The sky is the limit
“To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What’s needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework.” – Warren Buffett
THE words quoted above have inspired Roxroy Kerr, a plumber, to pursue his aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur, and the success he now finds has been put down to two men: Warren Buffet and Michael Lee-Chin. In fact, Kerr admires both men so much, their images adorn the display picture of his Whatsapp Messenger. For him, they are the role models he followed and the reason he is now reaping the success.
Many people do not know who Roxroy Kerr is, but his journey to entrepreneurship is one that can inspire anyone, and make everyone know that they too can be successful.
“You don’t have to be bright to have success,” Kerr told the Jamaica Observer at the start of his interview, referencing the Warren Buffet quote. For him, life has not been the easiest, but his perseverance has made the difference.
“I am an only child,” he pointed out quickly as he documents his journey. His father died in 1968 and that resulted in him being moved around to different relatives to help guide his formative years in St James.
“I went to Rose Hall Basic School, then Mount Zion Primary, then Barry Town All-Age then Montego Bay Secondary where my trade was plumbing. I learnt plumbing there,” he said proudly.
Kerr said after high school he got a job in the hotel sector as a janitor before moving to another hotel where he worked as a plumber. It was during this time, he said he had a chance encounter with Michael Lee-Chin in 2002. Lee-Chin had just bought the National Commercial Bank and was taking a vacation at Half Moon Resort, a luxury hotel in Montego Bay, St James.
“During the time at Half Moon, I worked three shifts,” Kerr continued as he outlined his journey. “I worked on the morning shift [as a plumber], then in the afternoon, I went on construction [sites] or if somebody had a blocked toilet or some other little plumbing work, I would go and do it, and then I would come back in the night at Half Moon to work,” Kerr said about his work schedule as he boasted about always being in uniform to facilitate the transition from one work to another seamlessly.
Expanding on how he managed to work three shifts each day, Kerr explained: “When I leave home Monday morning, I don’t go back until the following Sunday, and sometimes as I take up my dinner to eat, I get a call to come back to work.”
He said that sacrifice saw him working and saving.
“And the things that make people poor, like smoking and drinking and gambling and lots of women, I didn’t run after them, because I know those things will make me poor.”
He said it was during that time, working one night at Half Moon that he had that chance encounter with Lee-Chin.
“Twenty years ago now, Mr [Lee]-Chin was supposed to check in the hotel, and then the main water line serving the room that he was in burst, so I had to fix it. As I completed my work, I saw him walk in. I stopped and we chatted for an hour and everybody was wondering what we were talking about. But he was encouraging me to invest and not to put my money in savings alone. Then, I was throwing ‘pardna’. From the three work I was doing, I was saving two of the salaries,” he said.
Taking Lee-Chin’s advice, Kerr said he started to invest in Lee-Chin’s AIC Funds, a mutual fund.
“And I keep pumping money in it, and when there was the economic crisis of 2008, I lost a substantial amount, but I didn’t feel any way, I just stuck to it.”
But Kerr said Lee-Chin did not only advise him to invest only in securities, but also to move from investing to becoming an active entrepreneur.
“I always think about how rich people get rich. They either provide a good or service. So I started to brainstorm what service I could provide that is not crowded and I prayed about it and got the wisdom to enter the cesspool business because many people do not want to do it, and being a plumber I was accustomed to the mess.”
The company he formed was Principal Cesspool Services. Kerr said he took part of the earnings and invested in a single truck to pull sewage from hotels, one year after taking Lee-Chin’s advice. Now he has two trucks and employs four people to pull sewage from five hotels along the north coast.
“Many people don’t want to get into the cesspool business because of the odour and the danger with bacteria,” he said. Still, he provides services to anyone who needs it, but said most of his business comes from the hotel sector. “The cesspool business is not hard but you have to have a love for it.”
But the cesspool business is not the only one Kerr is involved in. He said he has moved to construct apartment buildings which he rents to tourism workers who are not from the north coast.
“Right now I have 10 rooms rented and 40-odd other rooms that are being built,” he said. All are owned solely by him.
“I don’t want to have too much on my plate that I can’t manage and I don’t understand. I don’t want too much business. I want a few businesses that I understand. If the toilet is running I can go and fix it. If the driver steps out of the truck, I can drive it as well,” Kerr continued.
Lee-Chin, who sat in on the interview, punctuated the questioning to point out that what Kerr said is a key Warren Buffet principle: “Own a few businesses that you understand.”
And for parents who pigeonhole their children into choosing ‘high profile’ jobs such as accountants, attorneys or doctors, Kerr has one piece of advice.
“First, whatever your kids aspire for, the love that they have, as a parent you should encourage them. Don’t force anything down their throats as long as it is legal and moral.”
He said he has applied that principle to his four boys.
But what inspired Lee-Chin on that fateful day to have a chat with Kerr 21 years ago, a chat which has clearly changed the trajectory of his life.
“Everybody has a story and I like to hear other people’s story irrespective of if you are the president or a plumber, it doesn’t matter,” Lee-Chin told the Business Observer. “I love people and when you love people and you see someone doing something interesting, you talk to them, and that’s what I do, that’s just my nature. So, speaking to Roxroy would not be unusual for me, and not only did I want to hear what Roxroy’s story was, but I also wanted to know his aspirations.”
Lee-Chin said his mantra is that if he can help someone to fulfil their aspirations it makes him feel fulfilled.
“I told him that in everything he does, he must have a role model. I told him, ‘Roxroy, you want to be an investor, not just a saver. Don’t just put your money in a bank, you want to own things, you want to own assets that appreciate over time. The first thing you want to do is select a role model, and I introduced him to Warren Buffet.”
He applauded Kerr for sticking with the investments, even when he lost big during the financial crisis 15 years ago, saying “he persevered and was not fickle”.
As for Kerr, he said that perseverance is what has been paying off for him.
“Life just doesn’t go up consistently; you have ups and downs and from that you learn,” he pointed out, citing that when things get rough, he turns back to the philosophy of his role models.
And despite finding success, Kerr still lives in the same community in which he grew up.
“Everybody knows me as Bruce there,” he said.
His philosophy now is to “make your money earn for you while you sleep”. Kerr said he is looking to expand his business on the north coast while continuing to invest in real estate.
“The high is that I have about 10 houses now, some finished and some unfinished… I inherited three.”
For him, that chance encounter with Lee-Chin as he fixed a broken pipe in a hotel room has changed his life. “Each time we speak he continues to encourage me to continue investing.”