Post World War II Bovell & Skeete was the largest and most prestigious public accounting firm in Barbados. The partnership name was registered in 1941 but an earlier partnership, Thomas and Bovell, had been formed much earlier in the 1870’s. In fact, the Cable & Wireless address of ‘TAB’ continued to be used by Bovell & Skeete for many years.
Bovell & Skeete was a partnership between Ashley Bovell1 and Edward Brathwaite Skeete2. Mr. Bovell had been in partnership with Mr. Thomas but the partnership split up. There was a change of heart by Mr. Thomas and the day that Mr. Thomas contacted Mr. Bovell to “recreate the partnership” was the same day that Mr. Bovell agreed with Mr. Skeete’s request that they go into partnership. Therefore, for some time there was a firm of Thomas, Bovell and Skeete. Subsequently, Mr. Thomas dropped out and so the firm became Bovell and Skeete.
After Mr. Bovell died, Mr. Skeete brought in a Mr. Mckinstry (John Mckinstry’s father) as a partner.
The firm had a long history, initially principally serving the sugar industry and planters of the island3. It grew and soon gained most of the largest companies in Barbados as its clients (the exception being the BS&T Group). As Income Tax was only introduced into Barbados around 1921 most of the work was of an accounting and audit nature4. Before 1960, the firm was run by the partners, Sir Archibald Cuke and Colin Tudor.
Sir Archibald Cuke had been the Manager of the Savannah Club. This was a club where the business men of Barbados met and socialized. The partners at Bovell & Skeete were impressed with his abilities and tried to recruit him, but he held out and said he would only join as a partner. Eventually they agreed and he became a full partner, which led to him eventually becoming the head partner.
In 1960, the Barbados office consisted of two partners, Henry A. Cuke, and Neville Desmond Tudor. Sir Archibald Cuke and Colin Tudor were then Principals. David Lawless and Johnnie Foster were the qualified Managers. David Lawless was responsible for staff scheduling and planning and managing the audit department. David E. V. Cuke, Henry’s youngest brother, was in the UK completing his exams. There were five Audit Seniors: Elwyn Bryant, Harold Tryhane, Jean Porter, Clarence “Boo” Patterson and George Swain, none of whom were qualified at that time.
In the summer of 1960 it had been decided to start a program to recruit six student staff who would be enrolled in a course of study for a professional accounting qualification. This was the first such program to be put in place by any of the accounting firms in Barbados.
In addition to the professional staff there were about twenty administrative staff. There was also a Sugar Department which was managed by Roy Bryant with about eight staff. This department provided Audit and Accounting services to the sugar and agricultural clients of the firm.
In addition, there were branch offices in Saint Vincent and Grenada, with offices in Saint Lucia and Dominica soon to be established. The sugar industry was the main source of revenue for Barbados at that time and most of the sugar factories and plantations were clients, with a separate department who specialized in the audit and accounting of this industry. This was probably the heyday of the firm, as soon afterwards a number of small firms (e.g. Brian Griffith and Ken Hewitt) sprang up and some foreign firms (e.g. Thorne Mulholland) came in as well. Bovell & Skeete probably had 75% of the public accounting business with the next largest firm being Fitzpatrick Graham.
Bovell & Skeete had been operated for many years by Sir Archibald Cuke, CBE, GCM (1892 – 1968)5, and his partner Colin Randolph Tudor (1899 – 1963).
Sir Archibald had played a major role in the sugar industry as head of a team, including members of the Government, negotiating the price to be paid for West Indies’ sugar with the major dealers in the London market. They decided that their sons should go overseas and qualify as Chartered Accountants in order to ensure that they were suitably qualified to take over the firm that they would inherit, and to meet the professional demands that were rapidly changing.
Accordingly, their sons: Henry Archibald Cuke (1930 – 2008), and Neville Desmond Tudor (1927 – 1999) went to Montreal, Canada, and became Chartered Accountants.
