In conversation with
Managing Director | Blue Liquors Ltd
FDI Spotlight: Given your professional background in finance, what made you come to Mauritius, decide to invest and choose this island as your home?
Jiri Ragan: I studied in Prague, and through my studies I entered the financial services field. At the time I was studying medicine, but before I finished I decided I wanted to switch fields and entered the financial services world. I went to work for Daimler Bank as an advisor and liaising officer. I moved to the private bank in Luxembourg not long after that and I mainly dealt with the VIP clients and overseas transfers.
I moved to Volvo’s financial services area after that in the same position and then onto dealing with Volvo’s private clients. Working in that area, I dealt with a lot of my own clients to get loans and other financial products. One client was looking around for private equity and through a contact here in Mauritius I managed to secure it for him. That is when we started doing offshore investments and offer international financial products for clients.
When everything was set up and running well, we started looking around for other forms of investment. Through the Chamber of Commerce we found someone who wanted to invest in what we were doing and he set up our Mauritius company. Unfortunately, after two and a half years, the company went bankrupt. The decision was made for me to stay and we went ahead to try and revive the company. I found that there were many good Mauritians who were willing help, and they did. Now the company is running very well.
It is often said that Mauritius has the potential to become a world-class financial services sector for the region, mainly for Eastern and Southern Africa. What are your thoughts on that?
Jiri Ragan: Due to the geographical location of the island, I believe that that is true. Mauritius is so perfectly placed, you can almost say that it was built for that specific purpose.
Beyond that, Mauritius is very safe place in terms of living and banking.
When you look at Africa, Mauritius is easily the best. However, in terms of international standards, we are lacking. We need to start addressing the fact that our employees need to be on time, meet deadlines, and live up to the promises they make.
You cannot compare Mauritius to London or New York, but you can corn-pare it to Singapore or Dubai. It is a pity because the mentality here is that we are still like a village, even though Mauritius has built one of the strongest and most resilient financial services sectors there is.
The fact that we did that shows what we are capable of and that great service is an absolute must for a country. In Mauritius, people do things very much with heart, which means that they are passionate, and we need to teach and implement quality service in line with that.
Looking at the rum manufacturing industry, how difficult was it to start a company in Mauritius and get your product to the current level of quality?
Jiri Ragan: To start a business is quite easy. In short and very simply put, if you follow the guidelines outlined by the Mauritian government and hand over the required documents, it is very easy.
That said, you have to stay on top of people in order to get your papers. More often than not you have to chase them down and call to ask where your documents are. Unfortunately, sometimes you need to work the system and be very annoying to get what you need from others. This is not necessarily due to corruption; I do not see or deal with that sort of thing very often in my business life.
I do, however, think it is partly due to incompetency. Nobody ever seems ready to give any kind of approval and because people here are not willing to do anything illegal — which is obviously not a bad thing – it can take a long time for something to go through the process.
In general, it is very easy to set up a business in Mauritius because there are fewer cultural restrictions you have to deal with. In Dubai, for example, something like a rum distillery can be seen as a bad thing due to the country’s religion.
When we eventually started to produce our product, we were looked down upon somewhat, due to being the new kids on the block. Mauritius is well-known for its rum, and being from the Czech Republic myself, I was seen as someone who did not know what he was talking about.
Therefore the start of Blue Liquors was quite difficult, and people laughed at us at first. However, after we won the first gold medal at the Mauritian Rum Festival, they knew that we were serious and that we were producing a top quality spirit.
Which countries do you sell most to and what is your current distribution network?
Jiri Ragan: Slovakia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Hungary, France, England and Switzerland. We have won a gold medal at Germany’s Rum Festival as well.
We sell directly to the countries, in instead of using a distributor. Currently, we sell about io-15 thousand bottles a year, but it is growing to zo thousand. We want to keep some exclusively and want people to know where to buy, but not how to get it directly from us. In Mauritius, we only have 5-star institutions stock our product, and we are definitely extremely picky when it comes to partnerships. I believe that win-win partnerships are the best, and you need to make sure that you find the right person for this.
We are working on an online platform, a simple website, where people can find where to buy our rum in certain areas. Our product is only stocked in bars and restaurants, not in shops.
Where do you see your product and your company in the next five years?
Jiri Ragan: One dream I have to sign to stock our rum in a chain of small luxury and world-renowned hotels.
We are already started the Blue Mauritius Club, which we want to use to attract future clients and for existing clients to use. We want something for our clients that is exclusive and very inclusive once you have joined it.
In a few years, when people say “That was really great rum”, everyone should be thinking about us.
FDI Spotlight: What is your personal message of confidence to investors considering Mauritius as an investment platform?
Jiri Ragan: My advice to any foreign investors who want to come to Mauritius would be to make sure the legal side and your papers are in order. It is a very small island where everyone knows everyone and it is often difficult to separate the bad from the good. However, if you are patient and know your side is clean and in order, you should not have any problems.
If you invest correctly, like we have done, you should no problem getting somewhere. I believe that if you push the people here and you manage it well, you can make and have a fantastic product and business in Mauritius. Once the locals here start to trust you, they treat you like family. It is some-times still difficult because many of the government structures are very old school, but strength and persistence are key.
Personally, I have found that it is an absolutely beautiful experience when you create something from nothing. As mentioned, I absolutely love it and I love creating something out of nothing. I am also very happy that we stayed, because my wife and I are very happy and our daughters speak many languages. It is not always easy as an expat, but you can make it work and you can create a very happy life for yourself— which we did here in Mauritius. I intend to stay here for at least the next three years and then see from there.