How will you be remembered?
Many people live their lives without leaving a mark on society. This isn’t the case for Peter Tonti. Originally from the U.S., after completing a Peace Corps volunteer session in Belize in the 1970s, he decided to permanently live there. He set up shop in the tourism industry and helped pioneer a young industry that was in need of much guidance.
I officially met Peter when I started working at The Lodge at Chaa Creek; however, I was acquainted with him before that. I’m from San Ignacio and that’s where the Chaa Creek offices are. He was known as the guy who walked all over town. That’s strange in Belize because anyone who can afford a car, owns a car – public transit sucks and it is also considered a status symbol. A car means your standard of living is good.
At the office Peter commanded respect, and after work he was super casual and loads of fun to party with. I remember when I just started working with him and I would tell myself I couldn’t wait for us to be cool enough to hang out. His best friend was Mike Green, a guy who also worked at the lodge as the conservation manager, and on Fridays you’d see Mike Green come by the office at the end of the day to pick him up for some TGIF fun. Grrr, I wish I was invited I would tell myself. Haha.
There are many things that I learned from Peter but there are two things that I am most grateful for.
Read, read and then read more. I thought that as a CFO Peter would only be interested in finances but it was quite the opposite. I later realized that to have a leg up in life, you need to be a prolific reader and have random knowledge about everything. On some days I would see Peter spend all day consuming the Internet. He would jump from one website to the other.
He would also subscribe to many business magazines and from him I learned to read The Economist. I had no interest in the world and finances but since he had a subscription, after he read it he would pass it down to anyone at the office.
Know and think like your customers. Here’s an example: I was once conversing with a travel agent who claimed to be a big shot. I was excited to make him sell Chaa Creek and he was interested in visiting the property but had a pre-condition of not giving a deposit for his stay. He claimed that he was not comfortable paying before he stayed at the lodge. In Belizean culture having a service or product before you pay is pretty standard so I didn’t see it as a problem. I went to discuss the matter with Peter and told him I thought the agent was making a practical request. Peter said to me: “Lorenzo, when you’re in the US and you go to a McDonalds, do you pay after or before you get your Big Mac? If this guy is serious about doing business with us he will have no problem following our policy.”
The last time I saw Peter was in January 2015. I was sitting in front of Scotia Bank in downtown San Ignacio and he came over to say hi. He looked different and I mentioned he had coloured his hair. He laughed and said he had to look a little younger. That’s how I will remember him, with a smile and always walking.