“Those … attentive to a matter will prosper, and happy are those who trust in the Lord.”
– Proverbs 16:20
On Sunday November 16, I was perusing the online edition of the Sunday Sun newspaper and came upon an anniversary special supplement on Eric Hassell & Son Ltd (EHS) – www.facebook.com/shipwithehs.
There was a photograph of Professor Sir Trevor Hassell, chairman of the company and here is an extract from his message on the company’s 45th anniversary:
“The main principles on which the company EHS was founded are integrity, team work, service excellence and respect. These principles continue to be applied today and will guide the company as it looks to the future in which it will further expand its range of offerings and services in the many varied and related aspects of shipping.”
Now let me put this in perspective. Trevor (Eric Hassell’s third son) and I entered Preparatory 1 at Harrison College on the same day in September 1950. We moved through school together only to be parted in sixth form where he pursued natural sciences and I, mathematics and physics. We were friends throughout and so the Hassell household, with its eight siblings, was very familiar to me.
We were also Queen Scouts in the Harrison College Troup and attended the eighth World Boy Scout Jamboree at Niagara on the Lake Canada in 1955.
We went to the University of the West Indies in the early 60s where he studied medicine and I, mathematics. We met up again in the UK in the late 60s when he pursued cardiology and I, statistics and operations research. We were both on Commonwealth Scholarships at that time.
After graduation he went to Barbados and I went to Trinidad. We were reunited again when I returned to Barbados in 1974 by which time we both had families (a girl and two boys each) in tow. Trevor’s first son and my first son are very close until this day and his second son is my godson.
As fate would have it, I became the first President of the Barbados Cancer Society in 1980, and in 1985 he became the first President of what is known today as the Barbados Heart and Stroke Foundation. We have sat on the same committees either at the Heart Foundation or in the Ministry of Agriculture where agriculture and health interests overlapped.
It was with a measure of pride, therefore, when I sent him an email on November 16 stating “Congratulations on the 45th anniversary of Eric Hassell & Son Ltd.” Without missing a beat Trevor replied thanking me and added “Here is a thought for you. Why don’t you use (in your column) the Eric Hassell & Son Limited story to address the issue of sustainability of family-owned Barbadian businesses and their role in future national development?” I agreed. We had lunch together in Barbados two weeks ago.
Since 1969, Eric Hassell & Son Limited (founded by Captain Eric Hassell) has been a vital conduit linking Barbados with the region and the wider world. Both Eric’s father and grandfather were seafaring men, and in 1926, when Eric was a mere 11 years old, at the insistence of his father, he was signed aboard a 65-foot trading schooner to learn the ropes from the bottom. In 1936, after serving his apprenticeship, Eric assumed captaincy of the vessel Edward VII. He also captained the Comrade Manuata and Lucille Smith before taking over the motor vessel Zipper in 1959.
Years later, the Zipper began to take on water and Captain Eric Hassell’s distress call was answered by a passing ship which rescued him and his crew. The loss of the Zipper was the catalyst for change and Eric started a new business.
After one year in business, Eric asked his second son Geoffrey to join him and established Eric Hassell & Son Ltd. Geoffrey remained with the company for 23 years. It was after Eric’s death in 1994 that Geoffrey emigrated to Canada in 1995. The business was taken over by Frank Hassell (Eric Hassell’s fourth son) until 2007 when Frank retired.
Eric Hassell & Son Ltd. is now in the capable hands of Eric’s granddaughter Erica, a graduate of Concordia University, Montreal. She joined the family business in September 1992 as Marketing Manager, soon after leaving university. She learnt the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the shipping business first under the guidance of her grandfather and then her uncle Frank Hassell. As Managing Director (2007), she has taken on a number of initiatives to expand the company and secure her grandfather’s legacy.
A part of the success of EHS is the use of social media to stay in contact with its external stakeholders to raise awareness of company activities and internally as a public forum to recognize the personal and professional achievements of the staff. The company aims to utilize social networks towards ongoing customer relationship management.
Other companies which are Barbadian examples of the sustainable family business model include: Everson R. Elcock & Co. Ltd – “Electrical” (Founded by Everson Elcock 40 years ago); Brancker’s – “Home Solution Providers” (Founded by Rawle Brancker more than 35 years ago); and Aljoy Centre Ltd – “Pharmacies” (Founded by Hewley Hutson, a pharmacist, 26 years ago – a friend of 64 years, whose two daughters are pharmacists and whose second daughter is my goddaughter. Hewley’s father was also a pharmacist).
As we spawn new businesses, let us adopt the sustainable family business vision in which decision-making is influenced by multiple generations of a family.
Please be reminded of the fourth in the series of the Rotary Club of Barbados South’s community service fundraising event featuring The Barbados National Youth Symphony at the Frank Collymore Hall, on Friday December 19. Tickets may be obtained by calling 234 0350.
(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. His columns may be found at www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.)