Guyana’s seas have been one of untold secrets, success stories and impressive riches.
For decades, its territorial waters have been a rich source of nourishment for the nation; and the springboard for catapulting many local fishermen to the throne of grand success.
But there has been a renewed push by the Government to revamp the industry to maximize profits using modern methods and equipment. It has called for all to get on board.
At least one businessman has been paying close attention and is staying one step ahead of the game.
He is Mr. Pritipaul Singh. His name would be familiar to many in Guyana, as he has leaped to the top of the local fisheries business.
This “Guyanese King of the Sea” is now involved in fishing for tuna and other value-added processing.
Today, Singh’s investments which have now spread to Suriname, and grown to almost US$100M, is surpassing all expectations and it seems there is no stopping his strides.
Highly successful and driven, Singh or ‘Krish’ as he is called by his family and loved ones, is also well known for his philanthropic side, helping to rebuilding many mandirs and assisting with other charities.
He is now grooming his sons to take over the reins of the company.
But it wasn’t always a rose bed for the 50-year-old businessman.
Despite the laid-back appearance he has, his sharp eyes for catching success in abundance spoke of a mind that was constantly on the move.
Singh came from a single parent home, growing up with his grandparents in Bellevue, West Bank Demerara. It was a tough life in that farming community back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Krish was not afforded any school there. But amidst the negative influences of the environs, Singh was still hungry for opportunities to improve his standard of living.
He said, “I was glad to move from my grandparents’ home because I didn’t like the environment too much … too much drinking and bad influences.”
Singh added, “So I moved to Georgetown with my mom and was enrolled in Richard Ishmael Secondary School.”
He intimated that his loving mother even sought help from others to teach him as she saw it as a way for the family to move from the tough conditions that they were living under.
“While in school, I was also helping my mom. It was four of us and I, being the eldest, helped my mom and this gave me a lot of business sense…road sense. She had a stall in Bourda Market- a greens stand- and I would go to school, come home, do what I must and go help her.”
The Market- A Home away from Home
Naturally a disciplined person, Krish had to rise at 5:00 am every day to help his mother. He was just 12 and it was in the mid 70’s. It was those early years that taught Krish some valuable lessons. He knew that he wanted to get out. And the only way to do it was through hard work.
The entrepreneur recalled, “When my mom started with the stall, we used to sleep in the market on top of the stalls. My mom would hang up a hammock and we would sleep there. We used to bathe in the market… sleep there… buy bread there and butter it and carry it to school.”
He continued, “I knew hardship and I grew up humble. It was my mom, sister and two other brothers. I had to make a lot of sacrifices because I had to help her out and ensure that I always educate myself.” He insists that he is grateful for the valuable lessons he learnt during this period of his life.
In spite of the odds being against him, Krish did well in school, graduating with passes in the GCE O’ Levels exams.
He related that it was a proud moment for him.
Singh said, “When I got my O Levels, I started to teach and study as well… giving lessons at home and other locations and also helping my mom. I was teaching at Richard Ishmael Secondary. While I was teaching, I completed my Advanced Levels.”
Learning the trade
With his company, Pritipaul Singh Investments, he stands as the first in Guyana to become involved in what is called long-line fishing.
Longline fishing is a commercial fishing technique. It uses a long line, called tHE MAIN LINE, WITH BAITED HOOKS attached at A snood is a short length of line, attached to the main line using a clip or swivel, with the hook at the other end.
Being ambitious and always on the lookout for opportunities, Krish was able to befriend a trader who was selling grapes and apples to the market. With his keen senses, he latched on to the experienced trader and became his student.
“I was able to beg him to train me on how to do trading, to take me to the other countries so that I can learn the trading business- this was in the early 90s.”
But when Krish started, he quickly learnt that there was a huge market in Barbados especially for seafood.
“I used to take things like Colgate (toothpaste), watches and seafood from here and trade in Trinidad. From there you buy greens such as cabbage and carrots and so on and take it to Barbados where I would sell and then buy apples and grapes and come back to Guyana. I worked in this way for about for four years,” Singh explained.
It was around this time that the young businessman made the decision to venture into the fishing industry and he started by purchasing prawns from locally-owned trawlers.
“I would process it and freeze it myself and then export it to Barbados…that was the biggest market I had. It was a lot of work and I used to do it from my home.”
