Trinidad and Tobago brings to mind long beaches and clear, blue water. Patricia Ghany, CFO at Esau Oilfield Supply Company, and second-generation family business member, knows, however, that behind its natural beauty the island faces a range of challenges. More than a decade ago Patricia started observing that the role of women had shifted too often becoming the sole providers for themselves and their families. Patricia Ghany decided to actively support women through mentoring and integration into her family business. She sat down with us to share her inspiring story.
Today, you are the CFO of your family business. But when and how did you join the family business? Did you have someone who mentored you when you started in the family business?
I rejoined the family business in January 1995. This decision was driven by both a personal and professional need. I had just returned to Trinidad from Austria with an eight-month-old daughter and so the family business was a natural choice for me. I had previously worked there after my undergraduate degree and I knew that I would find there the flexibility I needed in order to raise my daughter as a single parent. I was very fortunate, as I would consider both my parents as my mentors in the business. Initially, I transitioned throughout the whole organisation and I worked in all divisions to fully understand the company.
When did you start thinking of mentoring other women? How did you get the idea to set up a mentoring program in your company?
In 2000 I interviewed a young divorced single mother, who had a three-year-old son. I was asked to interview her as a favour to one of my mother’s colleagues. She had very few skills and urgently needed a job. Listening to her story I was very moved by her will and drive to support her son. As a single mother and a woman in business right away I felt compelled to help her. I initially hired her to fill a temporary position in my accounts department. At the end of her contract I decided to give her a full-time job in the sales office. I saw how she had blossomed and having gotten to know her as an employee and a mother, I knew it had been right to give her a chance. As our business grew and I began interviewing high school and university graduates I kept hearing the same thing: “How can I get work experience if no one gives me a chance”. That is when I decided to start a 9-month trainee program for young girls and young men needing a chance to develop their skills. The goal of the trainee program is to empower girls through mentorship, building their self-confidence and challenging them to discover and live up to their potential. Even though we are open to all applications, I always make sure that we keep spots for those individuals, who are facing particularly difficult, often “heartbreaking” situations.
What has been your experience with mentoring women in your business? Do you as a mentor also get positivity out of mentoring?
Over the past fourteen years we have worked with and mentored single mothers, abused women, and mentally challenged women. All of these women needed a safe haven to take the first steps into the corporate world and in our company we provide a family environment that is conducive to that. We also get our staff involved in the program, as they have to be onboard if we are to successfully give the candidates an enriching experience.
I don’t see our efforts only focusing on developing them as women in the workplace but also as their roles as daughters & mothers. For these young women, it helps to have a sounding board when discussing career options, family life and personal problems. I always keep a box of Kleenex and give lots of hugs in my office.
I have always been aware of the fact that I have been blessed to have an education and businesses that I could return to. But I knew what it was like to try to get a job in a country where I was a foreigner and did not fluently speak the language and how hard it was to get a foot in the door, even with an MBA. So I truly very much enjoy seeing these young girls gain self-confidence, financial security and independence through our program and during their time with us. Watching them blossom into women who feel that they can take the next step to moving ahead with their education and careers is fulfilling, especially when they come back to visit us. You feel like a proud parent, knowing that you played a small role in opening a new window of opportunity for them. On a personal level I encourage my daughter to see the value in this practice.
Why do you think that women in family businesses have a special advantage to support and mentor other women?
I believe that as owners we are in a unique position to change the rules in our own businesses. A family-owned business that values the input of female members as owners and employees will create a different set of opportunities and policies that will enhance the personal and professional lives of their female employees.
As an employer, do you think you can benefit from mentoring our employees?
Mentorship on all levels gives you a deep sense of personal satisfaction. It is also an avenue to develop and retain talented women. Loyalty cannot be bought it has to be earned and this program has created a cadre of loyal women who have moved from entry-level positions into management positions in our company.We have been able to carry on our organisation’s legacy by passing on its values and mission to our young women.