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Entrepreneurs of St Vincent and the Grenadines – McNeil Trotman

Entrepreneurs of St Vincent and the Grenadines – McNeil Trotman

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By Luke Browne Fri, Apr 04, 2014

The name McNeil Trotman is held in very high regard by corporate St Vincent and the Grenadines. Mr Trotman was a sensible and insightful business leader and he left an enduring legacy in the form of Trotman’s Electronics Service Ltd. and Trotman’s Enterprises Ltd. He was the President of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Chamber of Industry and Commerce at an important juncture of its history and he was one of the original investors and directors in the St Vincent Brewery Ltd.{{more}}

McNeil was affectionately called Trottie by those who knew him well. He came out of Paul’s Avenue. He was born in 1924 to Joseph Trotman and Dulcina Dopwell. The registered date of his birth was the seventh of January but his mother told him that he was actually born on January sixth. Trottie used this as an excuse to celebrate his birth on both days. This man of two birthdays also seemed to have at least twice the usual dose of business acumen.

McNeil attended the Kingstown Anglican School. He did not go to secondary school. He started out his career, it seems, as an apprentice of Louis Harold. Mr. Harold was an electrician at the Power Station (which gave way to what is known today as VINLEC). Trottie had a thirst for knowledge which could not be quenched. However, he could not afford to purchase the books and magazines that were indispensible to the learning which he pursued. The proprietor of the George Robertson bookstore came to his rescue by allowing him to read the monthly electronics magazines that were on his shelves free of cost.

Trottie migrated to Aruba when he was 17 years old in search of employment (like so many of his compatriots). He told the relevant authorities in Aruba that he was 18 so as to enhance his chances of getting a decent job. He landed such a job with the Lago Petroleum Corporation. He worked in the company’s dining rooms at first and then he joined the crew on the company’s ships which carried fuel to places like Santo Domingo, Panama and Brazil. He studied electronics during his spare time onboard the ship. He had a knack for repairing things. The company deducted a portion of his salary monthly and deposited it to a savings account for him. Trottie was able to save by this means and by other means enough money to open a business when he returned to his homeland.

Mr McNeil Trotman came back to St. Vincent from Aruba on August 31, 1950 and opened an electronics depot and repair shop the very next day. He operated out of a small room (in which there was little space to maneuver) that he was able to obtain because of his father. This room was not too far from the current site of Missed Call Tech in Kingstown. Mr. Trotman sold and repaired radios (some of his early customers still have these radios). He also repaired electrical irons after they were introduced. Trottie sold radiograms, records, drum sets, electric guitars, clarinets, Yamaha equipment, speakers and many other musical instruments and items. He rented out juke boxes (this was a big deal) and introduced amplified music to at least some segments of the population. The local bands relied on him for their supplies. Mr. Trotman also had a boutique of sorts within that same small space and sold clothes that he brought back from Aruba for that purpose.

Trottie met a charming young lady by the name of Carteel Wilson shortly after he got his business up and running. They ran into each other at a party for one of Carteel’s nephews for which Trottie had supplied the music set. A love affair blossomed and bore fruit. Carteel, at that time, worked at Corea and Co. Ltd. and lived at Fort Road in Upper Edinboro. Trottie therefore made it his business to shop at Coreas quite often so that he could chat with her. He followed her home from work on many afternoons. They got married on May 21, 1952.

Carteel left Coreas in 1955 when she was pregnant with her third child. She had five children in all (four boys and one girl): Louis; Jennifer; Douglas (who died on November 28, 2013); Archer; and Ian. Mrs. Trotman stayed at home for about one year home after leaving Coreas and then she went to help her husband with the business in 1956. By that time, the store was located in what was known as the Hadaway Building (in which you will now find Mr. Stalky John’s Legal Chambers). Trottie’s enterprise had long outgrown its small original business space. The store had moved from its first address to White Chapel in 1953, and then to the spot now occupied by Singer (next to Bickles) in 1954, before it arrived at the Hadaway Building in 1956. It stayed there from 1956 to 1971 and it was during these years that Trottie started to make real headway.

In addition to the electrical and electronics store, Trottie had a nearby furniture shop (at the former Toni’s Pizza premises). He sold furniture that was imported from Scandinavia.

Trottie was a music aficionado. He loved to dance and used every opportunity to show off his dance moves. He was not much of a footballer, but at least he was mistaken for Pele on one occasion when he was in Brazil. He was a promoter who put on shows with foreign guest artistes like The Mighty Sparrow and Norma Stoute (from Barbados). He also had a meringue band for carnival. He liked Spanish music. Trottie was a dapper dresser and a man of charm. He thoroughly enjoyed the Kingstown Chorale rendition of the Gondoliers (a musical) and played the corresponding sound track repeatedly at his home.

Mrs Carteel Trotman did most of the paper work for the business and cleared the goods at the Customs. She worked without a salary until either 1972 or 1973 when she began receiving one on the recommendation of Mr. A. V. King who was employed by Trottie as a business advisor. Mr. Trotman brought his children into the business at a young age and gave each of them specific tasks. Jennifer, for example, was roped into the business when she was 10 years old and was responsible for the batteries section.

