Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thank you Denis O'Brien - Happy 10th Anniversary Digicel!

Makonnen Blake-Hannah makes the first official Digicel call at the Launch held at the Jamaica Pegasus as then Deputy PM Seymour Mullings, Jodi-Ann Maxwell and Digicel Founder Denis O'Brien look on.

Today is ten years to the day that Jodi-Ann Maxwell and Makonnen Blake-Hannah switched on the Digicel service in Jamaica. Maxi Priest and river/reggae dancers wowed the awestruck guests whose complimentary phones lit up at midnight while laser lights glowed over New Kingston.

What made the company different from the outset were the unprecedented opportunities it offered not only for employment, but also for Jamaican entrepreneurs. One such is the CEO of Fimi Wireless, Bernard Henry, who had initially been hired as Marketing Director of Digicel. When Henry crunched the numbers and saw the dealership dollar signs, he promptly resigned his job and with the assistance of his former employer, joined with partners to launch a chain of islandwide dealerships. Henry then formed alliances throughout the region and is now doing business in several Caribbean countries.

Denis O’Brien has also lauded the Facey group, who came on board to supply handsets and flex cards and is now also a multinational force in the supply of telecoms equipment not only for Digicel networks, but in several other countries.

Digicel now employs some of the brightest young people I have ever seen in one place. We know about the company’s customer care, but their best kept secret is probably the care of their internal customers, their staff members. Denis O’Brien believes in mentoring and succession planning, establishing a tailored EMBA course for the staff which has seen the emergence of bright young managers.

The Digicel Foundation was launched with one of the largest single corporate donations in Jamaica’s history, $200 million for post-Ivan reconstruction in 2004. Since then the Digicel Foundation, headed by the excellent Major General Robert Neish, has completed 186 projects throughout Jamaica and many more in Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean. “Wherever we invest,” declares Denis O’Brien, “we are committed to giving back a percentage of our sales to the people.”

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti last January, Digicel was the first major corporate donor, pumping US$5 million into emergency relief efforts. The brilliant Colm Delves, Group CEO of Digicel, commented: “We are deeply upset and concerned at the news of the earthquake in Haiti and want to do whatever we can to support the desperately needed relief efforts...The people of Haiti welcomed us and made us their own when we launched there in 2007 and we are determined to be there for them in their time of need.”

Denis O’Brien is proud of Digicel’s Jamaican roots, telling journalist Cliff Hughes that “Digicel is a Jamaican multi-national – we want to spread the Jamaican DNA throughout the Digicel network.” Having worked with such stalwarts Bob Neish, Harry Smith, Lisa Lewis, Lesline Chisholm, Paddy King and Ken Mason you can understand Denis’ pride in his team.

No wonder then that a few months ago, Denis broke ground with Prime Minister Bruce Golding for the building of their stunning regional headquarters on the Kingston waterfront. Already, real estate experts say that downtown Kingston properties have been regaining their value since the announcement of the project, which is a stone’s throw way from the beautifully renovated Coronation Market. O’Brien had just committed personal funds to the rebuilding of Haiti’s historic Iron Market, when he was introduced to the Coronation Market. He immediately committed to its rebuilding and vendors and visitors alike are now enjoying an orderly, picturesque market.

The promising young Digicel employees feel fortunate that Denis O’Brien chose Jamaica and grew his business to not only employ them, but also train and promote them. In a country where 80% of our university graduates migrate in search of greener fields, you cannot help but be moved by the testimony of these youngsters, bright, confident and motivated.

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