“My father would help you get a piece of sports equipment rather than buy you a pair of trousers. I shared his vision as I encouraged all four of my children to play sport. “
By Rawle Welch
Even before I received the confirmation to conduct this interview I had to agree to a couple of conditions which I unreservedly settled for because I knew that it was worth it.
This is not to say that I experienced any difficulty getting the approval, but it was just a true reflection of the man, who clearly stated that he was not one to enjoy being in the limelight, but rather prefers to keep a low profile.
His six-feet plus imposing physical stature contradicts his restrained and easy-going nature and it is those traits that have made him into one of the most respected individuals in every sphere of life that he has entered and thoroughly deserving of the ‘Special Person’ accolade.
Christopher “Chris” Fernandes, the twelfth child of 14, born to John and Alda Fernandes on November 17, 1944, lived on Lamaha Street, North Cummingsburg, where he remained until the age of four, before the family moved to Subryanville, where they still reside.
“I had seven brothers and a similar amount of sisters, including a twin that followed me, and it was a great experience having growing up in such a large family,” Fernandes reflected.
He said that they were brought up knowing that they had a certain social responsibility which was instilled in them at an early age and an important feature in life that he has passed on to his children.
Fernandes explained that their upbringing was of such that none of them smoked or drank.
The current Chairman and CEO of John Fernandes Ltd, a shipping business that was started by his father John Fernandes Sr., Chris said that his father, who he credits for his success in life, was an ardent lover of sport and very early encouraged all his children to participate in sport.
“My father would help you get a piece of sports equipment rather than buy you a pair of trousers. I shared his vision as I encouraged all four of my children, who are all boys (Alan, David, Philip and Stephen), to play sport.
My father always felt that after school it was imperative that you find time to play and we got involved in many disciplines such as football, cricket, volleyball, basketball and hockey, and a few of us went on to play at a very high level.”
The former St. Stanislaus student, who is now Chairman of the Board of Directors, still is a fervent supporter of sport and is known to have held many influential positions in the administrative arm of various Associations and Clubs.
Clearly more comfortable talking about sports, Fernandes became a regular member of his school football team, after which he joined the Georgetown Football Club (GFC) in 1962 and represented them both in football and hockey at the local and regional levels.
He admitted that even though the club had added a hockey component, his concentration was more on football, and he was among the youngest players to make the GFC First Division team, playing alongside the likes of Gerry Gouveia, who was Captain at the time, Mike Mitchell, Winston Callender, Rudolph ‘Chow’ Hunte, Steve Xavier and Frank Soares.
The sturdily-built Executive, who holds the distinction of being the Captain of the club on more occasions than anyone else, revealed that he was eventually coerced into joining the hockey unit at the club and played his first international game against the USA in 1970.
However, as captain he had already toured with the club in 1967 on the football team where they played against some of the top teams in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Grenada. The Club also hosted a number of its counterparts such as Leo Victor of Suriname, the top Trinidad team at the time, Maple and
Texaco, and the Dauntless Football Club from Grenada.
Fernandes, who never represented Guyana in football was called to trials, but confessed that he didn’t make the final selection. He captained Georgetown teams in the inter-district competitions on numerous occasions.
An acknowledged realist, Fernandes said that he went to Germany in 1974 to witness the World Cup and after recognising the high standard of the players there, realised that Guyana’s football was ‘just scratching the surface’. He retired shortly after to concentrate on hockey.
“Cecil ‘Skip’ Roberts was kind of a mentor to me and we teamed up to have the National Hockey team participate in the Pan Am Games in Cali, Colombia in 1971. Guyana had not participated internationally in Hockey for over ten years. We did not do well, but it marked a return to international competition.”
He added that the foreign exposure benefited the team immensely since they learnt quickly and improved their understanding of the new systems in the game which made them a much more experienced and formidable team.
According to Fernandes, in 1972, Guyana hosted the Caribbean Championships involving Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. Guyana won the tournament, playing unbeaten in the process.
“It was agreed at a meeting had during the tournament that it should be held every two years. Jamaica was the next stop in 1973, with Mexico being included. Once again we played unbeaten in the round-robin segment, before losing a hard-fought final by a 1-0 margin against the host Jamaica which I have my personal views about, but that is history,” Fernandes recounted.
He said that the team’s performance was so outstanding that the Jamaicans, whose economy was very buoyant at the time, decided to invite Guyana the following year, and after learning that the Guyanese could not afford to come, undertook to pay the airfare for half of the team.
The senior Fernandes, who started his hockey career around the age of 18, eventually retired after returning from the 1975 Pan Am Games in Mexico to take up coaching.
He was instrumental in procuring a top Canadian Coach Patrick Burrowes, whom he credits for improving the game in Guyana during the ‘90s.
Still a bit reticent when asked to talk about the business aspect of his life, Fernandes nonetheless sure that it was not all sport that had benefited from his sojourn on earth, acquiesced to the request.
“When I left school I went to work with Geddes Grant in 1962 selling agricultural chemicals, since I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. I worked there until 1966, the same year I got married to my wife Desiree, before I left to work at John Fernandes Insurance Services until 1982.”
Fernandes disclosed that his involvement in the company came when his father died in 1982, which was followed by the migration of Company Secretary Carl Xavier. His departure had left a bit of a void in the company, forcing the family to decide that it was time for him to play a more significant role in the business. Chris was hence appointed the Director/Secretary of John Fernandes Ltd.
Following the retirement of his elder brother Bunny in 1992, he then became the Chairman/CEO, a designation he still holds today.
A man who undoubtedly has done a lot for sport in the country, Chris Fernandes has also excelled in the field of business and is well respected for his prudent decisions and advice, within the Private Sector and other leading institutions.
His astute leadership has seen him hold prominent positions in many of them and that special quality has also been evident in the current standing of the company he runs right now.
He, however, did reveal that he will be retiring at the end of the year from the direct day-to-day operation, but will still be involved in special projects and be around to oversee the smooth transition to the new CEO.
“It is a family business, and even when I retire I will not be going to play golf, but rather will be sticking around to manage the transition,” Fernandes said.
He indicated that he hopes to find the time to do more in other areas, such as involvement in the St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital rebuilding project, in which he is the Chairman of the Improvement Committee. He also holds the Chairmanship of the Guyana Red Cross and the Board of Governors of St. Stanislaus College, and is Vice-Chairman of the Guyana Business Coalition, all important posts which intertwine in a packed social timetable.
Fernandes has also been recognised for his outstanding contribution to national life and was awarded The Golden Arrow of Achievement (A.A.) in 2002 and the Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
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