Of course, the challenges were many. In the early 90’s, the Guyanese King of the Sea noted that power outages were raging.
He said that keeping his “catch” frozen was a task because he was shipping it from Guyana to Barbados. He said that this required him to ensure high quality was always maintained.
Opportunity knocks twice!
Being a shrewd businessman, Singh was able to save his hard-earned cash and fortunately, another lucrative venture came up. Around the mid-90‘s, a sawmill at Friendship, East Bank Demerara, went on the market.
“I wanted to do more here too as I had already established the seafood business and I wanted to do both of them. The seafood was not by containers but smaller amounts on a regular basis. This was like about 1996.”
In 1997, a gas station at Supply, East Bank Demerara, was up for sale. Krish saw the potential of the investment with the Demerara River being nearby and plunged head on into the transaction.
“After a while, I wanted more and I thought of diversifying, and in 1997, I was able to buy a gas station and do designs for a seafood processing plant.”
Krish was building a reputation with his bankers as a serious entrepreneur who honored his obligations. Republic Bank, GBTI and his business associates were all more than willing to forge an alliance with him in his ventures.
With financing from the bank, he bought his first trawler, using the Demerara River behind the gas station as the centre of operations. It was the beginning of things to come. Krish had a market and a supply of sea foods. He also had an additional income rolling in from the sawmill.
“After using and seeing the potential of the trawler, I used the funds to buy nine more trawlers, so I had 10 boats. I was able to use financing from Republic Bank. Always keep the bank happy and you will be happy,” the businessman advised.
“In 1996, I was just about 32 years old. I had approximately 100 staffers. When you are investing, you have to always keep an open mind and always try to expand. With the gas station, I was able to distribute gas about the place. With the new investments with the trawlers, I was able to ensure that the banks always stay happy.”
In 1999, Krish learnt that part of the Marine Food complex at McDoom, East Bank Demerara, was up for rental by the operators. It was perfect- spacious and ideally located with the place to moor the trawlers.
The location was ideal also as it would cut out the need for the trawlers to transit through the Demerara Harbour Bridge, saving costs and time. Pritipaul Singh Investments (PSI) was in full swing.
“I saw the possibility to acquire the whole complex so I did a proposal to the Government and eventually they granted me the permission in 1999 to buy. I bought the complex and by then I had 15 trawlers.”
During this time, PSI was selling to Noble House and BEV Enterprise.
But Krish was not satisfied with just selling his shrimp and fish. He wanted to offer his overseas customers more.
“I saw the opportunities that existed to do my own processing. This included making more revenues by peeling the shrimps which was much more challenging, but I was able to acquire the overseas market. It meant more staffers and we eventually hired about 200 staffers.”
It took the company one month to do a 20-foot container. He decided to plunge headlong into expansion and soon, with more staffers and financing from the bank, increased the number of containers for the overseas customers.
The businessman admitted that initially he was worried. The investments in the fisheries complex were heavy.
“I was worried but everything you do is about checks and balances and soon I had about 800 ladies peeling shrimps. In 2000, I left my brother in charge of the sawmill and I came to McDoom to concentrate on the seafoods.”
Krish was moving into the big league. He was taking shrimp out by the containers.
“Eventually, doing both fish and shrimp, and using this to support the expansion while we were constructing, we had workers hand-peeling, grading and exporting so we were able to do a 40-foot container once a week.”
The fisheries company was picking up steam, holding its own.
Another major opportunity also came up in the 2005. The Georgetown Seafoods, an operation based in Providence, was in deep trouble.
“It was always my dream to own Georgetown Seafoods, and eventually because of global warming… there was a drop in the catch and with this came high fuel prices. I took it over and was able to keep everybody and their jobs.”
Krish said that his company is now looking at deep sea fishing, going down in 800 meters of water.
“This is unheard of in Guyana – nobody else does it. We are looking to can tuna. We are the largest privately-owned seafood operations in Guyana.”
Today, Krish owns 75 trawlers, doing fish and shrimp.
According to the businessman, the two fisheries complexes under Pritipaul Singh Investments are partially automated to increase efficiency.
“Between the two companies, we have over 2000 employees. Because we are shipping to the US and Europe, we are mandated to ensure our quality meets international standards. We are HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) compliant. This means our safety requirements meet international criteria. The US Department of Commerce comes to certify our plant twice a year.”
