A Memoir - Ronald Harford’s Recollections of his Life as a Caribbean Banker
“Nil Illegitimi Carborundum - Don’t let the bastards grind you down!”
Guided by this motto (and a couple of others), Ronald Harford embarked at the age of 17 to become a banker in Trinidad and Tobago. His career at first Barclays Bank and then Republic Bank was to span more than five decades, and lead him to become the managing director and chairman of Republic Bank.
In this memoir he remembers some of the people he met along the way and the often hilarious moments that they experienced together. He also gives ample space to his family, friends, colleagues and business partners to share what they warned him would be “finally the truth about Ron”!
The photo on the back cover was taken at his farewell gala in December 2019, his last “official” act as outgoing chairman. He thought that it would be a fitting picture to invite readers to read about his life as a Caribbean banker.
Hardcover, size 7 x 10”, 378 pages, fully illustrated
Table of contents:
· Growing Up Years – Schooling, Childhood and Family
· Apprentice Years – Stints in Barbados, England, Grenada and Dominica
· Journeyman Years – Early career
· Becoming CEO – The CLICO Drama
· Master Years – Expanding Republic Bank into the Caribbean and Africa, Power to make a Difference Programme
· Golden Years – Involvement in non-Bank activities, travels and family life
· Index and Glossary
The book was printed by The Office Authority Limited, and was sponsored by Republic Bank Limited. It will be available in select local bookstores and internationally via online retailers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Bookshop. Proceeds will go to the Princess Elizabeth Home.
Mr. Harford’s career at Republic Bank, formerly Barclays Bank D.C.O., spanned 56 years from 1963–2019. During his tenure, beginning with post boy, he served in many different positions and under his supervision many of the present-day features of the financial system, such as credit cards and the Linx machine, were introduced to Trinidad and Tobago. He also spearheaded Republic Bank’s expansion into the wider Caribbean and even into Ghana, Africa, through the acquisition of other banks in various countries.
“Nil Illegitimi Carborundum” is his Memoir, told in the first person, in which he describes the highs and lows of his life in an approachable, easy-to-read language, often using the vernacular. It is a colourful book of an interesting life, and features many photographs of his personal collection.
Newsday 9 October 2022
Launch of “Nil Illegitimi Carborundum” Memoirs - Ronald Harford’s Recollections of his life as a Caribbean Banker.
Remarks – Anna-Maria Garcia-Brooks
Wednesday 5th October 2022, 10.30 am, Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I must start by congratulating our country’s newest author on the production of a masterpiece. I know that the production of this book was a gift to him and that writing his Memoirs might not have been at the top of his bucket list, but as he said somewhere during the journey to get us here, the downtime occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic provided the ideal opportunity to reflect and put thoughts to paper. So those thoughts are what we are here to launch and celebrate today. Congratulations Mr. Harford on this absolute treasure that is your Memoir.
The theme of the book “Nil Illegitimi Carborundum – Don’t let the Bastards Grind you Down!”, is so apt, as it reflects advice that Ron Harford clearly followed throughout his life, as he said in his Author’s Note, and which he gave generously to us then young and upcoming executives at Republic Bank. Often when he gave it, time permitting, it would be accompanied by the story of how he came upon the advice in the first place, sometimes spun with creative enhancements. For my part, I would listen with rapt attention, as I did with all the stories, as if hearing them for the first time. In a bizarre way, this advice brought me an unusual sense of relief and encouragement when I received it - relief in recognising that someone else understood that there was a challenge that had the potential to break me, and the encouragement that I didn’t have to let it. It said that my reaction to situations would be my choice. I could let the situation grind me down, or I could choose to rise above it. Ron Harford always reminded us how important it was to rise above; to take the high road, to not be drawn into petty, time-wasting squabbles; to be the bigger person – always, to think the long game and be long brained as he would say with his mischievous grin. Always give people their just due – be fair; acknowledge their contributions, celebrate them, be magnanimous. He taught us these lessons and many more by his words and actions. Working with him was like working with a driven, passionate yet caring professor from whom you learnt every day.
I had the great honour of reading this book prior to its final publication, at the author’s request. Truth and facts are very important to him, as are integrity and honesty. He wanted me to read and critique. To be brutally candid where I needed to be, point out areas that, from my perspective, should be changed and of course to pick up any grammar and syntax issues – “just give honest feedback”, he said, “I value your views”. So feedback I gave.
