IT'S probably the dream of every college student: starting a business that will generate enough to provide financial security for years to come. But for Sheldon Powe, the founder of Optimum Distributors, that dream has been repeated more than once with a man who has become a serial entrepreneur.
For starters, just a few weeks ago, Optimum Distributors – a company which distributes dental and medical supplies – was Optimum Trading with the transition to help define better "who we are as a company", according to its chief executive officer (CEO) Jason Clarke.
"Optimum Trading sounds somewhat ambiguous as to what we do when you hear the name. Some wonder if we are a financial company and so we have made the transition to Optimum Distributors," Clarke told the Jamaica Observer.
"We are still Optimum and still there for our clients, but the name change will make us better understood as a distribution company," he continued.
But the genesis of this company has been far from what it now represents.
"It was started by Sheldon Powe. He at the time was a student [at the University of the West Indies, Mona] and his stepfather was a dentist," Clarke, who did this interview, told the Business Observer. Clarke has been part of the company for the last 11 years.
"During college he was trying to find ways to make money and did so by buying dental supplies overseas which he took back to Jamaica where he sold them to his stepfather and other people in the dental field. Eventually, it just mushroomed into a more concretised business and he had to put in a lot more structure, creating inventories and hiring staff," he added.
Clarke said Powe was supported by his family with the initial funds he used to acquire equipment and other dental supplies.
"Some of the support included creating a connection for him to sell the products," Clarke recalled as he pointed out that Powe's mother, father and stepfather were all instrumental in the development of the company in the early stages.
From those early days of buying goods for redistribution, Optimum Distributors now has 4,000 items and well over 400 customers.
"We are looking to grow that number. We do the full spectrum for dentistry. What we have tried to do as a supply company is to ensure that we have all that they want. So we focus on providing a reliable supply of goods; in the dental space particularly, we offer an extensive range of products including dental instruments, materials, small equipment, large equipment and furniture," Clarke continued.
"More than likely, any dentist you go to in Jamaica you may interact with our products, some you may not even realise."
Clarke said the company has achieved "consistent double-digit growth over the last 11 years. We have moved from few millions to a lot more millions and that is what is important".
He said the company is on target to report growth again this year and has its eyes set on going public with the recent acquisition by FirstRock Private Equity (FRPE).
"Optimum was selected as it meets FRPE's strategic objectives for acquisitions. Optimum is a resilient business that will add diversity to the FirstRock Private Equity Group. This deal marks the third acquisition for FRPE in just over 24 months and is an important milestone as this acquisition allows us to enter into a new sector. We are excited about the health-care industry and Optimum's potential growth," Christopher Yeung, co-founder and managing director of FRPE, said in reaction to the deal which was sealed in February. The value of the deal was undisclosed.
"Because of our partnership with First Rock PE our intention is to go public. We also have very good product and a very good customer base and we want to see how we can expand that in the domestic market and then see how we can expand also into the regional market," Clarke said of the acquisition and the plan to move forward.
"Not everything will happen at once but at least we will be in a position with our new partners to secure those new revenue opportunities that in the past we maybe were not sufficiently resourced to be able to do."
He said there are plans to add new areas of focus but noted the immediate focus is growing in the areas that the company is already in.
"As it relates to other areas, that's going to be a watch and see, but certainly in the very short term we will be building out further on what we are doing and doing well," he said.
But with all the changes he said the intention is to keep the company as a family business.
"We started out as a family-oriented business. However, the business has evolved, but the team still operates as family. One of the things I do take pride in is making lasagne for the staff of 15," he said, demonstrating the close-knit nature of the employees at Optimum.
"When you are a straight employee and you go to work you go from 9 to 5. But when you are family at work, you don't watch the clock. You soldier on to get the things that should be done, done. And that is one of the things I see as a real positive, so our team works that way. People don't say it's after hours and we can't do this now or so... we work together. It's a clear culture at the company that we have built," Clarke explained.