Guyana: Interview with Yesu Persaud

Yesu Persaud

Chairman (Demerara Distillers & Demerara Bank Limited)

Yesu Persaud

After 20 consecutive years of operating under the previous regime and now that the Government has recently changed, Guyana is undergoing a number of exciting transformations that will surely have a profound impact on the country’s future. The proposed changes certainly show promise for Guyana, but what do you think Guyana still needs to do in order to achieve its full potential?  

I believe we need to encourage persons to invest in Guyana. We need to think of ways to retain our scholars and intellectuals and to create avenues so as to foster development. Guyana has been struggling for some time now but like most countries, politics determine whether progress is made or not, it determines almost everything. We are large in size but we are small in population and that is an advantage. If you could put the resources to work, like getting people to work as a team and not be divided there could be total transformation of Guyana. Guyana is one of the richest countries in the Caribbean region considering its size.  In terms of resources we have struck oil recently; adding this to our existing resources and we have almost everything you can think of.

A common trend of thought is that a country’s insecurity could hinder otherwise ensured foreign investments. Now that the Alliance For Change governs Guyana, and A Partnership for National Unity is still playing an important role, what do you believe could be done to make Guyana’s policies and market more attractive to foreign investors?

The new government is a collation between the two parties you have just mentioned and they collectively govern. To attract more foreign investors we would initially require bipartisan collaboration on strategic development plans for Guyana and this was touted in the shared governance initiative. Local insecurities will have to be addressed so as to pave the way for local businesses to expand and to attract foreign investors. The Caricom free market should be further encouraged and expanded to our South American neighboring countries since these countries have significantly larger populations and resources. There should also be measures in place to allow for greater transparency, accountability and oversight. Additionally, the recent discovery of oil in Guyana by one of the largest oil producers will bring other investors to support oil drilling, refining & other related activities. We offer excellent opportunities to outside investors in areas of Agricultural, Mining & Forestry. Our services sector has huge potential for growth.

The story of DDL started in 1670 when a group of sugar cane producers formed an exporting co-operative of rum for sailors. How do you feel being the main decision maker from such an institution when looking at its history?

I was excited, cautious and in retrospect somewhat scared but the determination to save/salvage the company was my burning desire. The Government of Guyana offered me the Executive Chairmanship of Diamond Liquors Limited and the Managing Directorship of Demerara Sugar Company together with other responsibilities incumbent upon integrating a private conglomerate into a state-owned company. I took the challenge but the company was almost bankrupt. I approached professionals I knew in the UK and I proposed them to work for DDL and to ship the barrels. I knew that in a certain period of time we would be able to resolve the big problem the company had and after one year, we did it. We diversified the company into many profitable fields and other subsidiary and associated companies.

Demerara Bank Limited has been one of the main bets that the company has done ever. How do you feel about this project? Which are the main challenges you had to face to develop this banking project?

The challenges faced were the denial of operating license from the government and banking authorities and discouragement from the financial sector.  I had applied for banking license under the then government but was not successful. I waited until the government changed to apply for the license again. The Minister of Finance from that moment told me that Banking is a complex, highly regulated and challenging job. My response was that I knew how to make it work, and that was going to happen. I know my capacity; I know what I can do and how I have to do it. I took a risk in that and I am very proud to have been involved in our achievements, being Guyana first and only indigenous bank. Demerara Bank has grown to stand on its own in our financial sector and over the years have performed remarkably well. We have doubled our Assets size every six years and profit growth is outstanding. DBL is one of the best wealth creators in our country. Our sizable lending portfolio with small non-performing loans has helped many entrepreneurs and businesses to achieve success in their field.

You highlighted during your retirement press briefing that you are extremely proud that the company has been able to stand out among the best of the best as it expanded over the years. What does DDL offer to stand out from its competitors? What would you say it has been the recipe of success?

DDL has strong brand, quality product, competitive prices, dedicated staffers, hard working hours and a ready market.
The recipe for the success is that you must know how to treat people. Our human resources are our greatest assets and treating people as good human beings is absolutely important. Therefore the ability to think is crucial. Our pride lies in our women managers.

All Ministers we have already interviewed had recommended us to interview you since Demerara Bank is one of the most important companies in Guyana and you are the person behind it. How is Demerara Bank helping to increase the Guyanese economy and be part of the country´s development?

It is flattering to hear that Ministers have said that DBL is one of the important companies in Guyana. Banks contribute to the economy by providing loans and overdraft facilities to various sectors, offering employment opportunities, contributing taxes to the government and following the monetary policies of the country. Demerara Bank is no different, providing a wide array of banking services. We have been able to add value to various sectors in the Guyanese economy by providing short, medium and long term loans to businesses and individuals. The Bank encourages the movement of goods in and out the country by providing facilities such as bills of exchange, issuing drafts, telexes and overdraft. We have expanded our bank in rural areas so as to foster deployment within these areas. Our team of professionals is always looking at new ways to fulfil our corporate social responsibilities.

Mr Persaud, you are considered one of the top businessmen and decision makers in Guyana. What are the biggest challenges you had to face during your career? What are you most proud of? What comes next personally?

I have faced political marginalisation and unfavourable government policies along with discouragement from those you expect to support you.
I am proud that I was able to work with some goal driven individuals and be the cornerstone in two of the largest and well-known companies in the country. Demerara Bank and Demerara Distillers Limited have grown over the years and these companies have provided so many opportunities for the people of Guyana. I think I have come to that point in my life where I need to take a backseat and enjoy life but I just can’t seem to stay away from the office.

As you know, HBR is the only magazine in the world considered to be somewhat of a training manual for company leaders as well as political personalities, which advice would you give to someone that intends to invest in Guyana and wants to be successful?

First of all, you must have the capacity to accept the situation as you see it. If you want to change that situation, you need to have prepared people to back you up and gradually win their confidence. You can win their trust and build them from there. If you do that, I think you will make it because you are going to create that confidence on the person that you are betting for.
I knew I was not going to be forever in DDL but I needed a challenge, and Demerara Bank Limited was my personal challenge.