Barbadians must certainly be wondering if there is any major business operation left in this country that is Barbadian-owned.
The number of iconic local brands that have been gobbled up by big businesses from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica seems to be getting longer and longer. This is certainly not a good look for those who see the takeover of local companies as an assault on our national pride.
The Fair Trading Commission (FTC), which regulates the companies to ensure there is no collusion or unfair competition, recently gave the green light to the purchase of Collins Limited and its pharmaceutical subsidiary, Carlisle Laboratories Limited.
Collins is an institution in Barbados, with the family business having been around for more than 100 years. The other local pharmacy Knights Limited, disappeared from local hands a decade ago when it was subsumed into the Massy group, when the Trinidad conglomerate Neal & Massy gained control of the island’s then largest conglomerate, Barbados Shipping &Trading (BS&T). This, after a long, bruising battle with ANSA McAL, another Trinidadian corporate giant.
The grave yard full of local brands that have slipped from Bajan hands include Trident Insurance, the Insurance Corporation of Barbados, Barbados National Bank, Barbados Light & Power, Nation Publishing, Starcom Network, Super Centre, Cave Shepherd Department Stores, Knights Pharmacy and the list goes on.
Of the Collins purchase by Agostini Limited of Trinidad and Tobago, the FTC said it “considered the structure of the markets likely to be affected by the proposed transaction, the degree of control exercised by the enterprises, the likely effect of the proposed merger on consumers and the economy, the actual and potential competition from other enterprises, and the likelihood of detriment to competition”.
Agostini Limited received the FTC’s approval “to control Collins Limited and Carlisle Laboratories Limited through the purchase of 100 per cent of the issued shares in Lambou Investments Limited”.
Further to its acquisition of Lambou’s 61.69 per cent shareholding in Collins, the Trinidad and Tobago company also got control of the remaining 38.31 per cent of the shares from 11 other shareholders of Collins Limited.
Collins, through its Carlisle Laboratories, is a major manufacturer of household-named brands of medicines that citizens have come to trust for their quality and effectiveness.
What citizens must also note is the important role that Collins and Carlisle Laboratories play in the supply of medicines and medical equipment and supplies to the country’s lone tertiary, teaching hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).
It was not so long ago that when Government faced a cash flow crunch and difficulty paying its bills to suppliers to the QEH, it was companies like Collins that continued to supply the hospital with vital medicines and other supplies.
There is good reason to be concerned that the frequent takeover of local businesses has the potential of undermining the Bajan psyche and the belief in our ability as a people to take charge of our own patrimony.
At the same time, we are heartened by the significant shift in the mindset of so many young people, who, with no inheritance to rely on or friends in high places to call in favours, have made the decision to take their chances as entrepreneurs.
The COVID-19 pandemic, for all its devastation, became an important catalyst for many to take leave of the status of employee and emerge into the new role of business person. They have taken the plunge and all the risks that come with being an entrepreneur.
Some started as side hustles and have developed into sustainable, healthy enterprises with significant potential for growth. The expansion in entrepreneurship is not limited to the production of physical goods.
A significant level of trade in services is also occurring online by Barbadian knowledge workers who are taking their talents to markets around the world. In addition, many have entered emerging areas of enterprise such as motivational speaking, convention and event planning services, entertainment and the like.
As concern expectedly grows about the falling number of major businesses that remain in local hands, we can take comfort in the business excellence being displayed by businesses like Goddard Enterprises Limited (GEL), regarded as the last remaining local conglomerate.
The company’s expansive footprint across the Caribbean, Central and South America of this century-old enterprise reminds us that we still have the capacity to do what many Jamaican and Trinidadian companies are doing successfully – expanding and acquiring businesses in other countries.