CEO Speech 2013 FDB Small Business Awards in Suva


Chief guest Rob Cromb, members of the board and management of FDB board, venerable sponsors, the SBA finalists, members of the media, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen.

A very warm welcome to you all and this, the 10th annual presentation of the FDB Small Business Awards.
Esteemed finalists, tonight is about you. You are the reason that we are here this evening and I am pleased as I look around the room this evening, to see the future of big business in Fiji.

When we started on the road to this awards’ event 10 years ago, we did so to provide a platform from which small businesses could have their moment in the limelight. In the time since, the importance of SMEs to Fiji’s economy has grown in stature. The microenterprise and SME sectors in particular, are considered to be the cogs that drive the wheels of Fiji’s economy. It is the only sector that can be relied upon to consistently create jobs and financial opportunities for the majority of our people particularly those who have limited or no access to employment that offers a regular wage or salary.

For those who have paid close attention to the announcements in the 2014 budget, you will note that government continues to create an enabling business climate for SMEs with the announcement of the $500,000 threshold now eligible for tax exemption. The ongoing reforms to rationalise business fees and licences for SMEs should be completed by December this year. The tiered fee system is considered a fairer one than what we have at present which has SMEs and larger corporates pay the same amount for their business licences.

The extension of the tax free region from Korovou in Tailevu to Tavua is expected to open up not only enterprise in the agricultural sector but other commercial sectors as well. The completion of the Kings Road highway around Viti Levu a few months ago means better market access and opportunities for SMEs in the transportation, tourism and wholesale/retail sectors in addition to that mentioned earlier.

Ladies and gentlemen, as a development financier keen to further grow SMEs we not only have lending policies that are accommodating to the needs of our customers but we also recognise and understand the importance of financial literacy and how this is necessary for small business operators.

As an investment, FDB embarked on a partnership with the Ministry of Education in 2007 to introduce the Money Smart™ programme as part of the commercial studies curriculum in the third form or Year 9 as per the newly introduced classification system for primary and secondary school grading.

In 2011, we moved to the next step and with the introduction of Invest Smart™ for Year 10 students. This year, we signed our third memorandum of understanding with the Ministry to continue supporting this financial literacy programme for the next three years. In the time since, we have invested close to $220,000 in funding the resources necessary to run this programme. I am pleased to note that each year some 30,000 students derive the benefit of these two programmes. While our intention with Money Smart™ was to teach students how to budget, plan and save money, we also discovered an unintended albeit pleasant benefit of this programme – budding entrepreneurship amongst our 14 and 15 year-olds especially amongst our children in the rural areas who needed to generate income in order to deposit savings.

We see our Money Smart™ and Invest Smart™ programmes as the building blocks to the future growth of the micro and SME markets. Fiji needs her people to be enterprising and to succeed requires business smarts as well as tenacity and strength of spirit. I have always viewed those going into business for themselves as fearless – for there is no greater motivator than knowing that if you don’t get up in the morning and get out there, you’re not going to earn yourself a livelihood.

With that ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you one such fearless entrepreneur, our chief guest, Rob Cromb.

Rob, may I on behalf of everyone present here this evening, say that it is indeed a great pleasure to have you here with us and what a fitting occasion to have one such as yourself deliver the keynote address. Thank you for accepting our invitation.

Robert Cromb is the managing director and owner of KOOKAÏ, a privately owned women’s fashion retail company that operates in Australia and New Zealand. KOOKAÏ operates as an end-to-end business, vertically integrated with Lyndhurst Manufacturing located in Fiji and the Supply Black Book located in China. The company sells a range of self-branded apparel and accessories through its 34 retail stores in Australia and New Zealand. Kookai generates around AUD$65MM in revenue a year.

Rob is a Fiji citizen. He spent the early stages of his life in Solevu, Bua where he has maternal links and where he is known affectionately as Tu Qa. He attended Stella Maris Primary School in Suva before moving to Australia at the age of 12 to continue his education at Caulfield Grammar School and he has maintained strong links with the country ever since – KOOKAÏ’s Melbourne designed product is manufactured right here in Fiji.

Twenty years ago Rob took a risk on a concept for a women’s clothing line, born during a trip to Paris and developed it into the iconic KOOKAÏ Australia label. Without experience in the retail industry, Rob used his expertise as an investment analyst and stockbroker to launch KOOKAÏ starting with the first store on Melbourne’s Chapel Street in 1992. When some retailers buckled under economic strain, KOOKAÏ flourished under his direction.

Around 95% of KOOKAÏ’s collection is produced out of Fiji with the Valelevu factory producing approximately 25,000 units of garments a week. To our finalists and aspiring entrepreneurs, let KOOKAÏ’s succeed be a beacon to help you chart the course for your own enterprise.

When he’s not managing KOOKAÏ, Rob is busy with his philanthropy programme Katalyst which he started in 2012. Katalyst centres on the philosophy of creating a self-sufficient economy in the less affluent parts of Fiji by donating funds, services, skills training and infrastructure to make lasting changes one village at a time. Central to the Katalyst model is the development of small, local businesses that will provide ongoing employment for Fijians and help develop and stimulate the local economy.

Profits from these ventures are used by the Katalyst Charitable Trust to build homes, churches and schools where needed, assist government with financial burdens in projects in the area, sponsor education/training and assist in providing basics amenities in Vanua Levu.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with much pleasure that I now invite Rob to deliver his keynote address.