Sir Joseph Quentin Charles
Sir Joseph Quentin Charles
Born: 25th November, 1908, Soufriere, St. Lucia
After attending the Soufriere Boys Primary School Sir Joseph Quentin Charles attended St. Mary’s College on a government scholarship. Following his first job as a clerk at Minvielle & Chastanet Ltd., in 1933 he branched out on his own into an import-export enterprise, opening his first grocery shop next to the Castries Market.
In 1934 Charles married Ms. Albertha Yorke, and three years later, along with Sir Allen Lewis, Mr. George Palmer, Mr. J. B. D. Osborne, Mr. Clive Beaubrun, Mr. Joseph Deveaux and Mr. J. H. Pilgrim he established the St. Lucia Cooperative Bank, on whose Board of Directors he would serve for the next 43 years, including six as President.
On December 27th, 1984 Joseph Quentin Charles was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II with the honor of Knight Bachelor for Services to business and the community.
Source: J.Q Charles Group of Companies
Sir Joseph Quintin Charles
Individualist, introvert, adventurous and, thrifty. Joseph Quintin Charles, held his own counsel. He was his own man. No social gadfly. No seeker after fame, but single-mindedly a seeker after fortune. He never followed the pack but watched them critically from a distance with the quiet self-assurance that he was invariably on the right track. J.Q. heard his own drum and was cynical about the out-of-step march of the rest of the world.
Born in 1908 in the quaint town of Soufriere, he won a scholarship to St. Mary’s College in 1920. On leaving St. Mary’s he was apprenticed to Monplaisir and company, wholesale and retail provision merchants. J .Q. worked hard as a young apprentice, he learnt every aspect of the business, especially the shipping procedures. Soon he was ready to launch into his own business, trading in produce and fruit which he shipped to Canada on “Lady Boats” “during the war years. His battered old Remington typewriter faced a relentless two-finger prodding well into the night on the corner of High Street and Brogile Street. The young trader typed his orders and invoices and diligently pursued his career as a businessman. J.Q. always played his cards so close to his chest that his moves in the business world always confused his colleagues. Soon, his husiness started to florish as J.Q. expanded his overseas contacts moved into areas like confectionary, hardware, cigarettes and a host or consumer items which he sold but never usecd himself. This spartan merchant was not given to self-indulgence or any hint or consumerism. He liked ordinary creole bread, but felt that imported jam was a luxury that he should not indulge in while local guava jelly was available. The man-on-the street quietly observed his expansion and a local jingle hit the Castries streets:
Three cheers for J.Q.C.
Lighthouse matches and BDV
While his contemporaries enjoyed some of the delights of living in the “fast lane” of the forties, this ambitious young merchant had a different persona. He was tall, lumbering. pensive and always wrapped in deep thought listening to his own drum,scheming and planning to stay ahead of the pack. While St. Lucians were busy adjusting to the deprivation and inconveniences brought about by the depression during, World War Two. J.Q. pulled off a master deal by purchasing the whole of Choc Estate for the sum of 8000 pound sterling. A sizeable sum of money for a young black businessman to find in 1941 when there was only Barclays Bank to service the needs of the plantocracy and the predominantly white business world. St. Lucian found it difficult to comprehend the boldness and the vision of this young entrepreneur who held his own counsel, never tried to storm the bastion of the exclusively white Castries Club, and looked as if he was unconcerned about the competition.
Gregarious, fun-loving St. Lucians, never warmed to the high seriousness and the cards-to-the-chest secrecy of J.Q. Charles. His progress in the business world was slow, sure footed and relentless, underpinned by some homespun philosophy –
“It’s not the amount of profit you make in business, it’s the amount of it you can save.”
Folks saw this back-store wisdom as an expression of meanness and a thrift which bordered on greed, but J.Q.’s purchase of Choc Estate during a worldwide depression pointed sharply at his remarkable vision, and the fact that his relentless parsimony was an effective device for re-investment. St. Lucians were particularly cynical of this black young entrepreneur’s boldness in purchasing Choc Estate. They felt he was pushy, far too acquisitive: he hung his hat higher than he should aspire to; and some of his competitors waited with bated breath to chronicle his collapse, because they were convinced that he was biting off more than he could chew! The argument seemed to be on their side because Choc Estate in those war years produced little, and the only income which it generated was from a rudimentary milk-delivery cart which brought fresh milk to Castries homes every morning. But the inventive J.Q., acutely aware of the local reaction, kept listening to his own drum. He marched overseas and was able. to pick up an order for cocoa at a surprisingly good price and immediately arranged to purchase all the cocoa produced in St. Lucia at what was regarded as an incredibly good price. The acquisition of the Estate had helped to catapult J.Q. into the planter class and this fed on a deep-seated affinity he had for land, agriculture and the production of primary products.
