Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 21st 2014 Contents A33
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
When Raoul John and Kenrick
Nobbee first knew each other their
interactions didn t suggest they
would develop a bond that would
last more than 50 years.
Nobbee was a skinny Lower Six
student in QRC and John---one year
ahead---was in charge of the
school s chess club. In 1964 John
became T&T s first junior chess
champion. He had considerable
passion for the game and thought
the other boys playing draughts
was a waste of the checkerboard.
"If Raoul came and ketch you
he used to just...," Nobbee said in
a recent interview, making a sweep-
ing movement with his hands to
demonstrate how John would
snatch the board. "He wouldn t
even ask you please; he would just
grab it and take it away."
John, looking on, joined Nobbee
in laughing at the memory.
"I will thank him for getting me
to learn to play chess," Nobbee
continued. "But we were never
really that friendly."
Last September, the two men
gathered with ten others to cele-
brate the experience that would
make them friends and which they
all felt had a lasting impact on their
lives and careers.
In 1963, the year after T&T
became independent, sugar giant
Caroni Ltd, a major provider of
employment, was managed by
mainly white expats. "A set of short
khaki pants, tall socks people" is
how former Caroni manager now
chairman of Witco, Anthony Phillip
Then prime minister Dr Eric
Williams felt this situation couldn t
continue in the newly independent
nation and talked to representatives
of British sugar manufacturers Tate
and Lyle, which owned Caroni,
about doing something about it.
They organised an ambitious
programme to change the management
face of Caroni, making it more repre-
sentative of post-colonial T&T.
Every year between 1964 and 1969,
promising young people---at the time
all men---chosen from a pool of appli-
cants were sent to work at Tate and
Lyle interests in the UK for up to three
years while they studied part time at
technical institutions, in fields that com-
plemented their work experience. They
were expected to come back to work at
Caroni in managerial positions.
It was an experiment of sorts,
unprecedented in T&T, and the young
men---most freshly out of secondary
school---went on to make great contri-
butions at Caroni and other companies.
Anthony Phillip and Christopher
Knowles, who worked for Caroni then
later Tate and Lyle in England and Saudi
Arabia, were among the seven chosen
in the first year of the programme. They
worked, along with another Trinidadian,
at a T&L refinery in east London while
studying chemistry from 1964 to 1967.
John, once the head of the Elections
& Boundaries Commission and the
Chamber of Industry and Commerce,
and Nobbee, the former estate manager
at UWI, met up in Glasgow, Scotland,
where they worked at sugar machinery
manufacturer A and W Smith and Co
Ltd, a subsidiary of Tate and Lyle, and
studied mechanical engineering from
1965 to 1968.
Lloyd Walters, who spent 36 years at
Caroni and now runs two businesses
of his own, worked at T&L s Thames
refinery while studying chemistry in
London during the same period.
Ellery Ng Wai, an in-demand pack-
aging specialist who worked at various
major companies after he left Caroni,
joined John, Nobbee and five other
Trinidadians in Glasgow, where he
worked and studied from 1967 to 1970.
Former Caroni CEO Chandra Bobart
was also among the first recruits and
studied and worked in Glasgow from
"It was transformational as far as I m
concerned," said Phillip, who spent five
years at Caroni as a chemist and pro-
duction manager before going on to the
production department at WITCO,
eventually becoming managing director.
He retired in 2006.
"I always describe that experience
in England as the cornerstone of my
career," he said. "We were exposed to
a different culture, a different environ-
ment. We were working with technology
that was state of the art. When I left
there I had such a wide variety of skills.
I was knowledgeable about so many
The programme ended but the men s
connection to it and each other didn t.
Nobbee and John met up again while
John was studying math and Nobbee
engineering and production manage-
ment at the University of Strathclyde
in Glasgow. They both later worked for
With the exception of John and one
other, all the trainees worked at Caroni
for various lengths of time before taking
up other professional opportunities,
keeping in touch and coming together
for the occasional reunion.
This year they wanted to do some-
thing special for the programme s golden
anniversary. Twelve of them travelled
to Tobago for a weekend that included
dinner at the Kariwak Village Hotel in
At a joint interview with the T&T
Guardian, John, Nobbee, Phillip, Walters,
Bobart, Knowles and Ng Wai came
together again and shared stories.
Phillip showed a photo of him,
Knowles and another trainee in their
overalls on the roof of the London refin-
ery where they worked, their frames
slim, their faces boyish. He recalled the
challenge of coming back home and
taking up managerial responsibilities at
a young age. He remembered the first
time he was left in charge of a section
of one factory by his English boss.
"He was with me until about 6 pm.
He then said, Well I can t stand up here
and continue holding your hand, young
Philip. I m gone. Well, I almost panic
and run out the door! A sugar factory
is huge, noisy, with lots of things going
on, steam hissing, machinery and people
working. And you are in control. You
mess it up if you make a mistake."
Caroni, the source of controversy for
decades after the government took con-
trol in 1970, became less viable and
finally closed its doors in 2003. But it
left its mark in many ways, including
on the first Trinis who were trained to
"I seldom think about it," Christopher
Knowles said of his training experience.
"And the reason why that happens
is because it is part of me. It s like grow-
ing up and learning to ride a bicycle.
You don t think about that learning
phase. It was a part of my life, a very
pleasant part and very informative."
Caroni ties that span five decades
Christopher Knowles, Colin Farnum and Anthony Phillip at the Tate and Lyle
refinery at Plaistow, east London, in 1966.
PHOTOS COURTESY ANTHONY PHILLIP
It was an experiment,
unprecedented in T&T,
and the young men---
most freshly out of
on to make great
contributions at Caroni
and other companies.
See Page A34
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