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Hidden Gems: Meet Mike Sehzue of Global SouthXSouth Consulting

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Sehzue

Opportunity is often revealed by seeing ways in which old and proven techniques can be applied in new formats, variations, or places. When Mike Sehzue made his first trip to his father’s home country of Liberia and the village of Sangarplay, he had no intentions other than to discover the place that meant so much to his family. The trip was a way to provide context to the feelings that had been fostered through stories he had been told as a child… In some sense, it would be a journey of self-discovery. Liberia, like all countries, is continually trying to settle itself amidst the rolling seas of modernity. The last few decades have brought about a handful of crises, including a civil war and an Ebola outbreak in 2014, the rumblings of the former being the catalyst for which Mike’s father left in the mid-1970’s.

Through it all, the Liberian people have remained resilient even when there has been no firm footing on which to build. Specifically, the community of people in Sangarplay possesses a spirit of unity and proudness that was very apparent to Mike and it was this spirit that awakened a vision of opportunity. In Sangarplay, people have been using sugarcane (which is a native crop) to make “moonshine rum” for quite some time. The local product may have very little similarity in taste to typical rum, but the base ingredient provides all the commonality which is necessary. Mike had no idea how to make rum, but he soon realized that sugar cane was a great place to start and from there, he used his entrepreneurial proficiency to build out an initial business model for making rum in Liberia. Mike sorted out all of the basic requirements: he could source ample amounts of sugar cane from local farmers and he also had people who would help with the rum-making process. But how to make quality rum? It was a spot of chance that Mike met Cynthia Blandford, “Honorary Consul General of Liberia” in Atlanta, who recommended he speak to Erik and Karin Vonk of Richland Rum. Cynthia had met Erik and Karin through various Georgia business functions and knew that they were always kind with their time, especially in providing supportive knowledge for innovative ideas. Mike reached out to Erik and Karin and they quickly arranged a meeting for him to visit the distillery in Richland.

Since that meeting in early 2014, Mike has built and grown a fully operational and sustainable rum distilling company producing “Sangar Rum” in his father’s village of Sanagarplaey. All of the sugarcane is sourced from local farmers, and Mike employs other locals to help run the distillery. Incredibly, Mike keeps the business in operation with only occasional in-person visits, which he manages to arrange by using his vacation time throughout the year. Sangar Rum is currently being sold in various locales throughout Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia and surrounding areas. Monrovian businesses are very appreciative to have a high-quality local product which they can sell to Liberians and visitors alike with equally positive reception. The demand for Sangar Rum is beginning to take hold and expansion to international markets, including certain U.S. markets, is quickly approaching. As the business has grown, Mike has remained steadfast in his pursuit for innovation and is currently exploring various methods for large scale production powered by sustainable energy sources. In ways such as this, Mike is not only laying the groundwork for breakthrough business models in Africa, but for the world as well. Sangar Rum is primed and ready to set an example which many businesses of the future can follow in order to adapt themselves to the ever-changing global environment. From the very first introduction, Erik, Karin, and everyone else at Richland Rum understood the cohesiveness with which Mike Sehzue’s business model fits the Richland identity.

Richland Rum was also born to revive a town that has endured its own (economic) hardships. These similar motives drive much of the innovative ideas being seen across all businesses and industries today, and the more that these entities can work together to build each other up, the better it will be for everyone. From Richland to Sangarplay, the opportunity exists for anyone who can see it. Sangar Rum is now sold at Village Liquor in the Garden Oaks area of Houston, TX.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Nothing has been smooth on this road. Building a small business is difficult enough in the U.S., but building a small business in a developing country can appear impossible. We’ve run into struggles organizing the farmers in Liberia, establishing a supply chain from Liberia to the U.S., and navigating the liquor laws within the U.S.

As you know, we’re big fans of Global SouthXSouth Consulting. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Mike Sehzue specializes in business advisory services to clients on investment strategy, trade and implementation assistance. Mike is a proven Global South entrepreneur, ecosystem builder, and business operations consultant. In 2013, he founded a Liberia-based small agribusiness, Sangar Rum, which produces distilled rum for sale in global markets. With Sangar Rum, Mike has provided exceptional leadership in market analysis, product development, stakeholder engagement, value creation development, global supply chain development, marketing and brand development. He has used lean and agile approaches to resolve operation pain points to improve production efficiency and quality assurance.

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
Perseverance and persistence.

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