I must confess that I originally started reading the book while seated at my desk in my home office, approaching it like an editing task, not expecting what I was to encounter. However, knowing the gentleman as I do, I should have anticipated what was to come. It wasn’t a task at all; it was the most entertaining and enjoyable read that I’ve had in a very long time. I would burst into spontaneous uncontrollable peals of laughter at the accounts told by a most accomplished storyteller; be shocked and even mortified by his candour in recalling some events; and reflect thoughtfully on his analysis of situations.
So, after reading the first part of “The Growing up Years” and realising how entertaining and how much humour resided within its pages, I abandoned my desk and set aside a couple of hours each night, sitting in my bed, propped against some comfy pillows, armed with yellow post-it slips and pen to make notes, and read to be entertained, as well as to critique; to reminisce, to learn of new adventures and to live vicariously through others. His voice could be heard in every word, every sentence and every paragraph written. The experience was like stepping back in time and imagining what life might have been like in the 1940’s and 50’s in Port of Spain, Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean. It was visualising myself in some of the situations in which he found himself and wondering what I might have done. It was a remarkable stroll down memory lane. It seemed that adventure followed him, or maybe he just found the adventure in all that he did. He always told us to have fun doing our work and to spend time exploring, wherever we went, learning the history of places – whether on business or pleasure.
The experience of reading this book was akin to listening to him tell the stories – the expressions are authentically his. This is Ron Harford.
He is so well travelled and well read, and has visited so many parts of the world, that when he speaks about them, his contributions are from actual experience. I remember that when I had to travel to Petit Martinique for the opening of our branch there, he told me to take the ferry, which was really a pirogue in disguise, and go across to PSV Island and drive around in the golf cart to see where the movie stars stay when they visit. He told me don’t be surprised when the plane is landing in Carriacou to see men running helter skelta out onto the tarmac to shoo away the goats, and he was correct – it happened exactly as he described it. When my sons were children, and I told him that Gerry and I were taking them to the south of England on holiday, he told me to make sure and take them to pick strawberries, to run in the fields and to walk around Stone Henge. And for each of these recommendations there would be a wonderfully amusing story attached.
During my reading of this book, one night around 11.30 pm, after drying my eyes, having emerged from a fit of uncontrollable laughter from one of his humorous quips, I decided to send a What’s App message to Mr. H., telling him just how much I was enjoying the book and what a delightful task he had given me. Having sent it and realising the lateness of the hour, I hoped that his phone was silenced, as my intention had not been to awaken him and Alison at that hour – it was just to reach out to say, “this is so much fun. Thank you”. I saw from the two blue ticks that he read the message sometime the next day and knew that he would have been amused by the feedback.
To say that I enjoyed one chapter more than another would be an untruth, but while the Growing up Years, the Apprentice Years and the Journeyman years intrigued me and sparked my imagination, it was the chapters on Becoming CEO and the Master Years that I connected with the best. Obviously because I related to those legs of the journey, along with all the other employees at the Bank.
That story of the Barclays manager who gave him the sage advice in Latin which now forms the theme of his memoirs, and many other stories with which he regaled us during our time, some of which are contained in the book, helped in their own way to build us, to mould us into the Republic culture and I daresay, to shape the culture itself. I remember thinking that his words will live on, when after a monthly sales meeting, sometime in 2006, Derwin, said to the team, “as the Chairman would say, let’s go and make a dollar!” Mr. H. always said that to us!
Stories are such an integral part of the shaping of organisational culture, of transmitting and sharing history, of building bonds of friendship that endure, of sharing who you are, of allowing people to see you – really see you beyond the facade, and as you would read in his memoirs, Ron Harford has had no qualms about letting people see him. What you see is what you get. He strategizes and plans for the future, but he doesn’t play mindless games. He is focused and pointed and would shoot 10 questions at you before you could answer the first.
It’s also fascinating the impact stories of events can have on your life and your actions. His account of how he found the old letters from Colonial Bank and took the initiative to protect them, hiding them safely at the back of the Bank’s vault and having the audacity to write on the box that they should not be removed, by order of Ronald F. deC. Harford was a tremendous inspiration to me. I was amazed that someone so young and so relatively junior, could be so audacious and authoritative – what a leader! The letters of course now form part of the UWI’s collection and are preserved for future generations.
