Volume No. 1 Issue No. 19
Passion Steers Destiny of Dominican Businessman
by: Rose Peltier
Working in his parents’ shop in Roseau, Dominica, young Maurison Thomas always knew he would become a successful business owner – it was just a matter of when.
The 40-something Dominican, co-owner of MOKA Productions in New York City, says he has always had the desire to succeed – something he picked up from his parents, he says. The company, which Mr. Thomas and his wife own, is a three-part entity with two offices in Manhattan.
He and his wife, nee Kathy Toulon, have been inseparable since high school, and he credits her with his success. One office, on W. 57th Street, houses the tourism-advertising end of the business; the other, at 1385 Broadway, features couture and video production. “We push the national dress” of Dominica, he says, but the business sells clothing for men, women and children.
Mr. Thomas’ success today is the result of an arduous, steady climb from those days stocking shelves at his parents’ shop in Dominica. He graduated St. Mary’s Academy in 1977, and in the winter of 1983, he moved to New York with hopes of accomplishing his goals.
His first job was doing installations for a local cable company. He recalls coming home one day after spending all day outdoors on a cold day, not knowing first-hand the effect of wintry weather. When he couldn’t feel any sensation in his numbed feet, he quickly soaked them in hot water. “To this day, I can’t feel anything in my toes. Whatever happened, did damage to the nerves in my feet,” he says.
That was a cold, hard lesson to learn. But Mr. Thomas wasn’t one to accept any setbacks. He went on to work “menial-type” jobs to “pay bills” but he says he knew he was destined for much more.
He briefly attended C.W. Post College in Greeville, N.Y. in 1984. The entrepreneurial yen ever present, he didn’t graduate but instead starting selling a vacuum cleaner system for a company called Kirby.
In July 1987, he was hired by Fortunoff’s, a major retailer in New York. Mr. Thomas stayed with the company for 12 years, and held positions from salesperson to house wares buyer. He began doing trade shows for the company, but after five years of that, he “got bored.” But, he says, what he learned at those trade shows only fueled his desire to make it on his own.
With his knowledge and sales experience in hand, Mr. Thomas and his wife, a gifted seamstress, started MOKA out of their home in 1992. At some point, Mr. Thomas says it was time to expand his family’s business. So in 1996 he took some courses at York College.
While there, a business instructor took him on a tour of the Queens Public Television studio next door. During the tour, Mr. Thomas says, a light bulb went on in his head. He registered to become a studio TV field producer, and in six months he was certified.
His first show, which showcased his wife’s sewing skills, prompted many more opportunities for the success in the video production end of the business. After the show, which aired to 125,000 viewers, calls poured in to the station from all over New York. That show, he says, both livened the TV station and generated in income producing part of the new business: sewing classes that his wife conducted every Saturday out of their home.
Mr. Thomas did three more shows, including one on Dominican artist David Gerald Wilson. Another was his interview of former Dominican Prime Minister Edison James, who was at the United Nations in September 1996. Mr. Thomas recalls asking the QPTV for a crew but, apparently he says, “no one believed” that he was able to secure such an interview.
When no one showed up to help, he and his wife took a camera down to the United Nations and taped the interview with the prime minister. Once the show aired, again, calls came through.
That show, he says, became a catalyst for other similar shows of prime ministers and other Caribbean politicos by other producers. Mr. Thomas didn’t continue his shows at QPTV but instead went on to do individual projects.
In 1998, he entered those four shows into the Certified Access Producers Awards of New York, in which he was a finalist in three categories. This year, he was honored in the national award for his production of “A Protest March for Amadou Diallo.”
The show gives a fresh perspective of the controversial shooting of the immigrant other than what was broadcast in the mainstream media.
What drives such an ambitious Dominican? “First ambition and a great desire to succeed as in to put Dominica on the map.’ We are considered no entities (small islander); but when you look around we are responsible or have contributed to a lot of development in North America – from civil right activist to computer scientist,” he says.
The state of affairs in his homeland isn’t good – “there seems to be a breakdown of law and order, “ he says – and the nation suffers from an exodus of its best and brightest, many of whom could be role models for the young people in Dominica. He says the Number One Dominican he admires today is Gabriel J. Christian, an attorney in Maryland. Mr. Christian “displays the same drive that he had when we were young boys. He’s been consistent, has never strayed from his dreams, always offers his assistance to anyone at anytime … his total commitment to the Dominican dreams to lift us to a higher level – I wish we all had his desires, “ he says of his childhood friend.
Mr. Thomas, who lives in New York with his wife and their baby daughter, is one more Diaspora Dominican making his mark and making our country proud – someone whose skills could help uplift our country and our people. His parents live in New York.