Published On: Thu, Feb 7th, 2013

Feisty community of Indian origin entrepreneurs making its presence felt in Curacao

WILLEMSTAD – Harish Rao, a chartered accountant from Chennai, hadn't even heard about the Caribbean island of Curacao, before a job offer from a large trading group run by people of Indian origin took him there in the late 1990s. But today Rao and his wife Poornima have settled in very well in the island and they are running their own financial services and accounting firm. Set up in 2001 as Rao & Co, last year it successfully acquired a Dutch accounting company and is now called Abaque Financial Solutions.

Curacao, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Venezuela, is an autonomous region under the Netherlands. Unlike some of the English-speaking Caribbean countries such as Trinidad & Tobago; Curacao doesn't have a very large population of Indian origin. But the around 2000 strong Indian community comprises mostly businesspersons of the Sindhi origin. Many of them have operations in the economically booming free zone hub of Curacao. There are others such as Rao, who came to the island with jobs and some of them turned into entrepreneurs. The island also attracts many skilled Indian professionals who work for major global oil majors which have refineries in the island.

Entrepreneurial adventures

"Setting up a company in Curacao was pretty challenging since though very friendly, the local people still considered us to be foreigners. Before setting off on my own entrepreneurial journey, I had worked on a very successful stint with global major Deloitte & Touche. However, after setting up my own firm I had to grapple with issues such as tying up finances locally and cold calling potential clients," says Rao. Today he is far more confident after having closed the successful acquisition last year and has also set up operations in India, which he hopes to gradually scale up.

"Currently, most of our business is from Curacao and other Caribbean islands in the region. Curacao is a business hub with a large export and free zone operations and we have been achieveing around 100% annual growth," says Rao. The acquisition in Holland will now help the company to take its global growth plans forward. "I had been working with a business coach for one year because we were aiming to grow globally. It was one of my friends who approached me with the proposition from the firm in Holland," Rao said.

While setting up the company proved a challenge as a foreigner, the lifestyle in the island was very comfortable right from the start and helped Rao and his family to settle down there. "Though this is not an English speaking region, language was never a big challenge for either of us. People are very comfortable with English and go an extra mile to help foreigners and have always been very welcoming," says Rao's wife Poornima. She moved to Curacao in 1996 with her husband and is now fluent with the local language Papiamentu.

While Spanish is the other important language, English is also widely used. The Dutch education system is primarily followed in schools but there are British and American schools as well.

"We chose to send out daughter, who is nine years old, to a Dutch school instead of an American one. She is now very fluent with Dutch, which is the other language here, and I learn from her," she adds. Indians in the island celebrate Diwali with a lot of enthusiasm and that's the occasion when almost all members of the community get together for a big party.

"There's a large Hindu temple here in Willemstad, which is the capital of Curacao, which we visit often and a few Indians restaurants as well. In the last ten years, at least three Indian grocery stores have also come up," says Poornima Rao. She supports her husband with the administrative work of the company and identifies lack of skilled human resources as one of the main challenges that they face. "There are some Indians who have come to work here in engineering, financial services and the oil refinery sectors. But many of them leave after a few years," she says.

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