Written for the Centenary Anniversary of T. Geddes Grant Limited - From Grandfather to Grandson after a text by Sir K. Lindsay Grant
"A family heirloom" - this is how members of the Grant family view the firm of T. Geddes Grant Limited. In this article, we look at the historical role of the firm in the chronicles of Trinidad and Tobago, and in particular at the founder, Thomas Geddes Grant.
A family firm can only be successful if there is family unity and devotion to a common goal by the family members who contribute to the enterprise. To maintain a family firm for a century is an outstanding feat in a relatively young society as ours. The 100th anniversary of T. Geddes Grant is not only a company jubilee, but, in truth and in fact, a celebration of a family tradition. Now a member of the Neal & Massy Group of companies, T. Geddes Grant is still very much an institution in the business life of Trinidad and Tobago.
130 years ago, a Canadian missionary, Reverend K.J. Grant, sailed into Trinidad with his four-year old son, Thomas Geddes Grant, little realising the lasting impact this boy would have made in later years in the commercial life of Trinidad and Tobago. The immigration of Indian indentured labourers was at its height, and Reverend Grant was one of the clerics who, in the tradition of the Presbyterian Canadian Mission to the Indians, helped to bring education and welfare to the offspring of the indentured men and women in South Trinidad.
Young Thomas was born in Merigomish, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, on May 19, 1866. But it would be the island of Trinidad that he would always know as his home. As a youngster, he worked as a clerk with Tennants Estates Limited in San Fernando. After 17 years with Tennants, the young man decided to enter into the intriguing world of business on his own, and started his own Commission Agency at the age of 34. He was possessed with a spirit of adventure, unlimited drive and considerable business acumen, and his 17 years' experience with Tennants as a protégé of Alexander Riddell served him in good stead.
As a Canadian, it followed that young Thomas would concentrate in the main thrust of his business on Canadian manufacturing contacts, since it was absolutely necessary to gain a foothold as agent in that market. Trinidad and Tobago and in fact the British Caribbean as a whole depended largely on numerous Canadian manufacturers. Thomas amassed a considerable number of agencies, and as such contributed to Trinidad's growing reputation as a commercial centre in the Eastern Caribbean. So effective had been his association with the Canadian trade, that in April 1922 he was appointed the Dominion's first and only Honorary Trade Commissioner to the West Indies.
Thomas established his firm at a very opportune time. Oil had been discovered at Guayaguayare and the colony was just about beginning to enjoy the advantages of what, in that day, was the sophistication of progress. the telephone, a relatively new invention of the day, was becoming more and more popular. Electric street lights took the place of gas lamps, and buggies and carriages were making way for motorcars.
The first office address was 19, Henry Street. The firm had about six employees. The modest Henry Street office soon proved inadequate to conduct the company's growing business, and new offices were found. In 1908, T. Geddes Grant had about a dozen employees, and the firm moved to 9, Broadway.
As the country prospered, so did T. Geddes Grant. With the increasing business volume, Thomas also realised the first step towards a Caribbean commercial empire: in 1916, the British Guiana (now Guyana) branch of the company was opened.
The First World War was literally in is dying stages when, in 1917, T. Geddes Grant was converted into a limited liability company with the founder as Governing Director and his eldest son, Frederick Geddes Grant, the Managing Director. An office was opened in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to expedite the export of goods to Trinidad. This office was maintained until 1931. Another branch was established in Bridgetown, Barbados, and three years later, in 1920, the company expanded to Jamaica.
The company had now grown so much that a house magazine started to be published: "The G.G. Advisor". The objective of the magazine was to give buyers first-hand information on the organisation and the latest developments on market conditions. It was one of the first company magazines in Trinidad and Tobago, and continued to be published for many decades on a monthly basis under the name "The T.G.G. Review". In 1923, there was another move, which was to be the last one for years to come: 1a Chacon Street.
But it was not all easy sailing for the company. When the Wall Street markets crashed and the world was plunged into an economic quagmire in the early 1930s, only a few survived. Owing to the firm, guiding hand of Thomas, the firm managed to wade through successfully. But the crisis took a toll on him: in 1934, Thomas Geddes Grant died.
His son, Fred Grant, O.B.E., took over with equal fervour, dedication and commitment as his late father. Apart from his dedication to duty, Fred always found time to carry out civic responsibilities: he was an appointee of the Legislative Council, a position which he held until his death, served on numerous government committees and also distinguished himself in cricket, yachting and football.
Fred was faced with the challenges of World War II. The Barbados office was destroyed by fire in 1938 and had to be rebuilt two years later; German U-Boats threatened and destroyed merchant fleets in the Caribbean and in the Atlantic, and in 1945, it was the Guyana office that burnt down. Just one year after the war ended, in 1946, Fred died as well, leaving the helmsmanship of the family firm to his brother, Kenneth Lindsay Grant.
It was now the 1950s, and the company had about 200 employees. Expansion was the order of the day. Business was thriving. Willard Geddes Grant, another son of the founder, joined his brother in running the business. The Guyana office was rebuilt, and new warehouses were opened at Laventille and in Jamaica. Towards the end of the decade, the number of employees had more than doubled to 464.
In 1963, one year after Trinidad and Tobago had been granted its independence from the British Crown, Lindsay Grant was knighted by her Majesty the Queen. Later that year, T. Geddes Grant Ltd. became a public company.
Thomas Geddes Grant's significant contribution to maintenance and development of the lifestyles of all their workers during the difficult years of recession and virtual economic collapse can never be underestimated.