I have spent the last two and a half years on a mission to transform the economic outlook of my homeland Jamaica and the wider Caribbean by profiling our success stories and inviting global wealth and innovation to partner with our best local people and organizations in disrupting key industries in the region. On the way I’ve met up on many challenges, including the realities of many on-the-ground dynamics encompassing social issues, crime and an ailing economy - which has not grown within my lifetime of 3 decades. Despite this, I hold on to the belief that Jamaica presents compelling opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors to unlock significant wealth and the vision that my island will prosper.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that Jamaica faces in business is the global misperception about our country, which tends to construe an image riddled with more negatives than positives. It seems the narrative of the poor island nation with beautiful seaside resorts is more attractive than the story of a global brand with significant untapped potential. Jamaica is too often overlooked as a place to do business despite its promise, and remains highly underleveraged in many respects. Beyond sun, sea and sand, Jamaica is known for its world-renowned culture, reggae and dancehall music, cuisine, Olympic athletes, and more. We have a powerful cultural brand that we have not quite managed to capitalize on to the economic benefit of our masses. Contrary to popular belief, investors act on emotion and the misperception that global Jamaica is a totally barren land is an impediment to growth and damaging to the island’s future.
In my short journey however, I’ve been witnessing some very promising changes. If you compare the business section of a newspaper in Jamaica from 5 years ago to now, the positive change is nothing short of phenomenal. In 2015, Jamaica’s stock exchange was the number one performing stock exchange in the world, and continues to perform well. The island recently rose five spots on Forbes’ list of Best Countries To Do Business. We’ve displayed stability under an austere IMF program running almost 5 years, which has survived a couple transitions in government – kudos to both parties. Jamaica’s current government, led by a young dynamic Prime Minister, Andrew Holness has been promoting a plan for 5% growth in four years partnership with a group of powerful business leaders who are working to engage our people to participate in making the plan successful.
You may also be surprised to learn who already invests in Jamaica. Some key names include Sir Richard Branson who acquired a renewable energy company in Jamaica in 2016; John Malone the Chairman of Liberty Media who also owns the Formula 1; Bob Pittman of iHeart Media fame and Ralph Lauren are both involved in the legendary Round Hill Resort and Wes Edens, Chairman of Fortress Investment Group which was sold earlier this year to Softbank are just a few examples of those participating in our economy.
But Jamaica has produced many of its own trailblazers in business including many in the diaspora. In my heavy travels spanning the globe, attending various convenings with global business leaders and influencers, I’m often the only person from the islands in the room. Some may consider me lucky, but I always have the thought that there is no real difference between the business leaders that I know at home and the ones in the room. I’d like to share a few with you; continue reading for profiles some of the island’s business pioneers championing the nation's renewed sense of confidence and strong spirit for success. I encourage you to take the time to revisit your image of Jamaica and take the time to learn about our island’s other side.
Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart - Founder and Chairman, Sandals Resorts International
Dubbed the “King of All-Inclusive Resorts, Master of Marketing and Cupid of the Caribbean”, Gordon Butch Stewart is a larger than life, well-known and respected figure in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the world. Stewart was born and raised in Jamaica and spent his early years around his mother, a small appliance trading business owner, where he learnt his trade before moving on to work as an appliance trader at 17 years old. This saw the birth of Appliance Traders Limited (ATL) in 1968 specializing at first in manufacturing air conditioning units. Today ATL is the distributor of Honda, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and – yes – Porsche motorcars in Jamaica. On top of that, Stewart has founded the Jamaica Observer, and is best known as the owner and operator of 20 resorts under the multibillion-dollar globally recognized Sandals umbrella. He now serves as company Chairman, while his son Adam serves as CEO. Few of his many accolades include the Order of Jamaica, and Commander of the Order of Distinction and the Ernst & Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year.
