The Next Generation: Guyana prepares for a new wave of leaders in the Forestry Sector
The growing demand for raw materials, in especially Asia, has opened the markets even more for developing nations like Guyana, a country filled with natural resources.
In recent years, this has become more pronounced, for not only the traditional materials, but for the other lesser used and known.
This holds especially true for Guyana’s forestry sector which, despite increased activities in recent years, has been experiencing a rush for timber like Wamara, a hardwood known for its use in high-end furniture.
The sector has been coming under intense scrutiny, both locally and internationally, especially with the landmark agreement between Guyana and Norway, which calls for strict systems to be in place to protect the forests, in return for cash payments. It is indeed a unique arrangement that Guyana is jealously guarding.
Last year, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, the rate of deforestation, which is tied to the Norway agreement, dropped even further, a good sign that Guyana is doing the right thing to ensure that its natural resources are here and remain sustainable for its people.
In the forestry sector itself, while there has been a number of new players, mostly from foreign investments, one local company has been standing tall and holding its own for over 60 years.
Leading the charge of the Logging and Sawmilling Division of Toolsie Persaud Limited and Group, is its “young” Director, Avinash Persaud. He is the youngest son of one of Guyana’s most prominent businessmen, Toolsie Persaud.
Avinash, or “Avi”, as he is known to close friends and family members, has emerged as one of Guyana’s next generation of business leaders. And he has a story to tell. Few would believe that the well-dressed executive is a director who loves the boardroom room as much as he revels in the dirt trails leading to the logging concessions, deep in the forests.
Avinash, who with his two brothers, Rajesh and Vinode, runs the hardware giant with their father, Toolsie Persaud, would have it no other way. Rajesh is the Director of TPL Quarries, Ready-Mix and Construction, while Vinode is the Director of Hardware and Manufacturing.
Toolsie Persaud has over 500 employees working in its facilities countrywide. Over 200 of these alone fall under Avinash’s stewardship in the Logging and Sawmilling Division.
Avinash insists that all he knows is as a result of his father, Toolsie Persaud, who is determined that his dream to build one of Guyana’s most recognizable companies is realised, and that the company remains in the best of hands and leaves a lasting legacy in the country’s landscape.
“From a very tender age, our father taught us discipline. Every little thing he learnt in business, he imparted to us.”
Toolsie, as he is known, was no ordinary teacher. He grew up in humble surroundings in Corentyne, Berbice, in the “logie” type dwellings.
One of two brothers, and with five sisters, Toolsie’s determination to move away from his impoverished conditions saw him looking for opportunities.
He stayed only one year at the sugar estate, before realizing that opportunities existed. His parents were working there. The estates were badly in need of wood for its operations.
In the city, to which the young Toolsie had travelled, there were limited supplies.
Toolsie borrowed money from his relatives and bought a sawmill on Lombard Street, later renaming it Toolsie Persaud Limited Sawmills.
He managed to also acquire logging concessions to help the supply. At the time, Toolsie was a mere 21-year-old man, and it was in 1957 that the company was incorporated.
“My father was always looking for opportunities. He always was looking ahead.”
When over 50 years ago, the young Toolsie met his wife at Leonora where he was doing business with the sugar estate there, he was determined to see his children carry on his legacy of creating an empire.
Sure enough, whenever there were holidays, the three boys were at the sawmill or heading to the interior to visit the operations there. It was the perfect training grounds.
Toolsie did not stop there. He acquired a quarry operation along the Essequibo River and expanded to stamping his authority by creating the hardware division.
Avinash insisted that his father was the one who helped create the lumber yard concept.
“He wanted a place to store his lumber and of course, this started to evolve in the city. Lumber yards are unique to Guyana and he was the one that started the idea.”
A student of St. Stanislaus College, Avinash shifted to St. Roses High before starting to pursue his degree in Business Management at the University of Guyana (UG).
But Avinash was restless. He wanted to jump right into the heart of things. His brothers had continued their studies but he had other ideas.“I am a practical person and just after a year at UG, I went to work at Toolsie Persaud.”
His father was clear. Avinash had to learn the ropes. He had to start at the bottom of ladder.
At just 19-years of age, he started as a lumber checker before shifting to quality control at the sawmill.
“My dad…I followed his footsteps. He went as far as high school but he was a practical man.”
Avinash, now 43, continued to push. He was next sent to Anarika, where Toolsie had an even larger sawmilling operation. He was being groomed for the wood business. There he under-studied for eight years as a trainee manager.
The operation, located in the Rockstone area, off Linden, was a different kettle of fish. The workers were a mixed lot of Amerindians, Lindeners and from the coast.
Dealing with over 100 workers was a challenge. Avinash learned patience, and his management skills included becoming a counselor, a friend, a confidante.
“I really enjoyed that. When you are manager of a complex, outside of Georgetown, you are not only the boss, but people look to you to air their problems. I loved the challenge of dealing with people.”
Of course, managing such a key operation in the group was no child’s play. There were targets to be met. The weather, the vagaries of the markets, both local and foreign; these were real challenges that had to be overcome.
“The rains would affect production and make the roads impassable. You have to deal with these realities.” At the beginning, the shortage of foreign currency in the late 80’s was also a problem.
“You had to purchase spare parts from overseas, so we were constantly being tested.”
There was always the huge demand for the mostly greenheart wood that Toolsie was dealing in. “We had to meet the market for heavy structural lumber, and for marine purposes, so markets were never a problem for us.”
Toolsie’s holdings continued to grow to include operations in the three counties and even in Takutu, and the Mazaruni.
The days of simple logging had started to change in the 90’s. Environmentalists were upping the pressure that the forests had to be protected in light of poor practices in other countries.
Toolsie, like many other companies, had to toe the line, in ensuring that it changed the way it operated.
“We had to train staff to do things like 100 percent inventory to comply with new requirements.” The times were challenging. Avinash had become even busier. He was travelling constantly to the logging concessions, sometimes spending weeks away from the city and his family. There was no time to start his own family.
As a matter of fact, he admits sheepishly, that he only managed to get married about three months ago. It has been more than two decades that he has been working and there was little time for anything else.
“There was no time and I just did not meet the right person.”
The executive is leading the way in Guyana of a new generation that is taking over the reins of the traditionally family-owned businesses.
He has a message for young Guyanese.
“You must display discipline. Start at the bottom. Learn everything. Be dedicated. But more importantly, I think that you have to love what you are doing. Unless you appreciate your job, you will lose interest.”
Toolsie Persaud Limited is indeed growing. The group has ventured into construction and ready-mix cement, ramping up production in its stone quarry.
“I am proud to say that we are the biggest, locally owned logging and sawmilling company in Guyana. It is hard work, but you have to stick with it.”