SIXTEEN years ago, the T&T Chamber started the Business Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was introduced to bring attention to the important role and contributions of business in building the economy of Trinidad and Tobago and at the societal and environmental levels. As the market evolved, the Chamber saw the need to focus on different aspects of the business sector, and in 2014, the event was re-branded the Champions of Business (COB). The COB now included the Business Hall of Fame as a category, as well as two other categories of Entrepreneurship and Internationally Known…T&T Owned. And in 2018, another category of Business Technology was added.
Today, the Awards programme is more relevant than ever. The categories are a reflection of the current marketplace: the key role of entrepreneurship, the necessity of technology to spur growth, and the importance of external market penetration. Together, the Awards encompass the life cycle of a business, from concept to commercialisation and growth.
Entrepreneurship, including the SME sector, is a key developmental sector in every country—in some cases accounting for as high as 85 per cent of GDP. Previous award recipients in this category have demonstrated the tremendous potential and diversity of the sector. Award recipient Jules Sobion of Caesar’s Army, demonstrated innovation in how he leveraged creative skills to ‘make mas’ through his out-of-the box Carnival party concepts; his brand has found a market regionally and in Miami and Canada. Another Entrepreneur, Vandana Mungroo, was driven by a passion to be a part of the solution for a better environment in Trinidad and Tobago. However, enterprising operators are often challenged by the prevailing framework which seems to be risk-averse. Trinidad and Tobago needs to place a much stronger focus on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Looking at the entrepreneurship journey, the T&T Chamber two years ago added a new Associate category of membership, meant to capture aspiring business people who are participating in recognised business incubator programmes nationwide. We also created the Business Insights series, providing “training for business by business”, and specifically supporting SMEs to allow them to learn from others who had made the trek. It is our goal that some companies will use the current pandemic as an opportunity to constructively disrupt operations to address consumers’ pain points and grow their businesses. We hope through these and other initiatives, to provide support structures for a full ecosystem.
The most recent award, Business Technology, was introduced out of an understanding that more and more businesses are utilising technology to enhance operations and to fill a need in the market. We have seen the impact of technology on every facet and every size of business from SMEs right through to large conglomerates. Technology creates a boundariless market space, where the world is your consumer. This award is only two years old, but the two previous recipients have already shown the ability to scale their businesses as opposed to taking traditional approaches which would have taken longer. The 2018 recipient WiPay, a regional player, not too long ago signed a deal with MasterCard, while the 2019 recipient Term Finance is already in five regional markets with expectations for continuing growth. We are certain this category will continue to expand and showcase the exciting way technology is transforming our local business landscape.
Very few companies survive if they are solely dependent on their home markets, and it is clear that the recipients of the Internationally Known…T&T Owned Company of the Year recognised this fact. Among the awards, this is the only category reserved solely for a company, and it recognises both production operations and service providers. For the recipients of this award, the right mix of entrepreneurship, innovation, and astute investment have paid off with successful internationalisation. The companies recognised since 2014 have demonstrated the capacity of local businesses to successfully compete in the world market. Kenson was able to move from a small local provider to become an internationally respected trainer for the oil and gas industry, with its graduates forming part of the global workforce. While Bermudez initially targeted its Crix brand to the diaspora market, they are now aiming for the international consumer. Similarly, SM Jaleel has been able to develop its intellectual property and successfully franchise its brand in many other countries. All these “winners” have seen the value of investing in research and development as they grow.
Every business starts somewhere, and almost every giant of business was once an entrepreneur armed only with an idea and an unshakable determination to succeed. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than among the ranks of the 36 inductees to the Business Hall of Fame. Their stories are fascinating and run the gamut of the corporate world – from the ventures of Randolph Rust, who did not live to see how his discovery of oil would reshape the fortunes of this land; the sacrifices of Makmudeen, who changed his name to Joseph Charles to gain recognition in the colonial world, and managed to found and build the iconic Solo Brand; Oscar Francois, who has kept the small Duke Street house in which he grew up as part of his modern-day pharmaceutical business; to the inimitable Kenneth Gordon who helped to transform T&T’s media industry and elevated the profession. These are all business people who have led from the front, built local empires and created intergenerational wealth. Several of these inductees have subsequently been a part of events hosted by the Chamber where they unreservedly share their years of knowledge and experience to guide other businesses.
The Champions of Business Awards serves as a showcase and a reminder of the power of business to “do good”. As the world considers how to emerge from the pandemic, countless businesses have already paid the ultimate price. Despite this, one positive, if unlikely consequence has been to demonstrate exactly how valuable each country’s business sector remains.
The business sector is a vehicle of wealth generation for the entire nation, providing jobs, paying taxes, supporting NGOs, establishing scholarships, mentoring, benefiting community activities, and charitable projects. Each year following our Awards ceremony, we hear feedback from our audience and even award recipients about the inspiration that they derived from the stories. Our awardees all demonstrate that with the right mix of passion, ingenuity, and creativity they can craft a unique business. Many of our finalists and inductees have mentored and given of their time and expertise to other upcoming businesses and business aspirants, testimony to a belief in “giving back”.
The Champions of Business 2020 will air November 20 in a live television event broadcast on CNC3, and it will also be livestreamed to our diaspora audience and members of the international community. We look forward to you joining us on November 20 when we unveil the award recipients and inductees and share their stories.