Joe Issa Pays Tribute to Shell Jamaica Brand Once Owned

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As the fifth largest Fortune 500 brand disappears from Jamaica after adorning the landscape for nearly a century, the Joe Issa-led Cool Group which once owned it pays tribute to the Royal Dutch Shell Group of energy and petrochemical companies for its sterling contribution to the people and economy of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean and Latin America.

Submitted: February 09, 2017

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Submitted: February 09, 2017

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As the fifth largest Fortune 500 brand disappears from Jamaica after adorning the landscape for nearly a century, the Joe Issa-led Cool Group which once owned it pays tribute to the Royal Dutch Shell Group of energy and petrochemical companies for its sterling contribution to the people and economy of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean and Latin America.

Research shows that the vertically integrated Anglo Dutch giant with current annual revenue of US$272 billion and over 90,000 employees worldwide has, through its Shell Caribbean Investments subsidiary, invested heavily and employed thousands of people in the Caribbean and Latin America especially, since the early 1990s reform to diversify from state ownership of oil and gas companies.

Highly Commended

In an interview with Issa on the Shell legacy in Jamaica, the Cool Group executive chairman who is leveraging his Cool brand internationally says he feels privileged to have been a part of that history and commended Shell for the positive changes it has made in the lives of so many Jamaicans and their Caribbean neighbours.

“Shell was one of the largest corporations in the Caribbean basin with multi-million US dollar investments in many of the islands; so there is no doubt that it has had a significant impact on economic growth in the region.

“In particular, the huge amount of jobs which Shell created over the years must have changed the lives of thousands of people and their families across the region,” says Issa, who is a former student of the famed London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK where he founded his first charity to assist in the education of under-privileged Jamaican children.

Strong core values

He adds: “Besides its economic and social impact, what is also important about Shell’s legacy in the region is the strong values, product quality and service delivery which the brand has represented and are worthy of emulation.”

Research shows that Shell’s core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people mirror those upheld by Issa’s Cool Group, whose business model has been likened to that of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

Like the Shell Group, analysts also believe that the Cool Group which cuts across many sectors, has not only applied business principles, codes of conduct, and codes of ethics to ensure that staff keep in line with its values, but has also maintained a diverse and inclusive culture within it.

“Shell has no doubt demonstrated good business principles based on its well-established set of values…it has also established strict codes of conduct and ethics for its employees to follow, in order to keep its values at the forefront of its operation,” says Issa, a Certified Public Accountant and member of the Ocho Rios Chamber of Commerce Past Presidents Advisory Committee.

In addition, Issa says Shell’s colourful and highly visible logo may have set a trend in revolutionizing business emblems in the region since then; Issa’s own high-visibility Cool brand logo with its unique typeface and proprietary colours is suspected of being a possible beneficiary of the evolution in business logo.

Timely arrival in Jamaica

In a wide-ranging interview with the Cool Corp founder, who was born over four decades after Shell came to Jamaica, Issa hailed its arrival here as timely, given the country’s social and economic prospects or lack thereof at the time.

Issa, who had to wait another 40 years before contributing to the Shell legacy in the region, came in at the twilight of Shell’s dominant era in the Caribbean, with its largest assets located in Jamaica.

Shell had arrived on Hanover Street in downtown Kingston in 1923, amid the amalgamation of the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew and the resultant formation of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC).

Analysts believed that the election of both the new Municipal Authority and its first mayor by 1924, helped simplify business processes across the two parishes and enabled Shell to commence construction of the Rockfort lubricant manufacturing plant at the eastern end of Kingston Harbour, one of the best natural harbours in the world.

The section of the Shell Company plant at Rockfort The huge investment by Shell in 1924 also coincided with the start of the designation: ‘World Savings Day’, which was to raise awareness of the importance of savings for investment and economic growth. The movement is said to focus strongly on developing countries like Jamaica, which traditionally has very low savings rate.

“I don’t imagine any local company being capable of undertaking such an investment at the time; so Shell’s arrival in Jamaica was timely…it was strategically located to allow materials to arrive by sea and piped to the plant…this was key to enhancing efficiency,” Issa said of the Shell Rockfort plant which had its own pier built for tankers to bring in diesel, gas and other refined petroleum products.

