01 Aug Continually building on a family legacy
A businessman and boat racer, Ken Charles has overseen the rise of Solo Beverages and written his name into the history books
Established in the 1940s by Joseph Charles and initially employing just a handful of workers, Solo Beverages has developed into a hugely successful soft-drink manufacturer that now has more than 200 employees and exports its products throughout the Caribbean.
A homegrown business with its roots in Trinidad and Tobago, much of the company’s success has been overseen by Joseph’s son, Ken Charles. Since he became the managing director of Solo Beverages, the company has achieved significant growth and now exports to niche markets within Canada as well as to New York and Miami.
“Solo Beverages started with my father, who was working as a salesman in a bakery when he found out that the local factory was for sale. He had around $350 saved up and borrowed some more money from a good friend to purchase the business,” explains Charles. “One day while selling bread, he started to sell some bottles of soda and that was the start of the company you see today. At the start there were only two or three employees and the operation was run entirely by hand. My father then installed a semi-automated line that could produce 60 bottles per minute in 1950. Through his ingenuity, he was able to increase the efficiency of the machinery to produce 120 bottles per minute.
“My father was completely self-taught and worked extremely hard and he passed those skills on to me. He also ensured that all of his children were always honest and kind to our staff. These lessons have been crucial as we now have more than 200 employees, with increased shifts to accommodate higher volumes, and some of our workers have been with us for more than 50 years.”
A true pioneer
As well as continuing his father’s business legacy, Charles has also carved out a career in powerboat racing and is seen as one of the pioneers of water sports within Trinidad and Tobago. His exploits even earned him a place in the 2019 Guinness World Records when he became the oldest professional powerboat racer at the age of 75 years and 17 days old.
Charles has been involved in powerboat racing since the 1960s and has been a regular competitor in the Great Race — one of the longest-running offshore powerboat races in the world that sees entrants travel from Trinidad to Tobago in the fastest possible time.
Now running for more than 50 years, Charles has attempted the race on 49 occasions and has claimed the ‘fastest boat’ title an impressive 18 times. “Sometimes there are up to 30 boats racing and it can be very dangerous. I lost my two sons in a boating accident in 1993 but I continued racing because they also loved it so much and would have wanted me to continue and overcome my fear,” he says. “I have one more year of racing before I retire and still hold the record for the fastest time to Tobago, which is 58 minutes.”
While Charles may soon retire from racing, he has no plans to step away from his role at Solo Beverages and is continuing his family’s legacy by passing on his vast knowledge to another of his sons. “I like to think my legacy will be that I worked hard and I have all the confidence in my son, Hayden Charles, to keep moving the company forward,” states Charles. “I truly believe that he’s going to take Solo Beverages beyond what I achieved so I am very excited by the future.”