Henry Cuke came 1st in the Quebec Chartered Accountancy intermediate exams and 3rd in the finals in 1959.
David Edwin Victor Cuke (1934 – 1998) went to London, England, and completed his professional qualifications there and returned home in 1961.
Not long after the newly qualified partners returned to Barbados, the old partners retired.
Henry Cuke6 took over the leadership and was very much a go-getter, not only upgrading the service locally but expanding overseas both in consulting work and opening offices in Saint Lucia and Dominica. In fact, he was travelling and working at such a frantic pace that he retired from the partnership about 1970. He then joined Goddard Enterprises from 1971–1974, at which time he emigrated to Canada. He was the first non-Goddard to be a director of that organisation.
The company changed its name and affiliations between 1964 and 1973. It was B&S in 1964, in association with Touche Ross Bailey & Smart .
When John Fraser was the manager of the Dominica office in 1969, that office was still listed in the Touche Ross Bailey & Smart international directory. Alan Lees, was not happy with Touche Ross, as they did not provide the expected support, so he drove the changeover to Coopers about 1968 or 1969. There had been some conflicts in the partnership and work had fallen behind.
Coopers & Lybrand had established a small practice in Bridgetown sometime around 1970 with Malcolm Whitfield as Partner in charge. The local partners recognized the need for a stronger international presence and approached Malcolm with a proposal for a merger. He immediately saw the opportunity for Coopers & Lybrand to merge with a premium practice overnight.
The merger was quickly completed and Malcolm brought in a team of accountants to catch up the work in 1971 – 1973. Coopers also sent down a trainer (Brian Graham) who got the staff into modern auditing, e.g. flowcharting, sampling and internal control versus the old vouching routines.
Bovell & Skeete’s offices were located on Lucas Street, between Carrington & Sealy and the historic Nicholls Building (which dates from around 1700). In 1960, the offices occupied only the second floor with a small office on the third floor for the tax manager, Mr. Freddie Clairmonte, a retired Tax Officer.
The ground floor was occupied by a pharmacy operated by Mr. Rupert Mayers. In about 1961, Mr. Mayers moved his pharmacy to another nearby building and the building was significantly renovated to accommodate the Bovell & Skeete offices on the ground and second floor. The new arrangement had the reception on the left, the large walk-in vault at the back of the room and desks for staff on the right. Upstairs was the typing pool and some work tables. The very popular kitchen from whence the coffee lady, Inniss, strode forth each morning and afternoon with cups of coffee, was on the third floor.
Around 1970, the office space was again remodelled, with a ‘bull-pen’ for junior staff on the second floor and one for the managers.
Additional offices were built to accommodate Alan Lees (from Saint Lucia) and Malcom Whitfield (from Coopers & Lybrand). Desmond Tudor also moved upstairs.
In later years, the offices moved to Trident House, the former K.R. Hunte building on Broad Street and later to its own building on Bishops Court Hill.
The technology of the time – adding/calculating machines
The adding/calculating machines consisted of adding machines as well as the old manual mechanical tabulators, these involved cranking a lever by hand to rotate the counters. Paper rolls were expensive and we were expected to use both sides of the adding machine tape to save money, both in our office and at the clients’ offices.
In 1964, there were three partners: Henry Cuke, Desmond Tudor and David Cuke. There were two Managers: Harry Tryhane and Roy Bryant. Roy looked after scheduling staff and the sugar industry clients. There were a few older Seniors who retired and moved on shortly thereafter: Raymond Leach, “Boo” Patterson, Gerald O’Neal and Robert “Dopey” Evelyn. The Intermediates were: Wayne Belgrave, Michael Carter, Edward “Junior” Fenty, Ronald Humphrey and Doug Newsam. The Juniors included: Wally Blackman, Raymond Fernandes, John Fraser, Peter Gill, Harry Lashley, Michael Goddard, Ken Seale, and Desmond Weatherhead.