I learnt a few lessons from that story though – I learnt about genuine initiative; foresight to see the future and to see the value of something that might have been underestimated; I learnt about the importance of protecting and preserving, and at the right time celebrating that which has been part of our history; of who we were, who we are and who we can become. But perhaps the most important and impactful lesson for me, was that regardless of who we are, or what our status might be, we each have a voice, and we can take action and ownership; we can make decisions and we don’t always have to get prior approval – sometimes just asking for forgiveness afterwards is enough – that’s another bit of advise that I sometimes followed. Mr. H. many of those lessons guided my life at the Bank and outside, and I thank you for them.
Apart from being a flawless, ingenious and entertaining storyteller, Ronald F. deC. Harford is a true Caribbean legend, and the stories contained in the pages of these memoirs are rich and a veritable treasure trove of lessons from which young, and not so young professionals could learn. Lessons on how to dream and to go after your dream; lessons in resilience, patience and playing the long game: lessons in dealing with difficult personalities; lessons in humility, acknowledging what you don’t know and the openness to learn from everyone; lessons in being gracious and recognising someone else’s strength and celebrating their successes; putting in the effort above and beyond what is expected of you; recognising and nurturing talent. In today’s business world, considerable time, effort and financial resources are invested in teaching supervisors, managers and even executives how to be mentors – in his time, Ron Harford did that naturally – its who he is, and while it’s not said explicitly in the book the reader gets that message from his actions.
Like his predecessors, especially Dunbar Mc Intyre and John Jardim, Victor Mouttet, Ronald Huggins and Lloyd Samaroo, all of whom I have had the pleasure of working alongside, Ron Harford has been a huge contributor to the growth and success of the Republic Bank that we know today. He scoffs at being called a visionary, but he is one. Very much a family man, whose wife, children, siblings, parents and relatives came first, I sometimes felt that Republic tied for first place in his heart. That enduring love for the organisation was compelling and infectious. Those of us who worked closely with him felt it, we lived it and we embraced it ourselves –Nigel, David, Jackie, Karen, Tony, Derwin, Robert, Ainsworth and so many others.
So Mr. H, your memoirs are a treasure and a must read. Thank you for sharing your wonderful journey and adventures with the world through them and the honour of being a part of your journey. I shall never tire of reading these memoirs.
I thank you.
Remarks by Bridget Brereton, Professor Emerita of History, University of the West Indies
I first became aware of Ron Harford when I heard how, as a very young man working in the Port of Spain branch of Barclays Bank DCO, he’d rescued boxes containing correspondence dating back to the 1830s. This was from the Colonial Bank, Barclay’s predecessor here and included valuable historical source materials. He saved them from certain destruction and later donated them to the UWI Library (he tells the story briefly in his memoir). Naturally this convinced me he was a most unusual banker. Much later I learned—and saw for myself—what a consistent, generous and thoughtful friend of the University, including the ALJ Global School of Business, he had been over many decades.
Now Ron’s memoir is the record of his life mainly spent in banking, with what became Republic Bank, but I’m not here to talk about that. (Full disclosure: I don’t even bank there, except for a pathetically small account at the UWI branch.) Instead I want to think about what memoirs are and why they are valuable.
The word comes from the same root as memory, so a memoir is a person’s written memories of his/her life. Some memoirs deal only with a bit of the life, say a memoir of one’s youth and coming of age; Ron’s deals with his whole life from childhood to the present. In fact he goes further back to talk about his Grenadian forebears. (Grenadian people aren’t easy. There’s a very funny scene in the book where Ron has a dispute about a piece of land in Blanchisseuse with the late Karl Hudson-Phillips. It ends well only because they are both of Grenadian heritage.) Anyway, as it covers Ron’s whole life, it could equally be called an autobiography—a biography of oneself.
In this kind of life writing, the author crafts his own version of his story. It’s his truth, his choice of what he remembers and how, and of what he chooses not to remember, or at least not to write about. It’s how he orders his memories. Usually, someone who’s no longer young looks back and reflects on his life’s journey, its good and bad episodes. Nearly all memoirs or autobiographies, including Ron’s, are like that.
