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Talking business with ambitious entrepreneur Juan Bocung Cawan

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Juan Bocung Cawan at his gourmet food store in Malabo.

Entrepreneur Juan Bocung Cawan is always on the look-out for new opportunities. His entrepreneurial journey started when he returned home to Equatorial Guinea in 2010 after many years living in the US where he completed his studies.

Upon his return Cawan first dabbled in construction, but then an opportunity in the electrical equipment industry presented itself.

His company, Uriarte GE, is the official local distributor for a Spanish electrical products manufacturer, supplying and installing items such as cables, transformers, fuses and lighting.

More recently he also started a retail business, called Olé Malabo, in the capital city. It sells gourmet meat, cheese and wine – mostly imported from Spain, with which the country has a colonial past

Cawan says European expats working in Equatorial Guinea account for a large part of his clientele. “You have a lot of people here who know what good wine is. I have wine here that I bought in Spain for 300 to 400 euros a bottle. I have a client who will say: ‘I have looked all over and cannot find good wine’.”

Although he has competition from other supermarkets, Cawan tries to stock products not carried by his rivals.

Equatorial Guinea, sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil producer, has been hard hit by the fall in price of crude from over US$100 in mid-2014 to record lows of about $27 in January 2016. However, Cawan says because he didn’t have the gourmet shop in the $100 oil days, he can’t say if there has been any drop in luxury spending.

Acclimatising to slower pace

After moving back from the US, it took some time to get used to the slower pace of business in Equatorial Guinea.

Another challenge was the time it took to register his company. “It took forever to sign the papers, and you go to the department, and the person is not there. It is very stressful and at some point you want to start operating.

“So the most important thing an entrepreneur can have here is patience… in the beginning I got very frustrated, but got to the point that I acclimatised myself.”

Creating a friendly work environment

Cawan believes the most important part of running a business is knowing how to manage employees. He describes his leadership style as “sharing”.

“I don’t like the term ‘boss’, I like the term ‘friend’. I want my staff to be able to speak to me if they have a problem. I want to create that environment where people actually like you, because if somebody likes you, they will not do you wrong. This, however, doesn’t mean that employers have to be weak.”

Looking ahead, Cawan aims to grow his business to 100 employees.

“I want to sell products that really benefit people – both in my electrical and gourmet food businesses. I don’t want to sell sub-par products just for the sake of making a sale.”

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