Later, new employees included: John Davies, Wayne Fields and Lionel Gill. From time to time, English Chartered Accountants were brought in on contract, including: Bill Arnott, Roger Bye, Robert Foale, Brian Brake and Martin Pollock. Prominent in the Sugar department were the Managers: H. Gordon Jones, Lorraine Lewis and Dorothy Cuke. Leonard Maguire was the head of the Corporate Secretary Department. Johnny Bourne was the income tax specialist.
Harry Tryhane was an inspiration to all of the young employees, as he was a local boy who had qualified as an accountant via the British ACCA certification by correspondence courses. The partners were emphasising the importance of study and qualification in the ACCA program.
They established a salary sliding scale along the lines of passing the following exams:
Part 1 – $250 p.m.
Part 2 – $375 p.m.
Part 3 – $450 p.m.
Part 4 – $550 p.m.
Part 5 – $700 p.m.
Bovell & Skeete was dominant in the sugar industry doing the audits for most of the industry (apart from those owned by the BS&T group). The big commercial clients of Bovell & Skeete were: Cave Shepherd & Co., C.F. Harrison & Co., The Barbados Port Authority, Plantations Limited, Y De Lima Limited, and the Barbados Co-operative Cotton Factory.
The Audit Methods
1960 saw a dramatic change in the way working papers were maintained. Previously, they had been kept in a bound book, one for each year depending on the size of the client’s working papers in a particular year. 1960 saw the introduction of loose leaf schedules kept by clips in a manila file. This change caused concern to some of the older seniors who strongly believed that “all these sheets of paper are bound to get lost”. To the best of our knowledge that never happened, thank goodness!
Before the merger with Coopers & Lybrand, the audit approach was generally vouching the books against primary records, e.g. a few months would be selected and the entries ticked to supporting records such as payment vouchers/receipts or to the duplicate receipt books. In many cases, except for the larger companies that had trained accountants, we would extract a trial balance, make any final adjusting entries, prepare the financial statements and then either post the closing entries or hand these to the company’s accountant.
There were still some of the partners who felt we should be checking the additions of the books in our head and not using machines. I am not sure about other staff but I would studiously check the numbers mentally when that partner was around but use the adding machines when he was not.
One of the dubious delights of being a junior staff member was being assigned to help check the accuracy of the financial statements in the typing pool. The handwritten statements would be typed onto Gestetner paper. This paper allowed the letters and numbers to cut through the paper so that the financial statements could be ‘run off’ on rollers using black ink to produce the printed statements for clients. Errors in typing could be fixed by applying a nail polish type pink liquid to close the erroneous holes.
As mentioned above, when checking additions on adding machines and thereby generating long lines of paper, these had to be turned over to allow printing on both sides, otherwise a client would criticise you for wasting paper tape.
After the merger with Coopers & Lybrand, the Canadian firm sent down one of their top managers, Bryan Graham, to conduct training methods in the modern techniques of flowcharting, internal control evaluation, letters of recommendation etc. These sessions were well received and the new methods adopted enthusiastically by the staff.
In 1964, the only other large accounting firm was Fitzpatrick Graham (later Pannel Fitzpatrick). They had some major clients including the BS&T group. Thorne Mulholland came into the market in the late 1960s. There were also some small individual accountants.
The island offices
In 1964, Bovell & Skeete had been operating in Saint Vincent and Grenada for several years quite effectively. The manager of each office and senior staff were usually Barbadian employees who were transferred for a few years on rotation. Harry Tryhane had managed the Saint Vincent office with Doug Newsam there was well. Robert Evelyn had managed the Grenada office. Around 1966, a Scottish CA, Alan F. Lees, opened his own accounting firm in Saint Lucia and soon joined as a partner with Bovell & Skeete. He also decided to open an office in Dominica.
