In 1932, two companies – Neal Engineering, led by Harry Neal, and Massy Limited, led by Charles Massy – merged to create Neal & Massy Engineering Company Limited. Two wholly-owned subsidiaries were then established: Neal & Massy Limited and Tractors and Machinery (Trinidad) Limited (TRACMAC). In the late 1920’s, Charles Massy had secured the dealership for the Caterpillar brand and the Chevrolet brand in Trinidad and Tobago and these became the first in a long list of exclusive brands for which Neal & Massy became agents, in Trinidad and Tobago and later in other Caribbean islands. TRACMAC still holds the Caterpillar dealership today.
Through the strategies of cautious, debt-free expansion and reinvestment of profits locally, Neal & Massy maintained a presence in Trinidad and Tobago. The innovation of the two entrepreneurs and the transformation of their merged company – Neal & Massy Engineering Company Limited – saw them through the economic trials of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Essentially, Neal & Massy started with two business units: transportation and industrial & engineering equipment. During the time of WWII (1939-1945) the company adapted to ensure its continued existence by shifting primarily from sales into parts and service. By the early 1950s, Neal & Massy was involved mainly in importing machinery and engineering services. By this time, the well-established tractor department offered industrial equipment like cranes and compressors, while the electrical and engineering departments supplied service and smaller items.
In 1958, the company went public. In the years from 1923 to 1945, the number of cumulative total shares grew to only 66,250, with a massive increase of almost 200% in the war years 1942-1945. After the war, share allotments continued to grow significantly. The bold move of its public offer significantly increased the operating capital of Neal & Massy, with cumulative total shares moving from 200,000 in 1957 to 363,150 in 1959 to 450,000 in 1965.
Among its initiatives, the mergers/acquisitions with Cannings and Company in 1975 is noted as one of the boldest moves in the history of the Group. This was a major success story for the Group with the Hi Lo Supermarket chain, which started in the 1950s as part of the Cannings Group, gaining dominance as the major food supplier in the nation.
From 1982-1988 the oil price collapsed and as a result, the economy in Trinidad & Tobago caved in. Coming on the heels of a major growth spurt, companies were caught with high inventory levels and lofty operating costs and as the effects were felt nationwide, many of the receivables became difficult to collect and Neal & Massy reacted by quickly moving to rationalize and consolidate within the Group. Neal & Massy’s head count fell from 9,000 in 1981 to less than 4700 by the late 1990s.
The organization faced mixed fortunes from the expansionist programme embarked upon during the boom years. After a decline in sales of 17% in 1985, Group sales to third parties rose 7%. CARICOM trade conditions eased somewhat in 1986, and the devaluation of the TT dollar boosted non-traditional exports to CARICOM, particularly Jamaica and Barbados. Although Jamaica’s economy faced several challenges due to its friction with the IMF, Neal & Massy’s companies in Guyana continued to perform, despite a 67% devaluation of their local currency in January 1987. The financial year which ended in August 31, 1987 proved to be extremely difficult. The Group shared a net loss of $8.1 million after tax, compared with a profit of $8 million in the previous year.
Between 1986 and 1996, the national economy was slowly on the mend. In 1992, the Group acquired T. Geddes Grant (another major conglomerate at the time) and one of the foundation subsidiaries upon which Marketing & Distribution was created. By the sheer size of the acquisition, Geddes Grant reinforced Neal & Massy as a trading company. This rapid expansion put a strain on the company’s capital structure and the company divested parts of the Geddes Grant Group.