The company is serious about its standards. With numerous customers in the supermarket trade, Krish said that his company has opted to use British standards, which allows him to ship his shrimp, prawns and fish anywhere in the world.
PSI is also moving to receive its greenlight from the Marine Stewardship Council which ensures that fishing practices are in keeping with requirements worldwide.
“This means we are certified as being a responsible company that protects our species, including measures to equip our trawlers with turtle excluder devices and other things.”
While today he manages his time between family, sleep, and living healthy, he admits that the work schedule had not always been that way.
“In the earlier days, I would work for 14-18 hours per day. Often, when I leave for work, my family was still asleep and when I get back home in the evening, they were sleeping so it was a sacrifice and it was worth it because it was all for them to benefit and be comfortable.”
Today, the businessman’s first of three sons, Pritipaul Singh Jr., is the Managing Director. He is only 22. The second son, Sanjay, is the deputy, at only 19. The eldest son went straight from school to work.
Krish has his own views on furthering one’s education.
“I was practical. I have an empire here that I was able to achieve not from a Degree or a University certificate, but because of dedication and commitment to working hard and using my smarts to get things done. You have to be able to focus and have goals that you work hard to achieve.”
“With business comes many challenges and you always have to be in command of what you are doing. I have a partnership with Nation Choice in Jamaica- they are distributing our products. We are talking about trout, grey and red snapper, banga, butter fish and we have this in three forms -steaks, fillet and whole gutted.”
PSI is catering to the big tourism market in Jamaica, supplying the hotels there.
“We are also doing business in Trinidad, St Lucia, Barbados and we ship shrimps to Miami. In order to stay ahead of business, you must be competitive.”
The businessman is practical when it comes to making money- there is only one way- to work hard.
“You must always have a vision to be the person on top and to do so one must make time to compete and excel and work hard and always come up with great ideas on how to keep your customers, and happy at that too.”
The company, according to Krish, is currently aggressively pursuing more expansion that will see more processing in Guyana. This is especially critical at a time when fishing is becoming more difficult with a declining stock.
“We want to reduce our fresh-on-ice exports. We are looking at international financing for this expansion in the value-added and we could be on our way in five years.”
“I can only thank God for my success. I tell myself that for every good action there must be a same equally good reaction. So I believe in helping out and I would always try to give back to society and in order to be successful you must help others also.”
The businessman is well respected in especially the Hindu community. He has helped refurbish 12 mandirs, including the one at Diamond, East Bank Demerara.
But it is not all work for the man who slept in the market when he was a boy.
“I do lots of reading. I keep myself occupied constructively. I exercise every day. I always do what’s best for my health and peace of mind. I frequent mandirs and I believe that there is a God and our actions make a big difference.”
The entrepreneur, who has risen to the top of the fisheries business in Guyana, believes that there are many opportunities in Guyana for the young.
“…but there has to be that drive…that extra effort and willingness to work hard to want to be on top and to want success. Many times, people want stuff but we are not willing to go that extra mile to work a little harder to want to take that risk. Don’t allow the negatives to stop you…always be in the driving seat.”
PSI is looking beyond
Krish knows that supply of the precious fish and shrimps will reduce.
“I am just setting the pace and foundation. One of our next projects could be looking at pond raising of fish and shrimps so in the next 10 years we could very well be doing this. To stay ahead, you have to eat right, think smart, take good rest and care your health. I have always had a drive to be successful and when I have a vision I work hard to achieve my goals.”
The businessman is clear about what it takes to be successful.
“We have invested in our staffers. We are doing our own construction. We provide free food for our staffers. In this business, whether you are at home or at work, you have to keep thinking, looking ahead.”
Perhaps one of the most critical elements in doing business is learning.
“You have to know all the nuts and bolts of the business. If the trawlers are critical to your business, don’t sacrifice on the maintenance. You have to find ways to deal with issues that crop up. Deal with it at once and don’t leave it totomorrow.”
The businessman wants to hand the daily business operations to his two sons.
“I am not going anywhere. I will be overlooking but we have to also plan for the future. To be successful, you have to be a visionary and make the impossible…possible.”
Singh’s aggression and drive have propelled him to the top of the fishing game.
He was not unwilling to take the risks, to borrow and work hard.
His empire today with that two-decade period has come with sacrifices, but the dividends have been rewarding.