Portrait of a Pioneer
Aziz Ahamad belongs to the pantheon of pioneers who helped lay down foundations on which this country rests. Through had work, endurance, strong values, dedication and foresight, he lifted himself from pennilessness and many adverse circumstances, to found a dynasty – Southern Sales and Service Company Limited, one of the most dynamic and successful corporations in Trinidad and Tobago.
Born on July 18, 1901, he became an orphan when he was only five. He was forced by circumstances to leave primary school when only in Standard One. He went to live with his eldest sister and her husband at Siparia.
By age ten he was on the job market, earning about ten cents in a 14 hour workday doing odd jobs. He survived on a diet of sugar and roti. In his memoirs he recalled, “no time for school and play.”
At 19, and “marriageable”, his brother –in– law arranged with one Mr. Syne for Aziz to marry Zoharah Syne of Siparia on November 6, 1919. Maintaining his old job Aziz moved to the home of his in-laws. It was a turning point in his life; one that directed him to what would become a legendary future in the automobile industry.
Aziz’s father-in-law, Mr. Syne taught him about automobiles. That knowledge was enhanced when Aziz was given a job as the bus conductor on Mr. Syne’s bus, travelling the Siparia to Erin route. The bus driver, Mr. Raymond also taught him to drive. Aziz paid for these driving lessons with his modest lunch. His father-in-law “encouraged his ambition” making him a driver. However Mr. Syne left Trinidad for India, leaving his son in charge of the business. But his brother-in-law soon transferred Aziz to driving and loading a truck.
It spurred Aziz to leave the family business. “I decided that if I had to sweep the road, I was not coming back“, he said. Returning to the home of his sister the man who would become an automobile magnate soon purchased an old car for $100.
At around the same time, he landed a job at the Warden’s office in Siparia. He used his savings to lease a stone quarry from the Government, but Trinidad Petroleum Drilling (TPD) eventually reclaimed the quarry. TPD’s manager Mr. Bennet told Aziz to see a man named Mr. O’Connor and handed him a note on which was scribbled the words “give him the odds and ends and dribblings”. He was given odd jobs, but through thrift he saved enough to buy his first V – 7 tractor form Mr. Massey.
By 1934 Aziz had created Aziz Ahamad Limited. He incorporated the Company in 1960. He also acquired a cinema chain in Siparia, Penal, Santa Flora and Point Fortin. In 1952, he established a small spare parts shop at Royal Road, San Fernando, “just a small business to occupy myself a little“, he recalled in his memoirs.
In a casual conversation with his friends and business associates, including Meg Battoo, D M Walsh and C R Moonan who became part shareholder with the sub-agency for Morris cars in 1952, the idea of investing in automobiles was planted. Southern Sales and Service as we know it today was born.
Aziz acquired a repair shop and a small agency for Renault and Mercedes Benz. The Desoto was added in 1956 and in 1957 all these were relinquished for the successful Opel franchise. Between 1954-1955 he also operated the Port-of-Spain Bus Service, City Transport, and the National System which was eventually taken over by the Government in the 1960s. On the eve of Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence from Colonial rule, Aziz Ahamad was emerging as a key figure in the transportation system in the country.
He held positions on the Board Of Directors of several reputable companies, including the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company and Maritime Life (Caribbean) Ltd.
Aziz’s stewardship led Southern Sales from the pioneering times of the first set of motor vehicles on the roads of Trinidad, through to the era of locally assembled vehicles. He was responsible for the introduction of the Mazda motor brand, which was key to the success of the company. In that time he took Southern Sales and Service from its spare parts shed, to a company that was selling up to 350 cars a month during the oil boom.
The vehicle industry joined his family in mourning his death when Aziz Ahamad passed away at his home at 3:45 on the morning of Saturday July 29, 1978. About a year later, his wife Zoharah Ahamad followed, on August 22 1979 at age 72. Aziz had described her support of his efforts in his memoirs:
“I can never forget my wife. We would hold on to each other and cry for weeks. My wife had to fill water with a bucket and carry it on her head for mile. She would stand with a flambeau in her hand to guide me as I fixed cars to the early morning hours.”
The Gentleman With The Midas Touch
Whether it is being loved by friends and family that matter to you, or you prefer to count your blessings in terms of success in business, Naz Ahamad was a truly blessed man in all aspects of his life, and one who left his mark on many people in many different ways.
Born into a humble Indo-Trinidadian family as the sixth child of nine, Naz obviously inherited his father’s entrepreneurial talents and brought a good deal of academic capability with him, allowing him to become St. Mary’s-educated and to attain a BSc degree in Civil Engineering from Birmingham University. The Ahamad family Company, Southern Sales, initially a motorcar dealership in San Fernando, was soon to thrive under Naz’s Stewardship, offering Japanese, Korean and German car brands and later other diversifications.
Naz Ahamad was an astute businessman, a dynamic leader, and a man of high integrity. In his family business, He worked side by side with all employees, particularly grooming his equally talented three sons as his successors. With Southern Sales as a springboard, other business leaders in Trinidad and Tobago recognized his valuable potential, and Naz was called to serve on many boards of directors, oftentimes in the position of chairman. Guardian Holdings Ltd , Universal Investments Ltd, Caribbean Finance Company Ltd, Neal & Massy Holdings Ltd, and Caribbean Packaging Industries Ltd all enjoyed growth and recognition with Naz Ahamad chairing their boards.
A quiet and unassuming gentleman, Naz never tried to impose his ideas and opinions on anyone, but in the end he always got his way, convincing his colleagues that what he said made good sense. Naz had the Midas touch: almost everything he touched turned to gold. In his role as chairman, he always worked closely with the chief executive officers of the respective companies, giving advice and guidance when required, and supporting them when the situation demanded it. Board meetings under his chairmanship were always enjoyable while being serious, and he invariably sought to inject some humour into the proceedings. Naz Ahamad ensured that proper governance practices were institutionalized in the companies in which he was involved.
Naz never chose to steal the limelight, staying in the background but always there when you needed him. Although Naz was a good mentor and gave his advice freely, he was never too proud to seek advice and guidance before making major decisions; such was the extent of his humility. Naz was not born wealthy, and he often reminded his close friends of his humble origins. He was a fitting example of someone who reached the pinnacle of the corporate world through hard work and dedication, while adhering to the principles of fair play and ethical behaviour.
In 2002, Naz Ahamad was awarded a medal for “Distinguished Service to Trinidad and Tobago” on the 40th anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence. In 2003, he was honoured with a Chaconia Medal Gold for Long and Meritorious Service to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the sphere of business. At its awards function in July, the South Trinidad Chamber of Industry and Commerce announced that, in recognition of his outstanding contribution, the Nazir Ahamad Award for Entrepreneurship would be presented from 2005. Before his passing, he was informed that the University of the West Indies would confer on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.
The prominent, disciplined businessman was a keen horse racer and breeder. He was Chairman of the Betting Levy Board and received a Jetsam Award for his outstanding contribution to racing. His successful local steeds made him often a number one in the “sport of kings”, and he was a regular at Ascot. Naz Ahamad lived and loved life. He remembered his friends’ birthdays and would call them regularly, even from his many trips abroad. A benefactor who contributed to numerous charitable causes without public acclamation or recognition, a family man and a caring friend, Naz Ahamad passed away in 2004 after a two-year battle with cancer. His legacy will be carried on by the many people whose lives he touched.