At this point in time J.Q. Charles weathered the depression and found some relief in the post war boom. When he was fairly confident that his capital base was secure enough and that he would give no satisfaction to those who were hoping for his collapse, he sprung yet another surprise by moving into the sphere of Community Service. He became a founder member of the St. Lucia Cooperative Bank, serving as a director for forty-three years and as President of the Bank for ten of those forty-three years. J.Q. was fiercely proud of the “Penny Bank”. In his struggles as an entrepreneur he suffered greatly from the scarcity of capital in St. Lucia and the pro-white sympathies of bank managers at the time. J.Q. saw the “Penny Bank” as the most effective engine of growth in the community. He would often invite persons to consider the property structure in St. Lucia and observe the dominant role of the Penny Bank in financing acquisitions and long-term business propositions. Despite the fact that he served with Miss Grace Augustin as a founder member of the Banana Association, and he also served as a director of the Coconut Growers Association and a member the Castries Town Board, none of these stints of service gave J .Q. a greater feeling of meaningful contribution to the community than his role in the Cooperative Bank. He felt that it provided a sorely-needed opportunity for locals to enter the property-owning democracy.
J.Q. was definitely a multi-faceted coin. One of the quieter ambitions of this notoriously quiet and self-effacing man was an urge to invent and industrialise. He was an inveterate tinkerer. He would play around with machinery, equipment and engines, trying to improve on their efficiency or seeking ways of making them serve local needs. He read “DO-IT-YOURSELF” books in an effort to achieve greater efficiency or productivity. Sometimes he bungled and admitted his amateurism but for himself THE CHALLENGE WAS SUPREME! As soon as he had mastered or solved the problems in one area he moved instinctively to another challenge, another headache, another sacrifice, and then the warm glow of a solution.
His efforts in industry led him to pioneer the operation of a Coconut Oil Factory and the manufacture of soap. He dabbled in the operation of a quarry and the making of concrete blocks. He made mattresses at Lucia-Rest; he re-treaded tyres; he made confectionery and bottled cherry brandy; he manufactured foam products; he established a bottling plant and later won the prestigious Cocoa Cola franchise.
Most men devote their life-time to one pursuit, one Area of activlty. But the inscrutable and enigmatic J.Q. had a drive which leap-frogged from proJect to project… from venture to venture. Today his business interests are widely diversified, and the firm of J.Q. Charles Ltd. is widely respected and is a model for Black Business and The Corporate Family.
The shrewd J.Q. heeded his drum once again in a fundamentally crucial area. He reared a family of three sons – Ferrel, Cornell and Alison (Bam, Baby, Baba) and two daughters (Antonia and Joycelyn) and instilled in them the virtues of thrift, discipline, hard work and a lack of ostentation! With solid support and moral guidance form his wife Albertha, who predeceased him, they were able to impart a rigid family code of quiet discipline, family cohesion, tangential community service, detachment from the more lurid aspects of St. Lucian life, low-profile efficiency and effectiveness, and a fierce self-respect.
These values transcend the family and reach out into the extended family – the business. The level of loyalty and togetherness in the firm is nothing short of remarkable.
Although the nation recognised the sterling contribution of J.Q. to the development of St. Lucia’s commercial life in the past fifty years, by awarding him a Knighthood in 1985… the enigma still remains. Even at his death the question still hung as to what was the driving force behind this businessman, planter and industrialist? Was it the love of money? Was it the thrill of the chase? Was it a primitive urge to make something out of nothing? Was it an urge to build storehouses against the insecurity of humble beginnings? Was it a life-long egotistic drive to show that he was all along listening to the right beat?
We might never know because that was J.Q.’s trump card which he kept plastered to his chest. But one can imagine him laid out in his casket quietly chuckling, with that characteristic chuckle which hovers between humour and serious admonition, that the rest of us might well be in the dark while he was still thinking and planning ahead of the pack!
Author: George Odlum
Source: Vertical Files- St. Lucia Biographies, Hunter J. Francois Library, Morne Fortune, Castries, St. Lucia