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by Simon Lord,
last updated 18/11/2010

in this article:

December 2005 - The extraordinary story of Shiraz Hajee, New Zealand's Franchisee of the Year for 2005.

Watching Shiraz’s polished performance on stage as he accepted the award for his Jesters the Jaffle Pie Company outlet, there was no hint of his beginnings in business on the streets of Bombay. Talking to Franchise New Zealand magazine & website after winning the Award, Shiraz told a tale of heartbreak, hard work and inspiration.

LianneShiraz‘My mother died in 1975 when I was 15, and my father was so heart-broken that he suffered total paralysis,’ Shiraz begins quietly. ‘I became the bread-winner for the family. I had an elder sister and it was my duty to enable her to be married, and I also had twin brothers who were just six. There is no health service in India and my father’s business had gone broke - he had spent all his money on medicines for my mother and built up debts too. They were bad days. I tell you quite honestly, there were days we did not know how we would put food on the table for the next meal.’

Desperate, Shiraz went out and took the first job he was offered. ‘You have seen the vendors on the streets in India and the urchins who shout out for customers? Well, I became one of them. My first boss had a sheet on the footpath and sold handbags and accessories all for 55 rupees – like The $2 Shop,’ he laughs. ‘He had got hoarse shouting and paid me to do it for him. My salary was 100 rupees a month – about NZ$3.’

But his boss soon noticed that Shiraz brought something extra to the job. ‘He said I spoke very good English and he liked the way that I talked to the customers with real enthusiasm. In Bombay there are little cupboard-like stalls leased out by the government – not quite shops but a step up from a sheet on the ground. He suggested we take one so I could start selling a better range of products and we could get better margins. We would go halves on the profits, he said – but I had no money to invest. He told me that all I needed to invest was my tongue! We did it – and within 20 days from starting my first job I was earning 100 rupees a day. It was a miracle! I am still in touch with him, my first mentor, today.’

Shiraz’s natural business skills took him onwards and upwards. An uncle helped him into his first real shop, a shoe shop in the Sheraton Hotel, and then he started his own leather manufacturing business like his father. That expanded into garment design, and by 2002 Shiraz was a wealthy and successful man who could afford to take time off and travel. Then in January 2002 he came to New Zealand to visit a cousin and fell in love. ‘After just one week in this beautiful country I knew I had found the place I wanted to die in,’ he says. ‘Such a beautiful place, such a quality of life, such friendly people. I walked up One Tree Hill early in the morning and complete strangers wished me good morning. It was wonderful.’ Shiraz decided to emigrate as soon as possible. Just a few months later he was back permanently and looking for a business opportunity.

How Shiraz chose his Jesters franchise is another saga in itself, but since 2003 he has put all his energies into developing his central Auckland store – and, crucially, developing the staff who work with him. The Award judges commended Shiraz for commitment to understanding ‘everyday New Zealand’ and his instinctive and deep understanding of managing people and sharing his learning. His approach is reflected in the fact that, in these days of full employment, almost incredibly Shiraz has a long waiting list of potential employees.

The 2005 Franchise Awards were the first official engagement for the newly-appointed Minister for Small Business, the Hon Lianne Dalziel MP, who presented Shiraz with his Franchisee of the Year title. With great aplomb, Shiraz amused the audience by thanking her for her part in his success - Lianne was Minister for Immigration when Shiraz’s application was approved. ‘She always seems to be there for me at the critical moment,’ he laughed.

Read more of Shiraz's experiences and the stories behind all the winners in the 2005 Franchise Awards.



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