Tuesday, Sep 22nd



Alain Duzant

check_meName: Alain M. Duzant

St. Maarten Nickname: Salty Tiger (mostly by the amateur radio community)

Age: 48

City and country of residence today: Malaga, Spain


Owner of Bamboo Telecom, the largest SkyPilot Wireless Mesh network Telecom Operator in Europe and Wireless Network Solutions SL (WNS), a VAR / Systems Integrator working in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).

Recap your story:

I attended primary school in Philipsburg and graduated from Milton Peters College. I furthered my studies at college in the US and finalized them in Europe (Wireless Engineer). After the US, I returned to St. Maarten and started my own printery in Grand Case. That was the beginning of desktop publishing in those days.

I needed a loan to expand my business but it was soon made clear to me that I was not wanted on either the Dutch or the French side, something that greatly angered and saddened me. One day I went to apply for a loan at a bank in Marigot to continue buying equipment for my company. The client manager, who was originally from a French speaking country in Africa, looked at my file and told me: "Mr. Duzant, your file is perfect and your 10-year record with us is also clean, but you are a St. Maartener and for us, you are a high risk category, so I cannot approve this!"

I just stood there with my mouth wide open. My family has a 200-year-old history on the island and many assets, including my own fully-paid for home, and we St. Maarteners are high risk?! So, after a few minutes, I looked at him and asked him if I had understood him properly. The French, who come to the island with all kinds of tax breaks, can walk in here and get a loan right away, but not an original inhabitant of the island? He did not answer and I could see that he had orders from higher up in the bank.

A few years later, Alexandra Gnigler, who has been my better half for the last fifteen years, decided that it was time to leave and start anew elsewhere, largely due to Hurricane Luis, and to her surprise, I told her that I was leaving also.

I had about 60 horses in Anse Marcel. I had created one of the first horseback nature trails on the island. I sadly sold and gave the horses away to friends and others. Before that, I had already sold my printery to French people that moved it to La Savanne, where they could get a loan to buy the land and build a new building, from the same bank that had refused me!

On October 12, 2000, Alexandra and I got on a KLM flight to Amsterdam with tears in our eyes. I did not want to look back. I was leaving the island where I was born to go forward and live my dream. My brother, a Winair pilot, told me that day that I would be back in six months, I guess he was wrong!

After spending a few days in Amsterdam, we left for three weeks to Malaga in the south of Spain. While we were there, we drove more than 3000km through Andalucia, to discover the area and also see if it was possible to stay there and start anew. After three weeks, we returned to Amsterdam, picked up our car in Rotterdam and shipped the rest of our belongings to Austria to Alexandra's parents. We then took the car and drove through the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany and ended in Austria, where we spent Christmas and New Year's with Alexandra´s parents, family and friends. During the holiday season, we decided to go back to Malaga and see what we could do there. Why Malaga, you might ask? Well, it has a good climate, somewhat like St. Maarten, but most of all, nice and friendly people, much like the St. Maarten that I used to know!

On January 6, we bought a roof rack for the car, set off from Austria with $2,000 in cash and drove into an unknown future! We had to succeed, we knew no one there, we had no family from either side, so we had to rely on each other to succeed and make the right decisions.

By the second week of February, we had started our own company; mostly internet marketing for the real estate market that was really booming there at the time. My goal was to start a WISP (wireless internet service provider) which I had wanted to set up in St. Maarten, but could not, due to red tape from the governments in Guadeloupe and Curaçao at that time (and when I look at the St. Maarten press today, I see much is still the same.)

We got our licences for a WISP a few months later and started Bamboo Telecom, which has been growing successfully for the last 8 years. At the moment, we are the largest SkyPilot Wireless Mesh network in Europe, covering about 1900 square kilometres in the south of Spain and we just started a second company, www.wnsspain.com, that is selling and supporting ISPs in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). We distribute brands like Motorola, HP Procurve, SkyPilot, Ubiquiti, Meraki, Grand Stream and Cisco VOIP products and install and support clients in the EMEA. We have technicians here in Malaga and in Bosnia to support our customers in those areas. Between both of us and our staff, we speak nine languages and can communicate with 95% of our clients in their own language!

