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Kersten Group is one of Suriname’s largest and most reliable enterprises Image Credit: Supplied

Kersten Group is not just one of the major private sector groups in Suriname, it is one of the oldest trading companies of the Western hemisphere. What started in 1768 to finance missionary work through business activities, today groups some of Suriname’s most recognised companies, representing globally renowned brands like Caterpillar, Toyota and Mitsubishi Electric. Kersten’s companies are HSEC-certified and operate within four strategic divisions: building and construction, hospitality, motors and industrial equipment, and distribution.

“As Kersten Group we play a supervising role and the executive powers are largely reserved to the Managing Directors of the subsidiaries. We are proud of the work and achievements of our Operating Companies," explains  Antoine Brahim, CEO of Kersten Group.

The Building and Construction division includes Argos Suriname, a 50-50 joint venture with Colombia’s Cementos Argos that is the sole producer of fresh cement in the country and a major supplier in the market; BEM is the oldest concrete company in Suriname, producing building materials and concrete products since 1954; Spanbenton provides quick span hollow core slabs and other pre-stressed and precast concrete elements; and Alginco supplies tailor-made solutions in the areas of electrical, water, cooling and gas installations. They represent Mitsubishi Electric, of which they are official partners in Suriname and Guyana, as well as other brands like CPS, ALP and Galco.

In their Hospitality division, Kersten has downtown Paramaribo’s Hotel Krasnapolsky. Founded in 1973, it is undergoing a major $8 million renovation under the umbrella of Radisson Hotel Group that is expected to be delivered early 2023. The new Radisson Hotel Paramaribo will be a full service 4-star hotel with 126 rooms, including 7 suites, all furnished according to international standards; a new outdoor pool, gym, fine-dining restaurants, bars and multifunctional event rooms. “We invest in hospitality now because we are confident that our economy will grow in the long term with the current oil and gas developments,” says Brahim.

Kersten’s “Bergendal Amazonia Wellness Resort”, is a unique ecotourism resort founded in 2008 with 44 recently renovated luxury lodges located on the banks of the Suriname river. Offering varied wellness, adventure and cultural activities, it is a one-of-a kind experience in the midst of a magnificent tropical jungle landscape only a couple of hours from Paramaribo. “It is truly fantastic. The lodges are partly located along the river and partly on a hill, so you feel like you are hanging on the trees," assures Brahim. As for their restaurants, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, they are a popular US fast food franchise that started in Suriname in 1999 and now have four outlets in the country.

Kersten Motors was founded in 1919, has dealerships with renowned brands like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Hertz and Ironman 4x4, and provides sales of new or used vehicles, mechanical and customization services, genuine parts, rentals and leases. On the other hand, Surmac is a major supplier of industrial equipment for a variety of sectors like mining, building and construction, oil and gas, power generation, marine, and agriculture. Surmac is the official distributor of Caterpillar in Suriname since 1941 and more recently in French Guyana. They also work with other renowned brands like Massey Ferguson, DAF and JLG, and offer maintenance services and qualified training.

Kersten Distribution supplies medical and pharmaceutical devices, like NIPRO’s kidney dialysis kits. They also distribute household products, both imported and manufactured by them, like their famous Alcolado Glacial, a mentholated splash lotion that is very popular in the Caribbean. Kersten Group also owns a 320 per cent share in one of Suriname’s largest banks and in 2016 they started a small employment company that provides skilled labor to their own companies and others.

Furthermore, Kersten continues to search for business partners in Suriname and in neighboring countries like Guyana and the ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. They are also preparing for partnerships with future potential investors in the oil and gas industries by consulting with experts in Trinidad and Guyana. “Being one of the preferred suppliers of the large-scale mining companies, we are ready to become one of the major suppliers for the oil companies too," states Vishal Jadnanansing, CFO of Kersten Group.

And while they had to face pandemic-related challenges, Kersten Group managed to minimize their negative effects and turn them in their favor. They applied effective management measures like collective COVID-19 guidelines, early stage remediation programs for subsidiaries and continuous cash flow monitoring. They also implemented cost-saving initiatives quickly, yielding out better performance results than a year before, and reinforced their teamwork dynamics. “As a group, we have become stronger," affirms Brahim.

It is precisely this combination of persistence, good planning and a positive mindset, which has helped Kersten Group thrive for over two centuries. Moreover, they are confident that there are even brighter things ahead. Like Kersten’s CFO concludes, “with major oil findings, Suriname is becoming more and more attractive for international investors, and Kersten is one of the largest diversified companies in Suriname with a track record of 253 years of being a trusted and reliable name in the country.”