So a memoir or autobiography is very different from a biography, where someone’s life is researched and written by someone else. Often the subject is safely dead. With most biographies, an effort is made to achieve objectivity—as Oliver Cromwell told the painter who was doing his portrait, it must be “warts and all”. We don’t look for objectivity in a memoir, where we know that the author has chosen what memories to write about and how. This of course doesn’t mean that things have simply been made up, just that the author is free to shape his memories as he thinks best.
People have been writing memoirs for centuries, all over the world, and for many different reasons. Often they are not meant ever to be published or even to be read by anyone, or only by family. Perhaps the reason might be to reflect on your life, to make sense of it, to convey to your children what your life was like and where you came from. Or to meditate on your spiritual journey (many memoirs have been written for religious purposes).
People in public life—overwhelmingly men until quite recently—tend to write intending their memoir to be published and so to be read by a much wider group. Politicians are especially likely to write memoirs, often based on diaries they kept when they were involved in public life—I don’t know if Ron used diaries as a source or just relied on his memory. One motive for this kind of memoir is clearly to justify one’s life, defend and ‘big up’ one’s achievements, maybe put down one’s opponents. Some recent memoirs from prominent local politicians seem to fit that description.
Others who write memoirs intended for publication want to document their life and achievements so that others can learn from them, and to contribute to the history of the institutions they have been part of. This is a sort of archival purpose. Probably Ron’s book fits into this category.
I’m a historian, so I want to emphasise how valuable memoirs/autobiographies are as sources. Even unpublished memoirs, hand written, typed or word processed, can often be found in family possession, or in archives and libraries; if they’re published like Ron’s they are of course easily accessible. Memoirs are among the many kinds of written sources on which we can base the study of the past.
Needless to say, historians never read memoirs uncritically. We know all too well that they are carefully crafted representations of someone’s life. So we always seek corroboration from other sources, and if we can’t find any, we are cautious in how we incorporate material from a memoir into our research. Nevertheless, memoirs have always been recognized as important primary sources for the historian.
As I said, politicians, and more generally men who have been in public life, are especially likely to publish memoirs. Business people have been less so inclined. But in the subfield of business history and more generally economic history, memoirs and diaries by industrialists, merchants, financiers and bankers have been very important. Some go back to the 1500s, for European history.
Locally, we’ve begun to see the publication of memoirs, or biographies which are partly memoirs, by prominent businessmen…the late Anthony Sabga and Sidney Knox, for example, and Ken Gordon, happily still with us. My spies tell me that one by or about Mr Lok Jack is in the pipeline too. As a banker, Ron’s memoir fits into this trend, and provides a view of the financial side of business development in T&T and the Caribbean over the last half century.
So speaking now as a historian, as well as a friend and admirer of Ron, this memoir is very welcome. It makes a valuable contribution to understanding the economic history of the nation and region since Independence. It is also a lively read, with the unmistakable Harford voice and larger than life personality coming through very clearly. I congratulate Ron and Republic Bank on the appearance of this book and hope that many people read it.
(The speech was read by Mr. Harford's daughter, Kathryn Hosein.)
Presentation by Alice Besson (Producer of the Book) and Jacqueline Quamina, Derwin Howell, David Dulal-Whiteway, Mario Affonso, and Gregory Thomson (former RBL Colleagues of Mr. Harford)
One of the leitmotifs of the book is “flying in little rinky-dink planes in the Caribbean”.
You know what I mean right? Those one or two-propeller affairs, held together with spit and duct tape, that buzz around the islands and Guyana?
Well, I think I need to bring some witnesses on stage, long-standing sufferers who Ronald made to fly in those contraptions.
Would you please join me on stage: Jacqueline Quamina, Derwin Howll, David Dulal-Whiteway, Mario Affonso, and Gregory Thomson.
One day, Ronald arranged to go to Tobago to explain the rollout to a branch manager there. To Mario Affonso’s total shock, there on the tarmac stood a little one-engined four-seater propeller machine! It was a little plane that all bankers shared to transport work between Tobago and Trinidad.