PB Scott - Chairman and CEO, Musson Group
P.B. Scott is President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), the island's largest business association, and Chairman and CEO of the Musson Group of Companies, a powerful conglomerate in the Caribbean and Latin America, headquartered in Jamaica. Scott, an Accounting graduate from the University of Newcastle, grew up working alongside his late grandfather and Musson’s Founder, the Hon. Desmond Blades - where his interests in business and philanthropy were ignited. Today, Scott focuses on the strategic direction, performance and overall operations of Musson and its subsidiaries including The Facey Group, Seprod Limited, General Accident Insurance and T. Geddes Grant Distributors – among others – with thousands of employees. Scott is respected as an excellent executor and a promoter of great leadership and solid business management. With annual revenues exceeding US$1.6 billion, The Musson Group has established a strong presence locally and internationally, and has growing investments in consumer goods, distribution and manufacturing businesses, while enjoying a world-class distribution platform operating in more than 36 countries in the Caribbean, Central America, Europe, and the Pacific. Scott is a constant promoter of investments yield jobs and is placing his weight behind the message with a US$50 million investment in Jamaica’s sugar industry and dairy sector, and the development of a multi-million dollar 250,000 sq. ft. Business Process Outsourcing Center in Kingston, expected to create an excess of 5,000 jobs for the island.
Michael Lee-Chin - Chairman, Portland Holdings
Michael Lee-Chin, a Jamaican business magnate, investor, and philanthropist was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica in 1951, to biracial parents. His mother sold Avon products and worked as a bookkeeper for local firms, while his stepfather ran a local grocery store. He attended the local high school, Titchfield High, and emigrated to Canada on a scholarship program - sponsored by the Jamaican government - to study Civil Engineering at McMaster University with successfully graduation in 1974. Today, he is the Founder and Chairman of Portland Holdings Inc., a privately held investment company which owns a collection of diversified operating companies. Among other positions, he was the Executive Chairman of AIC Limited and, as of December 2014, the Chairman of the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica. Canadian Business has named him as one of the richest people in Canada and one of the wealthiest Jamaicans, with an estimated wealth of over CAD$2.0 billion. He is without doubt one of the most successful business figures to rise from the Caribbean.
His business portfolio in Jamaica is vast and includes a range of companies in tourism (including Trident Villas and Spa), health care (Medical Associates Ltd, a privately held hospital in Kingston, Jamaica) and several other mammoth businesses in telecommunications (including Columbus Communications Jamaica Ltd.’s Flow Jamaica which sold for over $2 billion in 2015, CVM Television group) and the financial sector (including National Commercial Bank of Jamaica (NCB)).
Jacqueline Sharp - Head of the Caribbean North and Central, Scotiabank
Jacqueline Sharp can be easily considered as one of the prominent female power players in Jamaica and, by extension, the Caribbean and successfully rivals many of her male counterparts. In 2013 she shattered a centuries-old glass ceiling when she was named president and CEO of Scotia Group Jamaica, becoming the first woman to hold the job since the bank’s establishment in 1889. A proud Campion College graduate affectionately known as ‘Jackie’, she holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in accounting from the University of the West Indies, has a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). With approximately 20 years experience at Scotiabank and serving as the country head of Scotia Group Jamaica, she is also the regional head for Scotiabank Caribbean North and Central overseeing six other country markets in addition to the Jamaican operations. These include Haiti, Belize, The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands. She tends to shy away from the spotlight, but her actions, track record of excellence, integrity and diligence speak volumes. She may be petite in frame but stands out as a giant in business.
Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart - Director, Defense Intelligence Agency
Major General Stewart is a Jamaican who attended Kingston College and entered the US Marine Corps in 1981. In 2015, he became the 20th director of the USA Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – the first black officer to do so - and commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JFCC-ISR). Prior to that, he served as Director of intelligence at the US Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, DC. He received his baccalaureate in history in 1981 from Western Illinois University, attended The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia from 1981–1982 and was selected to become an Armor Officer. Upon graduation from TBS, he was sent to Armor Officer School in Fort Knox, KY prior to receiving orders as a Platoon Leader to 1st Tank Battalion out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms. In 1984, he became the Executive Officer of Headquarters Company, 1st Tank Battalion. He earned his master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 1995 and in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University in 2002. A highly decorated servant of the people, Lieutenant General’s awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Usain Bolt - World-Class Olympic Athlete
Usain St. Leo Bolt - the fastest man alive - was born in Trelawny, Jamaica where he stood out from the crowd playing cricket and participating in hurdle races. His natural speed was noted by coaches at William Knibb High School and his athletic career soon experienced a seismic shift. At age 14, Bolt wowed fans with his lightning speed when he won his first high school championship medal in 2001, taking the silver medal in the 200m sprint. At the tender age of 15, he won the 200m dash at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, making him the youngest world-junior gold medalist ever. Bolt's feats impressed the athletics world and he received the International Association of Athletics Foundation’s Rising Star Award that year. He soon was given the notorious nickname "Lightning Bolt" and obliterated world records winning nine gold medals as a reigning champion at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Furthermore, at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, he became the first man in Olympic history to win both the 100m and 200m races in record times. In addition to a series of Olympic Gold medals, he has received numerous awards including IAAF World Athlete of the Year (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016) and BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year (2008, 2009 and 2012) among myriad others. He was notably conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree by the University of the West Indies in 2011.
Bolt has represented Jamaica well both on and off the track. His endearing personality has attracted millions of fans and several lucrative partnerships, which has made him a stand out figure seen as the savior of track and field. He’s also known for his loyalty to Jamaica and early supporting brands such as Digicel and Puma. Bolt has developed a profile as a savvy individual with an entrepreneurial mind. He recognized from day one that he would not be able to sprint down the track for all his life and has so far aligned himself with several business interests including Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records, a well-known sportsbar in Jamaica with plans underway for global expansion and also Champion Shave which promises high performance razors at an affordable price.
Sean Paul - International Recording Artiste
Many would be unaware of the unrelenting hard work that backed Sean Paul’s rapid and meteoric rise to international fame, but I vividly remember when Sean Paul was struggling to make it on the local scene in Jamaica. Sean Paul, born Sean Henriques, rose to prominence on the international stage in 2002 after his single, "Gimme the Light", and the Billboard Hot 100 topper "Get Busy", became worldwide successes - eventually selling over six million copies. The album Dutty Rock won the Reggae Album of the Year at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards in 2004. His single "Get Busy" was also nominated the Best Rap Song that year. Simultaneously, Sean Paul was featured on Beyoncé's U.S. #1 single "Baby Boy" and Blu Cantrell's "Breathe", a chart hit in Europe. Both were key events that further catapulted his brand in the United States. From 2005 to 2008, his album Trinity produced five big hits, "We Be Burnin'", "Ever Blazin", "Give It Up to Me", "Never Gonna Be the Same" and the U.S. chart-topping smash hit "Temperature. He proved his resilience when in early 2016, a seemingly reinvented Paul skyrocketed back into the spotlight with a surprising feature on Australian singer Sia’s remix of her song "Cheap Thrills,” which went on to become an international hit, reaching number one in more than 15 countries spread across several continents. Sean Paul subsequently signed to Island Records.
In addition to his unmistakable voice and distinct style, Sean Paul is respected in the industry for his business spirit and razor sharp approach with a seemingly carefully curated strategy for collaborations, and catchy hooks and beats. This has built him an expansive and diverse fan base with an incredible global footprint. His creativity, versatility and early anticipation of ever changing industry dynamics has allowed him to not only remain an enduring figure in dancehall and hip hop but has also made him a cross over hit factory who seems to be able to adapt to just about any genre. Sean Paul has elevated himself beyond the realm of musician to that of an intellectual, a technologist and a creative genius
These are just a few of Jamaica’s many notable global figures. I’m committed to using this medium to profile more of my island’s home-grown and diaspora stalwarts making waves in business around the world.