His humble family background and the little education he received prevented Ahmad Ally from securing what he refers to as a 'posh' job to provide for his mother and other siblings after the death of his father. But fate was to take him on a new journey, a journey to entrepreneurship that would result in him managing one of Berbice’s largest businesses and one of Guyana ’s largest chain stores.
Born to Munshi and Jahooran on October 28, 1949, at the Rose Hall Estate in East Canje , Ahmad grew up at neighbouring Reliance Abandon. He attended St Patrick’s Anglican School and Reliance Sanatan Public School until 1963 after which he wrote the Preliminary Certificate Exams. Due to certain circumstances, he left school to assist his mother and two brothers. The family had a little grocery shop and parlour at the home.
In 1968, he joined the Guyana Sugar Corporation Rose Hall Estate as a labourer where he remained for two years. He was then offered a permanent job to harvest cane which he accepted. On September 20, 1970, he married Bibi Zulaka after they met while attending the same Masjid.
Ally later started working with an American firm, MK, as a labourer, to build the Corentyne Highway , for three years. In 1974, he was offered a job at the GuySuCo field lab in Canje. He then worked at the Senior Staff Club from 1974 to 1985. He represented Rose Hall Estate in a number of games such as dominoes, darts and billiards at various events.In 1978; he was offered a job to work part-time with the American Life Insurance Company as an insurance agent, so he juggled the two jobs (at the Club and Insurance Company). He was awarded Top Producer for two consecutive years after having more than 700 policies in force.
In 1985, during a discussion with a good friend of his, L.P. Singh, who managed the L.P. Singh Furniture Store in New Amsterdam , he was given an offer to buy and manage that store. Quite skeptical to partake in the new venture (his desire was to become a teacher), Ally knew he had two good jobs and was uncertain about the risks of dedicating himself to something quite new and even more challenging.
“He insisted because I really didn’t want to come, I didn’t know what I would be reaching in New Amsterdam , I was quite settled at the Estate, but he encouraged me and I took up the challenge”, Ally reflected. However, he accepted while still holding on to his other two jobs and managing the main affairs of the store. He had to leave someone in charge though.
After a few months, he realized that there was “some potential” in the business and then decided to commit himself fully to the new venture. He resigned from GuySuCo and managed his store. He started to add a few hardware items for sale. The first couple of days were hard, he remembers.
“I could remember one day I spent the whole day and I only sold one envelope because nobody knows you and such like”, he said. After renting the first location of the business at the old Brown Derby location at the corner of Main and Church Streets in the town, Ally decided to change the location of his business. In 1991, he moved to the current location of the main branch at 14 Main Street , New Amsterdam .
"After the move business improved drastically. And I decided to move away from just furniture. I started to import paint and electrical appliances,even sand and stone. Anything you could possibly need for your home you could find at Ally's" .
He then made the very risky decision to open more locations of the store after a few years. The Canje Turn location was opened in 2000; Home Depot, 2003; and Corriverton branch in 2006. He never realized that life would have changed so drastically for him and his family, since A. Ally & Sons turned into Berbice’s most popular business.
"But,of course nothing goes well for too long.You must expect some ups and downs". There was a big fire in 2002 at the main store and this resulted in millions of dollars in damage. The location was closed for six months. "Whatever wasn't destroyed in the fire,was stolen amidst the confusion." It was then a task to start to rebuild. “Maybe it was a test, but from there on I have improved much more, because you don’t give up that easily. I don't give up that easily".
He nurtured the entity and his deep care and enthusiasm led to further growth, making way for the business to become one of the biggest employers in Berbice, providing jobs for over 100 persons. “We feel good about it, because they’re [employees] getting a regular job and we make sure people get work. We try to provide them with some sort of uniform,” he noted. “They pay their taxes and we also have a medical scheme for them,” he noted. “You’ve got to understand, people have got to get something, because how much you can afford to live in Guyana , it’s not easy,” he stated. “For a man to want to buy a good shoe or clothes, it’s pretty expensive.”
According to Mr. Ally the essential ingredients to run a successful business are honesty, a good relationship with customers, and “the very old saying, that the customer is always right”. During the 25 years of being an important businessman in the region he learnt that, “once you treat people well, they will always support you, because you build that confidence in people, you make people feel comfortable when they come and buy from you, and you always try to do your best for them”. Customers being satisfied is something he loves to see, and Ally believes he has gained the confidence of the Berbice community over the past years.
And being a devout Muslim who values the tenets of his religion very much, he believes involving and embracing the Supreme Being and incorporating the teachings into your business is essential. "It helps you in business, because morally it will make you strong, and helps you as a person to be upright and understand what is wrong, and that way, you will not deceive people. With religion, you have a peace of mind. It guides me in my day-to-day dealings with people and fuels my compassion for people.”
Arguably Mr. Ally’s most special attribute is his commonsense approach to everything he does. While not debunking the idea of going to school and getting an education, Ally values his sense of sound and prudent judgment of various life situations.
“Without going to high school or secondary school, once you have very good commonsense that is what really can take you places, because for example, even with my limited knowledge you cannot easily make a fool of me”.
Today, much of the business is being managed by his son, Faizal, in terms of “general functioning”.
“Very, very few families stay together to run a business. They are always breaking up. I don’t know how long mine will be around; I won’t tell you it will be forever, but to me, it is a blessing to see my children sticking together to run the business,” he said. In the line of business, a typical day for Mr. Ally begins at 7am and ends at 7pm. He says prayers and attends Masjid at midday and again in the evening. “I enjoy it immensely,” he reflected.
Ally is the President of the Central Jama Masjid in New Amsterdam and oversees the general affairs. He visited the Hajj along with his wife in Mecca , Saudi Arabia in 1999. “The experience was a good one. It takes you away a little from the hustle and bustle of life. When you go out there, you close out your mind from the regular world.” In 2005, he spent two months in Pakistan where he underwent a kidney transplant.
When not managing his business, Ally does have other ways and means of enjoying himself. He enjoys watching cricket whether live or on the television, “going out for a drive in the evenings, in Georgetown …the Seawall, but generally, I tend to my Masjid work”. He also enjoys a bit of fishing.
Mr. Ally has ensured the involvement of his organization in the field of sports in Berbice, since he embraced the sponsorship of national cycling standout, Neil Reece, and has made numerous contributions and donations towards the young man during the past years. He understands the significance of young people and sports. "And, it's not just about sports; it’s about giving back to the community. Everything I have was given to me through them. How could I not give back?"
"Everyone’s definition of family is different based on their personal experiences. My family was and still is my motivation. My mother was my first motivation to begin working. I didn't care what type of work I had to do, as long as we had food and money to pay our bills. Today my mother is gone, but my children and grandchildren still motivate me. "
"My advice is to find your drive, and of course love what you do. You know what they say, 'love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life'."
Motivated by integrity and traditional core family principles, Mr. Ally is a fine example for any entrepreneur.