The Dominica office was started by Alan Lees and Henry Cuke. Wayne Belgrave, from Barbados, had done the audit of the Dominica Cooperative Bank7 for several years before that, so we had an understanding of the environment. The first resident Manager was Michael Carter (1967/68), followed two years later by John Fraser (1969-1971), and then Wayne Fields (1971+). Fitzpatrick Graham had been there for many years, and had the lion’s share of the business initially.
The Grenada office was managed by Barbadians who rotated every few years. The first Manager was Lisle Webster who went there in 1950 and opened the office in 1951. He was replaced by Elwyn Bryant in 1963. Elwyn improved the auditing and accounting standards based on training probably brought back from Canada and England by the new partners (the Cukes and Desmond Tudor). He built on Lisle’s work and reputation and attracted significant new work to the firm and made it a more profitable arm of the Barbados office. Elwyn and his wife Diana were also popular in the community and he was highly respected by the business community as a competent and professional adviser. During my time at the firm, Robert ‘Dopey’ Evelyn was sent to manage the Grenada office for a few years. Robert was replaced by Colin Dathorne who managed the branch for many years.
Alan Lees started the Saint Lucia office basically from scratch. He hired a few local staff, and a retired English CA, Harry Harboard, and on joining C&L he brought in John Fraser from Barbados to train the local staff: i.e. Villard Vitalis, Irving James and Darnell Martial (1967 and 1968). Fitzpatrick Graham had been there for many years, with a local partner, Willam Rapier, and had the lion’s share of the business. One of C&L’s clients was Michael Chastanet, whose son, Alan, is now the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.
The first Manager of the St Vincent office was Charlie Cuke, one of Henry Cuke’s older brothers. Unfortunately, he took ill while in office and David Murray8 took over on a temporary basis in 1948 holding on; Charlie passed away and David did not come back home until 1966! The Saint Vincent office was thus managed by David Murray from 1948 until 1966 when he returned to the Barbados office and was replaced by Harry Tryhane, who was there for about four years (1966 -1969). The St. Vincent office sent some of their staff (e.g. the Edwards brothers, Clifford and Trevor) to Barbados for training. Harry was replaced by Jim Slater (1969–1970), a Scottish Chartered Accountant and a friend of Alan Lees. After Jim, the Managers were Martin Pollack and Keith Organ (two English CA’s) jointly (1970-1971). Raymond Fernandes succeeded them as Manager (1971-1973), followed by Wally Blackman (1973-1975) and then Percy Narain (1975 – 1977).
- William Ashley Bovell (1865 – 1921) was the only Bovell that I could find that was noted as an accountant.
- Edward Brathwaite Skeete, MCP, was born at Windsor Cottage in St Michael in 1858 and died in 1946.
- In those days, the profession was referred to as “book-posters”.
- The parishes of Barbados were operated as separate organisations by a Vestry, collecting their own taxes and paying their own costs of running the parish. John Fraser’s father (Robert Stuart Fraser) was the Parochial Treasurer of St. John Parish and the books were audited by Bovell & Skeete. Accordingly, when it came time for John to leave school, an interview was arranged for John to meet with Mr. Roy Bryant, resulting in John joining the firm.
- See more on Sir Archibald Cuke’s achievements in the Additional Information section below.
- When Henry started at Bovell & Skeete, he was tutored in the then art of auditing by a senior Manager, Ernest Bourne, known as “Father Bourne”. Henry wore white drill suits to work and rode a bicycle to work from his home in Belleville.
- The Dominica Cooperative Bank was owned and operated by J.B. Charles, the father of Eugenia Charles who later became the Prime Minister of Dominica.
- David Gordon Murray (b. 1924) was the grandson of the founder, Edward Skeete. David’s mother, Mary Daphne Skeete, was Edward’s daughter. David retired in 1989 after a long and distinguished career with Bovell & Skeete.
