In the Wild West of retail, no business is safe. Even some of the best-known retailers on the planet have gone bankrupt: Kmart, Woolworths and Macy’s, to name a few. It’s no different on home soil—the stakes are high, competition is fierce, and the economy is teetering. But that doesn’t mean it takes a cutthroat businessman to navigate these choppy economic waters. As proven by Massy Retail CEO Derek Winford, you don’t need Machiavellian tactics or sinister strategies to weather a recession; he’s guiding the Massy-Retail ship through the storm with pragmatism as his compass and a solid vision as his map. The winds in his sails are his 23 years of experience along with a deep-rooted love of country.
His is the story of a family man, a mas man, and a man of business taking Massy Retail to sunnier days and calmer seas. A devoted husband for nearly 30 years and a father to two grown children, Winford is adept at achieving a healthy work-life balance. He strives to leave the office before dark; a true Trini, he unwinds by liming, boating, and playing mas (you might have spotted him in Bliss this Carnival); and his laidback manner of speaking harks more to a Sunday afternoon than a boardroom. Yet the corporate powerhouse doesn’t see his CEO role as remotely laidback or easy to coast through. His duty boils down to one critical thing: “getting business to stay in business.” It means there’s no time for putting your feet up in an ivory tower—especially in a recession that Winford admits hit Massy Retail hard in 2016, and shows no signs of improving in 2017.
However, Winford isn’t one to see the glass as half empty. Proving that he’s rightfully earned his position at the top, he sees the challenges of recession as positive: “The good thing about [a recession] is it makes you look at your business a lot closer. It makes you run a healthier business because you cut the fat out […] Because you’re not getting the revenue you used to, you have to be efficient and run a lower-cost business. You have to deliver a better everything.”
Whereas someone in his position might be tempted to find ‘easy’ ways of cutting corners, Winford doesn’t even mention redundancies as an option for getting through the downturn. Showing his ability to lead and strategise creatively rather than take desperate measures, Winford is in fact using the hurdles of the economic climate as incentive to innovate further, to broaden Massy Retail’s product offerings, and expand its branches. His response to the recession calls to mind some of history’s most notable leaders – think Winston Churchill – who show their true strength and value in times of greatest hardship.
Sharing on some of the developments and innovations currently underway in Massy Retail, Winford says, “Our stores are changing. We’re now in the credit business. We now sell refrigerators, washers, dryers, stoves, and TVs in some stores. We’re going to expand that strategy […] and then this business is changing, customers change. Look at this grab-and-go area. Two, three years ago we were selling 20 lunches in Westmoorings. We’re now selling nearly 300 lunches a day. We’re trying to get to 500 lunches.”
Even more extraordinary is the fact that Winford is continuing to push Massy Retail’s philanthropic efforts: “We [Massy Retail] are going to go into more rural areas. And we don’t just go into an area. We go into an area and try to make it a better place by really uplifting the communities and the environment around it.” Rather than turning his face from those in need, tightening his figurative fist as the business grapples with the recession, Winford is embracing creative partnerships with charities like FEEL and Nourish TT. He sees this as essential to Massy Retail’s mission, and for him, a self-proclaimed “people person”, it’s only natural to leverage the business’s success to give back to the nation.
Speaking on the partnership with Nourish, a charity that provides a convenient online system for food retailers to donate food to the needy, Winford reveals a distinct desire to see the country flourish through humanitarianism: “[The team at Nourish] is the future. You sit back and say, oh my God, if more of Trinidad and Tobago were like Nourish, what a beautiful place this would be to live.” Indeed, he lists “making T&T better” as one of his biggest motivators, along with improving the lives of those who depend on him.
As Winford explains, “Happy people make for happy customers, and happy customers make for a happy business.” By innovating, expanding, and ‘trimming the fat’ in creative ways, Winford has ensured that Massy Retail’s nearly two thousand employees are still happy, even with belts tightening. But beyond that, he uses his natural love of people to be an accessible, motivational leader. At Christmas time, he shuts down the head office to work alongside cashiers; he regularly invites staff to his office where they’re given a safe space to share grievances and experiences; he goes down to the stores to engage with employees at every level. “A lot of my job is about making sure our people are well taken care of,” he says, “and that they’re happy, and can deliver and do everything that we ask them to do.”
This hands-on, happiness-centred approach seems to be keeping the business thriving in spite of the economic squall. As 2017 unfolds, Winford is at the helm of his ship with a smile on his lips. Though the rain stings his cheeks, he sees the sun up ahead, and there is no doubt that he will carry Massy Retail through to sunnier days, his ship filled with happy people and happy customers, sailing towards a brighter, more humanitarian T&T.