Donald Fernandez speaks on his journey as a salesman to joining Kilowott as an advisor
While some choose to lead a retired life at 60 and slow down, Donald Fernandez had other plans.
He signed up for classes in KravMaga, a martial art form; something many would not take up at that age. It is a childhood dream that he wanted to accomplish. “When I was in school, I took a fancy to boxing but my dad pulled me out of the sport. Therefore, at 60 I decided to take it up despite well-meaning opposition from family and friends. It did a world of good for me and even brought down my diabetes and improved my overall fitness levels,” he says.
Donald did not think twice about it, because he is no stranger to hard work. In the early 2000s Donald was a sales czar, breaking record sales targets while employed with Hello Publications, a leading media house at the time.
Retirement from decades of his life spent in sales, has now offered the sixty-year-old father of three young successful entrepreneurs, Aaron, Judah and Caleb, an opportunity to mentor the next generation.
In 2018, Donald retired from Hello Publications and has now joined his sons’ IT company, Kilowott as an advisor.
In many ways, life has come full circle. A life which started in Mumbai’s (then Bombay) bustling Byculla area; where Donald grew up as a fourth child among six siblings.
“I was very close to my father Heplet Tom Fernandez. He had a huge influence on me. He supported me in every decision I made. The one thing he instilled in us siblings at an early age was honestly. I took that forward with my boys. I modeled myself as a father based on how my dad was with us,” he recalls.
Hard work ran in Donald’s veins. Even while he was in school and college, he chose to help his uncle who ran a business out of Mumbai involving export of machinery to Africa.
However, life tends to throw you a battle of choices, as one grows up. And Donald was no exception.
Sometime after he met his wife Jessyl in Mumbai, Donald had a choice to make. Stay in Mumbai and help with his uncle’s business or move to Bahrain where Jessyl had moved to work.
“I decided to move. At the time, my father supported me despite the resistance from others,” he said. He took up a sales job in Bahrain for an airline travel agency and eventually settled to live in the Middle East. The island nation in the Persian Gulf was also where Donald climbed notches in his professional, personal and spiritual journey.
Donald’s love and his faith in God, has been the guiding light in his life. “God has given me everything I have – my family, work, money, business. Everything that I have, I owe to Him. And I have instilled this faith in my children, as well,” he says.
It was when Jessyl was pregnant, that the couple decided to move back to India.
Return to Goa and a foray into media space sales
“On our return to India, I took up a sales job with a company called Mass Media in Mumbai. They used to publish an annual guide along the lines of the yellow pages where I was tasked with selling space. It was a new experience and I liked it,” he said.
The big city however took a toll on Jessyl’s health, triggering the family’s move to Goa in 2000. They set up their home in Saligao, a village his wife Jessyl grew up in, before moving to their own home in Porvorim.
“My first job in Goa was selling space for a company which was printing the yellow pages for Goa. I had some experience in a similar role in Mumbai so took it up but things did not quite work out. Soon after, I met Jerry Matthew of Hello Publications who ran the popular helpline 412121 at the time. He offered me a sales job and I took it up,” he fondly recalls.
The journey at Hello Publications and his relationship with Jerry spanned nearly two decades. The journey also required Donald to kick start his Bajaj Chetak to take him on his sales calls for Travel Talk, a travel and hospitality publication started by Jerry. It was early days in his life in Goa and every penny was needed to be saved.
“To optimise costs, I would meticulously plan my route on my faithful Chetak, so that I could save on petrol expenses. I would pick a place and meet as many people as I could before moving on to the next village,” he said. His debut effort was a hit thanks to such careful planning, which saw Donald sell 100 ads for the publication’s very first issue in the year 2000 raking in impressive revenue for the firm.
While Hello Publications gave Donald a great place to reignite his career, he had to put in more than just a regular shift to provide for his growing family.
“I often worked late hours, scheduling calls and looking into the detailing of pages before they go into print to make sure that the clients’ ads are featured well,” he said.
Very early on in his professional association with Jerry, it was one line uttered by the latter, which turned out to be both inspiring and prophetic.
“I worked solely on incentives from the sales I made. No salary. Jerry knew what I was capable of. Many years ago, soon after I joined, he told me that I would one day draw a salary of Rs. 1 lakh. It motivated me. In Dec 2006, I drew a salary of Rs. 1 lakh for the first time. It was a lot of money at the time. I thank God for it is he who helped me make the sales and earn that salary,” he says.
“I have known Donald for over a decade now”, recalls David D’Souza of Tito’s. “He is a gem of a guy. He is calm, focused and persistent. What I admire in him is that he never took no for an answer when he came to sell ads for Travel Talk. Somehow, he convinced us to take it up. Often, he even put the ad up for free to encourage us. He is a fantastic person. I have always said to him that if I ever needed someone to convince a client without being in your face, it would be him”.
Yellow Mehra echoes the thought. “Donald was one of the first persons to get into digital marketing here in Goa”, she recalls. Yellow, founder of Fiesta Beach Resort and Restaurant, adds “I remember working with him back in the 90s and 2000s and he was so dedicated to his job. Back then, very few people were into digital marketing. He had his act together and was doing things that were ahead of the times. Donald was extremely polite; he was always professional and courteous. He had a great team who were all very creative; it was a pleasure to work with him,” she added.
Honesty and Persistence – Paying it Forward
Donald’s long association with Jerry has also expanded from a professional one to one that spans many life aspects.
“Jerry is more than a friend. He is my former employer, partner, teammate and the person who encouraged me and supported me unconditionally through two decades. He trusted me and backed me one hundred percent,” Donald said.
And Jerry reciprocates the affection. “Donald is very persistent. Once he puts his mind to something, he wants to see it through. His sons have inherited that from him. Together we built the business from the ground up. The earnings were not much at the time but Donald was persistent and patient. He worked late hours and he worked hard,” Jerry said.
Honesty and persistence are qualities, which he has instilled in his three boys too, just as Donald’s father did unto him.
“When Aaron was young, he came home one day and realised that the shopkeeper had given him extra money. We both went back to the shop and returned the extra money. It was a life lesson I instilled in all three of my boys,” he said.
When his boys were on the verge of venturing out in life, Donald was supportive, just like his father was. “Aaron was young and ambitious and had big dreams. Judah wanted to take a break while studying engineering. Caleb was unsure of what career to opt for. I prayed for them and continue to do so. The answers emerged and today all three of my sons have founded a successful IT company,” he said, adding that the sibling trio are also wonderful human beings with good values and principles.
David D’Souza echoes the thought. “We have worked with his sons and interacted with them professionally. His sons too, are hard working and determined because of their upbringing and because of the values instilled in them by Donald,” says David.
Be it clients or colleagues, everyone has a good word to say about Donald. NileshHadfadkar who worked with Donald for over a decade says of him, “Donald was my guru who taught me all I know about sales. He was a guide and mentor to me who supported me through the initial years of my career. Thanks to him, today I have a career in sales.” The mentorship extended into personal advise as well, says Nilesh. “Donald also taught me the art of saying ‘no’. It’s a life lesson I use to this day,” he said. Another former colleague Bobby Sakhardande agreed. “Donald is hard working, dedicated, encouraging and a fun humorous person all rolled into one. The bond we shared when we were working continues to this day”, says Bobby.
In a career that spans decades, Donald has blazed a path of his own. His personal journey is an inspiration to many. On a parting note, a word of advice for the young? “My only piece of advice to youngsters wanting to make a career in sales: Be honest and be ready to work hard. There is no short-cut to success,” concludes Donald.