In fact, according to a 2002 Jamaica Observer article, the pier was damaged by The MV Ficus, a 44,788 deadweight vessel leased and operated by Shell International Trading and Shipping, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.

The vessel had arrived at the Rockfort pier early on December 21 from Point-a-Pierre, Trinidad with diesel and other refined petroleum products and had off-loaded at petroleum depots in Montego Bay and at Berth 6 in the Kingston transshipment port.

The vessel slammed into a platform, tearing away a chunk of the concrete structure, damaging a portion of Jamaica Flour Mills' conveyor system. The accident is said to have happened while it was maneuvering to dock at the pier. The damage was estimated at J$75-100 million.

Today, after many years of inactivity leading on to Shell’s departure from Jamaica and the Caribbean since 2005, the now Rubis-owned plant is being revitalized by Lubricant Specialties Company Limited under a lease arrangement, for re-opening in mid-2017 with a capacity of 1.2 million gallons, according to The Gleaner.

Shell setting trends

Issa stated in the interview, that the construction of the Shell Rockfort manufacturing facility was a trend setter in the development of the KSAC area and the export sector.

“The plant brought many jobs to an area where there was none and set the trend for the development of the new metropolis…it also meant that the country didn’t have to import the necessary lubricants to facilitate the growing transportation and manufacturing sectors…it established Jamaica as a potential exporting country.

” In his tribute to Shell’s timely arrival, Issa commented on several other investments which it brought to Jamaica at a time when the country needed them.

Issa cited in particular, the 1971 establishment of the Montego Bay petroleum depot, which he said came at a time when the potential of the western end of the island needed to be developed and the growing population and business activities supported.

In earlier decades Jamaica’s economy had shifted from sugar and bananas following the discovery of bauxite in the 1940s and the subsequent establishment of the bauxite-alumina industry, according to Wikipedia.

“By the 1970s, as foreign investment increased, Jamaica had emerged as a world leader in export of these minerals,” it said, a development in which the Shell Montego Bay petroleum depot is believed to have also played a part.

Issa also said the establishment of Shell’s new head offices in Rockfort which was opened in 1985, may have influenced the development of the real estate market in the area.

He recalls further: “Amid environmental concerns around the world about the poisonous led substance in petrol, Shell came to our rescue in 1990 when it became the first petroleum marketing company to introduce unleaded gas to Jamaica.

” Issa also viewed Shell’s introduction of LPG in 1996 as a significant development particularly for the small business sector throughout Jamaica.

Cool Group played major role

Even as Issa hails the timing of Shell’s arrival in Jamaica and the Caribbean, his own Cool Group is said to be highly placed among the few multinational corporations to have impacted Shell’s rich history in the region.

Shell gas station on Constant Spring Road in Kingston He, however, would have to wait decades before the opportunity came knocking at his door; that’s when, in 2005, at the young age of 40 years, Shell sought to sell out to Issa and Neal & Massy, a Trinidad & Tobago-based conglomerate with investments in Jamaica.

The vehicle that was used for the acquisition was a Cool Group subsidiary, Cool Petroleum which, overnight, became the largest fuel retailer in Jamaica with over 90 Shell gas stations, including those of Issa’s flagship Cool Oasis chain of some 25 petrol stations which he started a decade earlier.

Cool Oasis gas station in St. Ann opened in 1995 In fact, Cool Oasis in St. Ann is said to be the genesis of what is today the Cool Group of over 50 companies founded by Issa. The Cool brand gas station is said to have received raved reviews when it opened in 1995 painted in a kaleidoscope of colours with a convenience store, a rest area for travelers and customer service never seen before at such facilities.

“The Cool brand look is unlike any other chain on the island. “…And we go to great lengths to make sure it stays that way,” says its website, informing that “our entire look is protected by trademark, from our unique typeface to our proprietary colours.”

Under Issa’s leadership Cool Petroleum, the licensed carrier of the Shell brand is said to have grown steadily, churning revenue of US$330 million in 2010 and US$370 the following year, before US-based Blue Equity LLC acquired a majority stake in early 2012 and rebranded as The Antilles Group.

Blue Equity is said to be an independent, private equity firm with investments in oil and gas, as well as in media, distribution, health care, art, commerce, defense, financial services and real estate.

