by Emmanuel Joseph
He came out of a “poor” family who did not think he would come to much.
But as prominent manufacturer and owner of One Accord Plaza in Warrens, St. Michael, Lawrence Andrew Stuart put it, “they” (his family) were surprised to see where I had reached as a businessman.
“I came out of a poor family of six girls and one boy; I being the only boy. My father was struggling with the seven of us,” related Stuart, the founder of Stuart’s Engineering. “I employed,” he added, “my father and mother and two sisters and a cousin. One of those sisters, who was the financial controller in my manufacturing company, now owns her own business.”
Stuart, whose passion and expertise are in manufacturing, told Barbados TODAY, he gave up his job as a welder repairing and rebuilding buses at the Transport Board in the 1970s, “because there were too many strikes,” and started his own business as a furniture maker.
“I worked from my back yard, building furniture, but had to move to Mahaica Gap after people complained that I was keeping too much noise,” recalled the 62-year-old business executive who constructed One Accord Plaza some 12 years ago for $5 million. He remembered that before local manufacturing declined significantly in the 1990s, he had been exporting as much as $3 million worth of furniture to Trinidad.
Stuart noted that when manufacturing “dropped” he was unable to continue servicing his commercial bank loans and pay other outstanding debts, forcing his company into receivership. He also told this newspaper of he had been selling furniture to local department stores such as Standard and Courts.
“I was earning as much as $20,000 per week in my backyard. I started opposite the BIM factory (on Green Hill, St.Michael), selling furniture to Courts and Trinidad and attending trade shows in the Caribbean and as far as the Bahamas,” he boasted.
“My journey started out in manufacturing way back in the 1970s, and then I ventured out into Trinidad and was exporting over $3 million and then Trinidad collapsed and all the manufacturers at that time were a little disappointed because they had to venture out then in other areas other markets,” he stated, with a sense of regret.
He suggested it became difficult afterwards, with a lot of companies shutting down in the late 1980s/1990s.
“I is one that at that time, went into receivership because my sales dropped from $4 million and it was tough for me to service loans and so forth; I went into receivership. My company was called Stuart Engineering,” the business leader noted.
Stuart described going into receivership was a big blow, because at the time, he was in England looking for a new product, to include in his business.
“I was looking for something new to venture into. But I had to survive and draw on the resources of God. And then I had this land (where One Accord now stands) before and I even wanted to sell this spot to get money to put back into manufacturing.”
He suggested, however, that God appeared to have stopped him from selling the land in that he found it difficult to get a buyer.
“Then I decided that this would be another move for the manufacturing, then after manufacturing was picking back up, this was a move for manufacturing,” declared the employer. Stuart therefore decided to build a complex on the land and use it as a manufacturing base along with showrooms.
We agreed then that we would use this as a manufacturing base where we had some offices where we would use for other manufacturers and showrooms that the other manufacturers would rent and they would benefit. So this was (to be) a manufacturing complex, it was never to be retailing.”
But he said that as manufacturing “got worse and seeing that there was no way of building back up, then I was forced then to turn this (One Accord), which it took a lot of money then, to turn this into a retail outlet, where we had to pay the mortgage for this. With the help of God, I was able to struggle through and Caribbean Financial Services, they helped me through … because after I went into receivership, I was turned down by all the banks in Barbados; and Caribbean Financial Services came to my rescue,” acknowledged the first elder in the Rock Dundo Seventh Day Adventist Church.
In spite of still owning the One Accord Plaza, which he describes as potentially a multimillion dollar profit-making venture, Stuart is not particularly over the moon. He continues to feel the fire burning inside him for manufacturing, where he said his real expertise lies and his passion and first love remain. As a result, Stuart has already taken steps to return to his “baby.”
Right now, he has registered a new company called Window and Doors Component which would produce wood and metal furniture. He would be in partnership with another veteran manufacturer and expects to move into a building on Spring Garden Highway by next month, for the time being.
The Window and Doors business will function from that location until plans are finalised to relocate on a piece of land which he is buying from the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation in order to build their own plant. That business will employ 70 people. Stuart said he now has about $2 million in machinery standing by.
There is much more, though, to a recent desire by Stuart to sell One Accord Plaza which spans 45,000 square feet of land, comprising 40 store spaces, 32 of which are occupied, and a roof deck on 8,000 square feet in the three storey building.
As a “devoted” Christian and Adventist, he insists that he cannot continue to work on the Sabbath – an obligation he has to his tenants when they call him out on Saturdays to address a problem – if he wants to serve God truthfully. He has made it clear he would not allow anything to hinder his service to God and that means someone else would have to own One Accord and operate it.
Stuart, who has been hosting a radio programme on gospel and health for the past 17 years, reasoned that running a manufacturing plant would allow him the flexibility to keep the Sabbath Day – a commandment from God. [email protected]