In what can be described as a sign of the economic times, one of the island’s most successful businessmen has revealed that he is struggling to collect the debts owed to his companies by the private sector.
In fact, Chairman of the Williams Industries Inc Ralph Bizzy Williams said those who owe simply will not pay unless they are forced to do so.
Williams did not say how he has been forcing payment from his debtors.
“Our receivables have become extremely difficult to collect as our major trading partners adopt positions that they will not pay us on time unless forced to,” he told the company’s 2017 awards dinner at Almond Caterers in Hastings, Christ Church last night.
Because of this, the business mogul said, he has been forced to evaluate the way he does business, including making changes to the formula used to award shares to employees.
“This means that in the future when we are considering profit sharing and giving shares for long service we must focus far more on cash received than on sales written. Employees will never accept IOUs instead of cash when we repurchase shares or pay profit share and we should not be borrowing cash to satisfy either of these obligations. Unlike governments, we cannot print money, hence the need to base profit share on cash generated rather than paper profit,” he explained, while stressing that Williams Industries has never defaulted on any of its payments or loans and has always paid its bills on time.
The Williams Industries group comprises over a dozen companies in construction, engineering, real estate and hardware, as well as half a dozen or so joint ventures.
These companies have been offering shares to staff members since 1997, and 25 employees who have been with the group for at least ten years became new shareholders last night, bringing to 523 the number of shareholders. They were part of a group of 77 who received 146,250 Williams Industries Inc shares valued at $1.2 million.
Since the start of the scheme two decades ago 2,037,335 shares valued at just over $16.5 million have been awarded to workers.
Williams said his group of companies has enjoyed “unbroken profitability” over the last 45 years, but would not stop there, as it intends to continue on a major expansion path in an effort to boost foreign exchange earnings.
He said the latest addition to the group, the Regus office rental business, was showing “good promise and expansion across the region to earn foreign exchange over the long term” and that Williams Industries had also invested “in the Cockspur rum brand in partnership with very competent and experienced people in this type of business and the largest spirits distributor in the world.
“We see this as an investment aimed at exporting a great Barbados brand worldwide,” he said, adding that terms had already been agreed for the acquisition of 50 per cent of “a very successful” Jamaican company, which he did not name, but which he said “has potential for expansion” in the region and through to South America.
“We expect to close the purchase early in January 2018,” he said, without going into detail.
Williams said he had signed an agreement to expand the desalination plant on Spring Garden and to work with the Barbados Water Authority to complete the northern pipeline upgrade to alleviate water shortages, and was now awaiting permission from the Town Planning department.
The entrepreneur revealed that in order to reduce cost and raise funding for these projects a Williams Industries bond was launched and successfully raised $25.1 million.
He reported that one of the companies, NSR Limited, the owners of SkyMall, has also launched a 12-year bond to help ensure stability of the company’s finances for 12 years and save approximately half a million dollars annually.
The renewable energy advocate also revealed that he had asked his Williams Caribbean Capital team to develop a “green bond” so Barbadians can invest in the alternative energy sector “and receive a steady, secure interest on their savings that far exceeds what the banks are paying now”.
“While the details of this bond are being worked out, we anxiously await the new rules that will regulate the alternative energy industry,” Williams said.