Monday, April 14, 2008

It Takes Just One

Pride of Spanish Town: Schools Challenge Quiz champions, the St Jago High School team, (l-r) Aundrae Brown, Kayodi Drake, Greig Drummond, Romeo Lee.

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

From the beginning of time, we have honoured the power of that individual, that passionate visionary who gives hope and opportunities. And so last Thursday, the 12th Observer Business Awards buoyed us up as we listened to the hard and sometimes painful steps taken by the six nominees, all winners, to reach great heights.

In listening to their stories, in reflecting on the lives these top Jamaicans that we have met through the pages of this newspaper over the past years, we should thank an exceptional journalist, a visionary in his own right, for the telling. In many ancient traditions, skilful storytellers held a place of honour in their societies. They were the vessels of history and it was through their vivid use of language that traditions and ancestral pride were kept alive. Moses Jackson has given us more than enough food for a thoughtful journey to success over the past 12 years as founding member of the Awards Committee and its chief scribe.

Who knew that 2007 Observer Business Leader of the Year Glen Christian wore his first pair of shoes when he was 13? Who would have guessed that the graceful Diana Stewart had been in a serious accident at the age of eight and was told by top US doctors that she would never walk again? Who would have imagined that Shirley Carby, an employee of venerated English publishers, would have decided with husband Carl, that since they would not take her ideas on board to produce more indigenous educational books, they would just have to start their own company.

Further who could ever believe that young Ken Morgan who was too nervous to sit the Common Entrance, who had little high schooling, would resume study in his late teens, pass the entrance exams to CAST (now UTECH) and qualify himself to retool his father’s business now grossing $450 million? And what possessed Basil Johnson to believe that out of nothing, he could build the largest hardware chain in the west and become a successful developer? Then there is the youngest kid on the leaders’ block, Andrew Pairman, having the audacity to leave his Mom’s drapery business, read the signs pointing to fantastic opportunities in telecoms, launching Anbell agencies and growing it just in time to ride the Digicel wave.

In every story we read of disappointments, back breaking efforts, team building, and the unfailing hope that would take these individuals and couples to the level of success that would be recognised anywhere on the planet. Young Andrew saw his friends migrating but decided he would make his way in his homeland. Such decisions mean jobs for Jamaicans and the six companies together account for hundreds of employees and millions of dollars in taxes that keep our country ticking.

As Observer Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart said, “A country is nothing more than a multiple of businesses. To the degree that businesses do well, a country does well.” To great applause, he told us, “For too many years, some people regarded it as a sin to make a profit.” Passion and love were also important he said, but “if you don’t make a profit, your passion won’t last long.”

This bighearted entrepreneur reflected on the resourcefulness of Jamaica’s informal commercial traders who would take food from our soil, save and buy their plane tickets and fly to countries such as Curacao to sell their provisions, purchase goods for sale in Jamaica, building small and thriving businesses. He reflected that many successful, well educated Jamaicans have been nurtured by these humble entrepreneurs.

In an impromptu speech, Finance Minister Audley Shaw gave us stirring thoughts. “Too easily have we accepted mediocrity,” he rightfully said. “We have an opportunity to renew our commitment… in the pursuit of excellence, one person can make a difference.”

At the Business Leader event, Cliff Hughes and his team were continuously taping and interviewing for a Nationwide broadcast. Cliff is himself an entrepreneur who works in the trenches to build his business, now with a workforce of 35. I remember calling Cliff on the news of the sad death of our mutual friend Hugh Croskill and remarking that of all of us, he probably did the most important thing for Hugh: he kept the faith in this world-class journalist by giving him a job, and helping to shore up his dignity.

The Observer Business Leader Awards, above all, breaks the myth that successful business people are specially privileged. These stories tell us that each and every one of us has the power to become our own boss and mentors of others. The superlative business leader David Hall, outgoing CEO of Digicel Jamaica, has never failed to express admiration for the resourcefulness and determination of Jamaicans. In relating to the media Digicel’s modus operandi for sales, he said the company encouraged Jamaican-owned dealerships “because there is no better salesman than a Jamaican.” People like Bernard Henry and Marlon Creary have proved him right.

And so, as we mull over that Amnesty report about our poor left to the mercy of gangs, we should understand that as Butch Stewart says, it is only when we can grow our businesses and provide meaningful jobs that we can release our people from this misery.

How does success influence the mood of a community? If you watched TVJ on Wednesday night, you would know. Schools Challenge Quiz champions the St Jago High School Team, their teachers, schoolmates complete with marching band made a victory march through the streets of Spanish Town. TVJ GM Kay Osborne said there was jubilation as people lined the streets to cheer their young heroes. “Spanish Town was wonderful, joyful!” an emotional Kay told us. Imagine, those shottas seeing these four young men raised up and respected, not because of their “intra-tech” but because of their intellect – what a profound, moving message.

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