September 25, 2022

Living in a Massy Barbados paradise

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massy-stores-barbadosBy Patrick Hoyos from Caribbean360

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Tuesday August 26, 2014 – As I drive around this beloved country of ours I find myself rapping to myself. Luckily for my fellow Barbadians, it is a silent rap, and it’s the same everytime: “Been spending most our lives/Living in a Massy Paradise.”

The signs are, it seems, on every corner, like Starbucks in New York, where it was unkindly said at one time that the only view from Starbucks was another on the opposite corner.

Since then, that company closed a lot of poor performing outlets so there are only 9,000 or something left (I will double expresso that number and get back to you).

In Barbados, it seems, it’s Massy, here, Massy there, Massy everywhere. It has even been surprising to me, hardened journalist that I am supposed to be, and one who witnessed the metaphorically-bloody “Battle of BS&T” back around 2007. That was when Neal & Massy’s meticulously planned “‘friendly” acquisition bid triggered the Takeover Code (if I remember correctly) and led to a bidding war, mainly with its arch-rival, ANSA McAl Ltd.

In the end the final share price was north of nine dollars and there was some controversy which showed just how weak the Securities Exchange of Barbados really was under the law. Like the Fair Trading Commission of today, if you like.

But because Neal & Massy decided to lie low until all the memories of said tumult had vaporised in the hurly burly of daily business, it was easy to partly forget that all of the former BS&T subsidiaries were now absorbed into the T&T group, with the BS&T stock de-listed and all consequential mind-and-management emanating from the carnival-rich republic.

Then came the Almond debacle. This, you may remember, resulted from Neal & Massy’s decision to get out of the tourism business, after professing its commitment to it even after it had gobbled up BS&T.

And while I had no problem (this is personally speaking) with any decision a business makes in order to survive and move forward as it sees fit, I was very conflicted about N&M’s decision.

Part of the reason, I guess, was that I believed, and still believe, that any company which relies so much on a country’s foreign exchange-earning capacity, either directly or indirectly, to succeed, owes a moral duty to help that country earn some foreign exchange as well.

There is certainly no law about this, and I would be the last person, especially if I owned shares, to tell a company they had to do something even if they were losing money heavily. And Neal & Massy was, along with another Almond investor, Goddard Enterprises Ltd., which had already written off its $30 million-plus investment and moved on.

As I say, I was conflicted, upset even. And there was nothing Gervase Warner could do to console me. I was actually fairly rude to him at a press conference he had called, about which I felt bad afterwards. I haven’t seen him since to apologise. I don’t think he cares too much for me, and I wouldn’t fault him for that given the circumstances of our first encounter.

Those are the breaks in this business, and you call it as you see it. I still think N&M should have handled it better, and, after going through their statements on Almond in successive annual reports, it does seem to me that there was an about-turn.

Somewhere along the line there seemed to be a reversal of decisions going one way – to invest more and nurse the Almond properties back to health – and all of sudden it was “Get out, now!”

After being cast into the tourism wilderness, Almond Casuarina is undergoing an expensive makeover under the guidance of the Midas of Caribbean tourism, the Hon. Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who has now also bought the Almond Beach Village property in St. Peter, but has indicated a “Hold” position on its redevelopment for the present. Almond Beach Club in St. James was sold off to another party.

The Massy Group does deserve credit for keeping up the standard of the former Super Centres to their extremely high level.

But it seems that with all this happening many people here forgot how much BS&T had owned by way of companies and yes, property. So, as a result of the acquisition, if they were to put up a sign on every lot and building which the newly-renamed Massy Group currently owns around the island, saying, for example, “Massy Property” or perhaps, less subtly, “M.O.D.T. (Massy Own Dis Too),” we might all really be in for a shock. It’s nearly the whole of Bridgetown (well, not quite).

So to suddenly to have all the still-operating subsidiaries renamed Massy-This and Massy-That finally brought home to people how much “title passed” when BS&T’s shares were sold off to the people in Port-of-Spain. One of these days somebody will write the book on how Barbados became an economic province of Trinidad & Tobago in our lifetime, actually, in just thirty or so years.

It is funny that the story turned out to be quite the opposite from the depictions of the Trini/Baje relationship in early Sixties’ calypsos by the Mighty Sparrow and Lord Kitchener. For example, in “All is Mine” (Sparrow) in which the crafty Baje is taking advantage of simple Trini country people, or “Take Yuh Meat Out Muh Rice” (Kitch), in which the tricky Baje uses his friend’s meatbone to give his rice some taste and then refuses to share (by the way, those song titles may be slightly wrong). Indeed, how more opposite could the current perception of the relationship be!

Anyway, I am writing this today, because as you know, I always try to give Jack his whatever, and the investment made by what is now the Massy Group into this country since selling off Almond, and especially in this recession, is worthy of praise. There has been the complete refurbishment of Super Centre Warrens to include dry goods and electronics departments, the complete refitting of the Autodome into what is now called, uncharacteristically, the Dome Mall, or is it the Massy Dome? And they have spent millions outfitting their new Massy Store at Sky Mall.

Of course, they also spent a lot of money on all the rebranding under the new logo and group name as well.

The Massy Group does deserve credit for this, and for, at the same time, keeping up the standard of the former Super Centres to their extremely high level. They set the standard for all supermarkets to follow here.

And while I still dislike the new group name, I promise I will try to get used to it, although I am too set in my ways to say, “I have to go to Massy Stores to buy something.” It will always be Big B or Super Centre to me, so let me apologise to Mr. Warner for that too, even while I offer kudos to him on keeping the commitment he made to this country at the height of his trial by fire under the Almond tree.

Pat-Hoyos-150The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pat Hoyos. This article first appeared in the Broad Street Journal. Pat Hoyos is a business writer and publisher of the Broad Street Journal.



Pat Hoyos

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