Conversation with Patricia Ghany, CFO of Esau Oilfield Supplies Company Limited, Trinidad
The coastal expanse of Trinidad and Tobago brings to mind palm trees, idyllic waterfronts; paradise. Just 11 kilometres north of South America, the islands are rumoured to be an inspiration for the legendary adventures of Robinson Crusoe and so business might be the furthest thing from one’s mind. Like so many other Caribbean islands, however, Trinidad and Tobago are much more than meets the eye. Home to a myriad of different cultures, the country has a 99 % literacy rate, a highly educated population and a subsequently fascinating landscape for business.
This family business story starts in 1972 when Esau and Joyce Ghany established what is today known as the Esau Oilfield Supplies Company Limited (ESAU). Prior to founding ESAU he owned a business with his brother also in the energy sector which found an abrupt end due to a family conflict. Coupling his entrepreneurial lineage with his wife’s financial skills and enthusiasm, Esau set out to running what was then a small business. Today Esau Oilfield Supplies is one of the leading suppliers of pipe valves, gaskets, and pipe fittings to the petrochemical and oil gas sectors in Trinidad. Over the past ten years, the family business has become more involved in EPC contract work, which is centred on energy procurement and construction, working with the likes of Worley Parsons, Wood Group, and Fluor Daniel.
Esau and Joyce Ghany’s three children, Patricia, Peter, and Paul joined the family business one by one after having been exposed to its vision throughout their childhood. Peter heads marketing and Paul oversees the Latin American division while Patricia is the CFO and Joyce Ghany is now the CEO, a position she took over after her husband passed away.
When Patricia Ghany was a little girl, she decided that she would open her own pastry shop. How, instead, she became CFO of her family’s business she reveals in the following conversation with Tharawat magazine.
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Joining the Family Business
Patricia Ghany grew up with the business her father founded. “As a young girl, I worked with my mom in the accounts department and my father took me to see all the energy plants,” she says, smiling as she remembers her parents’ zest. “I got the chance to watch him work and see how he made his contacts. After completing my MBA I worked in Europe for a few years where I taught courses in cross-cultural communication before I came back and officially joined the family company in January 1995 as CFO.” Coming back to Trinidad and joining the family business was her own idea. Patricia stresses that there had never been any pressure from her parents’ side. “It was just something that we knew we would eventually do, but we all thought that we needed to get outside work experience first.”
When we ask Patricia Ghany what her passions are outside the family business she affirms that her daughter and baking are always at the forefront of her private life. She also mentions a slightly different activity that she feels strongly about: “I came back to Trinidad and I had just started in my parents’ business. I wanted to establish myself as a professional, so our company joined the American Chamber of Commerce. Today, I have been active on the board and the committees of the chamber for over 20 years. We spend a lot of time working on building up trade relationships between Trinidad and the United States. Right now we’ve just gone through a whole new strategic planning process, focusing Trinidad’s activities more on the Latin American region.” The American Chamber is the first port of call for every multinational entering Trinidad.
How the Family Business Works
The Ghany family business structure is fairly straightforward as Patricia Ghany is able to simply relate: “Mum is the CEO, Peter heads marketing and I am in charge of finances. Paul is in charge of our Latin American division and we are all part of the board.” Currently ESAU does not have non-family members on the board, however a trusted advisor and accountant to the family sits in on board meetings. When her father passed away Patricia’s mother decided that everything had to be equally divided between the children.
“When my father established the business he always emphasised that everything must be equal and honest,” explains Patricia Ghany. “So we’ve grown up knowing that. We have always been grateful for these values.”
These values were imparted to Patricia Ghany and her brothers throughout their childhood and as a result they soon understood the futility of engaging in conflict amongst themselves. “My dad was not one for fights,” Patricia Ghany states. “He loved family, and he just hated fighting.” The Ghanys have managed to maintain an order of peaceful discourse since they were children and with a hearty laugh Patricia Ghany tells us that most disputes are addressed over a meal.
Family Business Only, Please
The growth of the Esau Oilfield Supplies family business can be greatly attributed to the energy sector boom Trinidad witnessed in the late 1970s. But most of the Ghany’s success can undoubtedly be attributed to the way they chose their partners. “Family businesses only,” Patricia Ghany explains. “When my dad passed away in 2004, Peter and I had to assume a different type of partnership. How could we keep the legacy alive? Not everyone thought that we could handle it. We both knew we wanted to preserve the business our parents had so carefully built. We knew that Trinidad was becoming an international player in the natural gas field. We began to look at our business, asking ourselves how we could grow it and stay true to the core values of excellence, innovation, honesty, and serving the community. The competition was strong.” Patricia Ghany frowns as she remembers the challenging time.
