recent being April 3.
Born in San Fernando to an employee at an oil company
and a housewife, he attended a nearby Vedic school before
going to San Fernando Secondary.
A lot happened in young Sheldon s life at 16 after secondary
school. He enrolled to study business management at the St
Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI),
his father passed away, and he dropped out of UWI to start
His father last knew him as a student. His decision to leave
tertiary education was met with resistance by his family. As
the last of the children, there was no pressure on him to
provide for the family and it was his family s preference that
he stay in UWI and complete his degree. Today, some of his
family number among the 350 people who work for him
throughout his group of companies.
By 17, he had mustered $15,000 from his family and started
a small kiosk upstairs a small mall on High Street in San Fer-
nando, selling mobile phones.
Asked if the location was what made his first business
prosper, he said no. "I think it was the drive. By that time we
had already built a clientele. We were already recognised as
the cell phone guys."
When asked why he kept saying "we," he said his business
partner, Abdool Azimullah stayed with him in his other ventures.
"We started everything together," he said.
"We were friends growing up." Stephen asked that the
Sunday BG not print Azimullah s exact age but okayed the
newspaper to say he is slightly older.
"So everybody would have found out our location, and
would have come to us, because we had the best prices. We
had a lot of innovative technology, new stuff. A lot of things
that, at that time, were hard to get done, we would basically
get done. So we were up to the times with all the new stuff."
His business prospered and, by 18, he took on a bold new
partner, Digicel. "I got my Digicel franchise at the age of 18,
which was pretty young and that s what drove me to get
develop a group of companies that fast.
"I started off with Digicel in 2005 and, over a short period
of time, we grew to become Digicel s number one dealer, that
is, based on performance."
The 17-year-old s cellphone business was "independent"
because it had no bmobile contract. He got his Digicel contract
in 2005, but did not start until 2006 because of "all that
drama with bmobile" that saw Digicel s launch date delayed
until April 2006.
His two Digicel stores did very well in its first five years.
Lollabee Cellular grew from two outlets in south Trinidad to,
now, eight outlets nationwide. Loyal to Digicel, he added, "So
that s just to show the whole escalation in terms of growth
within Digicel. That s Lollabee Cellular."
Persistence and hard work
However, Stephen was not sitting on the laurels earned as
a Digicel retailer.
In 2008, a mere two years after his Digicel launch, Stephen
opened a construction company.
"We started to do a lot of buildings and houses. We did a
lot work for Digicel as well. We actually built all of Digicel s
stores. We also do a lot of work for T&TEC, and for, you know,
people who want houses built and that kind of thing. We then
we went into machinery. That actually did pretty good."
In 2009, he opened up an event management company,
Lollabee Entertainment, "and that was really, really successful.
We do a lot of events and Carnival fetes in South. The Guardian
publishes a lot of photos from my parties. We actually dominated
the entertainment industry in a matter of two years or so."
"We are probably the most premium event company in
South right now. I m probably the only person who gets people
to come from the West to South to party."
In 2010, Stephen and his partner opened a real estate com-
pany through which they buy, sell and develop properties.
"We actually launched our first major real estate project through
Lollabee Real Estate, which is The Hamptons in Palmiste," he
said, adding that the project "up to scratch with those projects
in the West."
He said a key acquisition was a two-acre plot of land in
Palmiste. He described it as "a good breakthrough for us."
Stephen is proud of The Hamptons at Palmiste---named
after the prestigious New York island-neighbourhood---which
forms the South Fork of Long Island.
"It s a partly-solar townhouse development. We re going
green with our housing projects, so we re doing solar street
lights, part of the house will be solar. It s actually 20 townhouses
with pools etc."
In 2012, Stephen opened another company, Experience
Effects Ltd, which is a lighting and special-effects company.
He said he has done work for Digicel and Stag.
"For a two-year-old company, I think we did extremely
well. This year we did Army fete, Fire fete, South Cancer fete,
Jamboree and Rise. I did all Johnny Soong events. We took
work from companies that were out there 20 years and more.
I think it was a real big achievement," he said. "It s a really
big challenge to get people to even consider you for work."
In 2014, he plans to venture into advertising. "My goal is
to open an advertising company with LED screens. We actually
have our first screen up in Princes Town. That is up and run-
ning," he said.
Looking further, five to 10 years ahead, he said he sees
himself expanding each of his businesses. In real estate, we
already have projects lined up for the next five years in Sangre
Grande, Fyzabad. "We have another project in Palmiste too.
"The real estate company purchased a lot of land all over
the place, so what I m going to do now, all over, is housing
projects on each of those plots of land. In terms of Lollabee
Real Estate, we have our hands full for the next five to eight
He said he plans to "go heavily into machinery this year"
as well, buying tractors, escalators and backhoes, "just to
diversify out the construction company with heavy equip-
Stephen s 10-year goal is to open "a manufacturing company
that generates a lot of employment for the country." He said
he has a few ideas, but has not decided on which of his three
to five ideas he will pursue. He said a number of manufacturers
in T&T have no major competition. He said no one is doing
"recycling of energy" either, so he may look into that too.
Asked what he thought is holding back fledgling entrepre-
neurs, he said: "My view of some Trinidadians downfall is
that they like to follow.
"Somebody starts to sell burgers, next thing there are a
million burger carts around the country. Somebody starts to
sell clothes, same thing. We don t like to be audacious and
to take the first step. We re not that innovative and it makes
the industry saturated."
Prodded for more business ideas to share with Sunday BG
readers, Stephen said: "On a large scale, I think Trinidad needs
something for tourism. I m not capable of doing it yet, but
you know, a businessman should look into something for
tourism. Let s say, like a big water park. We re an island. We
have beaches and we don t really have a world-class facility
"We need something to T&T like Atlantis is to The Bahamas.
Look at what one massive hotel could do for an island. We
have beautiful waters. I think if a big investor invests in a
massive resort, with water slides, or even build an island off
Trinidad---like the small palm islands off Dubai---that will gen-
erate massive tourism for Trinidad. It s out of my reach for
now but maybe in 20-30 years."
Asked for the overall worth of his company, he said he never
really calculated it but "if I add in all my real estate properties,
it would be a good bit, you know."
He added: "If I were to give you a figure I would be guessing,
but I started off with $15,000 and we are definitely a multi-
million dollar company right now. My real estate company
alone is probably valued at least $35 million based on the
properties we have alone."
He estimated that is assets Experience Effects Ltd probably
has about $4 million in equipment; his construction company,
about $2 million; Lollabee Cellular about $6 million in stock
and equipment; in vehicles, about $4 million, "so if you add
up, we re safely over $60 million in terms of the value of what
we have. I think it was a good accomplishment in a short
space of time."
He later added, "I m only 28, so we have some years ahead."
Many think Stephen inherited his business from his father
or wealthy relatives but unhesitatingly he told the Sunday BG,
"No, I started this off from scratch. Many people think that
I am running it now, that I didn t start it. People always think
my dad started it up, and I just run it because he s not here,
but that s not true.
"I really came from nothing. Hard work is what made me
what I am today, and everybody who knows me could testify
to that. It s not that I inherited millions, and I just continued
to make money from that money. To take $15,000 to millions
of dollars really requires a lot of hard work."
How to grow $15,000 into millions...
Entrepreneur Sheldon Stephen shares his secret
Trinidadians' downfall is
that they like to follow...We
don't like to be audacious
and to take the first step.
We're not that innovative
and it makes the industry
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