Contact: Rene Abadie
Date: May 3, 2013
DOING GOOD BUSINESS – Business entrepreneur and founder of MBAs without Borders Tal Dehtiar presented Southeastern Louisiana University's annual Ethics in Business Lecture, sponsored by the College of Business.
HAMMOND – Finding ways to bring his business education in line with his own system of values
has been a long sought goal of international businessman Tal Dehtiar, founder of the
group MBAs Without Borders.
The Canadian entrepreneur recently shared his experiences and insights with students and others at the annual Ethics in Business lecture, sponsored by the Southeastern Louisiana University College of Business.
The latest venture for Dehtiar, 32, is Oliberte' Footwear, the first premium shoe company to manufacture its products in sub-Saharan Africa using local workers and materials. Although he is not against countries and others giving aid to developing nations, Dehtiar believes providing employment opportunities and building a lasting economy is a far more effective approach.
He told the story of a man he spoke with in Liberia who was selling shoes and sandals in the marketplace. Dehtiar asked how his business was going.
"The man shook his head and said to me, 'How do I compete with free?''' he said. "Shoes were being given to people in the area by various aid organizations, so he didn't have any customers. This approach dries up local businesses so the people no longer have the opportunity to make a living for themselves."
Dehtiar decided to develop a company that would approach manufacturing in a responsible way, employing local workers, using locally-sourced materials and following environmentally sound practices. Oliberte', started in 2009, has its factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and obtains materials and components from Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius and Liberia. Oliberte's goal is to help develop a thriving African middle class.
"I knew there had to be a way that you can do business and do good," he said. "Business is what changes things, doesn't it? At Oliberte', we are about creating opportunities for people. Our shoes are made by people and for people who care about what they are doing and its impact in the world."
Dehtiar readily admits that, at the outset, he knew nothing about manufacturing shoes or any other product.
Why shoes? Because, he explained, "Shoes have always been around and will always be around." He noted that sometimes entrepreneurs are too occupied with finding the next new product or technology, but success can come from finding a new "hook" for products people already need.
Dehtiar stressed the importance of being sensitive and respectful of local customs and culture of a country in which a company wants to do business, having learned to meld a number of different cultures within his own life. A Canadian, he is the son of a father born in Uzbekistan and who grew up in Ukraine, and a mother born in Siberia. His parents, he said, also provided his model for hard work and business savvy.
"I believe there are three things in business you should always treat well and they will treat you well: your people, your product and your place," he said. "Our workers have never been under a system where people were offered fair pay, free speech and employee rights, so they don't trust us. The only way we've been able to build that trust is through time and action, showing them that we do what we say we will do."
Prior to starting Oliberte', Dehtiar was co-founder of MBAs Without Borders, an international charity that has engaged hundreds of experienced MBAs from around the world to volunteer and help build small and social businesses in more than 25 developing countries. He has received numerous awards for his creativity, entrepreneurship and social consciousness efforts.