By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
AFTER 10 years in operation, Elnet Maritime Agency Limited broke ground yesterday for construction of its $2.5 million maritime centre that will provide about 80 to 100 new jobs on Grand Bahama.
Elbert Hepburn, CEO, along with his mother and business partner, Janet Shepherd, vice president of the company, started the maritime business in 2008.
The duo stepped out on faith, despite critics and many challenges, building the company into a multi-million-dollar business, expanding its operations to Nassau, and now has business interests in three countries, including the US, the Cayman Islands, and St Croix.
Elnet Maritime has acquired land on Queen's Highway, Freeport. The company presently employs 30 people on Grand Bahama. Over the past decade, it has serviced over 4,285 vessels in Grand Bahama, Nassau, the Cayman Islands, Florida, and through its sister company, Elite Marine Management Agency, in St Croix.
Mr Hepburn said that becoming a successful businessman in the maritime industry was a long-held dream of his. He started his career at the age of 16 as a stevedore.
"Today, 10 years after deciding to pursue this dream, I am much more than the CEO of a maritime agency, I am a humble and hungry son of the soil," he said.
"The breaking of this ground - this soil represents more than earth, steel, and machines. It represents the breaking of a mindset, a cycle, and mentality; it is the breaking of a system that says success had to look a certain way, dress a certain way and come from a particular socio-economic background.
"It is the breaking of childhood fear, disappointment, and stereotypes, and mostly the breaking of chains of opinion, oppression, and the glass ceiling; that glass ceiling that meant a little black boy from a single-parent family could never be a player in a field that did not represent his demographics," he said.
As a child growing up, Mr Hepburn said he was the "class clown and a problem child" and never thought that one day he would be sharing a story of success of a boy who came from humble beginnings.
"I am not a trust fund baby. There was no silver spoon," he said. "As a young boy, I would never dream I would one day have an audience like this to share my story and that anyone else would care about hearing.
"I never set out to inspire anyone. The only person I wanted to prove anything to, was to myself.
"It appeared to be a divine assignment was pushing me forward to my dream," he said. "Today marks the 10th anniversary of Elnet as a company as well as the 10th anniversary we received our very first appointment by JP Morgan."
Mr Hepburn has made significant contributions of over $1 million in financial investments giving back to the community to help people start their own businesses.
"Despite everything I have told you, I am not special. I am living proof that inspiration is not a skill," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, minister of finance, said that Mr Hepburn is an inspiration to many Bahamians.
"You will be very successful and continue to contribute to this island in a significant way," he said.
Mr Turnquest noted that Elnet's groundbreaking demonstrates "that there is life here in GB."
"We have discussions about the future of Grand Bahama, and what initiatives should we take to help develop the economy on this island. We made a significant step just in the last week which is a demonstration of government's commitment to growing the economy of GB, and provide opportunity for our people on this island, and throughout the Bahamas," he said, referring to government's purchase of the Grand Lucayan Resort.
According to Mr Turnquest, the important thing in Grand Bahama is Bahamians who are investing in their country like Mr Hepburn.
"I am proud to be a Grand Bahamian, and every day we fight to ensure that Grand Bahama gets the resources and attention it needs. In order for us as a government to be successful, we need the private sector to step up and take its rightful place," he said.
Minister of State for Grand Bahama Senator Kwasi Thompson commended Mr Hepburn for what he is doing on the island.
He indicated that in addition to the employees at Elnet, the company would engage 125 additional persons through sub-contractors during the construction phase.
"If you have not inspired anybody, you certainly inspired me. This young man is a real example of what Grand Bahama is about," he said. "I believe this venture he is going into is God inspired."