Sir Archibald Cuke
Sir Hampden Archibald Cuke was born on June 20,1892, one of fifteen children of poor parents, who could afford him only a limited education. At age fourteen he went to work as a clerk at Richards & Co., and by hard work, application and self-education, he later established himself as an accountant and a man of outstanding ability and integrity. His financial acumen brought great prosperity to Barbados through his negotiation of the price paid for sugar by the British Government. ln the late twenties he joined with, and in time became the senior partner of the firm Bovell & Skeete. His advice was much sought after by Government and Business alike, but his particular love was the Sugar Industry which he served unstintingly.
After the Royal Commission in 1937, for which he compiled comprehensive financial data to show the plight of the industry at that time, he developed a practical uniform system of accounts which enabled the preparation of annual statistics, known as the Bovell & Skeete Sugar Production Costs. He collaborated with and served the Sugar Industries in the other Territories of the West Indies and Guyana, and encouraged them to work together in their common interest as sugar exporters. This collaboration bore fruit in the success achieved by the West Indian delegation to Britain in the early post war years of which he was a pivotal member. Among the valuable achievements of the delegation was the satisfactory price obtained from Britain in 1947, and the introduction of special additional payments to the West Indies sugar industries to provide for a capital rehabilitation fund, a price stabilization fund and a labour welfare fund. These achievements, assisted by the continuing efforts of Sir Archibald, undoubtedly led to the formation of the British West Indies Sugar Association (BWSA), later the West Indies Sugar Association (WlSA) and then British Colonial Territories, which led to the creation of the commonwealth sugar Agreement in 1951, of which Sir Archibald is without a doubt considered to have been the chief architect.
Having first been made an officer of the Order of the British Empire and later a commander of the same order, he was knighted by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1955. One of his later services to the Sugar Industry and Barbados was the preparation of a report on the financial feasibility of the Deep Water Harbour in Bridgetown, and the creation of the Bulk Sugar Terminal which allowed the shipping of sugar at much reduced cost. With it all, Sir Archibald remained a humble, dignified. approachable human being.
His awards and other forms of recognition, in addition to his professional achievements, included:
- He was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1955 at Buckingham Palace
- Awarded the CBE: Commander of the British Empire
- He received the Queen’s personal Medal of Honour
- He was the President of the Barbados Legislative Council
- He was a Director of British West indies Airways
- He was a Senator in the West Indies Federation
- He was a Representative of the Sugar Producers of the West Indies
- At his funeral, he was borne by the Prime Minister and Senior Members of Cabinet from the Chapel to the graveside
Bovell & Skeete offer Letter from 1964
Memories of Bovell & Skeete 1960 to 1973 was written by our guest contributor John Fraser with help from Doug Newsam. It is an attempt to capture the history, people and life of Bovell & Skeete in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is naturally subjective from their personal experiences. We hope that others from Bovell & Skeete of the same era will add to it, correct any errors and personalise it for the benefit of their progeny.
John Fraser was born at Spooners, Four Roads, in St. John and attended Lodge School from 1955 to 1964. He worked for Bovell & Skeete (later Coopers & Lybrand) from 1964 to 1973 in Barbados, St Lucia and Dominica. In 1973, he emigrated to Toronto, Canada and became a Chartered Accountant. He is now retired and just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. He has three children and six grandchildren.
Douglas Newsam was born at Chelsea Road, St. Michael in 1942. He attended Harrison College from 1951 to 1960. On leaving that school, he joined Bovell & Skeete, (later Coopers & Lybrand) and completed the professional examinations of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants in the UK in 1974. In January 1977 he was admitted to partnership. He travelled widely in the Caribbean, Canada and the UK in the course of his work. Douglas retired in June 1977 and he has been married to his wife Jean for fifty-two years. He has one daughter and two grand-sons.
- Raymond Fernandes for his anecdotes
- David Murray for filling in critical aspects of the history of the firm
- Michael Carter for group photos posted on Facebook