“I sat down in total fright and watched Ron Harford like a child in the plane, fearless, enjoying himself. We went Tobago, we visited the branch, had lunch with Carl Chatoor, the manager, and talked our business. Then we had to fly back. By the time I got back to Trinidad, I was so scared out of my britches, I don’t think I ever wanted to travel after that. I got a long-lasting fear of flying out of that from which I never really recovered. But that was another side of Ron Harford: what I am getting you into, I am comfortable with it, and I am enjoying your discomfort. He used to have this Dennis the Menace little smile on his face—he knows you are uncomfortable and he is enjoying it! And you are miserable and vex with him because he is enjoying the fact that you are so miserable! But that was Ron Harford—he has this little childishness inside of him, still does.”
One thing that everybody seems to agree on is that if you are travelling with Ronald and walk through an airport, you had to RUN to keep up with him! Nobody walked as fast as he did!
“We always joke about travelling with Ronald. Ronald is one busybody! Going through an airport with him, we were always rushing to keep up with Ronald. He would be teeming going through the airport. After 9/11, they had all these additional security checks, and he used to say, ‘That’s okay for them, but they are not supposed to treat people like us like this too!’”
How did Ronald get his colleagues to climb into these sardine tins with wings? Here’s Jacqueline Quamina’s take:
“We were going to St. Vincent to look at a bank. It’s early morning, we are going on a private plane, and we went to the old airport in Piarco, myself, Gregory Thomson, Ron Harford. When I saw the plane that we were going in—a little yellow thing—I thought, “My God, we are going in THAT? Look at the size of it! I have a daughter at home, I really should not be going on a plane like this.” I don’t think I had ever been in such a small plane. I was waiting to see if Gregory was going to say anything, but he didn’t. So we went. Peer pressure! But I had never been so close to the clouds before than in that little yellow plane with four seats.”
Flying back from a branch visit to Linden in Guyana the pilot tried to find Ogle, the airport, without radar or GPS. Ronald instructed his colleagues Kamala Singh, Karen Yip Chuck and Richard Vasconcellos to look out the windows to find the airport in the misty darkness settling. Eventually, they spotted Ogle, and landed brushing the tops of the sugarcane fields. A member of the long-suffering team from Trinidad stepped off the plane, and kissing the ground, said, ‘Thank you Lord!’
And then there is the famous story of Gregory Thomson being dragged twice by Ronald across the Atlantic. In one day.
“Ronald actually did drag me twice across the Atlantic in one day! We flew from Trinidad to London, arriving early in the morning, and went straight to meetings with Barclays. They were coming out of their Caribbean branches, and we wanted to see if we could buy their interest in the region. Immediately after the main meeting at 3 or 4 o’clock, we were catching a flight from London to go to Toronto, and arrived in Canada at about 6 o’clock in the afternoon. When you are working with Ronald, time is of the essence! The next day, we had a meeting with Royal Bank, to try and see if we could buy Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, RBTT. So the first day we tried to buy Barclays, the next day Royal. “Action in their tail!” as Ronald says!”
One another occasion, coming back from Barbados with Roop, Derwin Howell and Charles Mouttet, here’s what happened. Fasten your seatbelts!
“Coming back from a Board meeting in Barbados, our flight was delayed and Ronald got Bizzy Williams to lend us his plane to take us back to Trinidad. The plane was much smaller than we thought it would be; it could only hold four people. There was a big couch this way, and two seats that way, and there were the pilots’ seats. We got into the plane, I lounged in the back on the sofa and Charles got the co-pilot’s seat. As we went up, we realised that the one of the windows wasn’t functioning properly, we were trying to close it, and suddenly it blew out! So there we were, travelling at 3,000 feet, cold breeze BLAZING! I was getting the full blast, but Ronald was determined to go to Trinidad! Then the pilot asked, “What’s going on? The plane is decompressing!” Ronald said, “Well, the window is blown out!” So he circled around and eventually came back in. But Ronald wasn’t taking that as a no, and the pilot said that they would fix the window and in about an hour we could take off again. Well—we weren’t going anywhere with Ronald! We had to go and stay in a hotel, and eventually the regular flight left at 5 a.m. the following morning. We didn’t get much sleep that night!”
So these are some of the stories of flying all over the Caribbean in little rinky-dink planes. You will have to read the book to find out about how Ronald had to sit under an umbrella in a leaking plane flying to Suriname on a rainy day. Or how David had to fit into the toilet of a plane coming back from the Cayman Islands. And many other weird adventures!
Thank you for contributing to the book …. And for living to tell the tale!