Monday, September 28, 2015

What a great Jamaica we can build!

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Observer column for MON 21 SEP 2015  
Their Excellencies Governor-General Sir Patrick and Lady Allen cut the ribbon for the opening of Phoenix Central while our daughter Anita Chin looks on.
As our family arrived at a significant milestone last week, I am sharing some of the steps we took to get there. This was the opening of our first real estate development project by that distinguished couple, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen and Lady Allen.  Hubie and I, the children of humble folks, have surprised ourselves with this audacious journey.
I thought back to 1978 when by happenstance I bartered meals for needy children with then Pegasus Marketing Manager the legendary Carrole Guntley, offering to do publicity for the hotel.  She agreed, and the photos were featured in a full-page newspaper spread.  Carrole then asked me to do freelance work, and introduced me to their extraordinary Food & Beverage Manager Susan Campbell of blessed memory.  Susan and I became close friends, and she encouraged me to start my own business.  She suggested that I propose exchanging my services for an office in the hotel, and organised a meeting with then manager Peter Westbrook, who confirmed an agreement on November 29, 1978.
Our family: our children Noel and Anita Chin, Mother Maisie Lowrie, yours truly Jean, Sister Sandra Lowrie, Hubie Chin
Thus was born PROComm, with the slogan ‘follow through sets us apart’.  The business grew faster than expected, and in 1981 we found a quaint but derelict old house on Kingsway with a ‘seventies’ price tag.  My enterprising mother, Maisie Lowrie oversaw the renovation on a shoestring budget. 
I think that is when those endless childhood hours of playing ‘Monopoly’ kicked in. We extended the building, providing office space for ourselves and three tenants, saved the rent, and cleared the modest mortgage (thank you Jamaica National).  We were keen on legacy for our children and so, as the rent accumulated, we used the funds to pay down on a place at Phoenix Avenue in 1988, which was leased for all these years.
Phoenix Central professional complex - Collin Reid photo
By 2013, our children had completed tertiary education and were in the PR-ad business, but they explained that they felt no great passion for it.  We created PRODEV, revived a development plan we had on the back burner, and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into this first project.
Although Hubie’s and my parents were humble folks, their faith and tenacity were the inspiration for our $280 million project. I looked back on the actions of my widowed mother with four small children and a little shop at 2 Rose Street in Savanna-la-mar.   She sewed vestments and altar covers for Father Knight at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and bartered groceries for our fees at the best private school in the town, St Mary’s Academy, run by the Mercy sisters.
She took us on a journey of diligence and prayer, and later married the unforgettable Joscelyn Lowrie.  We moved with him to Kingston and were referred by the Sisters to Alpha on South Camp Road. Our father, stricken with a rare form of arthritis, bravely continued his accounting practice at home, retaining most of his clients until his death in 1977.
19-y-o Hubie and 17-y-o me
Meanwhile, young Hubie Chin worked along with his devoted parents, Ralph and Ruby Chin.  Theirs was a lively Franklin Town grocery and bar where Bustamante and his friends would meet over drinks. Hubie lived “shop-life” until he was 17 and described the late night clean-ups, the ever open side-window on Sundays and public holidays.  His parents emphasised education and Christian living, and their fine children of whom my husband is the youngest, have made them proud.
Although Hubie went to St. George’s College, he was a couple of years ahead of me, so we never met until his best friend Horace ‘Natchy’ Campbell invited him to Mass at our Catholic Mission in Pembroke Hall.  They liked to brag that they were “CAST men” – engineering students of the College of Arts, Science and Technology, now UTECH – meaning that they were more grounded in the practical rather than theory.
How right they were.  When we decided to grow our family, Hubie joined PROComm in 1988 so we could manage our family time better. He was the one who was able to make sense of the digital revolution, attending courses that his engineer’s mind could easily absorb, helping us to continue on the path of efficiency and productivity.
Good business practice
This is an important point.  Regardless of the business you are in, you need to be computer literate.  With smartphones becoming so affordable, even the smallest of enterprises should be embracing the use of email, text and various Google and Facebook apps if they wish to move to the next level. 
PROComm Team membersenjoy doing 5Ks together
And so, we created certain processes in our business which to this day we continue to fine-tune.  We also have fun traditions for our team, as we know that the most important factor in business is the human factor.  We have a strong board that insists on corporate governance, although we have to say that the string of new taxes introduced in recent years have created challenging moments for us.  My sister Frances Beard who holds a Master’s degree in organizational development from Johns Hopkins, has been invaluable in helping us to develop best practices.
We are committed to pro bono work for various worthy causes, especially the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) and have a scholarship fund administered by the Stella Maris Foundation for children in Grant’s Pen.
The PR business has allowed up to see up close, the drive and determination of our clients – working with three generations of the Hendricksons at National Baking, and the dynamic Denis O’Brien led Digicel, has fired up our enthusiasm for enterprise.
The power of prayer
Every birthday is celebrated at PROComm
We start every meeting with prayer, because we draw strength from that awesome power that only the Almighty possesses.  This gives us the confidence of which Marcus Mosiah Garvey wrote – that confidence that makes you a winner before you have even started.  This is not hollow pride, because as we proceed with our meetings, tasks are reviewed, assigned and recorded. Indeed, confidence and diligence go hand in hand.
As our beloved Governor General Sir Patrick Allen said at our opening, success requires, “ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration”.   For us, the closeness of our family and our team and the trust we have for each other have sweetened our labour, because we know that we are building a legacy and creating employment. 
To my fellow Jamaicans therefore I say, do not be daunted by the negative news.  Look at your beautiful children and promise them that you will use your energy for positivity and perseverance. You will walk with Divine guidance, plan, save, and do everything in your power to bring security to your loved ones, even as you share with the needy.  This is a God-blessed country – let us have the will to make it great.

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