Guyanese Immigrant Rises to the Challenge
by Susan Gosine
Paul Raman has found his life’s calling. It may not be the love of his life but he loves what he does; giving cars new leases on life, injecting new spirit into failing transmissions, eradicating unknown clanks and making engines purr again.
The transmission is the operating system of the engine. If it over heats, burns fluid, leaks oil or clanks, and is left unattended over a period of time, the car will shut down unexpectedly. Perhaps in the middle of a busy intersection.
To avoid such a mishap the team of experienced auto mechanics at Maximum Transmission and Auto Repair, can run a free diagnostic on a vehicle to identify any malfunction in transmission or engine, and they can have it fixed and running like new in record time. They specialise in complete transmission work on foreign and domestic cars, 4 x 4 and front and rear wheel drive. And complete auto repairs.
Located at 122-40 Rockaway Boulevard, South Ozone Park, Queens, the auto shop is owned and managed by Guyanese immigrant and transmission specialist Paul Raman. His team includes an A and B mechanic, a helper and a part-time worker who builds transmissions. The shop accommodates nine cars at a time and the team can work on five simultaneously.
Paul also has a scout working the streets to source business for the shop. They have engaged five repair shops called the Good Guys Group in preparation for a 2010 plan to facilitate work from FedEx, Trans Care Transmissions, the ambulance services and the bus companies, among others. Yes, the little shop that can, also handles trucks and other heavy duty vehicles.
Although he was unemployed for eight months and forced to drive a taxi to sustain himself, Paul could not resist the lure of the dream that had been plaguing him from the time he was 19. To have his own auto shop. To bring it home, he resigned his $150,000 a year job at Lee Miles and went after a shop he had seen. But the landlord refused to lease it to him due to a short fall in capital. Suddenly he was out of a job and the hope of opening his dream shop was crumbling fast. Then luck and trust opened the door. The landlord changed his mind and agreed to give Paul a three-year lease on the property. Rishi Nanan, a mechanic, came with the lease. He was working at the shop at the time.
Maximum Transmission was opened in August 2009. Paul invested every cent he had in the business. “I was scared. First week I told my mechanic I may have to go back and drive taxi until this place is established.” He got one car on the first day for a fluid change and made $600 that week, enough to pay his worker. Business improved in the second week and has continued since.
With many auto shops nearby, Paul is not worried about the competition. In fact, the competition is working for him; they send customers to him for their transmission work. Among those are: Rockaway Car Services, Strauss, Sack Auto Supplies, Fleet Recovery Services and BP Gas Station JFK and La Guardia. The harmony is based on a mutual agreement, that he won’t take away their business and will focus exclusively on transmission. “But if I see something else wrong with the car I will address it with the service that referred it and not the client,” Paul said.
“This job is my real passion. When I first started I went from job to job, spending eight months here a year there, at different mechanic shops. I got pushed around because I didn’t have the experience. Sometimes I came home and cried and my parents used to say why you stay, just leave, do something different. I would say no, I’m not. This is what I am doing and I stayed,” he said.
Paul’s journey from Berbice, Guyana, in 1979, to the shop on Rockaway Boulevard was not an easy ride. He was four when he landed on American soil. His parents, Tulsie and Mohanie Raman, wanted a better life for the family. He has two brothers and a sister. And lives a short distance from his shop. He attended Flushing High School and then Apex Technical School in Manhattan.
Although he was eager to finish trade school and begin his career in cars and grease, Paul never had the chance. “No one wanted to hire me without experience.” So he donned shirt and tie and went to work as an accountant at Duane Reade in Long Island City. Eight months later he went to work as a mechanic at Butler Garage, a Yellow Cab Company in Woodside. “I lied to get the job. I said I had experience. The foreman noticed it on the first day and he told me not to worry he would take care of me.”
After a year he moved on to Kali One Auto Repair at 101st Avenue. Two months later he was working at Auto Trio on Liberty Avenue, fixing cars. By then he had accumulated some $20,000 in tools which he bought with his earnings. He moved on to D & S Auto Repair at the Van Wyck and 111th Avenue and then to Bridgestone Firestone in Five Towns. There he became adept at customer service and automotive management.
“That was the best thing that happened to me. I attended monthly meetings and got regular training. They kept updating and training the staff. They train the hell out of you. I learned how to be more professional with people. I always was, but I wanted to learn even more and learn the ropes of inner management better than anything else,” he said.
He had phenomenal sales receipts in the first weekend as a manager there. The trend continued but internal problems forced him to resign three years later. Again he donned suit and tie, this time to sell cars at Nissan. The job promised $150,000 a year, but he never stayed long enough to earn it. Eight months later he gave the five suits he bought to his father and returned to the grease to work at D & S. The shop closed soon after and he moved on to Aamco Transmissions in Brooklyn. Again internal problems forced him out. He was hired by Aamco in Queens Village. One day the manager embarrassed him and he quit and returned to Aamco, Brooklyn on a part time trial gig. That failed and he was once again jobless. His life seemed to be moving erratically without any foundation.
From October 2008 to August 2009 he used his car as a taxi to earn money. “I promised myself that I was not going to work for anyone again. I was looking to buy my own shop,” he said. He had seen one at 81st and Rockaway Boulevard. Then he heard about the job at Lee Miles. While waiting for the interview a friend called and told him about the shop at 122-40 Rockaway. Lee Miles hired him at $150,000 a year and “I thought if I am making this kind of money in a year there’s no need to start my own shop.” The company fired everyone else and he was left to take control from counter to car. He became unhappy in the job and resigned.
Over the years, while searching for his niche in the trade, he amassed a wealth of experience and knowledge. For future projections he hopes to set up more shops and within three years to expand the present one. For now he can be found at www.maximumtransmissions.org and on facebook.