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Working: Ghanaian Car Salesman - 2002-04-18

English Feature #7-34399 Broadcast January 8, 2001

Today on New American Voices we continue our series on immigrants to the United States talking about their jobs. This week you'll meet Robert Azu, a car salesman from the West African country of Ghana.

Robert Azu was born in Accra, the capital of Ghana, one of twelve children of a household goods salesman. A tall, well-dressed man in his thirties, he now sells Acuras - a luxury automobile made in Japan by the Honda company. He started working in the car dealership shortly after arriving in the United States from Ghana in 1991.

"Well, I had a friend who was in the business, he introduced me to a dealership in Falls Church, Virginia, and it's been good so far."

Mr. Azu didn't start out at the dealership as a salesman. His first job was as what he calls a "detailer", cleaning cars, inside and out, and painting the finishing touches that customers wanted on the bodies of automobiles they had purchased. Then in 1994 a manager at the dealership decided to give the personable young man from Ghana a chance to try his hand as a salesman. Today Robert Azu sells, on the average, 15 cars a month, and makes a good living.

"If you do the job right and have lots of referrals, the rewards are quite good. I would probably say it's fifty plus thousand a year in both salary and commission, plus of course bonuses, depending on your performance level."

The dealership where Mr. Azu works outside of Washington, D.C., is housed in a futuristic-looking glass cube building. The lot is filled with shiny new Acura automobiles, many of them in the currently popular colors of "granite green" and silver.

"Overall there are about 80 employees in our dealership, which ranges from technicians all the way to accounting staff and sales staff as well. We have seventeen sales staff."

Mr. Azu says that the members of the sales staff are very competitive, because the rewards for hard work and success in sales are considerable.

"There are lots of benefits to being the top, that's why we all excel to achieve those goals. Ranging from bonuses to gifts and, on a national level, Acura rewards us for excellent service and sales. This year there's a possibility that I could receive a big-screen TV. I did receive one two years ago, and I'm looking forward to something else, hopefully they give me a car."

Acura cars range in price from seventeen to eighty-eight thousand dollars. The customers are professionals like attorneys, doctors or computer specialists, and federal employees -- which at least partially determines the hours that Mr. Azu spends on the job.

"Obviously I work 12 hour shifts, we work weekends, and we have to make sure that we accommodate especially those who work for our government, that don't work on weekends, so we have to make sure that we accommodate them when they have the time to look for cars, yeah."

Dealing with the diverse people who live and work in the nation's capital, Mr. Azu says he has never felt at a disadvantage in his job because he is African.

"I work in a multi-cultural environment, a lot of people from all kinds of nationalities in my job, we cater to people from all kinds of nationalities as well, so I don't really feel that, at all. And I live and work in an area where there are lots of people from different countries, cultures, the blend is ideal, in this area."

Although he works long hours, Mr. Azu spends as much time as he can with his wife and two small children, aged five and three. He has one other favorite pastime.

"When the weather is nice I just hop on a boat down to Georgetown, you know, just to enjoy the water, and spend time with friends - and family, obviously."

Mr. Azu says he stays in close touch with his Ghanaian friends and family.

"I'm very, very friendly with lots of Ghanaians. There's a large Ghanaian population in this area. I call home often to see how my family's doing, and hopefully I might like to go back one day - it all depends on how much fortune I make in my lifetime."

Next week a young woman who immigrated to the United States from Brazil two years ago talks about her job as a shoe-shine girl.