The year before the sale, Issa had notably increased Cool Petroleum’s revenue by 12% to US$370 million, drawing mention from the new owner, Jonathan Blue.

An upbeat Issa at the time released a statement on behalf of the Cool Group expressing their pleasure in welcoming the new partner to Jamaica and showing their gratitude for the long partnership which they enjoyed with Neal and Massy.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished and we now look forward to working with Blue Equity to take Cool Petroleum to the next level,” Issa said in the media release.

Within one year, Blue Equity had sold the Shell Jamaica assets to Rubis, a global energy company said to be operating in three continents, including some 16 islands in the Caribbean.

Rubis then announced it would rebrand the Shell assets with its own text-based Rubis signage of green letters piped with red and set against a white background, bringing to an end the final chapter of the scallop shell or pecten emblem with the distinctive red and yellow colours in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

“I am proud to have been part of Shell’s history in Jamaica,” said Issa, adding that “the experience working with Neal & Massy was a memorable one.”

He also admitted in the interview that up until today he is still marveled at how the shell emblem came about, noting it has stood the test of time.

Shell brand amazing recognition

In the lengthy interview, Issa says, “Whatever may have brought about the use of a sea shell as an emblem to represent the identity of an energy and gas company, must have taken some imagination.” He adds, “And for it to have remained one of the most visible logos for the past two centuries leaves me in wonder…I admire the emblem, it’s an astonishing choice for a company logo.”

Metamorphosis of the Shell emblem over the years Having first appeared as the trademark for kerosene shipped to the Far East by Marcus Samuel and Company in 1891, the word Shell is said to have been elevated to corporate status in 1897, when Samuel formed the Shell Transport and Trading Company (STTC).

According to Shell’s website, Samuel’s brand name and symbol (Shell and pecten) was retained after STTC merged with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company to form the new Royal Dutch Shell Group.

The symbol is believed to have its genesis in Samuel’s original company, which first traded in sea shells and other ornaments from a small shop in London, England.

The success of the trade in shells, which was used to make jewelry and decorate jewelry boxes and chests, among others, became the catalyst for the widening of his trade and the formation of his landmark STTC company in 1897.

The first logo in 1901 was a mussel shell, but by 1904 a scallop shell or pecten emblem had been introduced to give a visual representation of the corporate and brand name.

For hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, shells are said to have been used for various purposes, including money, music, communications, and spirituality.

In Christianity, the scallop shell which finally became the Shell emblem is considered to be the symbol of Saint James the Great, who was one of the first disciples of Jesus and became the patron saint of travelers, a revelation which wows Issa as a Roman Catholic Eucharistic Minister.

But up until today it is still not clear how the word “Shell” and the pecten symbol really came about. According to Logodesignlove.com, it “may have been suggested to Marcus Samuel and Company by another interested party, who is believed to be named Graham of Scottish origin.

Apparently, Graham used to import Samuel’s kerosene into India where he sold it as ‘Graham’s Oil’. He later became a director of The Shell Transport and Trading Company. It is believed there is some evidence that the Shell emblem was taken from his family coat of arms.

In addition to many species of scallops being highly priced as a food source, “the brightly colored, symmetrical, fan-shaped shells of scallops with their radiating and often fluted sculpture are valued by shell collectors, and have been used since ancient times as motifs in art, architecture and design,” according to Wikipedia.

The scallop Shell emblem is said to have remained so ever since, “with only slight changes in the form of the shell emblem, in line with graphic design trends.”

Today’s Shell emblem, which was introduced in 1971, is said to have stood the test of time as one of the world’s most recognised symbols.

Bright future for Shell brand

Growing from a small shop in London nearly 200 years ago, to a global group of energy and petrochemical companies today, Issa predicts a bright future for Shell.

“Shell has played a dominant role, not only in the energy sector of Jamaica and the Caribbean, but also in Latin America and around the world,” says Issa.

A global group of energy and petrochemical companies

Pointing to Shell’s downstream business Issa adds: “Shell still maintains over 40,000 petrol stations and 47 oil refineries in 90 countries around the world,” noting that these activities, which are said to include lubricants manufacture and marketing, industrial lubricants sales and other products such as LPG and bitumen, “will continue to put Shell at the forefront in the delivery of energy solutions around the world.”