Mr. McNeil Trotman acquired the property on which his company’s Kingstown store is currently located in 1969 (he used his Cane Garden home which was built in 1961 as collateral). There was a building on it. He tore down that building and erected a new edifice himself. These transactions were performed through Trotman’s Enterprises Ltd. which was set up around the same time to handle real estate dealings and property management. Trotman’s Electronics moved into the new building in 1971. He continued in the furniture trade from this new site but eventually closed the shop. Trottie dabbled with plumbing for a while but didn’t stick with it for some reason.

Trotman’s Electronics, like many other companies, went through difficult periods. There were times when employees could not be paid on time and when there was no money to clear imported goods from the Customs. Things are very different now. The company has come a long way because its founder had a will to succeed.

Around 1973, after moving to the current site, Trottie expanded his core business to include the installation, servicing and repair of air-conditioning units. He started out with Carrier and was trained in Trinidad. He went on to represent many different brands at different times and to participate in additional training courses. One of Trottie’s landmark achievements was the fact that he brought an end to our dependence on foreign technical expertise in the area of air conditioning. Before he came on the scene, foreign companies had to be hired to do all the AC jobs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Trottie changed that and he was very proud of this fact.

In 1979, at the time of our independence, Trotman’s Electronics Ltd. had about 90% of the local AC business (all the banks and Cable and Wireless were among its clients). Trottie also sold Leonard refrigerators and stoves. He attended two conventions for this UK based company – one in Monte Carlo in 1987 and one in Disney World (Orlando) in 1991.

Mr Trotman thought that electrical services and AC services complemented each other and said that when business was slow on one front he could always fall back on the other.

Trotman’s Electronics won contracts to wire several primary and secondary schools (including the Campden Park Secondary School) and many low-income houses. The company also did electrical work at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, the Kingstown Post Office, the BOSVG (Bedford Street branch) and the entire Reigate Building (in which another BOSVG branch is located). Trottie did both electrical and AC work for Barclays Bank, RBTT and Scotiabank. He installed the air conditioning system for the Financial Complex. McNeil Trotman literally helped to light up and cool down the city.

Mr Trotman knew that honesty and integrity were fundamental to business success. He also understood that without change and adaptation a business would die. He was very innovative and had the uncommon ability to solve what otherwise seemed to be insoluble problems.

Mr Trotman got along well with the members of his staff. He looked out for the best interests and well being of his employees and motivated them to put in the extra effort. There were regular staff meetings. Trottie shared his knowledge willingly with his employees and recognised that this would help to lighten his workload.

Mr Trotman acquired a property near to the present site of BMC Agencies in Kingstown in the early nineteen-nineties. He bought the land from Louis Harold, his old time mentor, and built there on a training institute (rather like a mini-technical college) and workshop. He would be at the blackboard every morning with one lesson or the other. A lot of people (who are now scattered all over the world) passed through his hands by way of apprenticeships, attachments or other arrangements. He taught many a school dropout and gave them a shot at a decent career.

Mr Trotman was one of the early investors and the largest local shareholder of the St. Vincent Brewery Ltd. He served on the Brewery’s Board of Directors for a number of years and was described by one of his Brewery colleagues as a humble man that was full of wisdom. This colleague said that Trottie proved that people without academic qualifications could be business leaders and opinion shapers.

Mr Trotman is a past President of the Rotary Club in St Vincent and the Grenadines. He attended Rotary Club Conventions in Brazil and England. He is also a former President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Trottie was at the helm of the Chamber in 1982 when it led nationwide protests against the implementation of a 3% gross turnover tax on business transactions.

McNeil Trotman was a member of the Anglican Church Board and he gave freely to the church. He also helped people with medical emergencies.

Mr McNeil Trotman died in a New York hospital on October 13, 1997. He left shares in his companies for his wife, children (some of whom he did not have with his wife), longstanding employees and other individuals. The employees were especially touched by this profound gesture of gratitude.

Trottie’s children picked up where he left off: his son Ian is the Managing Director of Trotman’s Electronics Service Ltd. and Trotman’s Enterprises Ltd; another son (Archer), who has VINLEC experience, is the Electrical Engineer for Trotman’s Electronics; Jennifer, a daughter, is in charge of the Arnos Vale depot that was opened after her father’s death. Jelani James-Trotman, a grandson, is attached to the workshop. The children have plans for the future and their goal is to continue satisfying their customers and expanding the business. For them, “the sky is the limit.” Incidentally, one of Trottie’s sons, Mr Chris Paynter, is the proprietor of Uptown International.

Carteel Trotman, McNeil’s 91 year old widow, is a woman of strength and longevity. She played a very important supportive role when her husband was building the business. She still goes down to work at the Kingstown store every day. Trottie has two surviving sisters: Edwina Sharpe in New York and Pearlina Quashie of Dorsetshire Hill.

McNeil Trotman was a generous, helpful, motivational and well-respected businessman. He was a human being with a big heart. Trottie was full of entrepreneurial talent and he used it to develop model enterprises. These companies are enduring symbols of his success.

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