Seven years ago, we built our house here in Malaga and five years ago, we got the best gift of life – our daughter, who was born here in Malaga! Today I look back and realize that we walked into the Telecom Department here in Spain and got licences for our company instantly. We walked into a bank that did not know us and got loans for cars and overdrafts for our company within a matter of hours and we were in a foreign country. I am sadly disappointed with St. Maarten.

What St. Maarten district are you from?

Born in Philipsburg and lived in Grand Case and Anse Marcel.

Where did you go to school on St. Maarten?

I went to Kindergarten in Philipsburg, then to St. Joseph Primary School and on to Milton Peters College.

What is your favourite St. Maarten memory?

I will never forget the great memories of my youth. Growing up with friends and family on an island that was paradise to us!

What was your biggest surprise when you left the island?

We take things for granted on St. Maarten and do not do anything to better our situation. Europe and the rest of the world talk about joining hands and accepting different religions and different races; that has been happening on St. Maarten since I was born. Europe is now flourishing with open borders between countries; St. Maarten never even had borders. Europe is talking about free zones and free ports; St. Maarten never had that problem. Europe is talking about joining forces to meet energy and garbage recycling needs and St. Maarten has two ports, two airports, two electrical plants, two water plants and two governments; where is the logic in that, why don't we see that it is better to join hands?!

What are your accomplishments?

Walking away from a place that did not want me at the time and succeeding in a foreign country, together with my partner. Starting a successful business – Bamboo Telecom – and giving life to a beautiful daughter here in sunny Malaga.

What are your goals?

One day I would like to hand the keys of my business to someone that we can depend on and take a long vacation. And I would like to see my daughter grow up and be successful!

What makes you special?

I have a strong character and am a very direct and straightforward person. I will say what I think. I might not always be diplomatic and some people do not like that, but I don't beat around the bush. On the other hand I am always there to help others when needed, without ever expecting something in return.

Where do you get your drive?

From my 5-year-old daughter; she keeps me going! And after spending 2 months in the hospital here in Spain with my heart stopping on two occasions, my thoughts on life and what is most important have changed a lot! Also, from my mom, who taught me never to give up, even back in the day when I was the only boy in a typing class at Sundial School. That has paid off in my professional life today!

How long have you been gone?

10 years.

Do you have any advice for the young people of St. Maarten?

My best wishes and dreams go out to the youth of St. Maarten. I would advice them to wake up and realize that you not only need to have a dream, but also make sure you realize that dream and NEVER give up!

Also remember, that many people on St. Maarten complain about "foreigners" coming in and taking over everything. What they do not realize is that this is happening because our own locals left that void and our politicians do not do anything and are not proud of local St. Maarteners.

I remember growing up in Grand Case and the first Indian supermarket opening. "What a thing!" as they would say on St. Maarten. It was one big mess. Why? Because the shop was selling things cheaper than locals who had had grocery stores in that small town for the past 30 years. But what made these foreigners successful? Many Indians and Chinese were competing against each other with different grocery stores, electronics and so on, but when the day was over, they all had a meal together and planned strategies on how to buy in large quantities and share the products among themselves, so that each of them could get a better price. And I remember well, that if one did not have an item in stock, he or she would run to the competitor to get that item to make sure to close the sale. Now, those small "local" groceries in Grand Case and elsewhere still had the same corned beef cans on the shelves rusting away, due to the fact that for some reason, our own St. Maarten people could not sit down together and hold hands and order in big volume and do the same. Instead they criticized the so-called foreigners, who were actually setting an example by working together.

This way of thinking will never change, unless you the people of St. Maarten make it change. And for that change to be made, you need a dream and you need to follow your dream. Do not believe that everything falls into your lap out of the sky. Maybe one day the power will be in the hands of the St. Maarten population and they can do something to make a change! Or, maybe it is too late, and all of us who really want to make a change on St. Maarten are already making a change in other parts of the world?

Are you planning to return to St. Maarten in the future?

I still am and always will be in love with St. Maarten, but I will never come back to St. Maarten to reside and work. They say, never say never, but it pains me to see that we have such a special thing going for us on the island, and we just waste it. You go away to study and when you come back and would like to start up, you hit a concrete wall head on! The people who run that island on both sides never seem to think of the "others" who live there and that they need help to progress and succeed.