Speaking on an aspect of Shell’s business model, Issa explained that while over the years Shell has given operating companies autonomy, it has been gradually withdrawing such independence since the 1990s, stating that today, most of its operations are more directly managed by head office.

Shell headquarters in The Hague. Issa says Shell, which is vertically integrated and is active in every area of the oil and gas industry, also has the right core values and the business principles to sustain them, and that they believe in diversity and inclusivity in their operations.

“While Shell may have left Jamaica and the Caribbean, the centuries-old brand continues to maintain its high visibility in many other countries,” says Issa, citing the Islamic Republic of Iran as the latest rich market to embrace Shell, along with French company Total, which acquired Esso’s assets in Jamaica in 2008.

According to the Jamaica Observer at the time, Total’s acquisition of 37 Esso gas stations took its tally to 52, putting the French multinational behind Issa's Cool Petroleum Limited, which owned the Cool Oasis chain started in 1995 and the Shell brands purchased in 2005.

Iranian market to strengthen growth

Royal Dutch Shell and Total have reportedly become the first foreign companies to be allowed to operate gasoline stations inside Iran, a development hailed by Issa as a major opportunity for both companies.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for both multinationals, as they look to extend their reach to new and large lucrative markets like Iran and other middle-east countries,” Issa says in the interview.

According to a Loop article sourced from Associated Press, the way was paved for Shell and Total, following a July 2015 deal reached between Iran and world powers, whereby Iran would curb its nuclear program and in return, international economic sanctions against it would be lifted.

Iran is said to have issued 100 new licenses to each of the companies to operate retail service stations which, until then were operated by the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company.

The Iran deal which created the new opportunity for Shell is otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) led by President Obama. The nuclear deal had been heavily criticized by President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign, creating fears that he would either renegotiate the deal or scrap it altogether.

A Fortune article said based on two appointments made so far by Trump, there is every indication he will want a better deal than the one he is inheriting.

It said “the many structural issues (non-access to suspect military sites and the short 15-year timeline) will most likely push Trump to seek revised terms through raising the stakes with the Iranians within the existing framework, before taking any massive diplomatic gambles.”

But Issa is more hopeful, even as the cards are stacked heavily against JCPOA surviving the imminent surgery intact.

“I’ve been following the developments with concern but I believe good sense will prevail. I’m confident the Trump administration will resolve any perceived structural deficiencies without tearing the agreement.

“I expect the opportunities created for access to the huge Iran market by Shell and Total will be left open in the end,” said Issa.

Shell, said to be among the six oil and gas “supermajors” was incorporated in the UK with registered offices at the Shell Centre in London and headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, whose 2013 GDP of US$555 billion was just 16% above Shell’s worldwide revenue that year, according to the UK Telegraph.

Issa says Shell continues to grow its upstream oil exploration and production portfolio, which has been shown to produce around 3.7 million barrels of oil equivalent per day and is backed, as of December 31, 2014 by total proved reserves of 13.7 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Issa also noted that Shell stocks are currently doing well on the world market, bolstered by nearly US$2 billion in profits last year.

According to the UK Telegraph, Shell increased profits to US$1.9 billion in 2015 and has experienced market capitalisation of £168.6 billion at the close of trading on October 26, 2016. The stock performance is said to the largest by far, of any company listed on the London Stock Exchange and among the highest of any company in the world.”

Commenting in the interview on Shell’s solvency and capital structure Issa, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who in 1988 famously passed all four parts of the examination in one sitting and became Jamaica’s youngest CPA, says Shell’s debt/equity ratio “is good, not too high and not too low.”

According to the Telegraph, Shell’s total asset base of US$340 billion is financed by equity of US$163 billion and debt amounting to US$177 billion. Analysts say this gives rise to a debt/equity ratio of 1.08 which, according to Investopedidia.com is safe, stating that “typically a debt to equity ratio greater than 2.0 indicates a risky scenario for the investor.”

Issa, who leverages the Cool Group internationally, says Shell’s financial leverage ratio (total assets/total equity) is also safe, as shown by Shell’s latest figures which show the company holding total assets of US$340 million, giving rise to a financial ratio of 2.08 meaning, more than one half of its assets are financed by equity.

“After 90 decades, Shell will be missed in Jamaica and the Caribbean, but its brand strength can light up the rest of the world for centuries to come,” Issa concluded.


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