Special Features
January 31, 2014
Entrepreneurs of St Vincent and the Grenadines – Cyril D Veira

By Luke Browne Fri, Jan 31, 2014

You may be surprised to know that business legend Cyril D Veira was not born with a gold spoon in his mouth and that he actually had to overcome some financial challenges on his way to the pinnacle of professional achievement. It wasn’t always smooth sailing by any means, but Mr Veira did very well in the corporate world principally because of his great discipline and extraordinary work ethic.{{more}}

This man facilitated the entry of the internationally famous Singer Corporation into the St Vincent and the Grenadines market. Singer was world renowned for its sewing machines and Mr Veira applied successfully for the post of salesman-collector when the company decided to set up a store here in 1956. In those days there was a Barbados-based Manager for all Singer stores in the OECS.

Mr Veira was repeatedly recognized for exceptional sales performance in the company’s regional publications. He routinely produced excellent results and earned the confidence of the corporate directorate. CD, as he was called for short, placed the company in a very good local position through dedicated service and demonstrated that he was a business leader of great merit in his own right. This opened the way for him to become the Manager of Singer SVG when that post was created in 1967 and to acquire an independent dealership which was not confined to sewing machines or standard Singer products around 1974.

C D Veira came into this world on September 29, 1923. He grew up in Campden Park – which was described as a hotbed of social unrest and one of the roughest areas in mainland St Vincent at the time. In fact, the 1935 riots erupted right before his childhood eyes. He actually lived in a house from where aspects of the riots were reportedly orchestrated and this experience may have ensured that the boy who was on a path to business ownership had a social conscience.

Cyril’s mother migrated early on to Trinidad and left him in the care of his aunt (Mable Sardine); his father lived in the United States and was therefore not around. He went to a Catholic primary school but didn’t get the chance to attend secondary school. However, CD had natural intelligence and seems to have had the benefit of a few fairly advanced accounting courses somewhere along the line, in addition to the formal training he received when Singer took him on board.

Mr Veira actually started his career as a clerk for Nanton and Layne, which was a subsidiary of United Traders Ltd. and which was located in the Sprotts Building. He worked with this company for several years before he moved to the USA in 1954. He obtained a green card with little hassle but after just one year abroad he decided to return to his Vincentian homeland. His heart was here. St Vincent and the Grenadines was his land of opportunity and, for him, had the greenest pastures. There was simply no place like home and he relished the prospect of making a difference here and contributing to change and economic development in the land of his birth.

On his return home, Mr Veira resumed work at Nanton and Layne, whose parent company (United Traders Ltd.) was actually Singer’s overseas agent in SVG at the time. He found out through his professional contacts that the sewing machine conglomerate was interested in setting up a local store and wanted a salesman-collector. He ultimately secured that job, as we have already noted, and was trained in Barbados by the company. He never looked back.

Mr Veira started life with Singer and life as a married man almost simultaneously in 1956. These were his two marriages – in one case the result was that Ruby Murphy from Lowman’s Hill became Ruby Veira, and in the other case Cyril Veira became popularly known as “Singer” Veira. By the way, Mrs Veira did not play a passive role in the business. She took initiative in many things and was a stabilizing force.

The first Singer shop was located at the current site of the Eat Rite restaurant. The store subsequently moved to the Lyric Building before it settled at the present site in 1960. Singer was the only company of its kind in SVG, and it introduced hire purchase to the local market. This retail chain may well have been the first hire purchase corporation in the world. In SVG, it enjoyed a very healthy 95 percent collection rate. Vincentians paid their bills!

Singer was able to conquer the local market in a way that it wasn’t able to do in other OECS countries because of Mr Veira’s remarkable salesmanship. The gentleman simply poured his heart into his work to the point where his work ethic is the stuff of Vincentian folklore. C D Veira was nicknamed “work jumbie” by Carnival revelers who usually saw him at work in the Singer store when they were going to and from late night parties, and also when they were on their way to J’Ouvert. The work jumbie was similarly at his office during the Christmas season when Vincentians were heading to Nine Mornings. He especially enjoyed working in the early morning hours, and late at night, when there was little disturbance and seems to have spent more time at work than he did at home. Cyril D Veira was simply the standard of hard work – it was an unqualified compliment if someone said that you worked as hard as C D Veira.

According to a newspaper obituary (from the Searchlight of February 9, 1996), there was a time in the sixties, after Singer had expanded its product line to include general household appliances, when Mr Veira miraculously delivered 50 refrigerators one-by-one on the back of a small station wagon to customers in just the two days before Christmas! He was forced to perform this incredible act of wonder because of the late arrival of a shipment.

Mr Veira’s passion for hard work and dedication to his company has been transmitted to his descendants. Carol Veira, his granddaughter, was seen driving a delivery truck herself during the 2013 Christmas season. This was consistent with the fact that as soon as Ian, CD’s son and Carol’s uncle, left school his father gave him a pick-up which he had to use to carry out delivery services. The family members were obviously taught from the outset that they were not beyond the performance of any duty.

When Singer offered to sell Mr Veira their local business on easy terms in the mid-seventies, as something of a reward for nearly 20 years of service, some people tried to discourage him from buying it. He was asked to consider what would happen when every household had a sewing machine, and he was told that there must be a reason why Singer was pulling out. However, the very sensible businessman was reassured by the manager of Singer Barbados who told him that there would not be an appreciable reduction in the demand for sewing machines or the other products on sale during his lifetime. That was all the encouragement he needed.

Mr Veira financed the purchase of the business with a loan from Barclays Bank. A couple years later (in 1978) he purchased the property from his landlords, and then in the following year he acquired an adjoining lot, which he later rented to the Bank of Nova Scotia. This rapid property acquisition led to some cash flow challenges and credit issues, but the enterprise was quickly placed on a sound financial footing and business prospered.

Veira’s Singer capitalised at one stage on fiscal incentives which were available under Pioneer Status legislation to set up an assembly plant for cookers and refrigerators in the Campden Park Industrial Estate. The company tried its hand in several other areas and Singer has evolved over the years into a very valuable multi-faceted entity that offers much more than just sewing machines. Singer SVG is now formally owned by C D Veira Ltd. and it is the only surviving Singer store in the OECS.

C D Veira definitely worked hard, but he was not all about work. He found time for his family, he was a father who taught his children that honesty is the best policy, and one who told them—with words and by his example—that if they were going to do something, they should do it to the best of their ability. CD’s favourite pastime was probably playing draughts. He was a champion draughts player and at the time of his death he was president of the Draughts Association which he helped to create. Incidentally, this Draughts Association recently honoured him for his contribution to the game. Also, Mr Veira was the captain of the Campden Park Steel Band as a young man, and he had a special interest in jewelry and cars.

Cyril D Veira, the entrepreneur, established a company that has withstood the test of time and whose future is in the capable hands of his children and grandchildren. This business icon may have died on February 1, 1996, but his legacy is alive and well.