Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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EIL buys out Century Eslon in $160m deal
Electrical Industries Ltd (EIL), the largest manufacturer of electrical cables in the English-speaking Caribbean, in February closed a multimillion-dollar deal to buy out the Michael Jay Williams’ family-owned Century Eslon Ltd. Williams, the 82-year-old majority shareholder at Century Eslon, who started the company 45 years ago, on Monday confirmed that the Dave Ramkissoon-owned EIL acquired the PVC manufacturing company based at Trincity. Williams did not disclose the cost of the deal, saying only that both sides had agreed not to divulge too much information about the transaction.
However, the Business Guardian understands that the deal was finalised on February 18 at the law offices of Fitzwilliam, Stone, Furness-Smith and Morgan on Sackville Street, Port-of-Spain, for $160 million, and that the seller received significant financing from Scotiabank. “They took over the shareholding of the parent company, Century Eslon Trinidad,” Williams said. The acquisition includes Century Eslon’s operations in Barbados, Jamaica—which is its biggest market—St Lucia, Grenada, Antigua, St Kitts and St Vincent. Ramkissoon, chief executive officer of EIL, was on Monday unavailable for a comment on the buyout and where the company fits in EIL’s operations. Denesh Abraham, group strategy manager, said all questions about the transaction should be directed to Hayden Kublalsingh, executive director, who was out of the country. EIL, which “turned around” its business mode and concentrated on developing its employees rather than focusing on its customers, won the Excellence in Business 2006 Award for the second time. The company first won the award organised by the Business Development Company and Republic Bank in 2004.
Among EIL’s 19 export markets include Guyana, Jamaica, Belize, Suriname and the United States.
Century Eslon, which sits on eight acres at Century Drive, Trincity, makes pipe fittings, paint buckets for five local paint companies, electrical conduits and water tanks. Williams, a longstanding businessman and former president of the Senate, said the principals at EIL made a “nebulous sort of approach” for a buyout to the management at Century Eslon more than five years ago, but it was “not pursued or taken very seriously.” EIL renewed that offer about 14 months ago. “EIL was chatting. At first, we said we weren’t up for sale, but if there’s an offer on the table, we’d consider it. They wanted certain information, which we gave with some hesitation. When they appeared serious, we gave more data and, eventually, we came up with a figure. We have an agreement not to discuss too much of the details. “These things take a certain procedure. The buyers went through a due diligence investigation to satisfy themselves before finalising the deal. There was an agreement to buy in late November and we concluded on February 18,” Williams said.
Williams, who was the company’s managing director from its inception, said the company was originally located in 6,000 square feet of building space in Pasea, Tunapuna. He said that apart from manufacturing pipe fittings, the company also made Chief floor polish, a product which was heavily invested in by LJ Williams Ltd, started by Williams’s father, Louis Jay Williams. “We had connections all over the world—Japan, Australia. The floor polish was from Australia. LJ Williams was and still is a marketing organisation. “At that time, 40, 50 years ago, there was a movement to industrialise the country. Whatever led itself to local manufacturing, we looked into it and explored manufacturing possibilities,” Williams said. The company moved to Trincity in 1970. Twenty-five years ago, Century Eslon expanded in the Caribbean, firstly by acquiring the Barbados-based and United Kingdom-owned company, International Plastics Ltd. Jamaica became a warehousing operation, as did many of the other regional countries.
The company, which originally had Japanese partners, Sekisui Chemical Company Ltd, in 1948 started the plastic automatic injection molding business in Japan. In 1956, In 1956, Sekisui developed Japan’s first plastic rain gutters, calling it Eslon Rain Gutters. “Their trademark was Eslon; you had rayon, nylon and eslon. It was S-Lon, but they anglicised it to market it. Williams was asked why he’d decided to sell the company he’d started, given that he has 11 children—five sons and six daughters, all “with one wife”—even though sons Gerard and David were involved in the business. Williams himself comes from a big family, being the fourth of ten children, with all but one, Ronnie Williams, still being alive. “The opportunities these days are very wide. Children go in different directions, quite unrelated to business. Unlike avenues open to children 40 years ago, nowadays, if they tell you what they are doing, you wonder what it is,” Williams said. Williams said parting with the company was not difficult. “There was no sentimental attachment. We had a good team of people.”