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John Fernandes celebrates 50 years of ingenuity and entrepreneurship

October 16th, 2009.

John Fernandes celebrates 50 years
of ingenuity and entrepreneurship

-CEO calls for Guyanese to put aside politics


As John Fernandes Ltd ( JFL) celebrated 50 years of ingenuity and entrepreneurship on Thursday, JFL Chief Executive Offi cer Chris Fernandes said his company is committed to the development of Guyana and reiterated its willingness to help develop a deepwater harbour.

Fernandes said the conglomerate is committed to the development of Guyana and optimistic of Guyana’s future despite the economic strains, noting that “ if we can fi nd a way to put aside our politics and all our minds and shoulders to the wheel we can achieve anything”. Fernandes said the development of a deepwater harbour was necessary in the long term to cater for possible cargo movement to and from Brazil and the further development of Guyana’s trade.

Speaking at a dinner and dance in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the family- owned company which has grown into a Guyanese colossus since its offi cial registration on October 15, 1959, Fernandes related to the large audience at the Big Yard located at Subryanville, instances of the proactive and entrepreneurial spirit of JFL as it survived and thrived in dif- fi cult periods.

He pointed out that the company, which was started by his now deceased father, John Fernandes Sr, suf fered a devastating fi re in February 16, 1962 during the political riots in Georgetown which destroyed offi ces, wharf and warehouse. But, three months later while other businessmen waited for the unrest to subside, his father had already rebuilt the facilities and was back in business.

With the nationalisation of the shipping companies, Bookers, Sanbach Parker and Sprostons in 1976, JFL found itself the only privately owned commercial pier and warehouse operation in Guyana. “ The company offered an effi cient person alised service and in time was able to capture in excess of 50 percent of the containerised trade which they have maintained up to today,” Fernandes said.

According to him on his retirement in 1970, his father was succeeded by three of his sons. His eldest son, John Jr, managed the company until he migrated to the U. S. in 1978. He was succeeded by Bernard who managed the company dur ing the diffi cult eighties, retiring on February 29, 1992. Fernandes succeeded his brother Bernard as the chairman and CEO on March 1, 1992 and brought to the company a new style of leadership.

“ In 1993 we made our fi rst big investment by pur chasing the entire share holding in De Freitas Investment Ltd for $ 200 million with funding from the then National Bank of Industry and Commerce.

“ This was twice the amount we were negotiating to pay but would have out of business if we had not bought it.

This allowed us to commence our expansion programme which is still ongoing.” He said having reached the market, the company turned its attention north to JP Santos and Company Ltd with whom it established a lease agreement in 1997 for the use of their warehouse and wharf and subsequently joined the two wharves. The facilities were expanded to what they are today.

Today, JFL is a conglomerate of many businesses including Bounty Farm Ltd; Fairfi eld Investments and Fairfi eld Ice Inc and Bryden & Fernandes Inc. It currently employs approximately 1,000 persons whose welfare it considers a priority and “ prides itself with providing its workers with the best possible conditions of employment”. Fernandes said the company’s expansion programme was taken a step further when Bounty Farm responded to the call made by President Jagdeo and di versifi ed into non- tradition al areas of agriculture. He said currently an 80,000 sq ft model crop farm is being established at its Timehri location. “ This is being done in collaboration with GTIS ( USAID) and Shigam, an Israeli company, which has been guiding us with their technical expertise.” The JFL CEO said the entire production is being geared for the export market, noting that once it proves to be successful, the company intends to expand rapidly and a modern packaging facility at Bounty, Timehri would be a part of the expansion drive.

Turning his attention to Bryden and Fernandes Inc, he said the business has plans to invest in a new office and warehouse building.

“ They are presently in search of fi ve acres of land for this purpose just outside of the city limits.” Meanwhile, in brief remarks President Bharrat Jagdeo congratulated the company for reaching the milestone despite the turbulences encountered over the years. He noted that the company is one of the vi brant and major businesses in Guyana which survived the diffi culties during the period of undemocratic rule and with the input of hard work and commitment, attained the recognition and years of service to the nation.

He said the dedication, hard work and determination of John Fernandes has helped create a distinguished company which is the outlook of any successful company worldwide.

He said it took “ special characteristics” to grow a company such as John Fernandes and survive the diffi culties and turbulent history. He added that it was a time when business was out of entrepreneurship that the company dedicated all its resources and assets to survive and celebrate fi fty years to date. Additionally, Jagdeo said companies that are not active and rising to the challenge of the economy will certainly fail and John Fernandes has set the example for others to follow since there will certainly be new challenges in the future.