THE BOOKERS EMPIRE
The business firm, Booker Brothers, McConnell & Company, popularly known as Bookers, played a leading role in the economic history of Guyana, especially from the beginning of the twentieth century. By the middle of the century, the company, headquartered in London, owned large holdings in Britain, Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Nigeria, Canada, India, Belgium, East Africa as well as Guyana.
The Booker family owned sugar plantations in Guyana since the early nineteenth century. The firm gradually expanded its holdings by purchasing other plantations that ran into economic problems late in the century. Thus, by the end of the nineteenth century, Bookers owned most of the sugar plantations in Guyana.
The firm had also by this time branched out, both in Guyana and in its other international locations, to form separate companies involved in shipping, import and export trade, and wholesale and retail sale of consumer goods, among other businesses. Bookers' impact on the economy of the country was so great, that Guyana, then known as the colony of British Guiana, was often humorously referred to as "Bookers Guiana".
Through the wealth Bookers generated in Guyana, and its role as the largest employer, it was able to wield much political influence during successive periods in the country's history.
By 1950, the Booker companies were involved in all sectors of the Guyanese economy. Bookers Agricultural Holdings owned 15 of the existing 18 sugar estates and a large cattle ranch located at Kabawer on the upper Abary River. Another offshoot company known as the Campbell Booker group owned a large number of wholesale and retail stores selling food items, furniture, household appliances, clothing, hardware, building supplies, sports goods, farm machinery and equipment, and motor vehicles. It also owned the largest taxi service in the country.
Another branch of the group was the Bookers Engineering and Industrial Holdings which manufactured and sold pharmaceuticals. It also manufactured boxes and was involved in printing and publishing.
Bookers Merchants, in addition to conducting a lucrative advertising business, performed the role of producers and distributors of rum, stockfeed, balata, lumber, and petroleum products.
The international shipping business was provided by Bookers Brothers (Liverpool) which also controlled the sugar terminals in Georgetown. This company was also involved in various types of insurance. Two other branches of the Bookers business cartel, the Guiana Industrial and Commercial Investments and Bookers Central Properties, carried out investments in real estate and other property.
The management sector of the Bookers group of companies in Guyana comprised mostly expatriate Englishmen who served for a few years before returning to Britain. They included the managers of the sugar estates which employed thousands of persons of Indian and African ancestry as cane cutters and factory workers. Urban middle class Guyanese made up a lower tier in Bookers' management team.