When he migrated to London from Barbados at age eight, little did he know that years later he would be working in one of the world’s leading industries, and travelling around the world.
Barbadian-born Dr David Alleyne, 65, is the founder and managing director of Guided Ultrasonics Limited, a London-based engineering firm. Among other products and services, the company provides testing equipment for the oil and energy sector.
Alleyne, who was recently on vacation in Barbados, spoke with Barbados TODAY about his journey, and offered some suggestions for growth of the renewable energy sector here.
Although he was good at sport, Alleyne knew from the moment he arrived in England in 1957 that he wanted to be an architect. However, that was not to be either.
“The teachers in England never saw a black architect; so they told me to be something like a mechanic. But I thought, ‘No way!’. I was really good at sport; maybe, I could have pushed it further,” said Alleyne. However, when he went to university he decided that he wanted to become an engineer. He pursued a PhD in engineering, and later became an academic staff member at Imperial College London, where he specialized in medical research, as well as research for inspection of pipeline in the oil industry.
“In 1996 or 1997 I patented, along with another professor at the Imperial College, some of the inventions that we developed. We commercialized those, and then in 1999 we decided the best route for me was to leave the university and start my company, which is a high technology company producing and developing equipment, predominantly for testing equipment in the power and energy sectors. So, for oil companies mainly, but also for trains,” explained Alleyne.
“We develop equipment for testing railway lines for trains, network rail, Japanese rail, and all throughout the world really. It is a global company. About 96 per cent of everything we do is exported. Our biggest market is the United States –– 60 per cent . . . . We have a big market in China, Korea, Japan, Australia, and Africa,” he said.
And while money was not his sole motivation, Alleyne said he gravitated towards the oil sector because “that is where the money is”.
“Effectively, if you don’t have energy you don’t have an economy. That is it,” he said, adding that he was keeping a close eye on the information and communication technology sector, since that was also critical to development. And, because of his line of duties, Alleyne gets to travel around the globe.
However, if there was one thing he would do differently, that would be to master at least one other language.
“I wish I could speak another language, because it would be a major addition to how I could deliver the services –– particularly Spanish. If you are going to communicate and sell with your customers and have a good relationship, it is vital that you speak their language. If I could speak Spanish or French, it would be a massive advantage,” said Alleyne.
But, he employs people who speak Spanish, French, Italian and Chinese.
“So the company is a multinational operation. We have Germans, Chinese, Italians, Spanish. We have all sorts of people working for us; and the purpose of that is because it is a global operation. So we need people with those cultural understandings,” explained Alleyne.
The recession, he said, did not directly impact his operations. He admitted, however, that at the start of the downturn, around 2008, profits fell; but they have since “recovered and surpassed that level”.
“This latest financial crunch hasn’t really affected us much. What might affected us is the recent slump in the oil price. That is why we are diversifying into other sectors. So I am moving the company into other things as well. It started as a company in the oil sector but we are moving it into communication for rail, into other things [such as] power and all sorts of other things.
“We are trying to make sure that the company is not a one-sector or one-product company. It is moving into all sorts of things,” added Alleyne. And while he does business in some Caribbean island’s, including Trinidad and Tobago, his job takes him also to Africa and the Middle East where there are often unrests.
Acknowledging that the war in the Middle East impacted his company’s ability to expand, Alleyne said he had done trade in Iraq before but “the trouble there stopped business”.
“We did quite a bit of business in Bahrain, but the big market for us in the Middle East is Kuwait and Amman where there are no problems. So our big markets in the Middle East have not really been affected [by unrests],” said Alleyne.
The business owner said he also made sure to help develop professionals who would be able to innovate and carry on the company for years
“There are a lot of people in many sectors of the economy who have a lot of money. Generally oil is a national asset . . . . I think that like all things it depends on how that wealth is used and how it is invested. You can use wealth for good to grow an economy, or you can use it for bad. It comes down to how you manage.
“You can have a wealthy company that is creating wealth and profitable. It is how you invest in that company and how you use that to develop other people,” reasoned Alleyne. “We sponsor about five PhDs for the top universities in the world. We sponsor young apprentices within the company. Unfortunately none are Barbadians, but some are black.
“And if you do that, you are growing a company and employing people,” he said.
In addition, Guided Ultrasonics helps to create employment for people in other parts of the world.
“It gave me great pleasure when I went to Nigeria and we could sell an equipment to a local company who then reemployed up to 20 Nigerian graduates to do the work, which is specialized. It brings skill to that country. The same in South Africa. So we are creating opportunities as well; not just wealth,” he added.
The engineer said it was very important for anyone to have “the right attitude” when it came to any profession, along with “hard work” in order to be successful.
Reminiscing on early life in Barbados, Alleyne said not much had changed, but he observed that the people had become less conservative. He believes the island was doing a good job when it came to bringing about positive change but said he would like to see it happen a little faster.
“I would like to see proper housing for everybody. I think if you are going to promote yourself as an island for affluent travellers, they don’t want to look at bad housing. So I think that is something they should look at –– and slightly better roads,” said Alleyne.
While lauding the Government and the private sector for their efforts in promoting the renewable energy sector, the engineer said he did not think officials here needed to drill for oil. He suggested that greater emphasis be placed on conservation.
“So reducing how much energy you use by using it efficiently . . . . So renewables make sense . . . . You can say one thing: we are going to use more power; or we can say we are going to be more efficient about the power that we use. And I think that is where Barbados should be,” Alleyne said.
“I think that energy conservation makes sense, and any advanced economy is going to do it. For example, Singapore and other countries are switching to all the government buildings being LED. And [Britain] is switching that way. All streetlights are moving to LED. So it is only a matter of time.
“And . . . in a relatively small country [like Barbados] with limited power, it makes sense rather than having to increase the amount of power that you produce, to be more efficient with what you have. So I think it is a good move to encourage industry because people have to buy new products,”
Alleyne also believes the Government should encourage greater use of electric vehicles, especially among tourists. This, he said, was a niche the island could explore.
“Tourists will pay for it. I think [the Government] should encourage much more solar power . . . . So there are a lot of things that the Government can do. It can create the environment, which will allow investment.
“Of course, once you encourage that, companies will have to install it; companies will have to supply it; and you are going to generate employment. So all of this stuff is good. It is good for business. It is good for making the island less directly dependent on tourism and more dependent on services.
“So you kind of broaden the business base of the island,” said Alleyne.