Special Features
February 7, 2014
Entrepreneurs of St Vincent and the Grenadines – Ormond Cyril “OC” Forde

By Luke Browne Fri, Feb 07, 2014

Mr Ormond Cyril “OC” Forde was not like the modern day American bankers who paid themselves extremely high salaries and exorbitant bonuses while they wrecked their companies and the economy. On the contrary, Mr Forde was a man who established two major financial institutions (the St Vincent Building and Loan Association and the St Vincent Cooperative Bank Ltd.) which played, and continue to play, crucial and constructive economic roles and he managed these important entities at the outset without a salary. Similarly, O C Forde was supported in this work by an elite group of Vincentians who initially served as company directors without fees. Mr Forde and his colleagues were outstanding pioneers in the financial services sector and they made a vital collective contribution to our overall national development.{{more}}

Ormond Forde was the son of a Barbadian-born pharmacist (William C Forde) who moved to St Vincent just before the dawn of the twentieth century and found a wife here. The migrant pharmacist and his bride (Emily Forde née Hackshaw) had several children who distinguished themselves in business, law, surveying and the public service. They could not afford to send OC to study abroad when he came of age because they had already mortgaged their property to allow one of his elder brothers, O W Forde, to attend law school.

OC was therefore left with basically no choice but to join O W Forde’s Law Chambers as a solicitor’s clerk right after he left the St Vincent Grammar School. While he was a clerk, Mr Forde made his entrée into the world of finance when he became a foundation member and secretary of a Friendly Society that was registered in 1937 and which offered sickness and death benefits. This Friendly Society is still around and it is now known as the Employees Benevolent Association (EBA). The EBA introduced a secondary school scholarship in 1950 and the Honourable Speaker of the OECS Assembly, Ms René Baptiste, was the recipient of this award in 1963. Today, the Employees Benevolent Association has weekly dues of 35 cents per member and a death benefit is $1,500.00.

Mr Forde did not plan to be a clerk in his brother’s office for all the days of his life. He gained valuable insight on financial administration issues from his work with the Friendly Society and saw the need to provide broader financial services. There was a regional movement for the creation of building societies in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and Mr Forde left his post in the law firm and started the St Vincent Building and Loan Association on July 4, 1941. Building and Loan provided long term home mortgages.

O C Forde had no money of his own to use as startup capital and the sad reality of those days was that his somewhat dark complexion did not win him any wealthy sympathizers, even though he obviously had the ideas and drive necessary for business success in his chosen field. The prospect of the enterprise attracting investors was significantly enhanced after Mr Forde recruited Alfred “Fred” Hazell from the plantocracy to his cause. Fred Hazell was a big drawing card. Mr Hazell actually didn’t have money per se, but his name and skin tone were “worth something” and his association with the new venture was beneficial from the company’s standpoint. It was a credit to Fred Hazell that despite his prestigious social status he was actually a rugged down-to-earth guy who was prepared to help address the financial needs of poor people and to in effect destroy socio-economic barriers to credit.

Alfred Hazell was Building and Loan’s first president and its first manager was none other than O C Forde. The company’s board of directors was full of local luminaries, such as Robert Milton Cato, Val Archer and Rudolph Baynes. Mr Forde’s ability to build a great team that comprised well-respected and astute merchants, legislators and citizens in general was central to his success. He was also known for his meticulous record keeping and careful attention to details.

Soon after Building and Loan was up and running, Mr Forde decided to extend even further the scope of his financial sector involvement. He teamed up once more with his colleagues from Building and Loan and launched the St Vincent Cooperative Bank Ltd. to provide general financial services in the mid-1940s. The bank was incorporated on October 18, 1944 and then officially opened for business on February 1, 1945. It was just the second fully locally owned and operated bank and it was nicknamed “Forde Bank” and “Penny Bank” after its founder (who true to form also served as its first manager) and because it catered for the “man on the street” who probably could not afford to save more than a penny at a time.

The Friendly Society, Building and Loan and the Cooperative Bank all shared office space downstairs O W Forde’s Law Chambers (near the former Toni’s Pizza Uptown site) for some time. They also basically had common management, a common board of directors, a common vault, and a common goal – to help poor people save from whatever little they had to improve their financial security. These three entities worked hand-in-hand.

In 1952, they all moved together from their original office to 108 Halifax Street (where Building and Loan is still based). This property was bought independently by Building and Loan but the Cooperative Bank was also housed there until 1974, when the Bank purchased and moved to the corner property in Middle Street right next to Edwin D Layne and Sons. By this time, OC was one year into his retirement and had been replaced by his son Mr Kenneth Forde. Later on, the bank bought the Blue Caribbean building in which its offices now are and from where the business of the Friendly Society is conducted.

After his retirement, OC served as president of the St Vincent Cooperative Bank up to the time of his death. Kenneth Forde picked up from where his father left off as the bank’s chief executive officer and admirably managed the institution for over 30 years until he himself retired in 2007 and was replaced by Mrs Laverne Velox. Mrs Velox is still the manager today and she has continued the organization’s tradition of excellent financial management and corporate stewardship.

O C Forde was described in a statement by the bank as “a visionary who saw an opportunity in the [1940s] to service the credit needs of the majority of Vincentians who at that time faced difficulties in obtaining loans and banking services from the international [banks] operating in St Vincent and the Grenadines.” The statement went on to say that “Only a privileged few qualified for such services while a large market existed for the banking needs of the many. The St Vincent Cooperative Bank was therefore created to meet the needs of the many and the niche filled by the bank became so large over time that the bank now has more savings accounts than any other bank in St Vincent and the Grenadines.” This bank benefits considerably from inter-generational family loyalties because of the fundamental difference it made to the lives of its early clients.

O C Forde’s business interests were not restricted to his involvement in financial institutions. He owned a small estate with about ten acres of land and his father-in-law owned the Hopewell Estate. Mr Forde was involved in a record 106 property transactions between 1952 and 1983. OC, who at one point had a stake in a candy factory, tried almost everything. He worked hard and made the sacrifices necessary for success.

Mr Forde was not just about business, he was much more broadly interested in social justice. Accordingly, he solicited financial donations on behalf of George McIntosh after Mr McIntosh was charged with treason and sent to jail in Grenada. OC found time to relax despite his hectic schedule and he spent many recreational hours with a gentleman by the name of Horace Crichton who was one of his closest friends. They were more like riding partners.

As you would imagine, O C Forde gave his children sound financial advice. For instance, he told them that, as a general rule of thumb, if they took a loan and multiplied the number of years for repayment by the interest rate and found that the answer was a number more than 100, they were “spinning top in mud.” Kenneth Forde lamented the fact that in today’s world people tend to spend money “before they get it” and he said that this was not consistent with his father’s prudential guidelines.

Mr Forde was an exemplary banker and financial officer from whom we could all learn a lot, and this is why the annual O C Forde Memorial Lecture Series which deals with matters related to the control and management of financial institutions was launched in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2013. Mr Forde adhered to good financial management principles and supervised consistent growth in his companies for almost 50 years all told, and he left them on a sound footing. Ormond Cyril Forde was born on September 15, 1908 and he died on December 21, 1983 when he was 75 years old. We will remember him.