“Our business has always been a one stop shop for all that is needed to build an oil platform: pipes, valves, fittings, gaskets, we supply everything. We keep a large inventory on the island compared to a lot of other people. We already had three main product lines; the flanges, the valves and the gaskets, which were world-renowned brands in the industry. We looked at the other products that we didn’t have the exclusive rights for. We started building collaborations to go about the expansion and what did we encounter? Mostly, the firms we were interested in were also family businesses that like us were going over into the second generation. Finding the typical family-ownership traits in common helped greatly in establishing a good relationship. We realised we were all facing similar issues. We started to share our stories, and they professed an interest to expand into Trinidad. They were happy with our willingness to represent them exclusively and they knew based on our reputation that we were a solid company,” says Patricia Ghany.
Patricia, Peter, and Paul invested heavily in the alliance formed with their family business partners and established an extended family network that was to be the foundation of their growth in the coming years.
“We’ve shared marriages, birthdays, and funerals. Terrible as well as happy events. We do things together like concerts and events as well. We nurture each other in whatever projects we’re going into, and we protect each other. For example, if my competitor goes to my manufacturer for flanges, they say ‘I’m sorry I can’t sell to you’ because they are committed to us,” Patricia Ghany offers candidly.
This extended family business network lends support to all fellow member families in acquiring new business. The long-term pledge has deepened their commitment to one another and reinforced the Ghany’s policy of allying themselves with family businesses only.
The Boom Years
During the late 1990s the government set up an incentive programme in the oil and gas sector. International companies such as British Gas and BP were obligated to find local partners. The Ghanys were amongst the first in line. “We changed our strategy again: We moved from just supplying materials to say a refinery plant to working on the platforms. Trinidad had built its first unmanned offshore platform in the 1990s. We did a lot of work for that, and we were one of BP’s five star performers. We established credibility, and over the years we continued to add to our approved manufacturer lists working with businesses. Integrating along the value chain,” Patricia confirms.
“Our biggest accomplishment this year has been the delivery of a 48-inch bend for the Cassia platform, BP’s platform which supplies the gas for the entire island,” Patricia Ghany beams. “We do everything from procurement to manufacturing, shipping, and delivery. We’re involved in every stage of the process now. Peter goes back and forth to the manufacturers at different phases in the manufacturing process and finally we oversee the shipping as well.”
Patricia Ghany is proud that her family business has been able to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the industry. The family has formalised its processes in order to stay ahead of growing global competition. The alliances with their manufacturers have been of great importance in bringing this about explains Ghany: “Everyone bands together and we make sure that we continue to deliver just really exceptional products at every stage of the process. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Despite the obstacles the Ghany family have overcome in the business world, one is left to wonder whether Patricia, Peter and Paul were always sure that they wanted to be in the family business. “I think you go through your own personal assessment in the family business. For instance, after my father died, we got an offer to sell our company. At that point in time we were transitioning to the second generation. My mother’s reaction was a clear ‘No’. But these situations make you look at your life and your business and reassess. You ask yourself what it is worth to you. Today, I get up every morning and feel lucky to have this business. Peter and I sometimes talk about it; we both agree that we would never sell now!” intones Patricia Ghany frankly.
Patricia Ghany is chiefly grateful for the flexibility the family business has provided her in raising her daughter Victoria. “I’ve been able to have a lot of flex time. I’ve been able to really work with her and sometimes give her school more time than my own business,” she says.
While the Ghany siblings have accomplished a great deal for the family business, Patricia Ghany does not feel this obligates her daughter Victoria to succeed her. Patricia has emphatically made clear that her daughter will have the same choices she did and will not be forced into the driver’s seat. “We talk about it, and she always works with us during the summer. When she went off to university, I decided that she should do a family business course, because I felt succession might be an issue. Participating in these conferences has helped Victoria to get some perspective on what goes on in the family business.”
Patricia Ghany often appears proud of her business, but it does not come close to the expression on her face when she speaks of Victoria: “She told me recently that going to family business conferences had helped her look at things differently and that she understood that it was about the quality of life that the family business could offer.”
Working with the family
“We grew up together, a closely-knit family,” Patricia Ghany says when asked what it’s like to work with the family. “When I got married, the two boys lived together. And then I came back, and there was a point where all three of us were back at home with my mom and dad. I think because our personalities are so different, we always knew from the start that we could bring different things to the business. We always laugh about the fact that Peter and Paul never fought as children. People look at the three of us and wonder how we manage to work together so well. I think it is because we have always had clear roles in the family. We were so secure with where we stood in the family. Our personalities balance each other out. I’m risk averse, while my brother Peter likes to take risks.”
Patricia Ghany ultimately credits the fundamental respect the siblings have for each other and for their mother as the driving force behind the family’s achievements. Concludes Ghany, “Trust, honesty, and communication also play a great role in our decision making and our personal relationship. We talk a lot about our dynamics and how it is to work together. If there is a difference of opinion, we talk it out and identify what’s really best for the business.”
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 21, 2014