Published in CONTACT Magazine
Stuart Dalgliesh is the CEO and a founding member of SCL Trinidad. His first major sale consisted of materials for the Eric Williams Financial Complex project in the 1980s. Today, SCL is a regional brand and company with operations in four countries across the Caribbean. He reflects on his 40-year journey and offers advice to budding entrepreneurs in Trinidad & Tobago
With reporting by Kevin Garcia, Freelance writer
Published in CONTACT Magazine
Innovation, dedication and foresight. These are the core characteristics that represent Stuart Dalgliesh, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the SCL Group of Companies. SCL, founded in 1979, now has operations in Trinidad, Jamaica, St Lucia and Guyana. Dalgliesh has harnessed innovation, dedication and foresight to move the business from the southernmost corner of the Caribbean onto the global stage.
“My mother brought me up with the understanding that you get what you work for,” he says, “and there is no free lunch.” The firm belief and understanding that hard work pays off is embedded in the leadership culture of SCL. This culture has led to some key decisions that resulted in successful business transformations over the past 40 years.
Background and history
The journey to becoming the Caribbean’s leading supplier of concrete engineering products and services was not straightforward or easy. SCL started operations in 1979 as Surface Coatings Limited, and after acquiring the distribution rights for FOSROC International (formerly Chemical Building Products), it was poised to dominate the market.
The company’s initial focus was only on supplying the local Trinidad and Tobago market. However, with the economic decline and devaluation of the Trinidad dollar in the 1980s, Surface Coatings Limited, like many other businesses during that period, suffered a significant reversal of fortunes. Dalgliesh and his SCL leadership team decided to do three things: to diversify its operations through manufacturing, to introduce new products and services, and to pursue new markets in other countries. This three-tier approach was successful, and the company was able to return to profitability.
There were two business name changes: Specialist Chemicals Limited in 1991, and the present SCL (Trinidad) Limited. Both positively impacted company branding. The combination of improved marketing, delivering quality engineering products, timely distribution and exceptional service continues to separate SCL from its regional competition.
Innovation drives expansion
When SCL started manufacturing in Trinidad, exports were in high demand throughout the Caribbean, starting with St Maarten and followed by Jamaica. Today, SCL proudly distributes products to over twelve Caricom states and eight members of the OECS.
SCL has four core divisions, and five retail outlets within Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana. There are also five distributors, in Suriname, Grenada, Barbados, St Maarten and St Lucia respectively.
Concrete and cement is SCL’s largest division. It works with the top ready-mix and precast concrete companies throughout the Caribbean, providing innovative concrete technology, technical advice, concrete testing, mix designs and much more.
The engineering division includes internationally accredited products, and is focused on locally manu-factured and imported systems. With a dedicated team of professionals, it caters to the energy and marine sectors, the construction industry and more.
The industrial maintenance division offers a range of cleaning chemicals that are environmentally friendly and locally created. Some of the industrial products were developed to fill specific gaps in the market.
The industrial raw materials division was introduced to supply local manufacturing firms with top quality raw materials, reducing the lengthy wait time and high transportation costs previously endured by Trinidadian companies. This division also offers contract manufacturing and white-label product services to minimise production costs and overheads for SMEs.
An advocate for local content
Dalgliesh believes Trinidad and Tobago should do more to support local firms.
“While our companies are fighting to open doors in international markets, it is very easy for foreign firms to set up shop here. There is a need for a strong local content policy, and for legislation which advocates the development of skills, technology transfer, and the use of local manpower and manufacturing. One that would not stifle foreign investment but would allow for a mutually beneficial exchange.”
Dalgliesh goes on to point out that: “Our engineers are among the best in the Caribbean. Our architects are among the best in the Caribbean. Our contractors are among the best in the Caribbean. But these services are not being exported, and in the local construction industry the foreign content is often given priority over local Trinidadian content. The result is that Trinidad and Tobago is being relegated to becoming a nation of house-builders, and this is not a good trend.”
Four years ago, Trinidad and Tobago faced an economic slump, and SCL had to adapt when the local market contracted by 40%. As a result, its economic outlook remains guarded but optimistic.
“Our growth outlook is to acquire companies with business synergies that we can add value to through manufacturing efficiencies, cost savings and access to new markets. SCL intends to continue its 40-year journey by innovating and diversifying across its Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and St Lucia operations, always on the lookout for new products and market opportunities.”
Dalgliesh advice to Caribbean entrepreneurs
Dalgliesh is excited about the junior stock exchange and sees a possible listing in the future.
One of his proudest moments in business was when within a single year he was approached by three of the world’s leading competitors to distribute their products. This was a humbling experience, just to be recognised by the world’s greats. He has learned many lessons since, and offers the following to businesspeople in Trinidad and the Caribbean.
“We must continue to take calculated risks in order to grow. One example is the junior stock exchange – rather than borrowing money and having difficulty paying it back, there are new alternatives to obtain equity locally,” he notes.
He also warns new entrepreneurs to document agreements properly. “Do not trust verbal contracts, promises and handshakes. That was the root of practically all my problems early on at SCL. A lesson I quickly learned and corrected.” He advises young businesspeople to get this right from the outset, which will boost their chances of financial success.
And in any new venture, he continues, always negotiate the divorce whilst discussing the marriage. This is crucial, as many friends, family and business partners part ways in animosity over money.
For Dalgliesh himself, the road ahead leads to semi-retirement, but he says he wants to leave with the lights on. He sees a bright future for the company, with continued investment in the research and development of environmentally safe products.
He has always relied on innovation, a little luck and a lot of hard work. It is this impulse to reinvent itself, no matter how comfortable it may have been in the market, that drove SCL during its 40-year journey – and will continue to inspire the company to go forward.
SCL Group: growth timeline
- Formed in 1979 to market engineering-based products
- Started local manufacturing in 1985
- Diversified operations in 1991 through the establishment of a new industrial maintenance division. Diversified again in 2009 with the formation of an industrial raw material division, and in 2012 when it entered the lubricant market with a range of premium quality lubes, greases and fuel additives
- Expanded into Jamaica (SCL (Jamaica) Limited) in 1995 and St Lucia (Caribbean Technologies Limited) in 2006
- In 2013, constructed a brand-new state-of-the-art production, distribution and administrative complex at Saddle Road in San Juan, Trinidad
- Opened its first retail store in 2014, The Solution Store, designed to be the nexus between the SCL Group and its ever-growing retail client base
- SCL (Guyana) Inc. was established in February 2016 to safeguard existing business and to meet the demands of the growing oil and gas sector
- Retail outlets opened in Jamaica 2017 and Tobago in 2019.