John De Silva admits that he never wanted to manage Bell-Vista, the West Australian fresh produce company he has built up over the past 19 years.
“It was by accident really,” he says. “I wanted to be the investor, not the guy running it. Then I finished up having a job there, buying out all the other shareholders and here I am.”
Da Silva was, at the time, working as a storeman. He came across the small fruit and vegetable operation, which was seeking further investment capital, and decided to buy a 5 per cent stake.
As time went by, he realised that the company had a huge amount of untapped potential. He also began to notice that the four other shareholders were damaging the business because each wished to take it in a different direction. The businessman soon decided to buy out the remaining shares and take sole ownership – a move that changed his life.
When Da Silva took over, the first thing he did was appoint a sales representative, who would hit the road and generate interest from buyers. Within a few months, Da Silva says he could not keep up with the orders.
Today Bell-Vista Group is a multi-million dollar organisation that has wholesale, export, shipping and retail divisions. When you buy fresh strawberries from your local grocer, chances are it is a punnet of Bell-Vista’s finest.
“Hundreds of thousands of strawberries are sent to the eastern states each week,” says Da Silva. Its products are also exported to exotic destinations such as the Maldives, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia, both by sea and air.
While its retail arm, AllStates Fruit & Veg Merchants in Canning Vale, is the most visible part of the company, it is the shipping operation, AllStates Marine and Food Services, that is proving to be the most lucrative.
The division supplies 80 per cent of the passenger liners coming into Fremantle – West Australia’s main port. Its ships carry everything from beer and alcohol to fish and fresh meats. Da Silva also opened a similar business in India 18 months ago, called AllStates India, and that operation is performing strongly.
While Da Silva is coy about the value of the company and its turnover, he admits that All States Canning Vale experienced growth of about $28m in one year alone – and that was eight years ago. With the shipping division generating more income than Canning Vale, this gives a pretty clear indication of just how huge Bell-Vista has become.
And this growth is set to continue. Bell-Vista is due to open a wholesale division in Mauritius this year through a joint venture with an unnamed party. It will supply hotels and companies with products from Australia, including eggs and other fresh produce.
Da Silva is also planning to acquire some farmland in the next couple of years to allow Bell-Vista to grow its own produce – and therefore cut out the middle man.
“I like to do that whenever possible,” he says. “That way you cut costs and you are in total control of your own destination.” The businessman is also looking at purchasing or establishing a winery in WA’s acclaimed Margaret River or Busselton wine region.
He is also looking forward to handing over the reins of his business to his two sons in the next 10 years or so. For now though, Da Silva – born on the idyllic island of Madira, off the Portugese coast – is well and truly enjoying the fruits of his labour.
John De Silva: Secrets of My Success
- Be a quiet achiever. Go about your business without making a lot of noise.
- Hire expert staff. Staff are your biggest asset. Without them you have nothing.
- Always communicate with your bank manager. Let your banks know what you are doing and what changes you are making.
- Stay focussed and keep talking to people.
- Be passionate about what you are doing.