Saturday, November 7, 2015

Jamaica will “rock and roll”

Inspiring leaders - Denis O'Brien, Earl Jarrett and Don Wehby - Jamaica Observer composite

by Jean Lowrie-Chin - Jamaica Observer column 2 November 2015

With the double-speak of politicians from both sides of the House, we’ve been having a tough time trying to “keep our heads when all about you are losing theirs”, in the words of Kipling.  Thank goodness for the encouragement last week from some outstanding leaders who continue to be committed to Jamaica, putting their millions where their mouths are.

Denis O’Brien believes that “this country will rock and roll”; Don Wehby says, “We have set our foundation, and we are building!” Earl Jarrett declares, “I remain optimistic about Jamaica. My optimism is grounded in the nature of the Jamaican people and their ability to be creative and industrious.”  

It was fitting that Digicel Chairman Denis O’Brien was recognized by the Government of Jamaica with the Order of Jamaica on Heroes Day, and last Friday, received the Honorary Doctorate from The University of the West Indies.  He spoke passionately about Jamaica, explaining to the graduates in his commencement speech, “The proudest part of all of that we have achieved over the years is that, as a company, we have our roots here in Jamaica. Without hesitation, Jamaica is the cornerstone of Digicel growth and development of all our 32 countries.” He named outstanding Jamaicans and UWI graduates who have contributed to the company’s growth: Lisa Lewis, Harry Smith, Ken Mason, Keith Smith, Donel Miller, Earl Manning, Michelle Williams, Fabian Williams, Jackie James and Sean Latty.

Since 2003 when Denis first sponsored Jamaica’s Special Olympics Team to compete abroad, he has been ensuring that places like the Step Centre, Naz in Montego Bay, Abilities Foundation among myriad projects to promote special needs, education and entrepreneurship.

How did this man, in the Fortune Top 200 of the World’s Richest, become so passionate about his fellow humans?  “My mother [Iris O’Brien] is a serial protestor,” he told his audience. “She took issue with President Reagan’s foreign policy towards Nicaragua in the 1980s. On the very day I sold my business in Ireland in 2000, my mother ordered me down to the Russian embassy to protest against the treatment of the Chechens.”

He continued: “As a child, she taught me about Africa and the developing world and, because of her, my siblings and I felt a bond with those less fortunate … This philosophy has travelled with me to this very day – as far as I am concerned, capitalism is broken. The greed that led to the Wall Street crash of 2008 reinforced that.”

The dedicated philanthropist observed, “Ninety-five percent of multinationals do nothing to give back to the developing world where they make their profits... If the truth be known, I admire social entrepreneurs far more than entrepreneurs – because they make the biggest impact on society. Looking after the people who in our busy lives we can’t look after, is surely the noblest cause.”

Denis lauded Jamaican exemplars: “In this country, you are blessed with a rich seam of social entrepreneurs – people like Father Gregory from Mustard Seed, Michael Barnett from New Horizon Outreach Ministries and  Jason Henzell of Jakes Holdings.”

Denis O’Brien assured the graduates that those with a leaning towards social entrepreneurship “will probably end up being far happier than many of your peers in the commercial world for one reason; helping those that can’t help themselves is way more fulfilling than making money.”

Don Wehby’s global strides

Stephen Hill’s Annual CIN Lecture in New York was delivered on Thursday by Don Wehby, the visionary young CEO of the 93-year-old GraceKennedy Group.  His Lecture, spiced with warm Jamaican music, and bracing videos of our athletic exploits had his audience riveted.

Starting with a 1922 balance sheet which recorded such assets as a mule and dray cart, this Jamaican giant GraceKennedy now has companies in the US, Canada, the UK and Ghana.  However, it has not neglected the land of its birth.  Recalling the watchwords of former legendary Chairman and CEO Carlton Alexander, “If it’s good for Jamaica, it’s good for GraceKennedy,” Don decided that his company should discontinue the importation of pepper mash, and partner with local farmers to produce this all-important ingredient.

“We made contact with several local farmers and told them basically, that we wanted to enter into partnerships with them where they would steadily supply us with quality products and we would not only buy from them on a consistent basis, but assist them with training, with inputs such a fertiliser, as well as loans to expand their farms,” he said. “Those partnerships have worked out so well, that we now have enough pepper mash for our own production, AND are now exporting not only to other Caribbean islands, but to our own factory in Wales, and as far away as Sweden!”

His company’s partnership with Western Union has also made them world champions, even as they have made champions of Jamaica’s household workers! Don noted that the two Foundations run by the company have funded the education of thousands of children for decades.  GraceKennedy is also the biggest sponsor of our world-famous Boys’ and Girls’ Championships. “That’s where some of our greatest track and field stars were made!’ enthused Don. “US$1M might seem like a lot of money, and it is, but to us it is not an expense, it is an investment in Jamaica’s future.” 

Earl Jarrett, PSOJ Hall of Famer

We packed the Pegasus Ballroom for the induction of Earl Jarrett in the PSOJ Hall of Fame.  This gentle dynamo is one of the humblest leaders we know.  In the words of PSOJ President William Mahfood, “Earl Jarrett has worked assiduously to earn trust, not just from his customers, his executives, his team members at the JN group, but across the breadth and width of Jamaicans here and abroad.” He was also commended for his voluntary work with the Jamaica Cancer Society and the National Road Safety Council. In his reply, Earl thanked Jamaica National Chairman Oliver Clarke and colleagues for their support.
A dedicated nationalist, Earl Jarrett noted, “A common issue that I have found in our society is: the low level of trust that exists across sectors …A starting point for building trust is to share power and decision-making.”
He said that while the private sector employs over 90 percent of the Jamaican workforce, “only 22 percent of our Parliamentarians are business persons …The history of business direction in Jamaica is directly correlated to power and laws. Many will remember the passage of laws and how the movement of investment lag behind Policy.”    He therefore suggested stronger representation from the private sector in Government”. 
Imagine having the strategic thinking and compassionate spirit of such business gurus guiding Jamaica’s policies – this suggestion should be welcomed by those who declare that they put country ahead of party.

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