FROM a very tender age growing up on Parkland Drive on Red Hills Road, Andrea Wray, nee Beckford, was closely involved in the family business. Her mother Mavis Beckford was a pharmacist who had honed her skills while working as a supervisor at Mead Johnson Jamaica Ltd, as well as working part-time at other pharmacies in the Corporate Area on evening shifts to maintain her dispensing skills. She later used her skills and talent to start the family business – Mall Pharmacy.
In her formative years, Wray saw how much her family assisted others in their business and daily lives, and from there she developed a love for helping people, and wanted to pursue a career path that would enable her to do so.
“I like to teach and impart knowledge, and while growing up I wanted to be an elementary school teacher or a doctor,” she said.
As a student of Immaculate Conception High School, Wray recalls being encouraged by her teachers to pursue a career in teaching because she had the personality and ability to impart knowledge to others. “One day there was a math question that many students were not getting. I explained it to my classmates and they were able to understand. My math teacher came in, saw how well I had explained the problem, and asked me if I would consider being a teacher, as I was good at it,” she explained.
As the idea of teaching began to preoccupy her mind, she seriously considered pursuing that career.
An accident while she was in sixth form forced Wray to undergo physiotherapy. When her therapist found out about her plans for the future, he recommended to her a range of therapy career options, one of which included speech therapy – an occupation that would mesh with her desire to work with children.
Not knowing much about the field of therapy, Wray did her research to see if she would be interested in pursuing a job as a therapist. She consulted her encyclopedia – a gift from her father Gurney Beckford just before she had started attending Immaculate. A prized possession that still adorns her library, the encyclopedia provided definitions and also featured various branches in the field. Wray revealed, “I was particularly drawn to speech therapy, as I realised from my research that it would allow me to work with children, which was my primary interest.”
Wray went on to pursue her tertiary education at the University of Maryland, doing her first degree in hearing and speech sciences, then she did her Master's degree in Speech Language Pathology “Speech Therapy” at Howard University. She knows that having a good education is the foundation for a successful career path, as proven by her grandmother and her parents, who are her greatest inspirations. Putting into practice what she learnt during her tenure at university, she worked with the Government for over 13 years as a speech therapist after returning to Jamaica in 1988.
“I've worked with all different types and ages of children and adults – autistic individuals, persons with Down's Syndrome, people who have suffered from a stroke or head injuries,” she shared. “Speech therapy is an exciting and rewarding field; just being able to watch the growth of individuals, especially the children, from the moment they started therapy until the end. It is a great and accomplished feeling knowing that I have impacted people's lives in the best way possible.”
In addition to being a speech therapist, Wray took over as general manager of Mall Pharmacy – the family business –in 1995. This was a natural progression and fit for her, as she is devoted to her family and being a part of the family legacy.
“Mall Pharmacy has been the go-to pharmacy for generations, and we have always tried to be a pharmacy with a difference in the community. My mother is very good at tapping into the likes and dislikes of our customers, and always endeavours to offer personalised service to every customer who enters our pharmacy. My mom enjoys customer service, while I am more operational, ensuring the business runs smoothly on a daily basis,” she said.
When Wray took over as general manager, Mall Pharmacy operated from two locations – Mall Pharmacy on Constant Spring Road and the Portmore Mall Pharmacy. She explained, however, that it was becoming more challenging to manage both locations as efficiently and effectively as she wanted, and in 2013 the family sold Mall Pharmacy on Constant Spring Road with the aim of putting all their energy and focus on Portmore Mall Pharmacy.
To assist the company to develop further, Wray disclosed that Sagicor Bank reached out to them and offered the business a line of credit. She took advantage of this injection to meet working capital needs and to invest, while being able to have a greater cash flow for the business.
“The capital turned the business around tremendously, and things have been going well ever since,” she said proudly. Wray declared how impressed she was with Sagicor Bank, noting: “What sets them apart is that they came to us with a solution. They find new and innovative ways of doing banking, and they stand out because they do banking with a difference.”
Wray describes her two passions of being a business owner and a speech therapist as her greatest achievements. As general manager of the pharmacy, it delights her to know that her customers are happy with the service provided to them, and is even more fulfilled knowing that at the end of the day her business has been able to help every customer entering its doors.
The passionate speech therapist recounted one of the proudest moments of her career: “My proudest moment as a speech therapist takes me back to one of my cerebral palsy clients who I worked with for six years. While his mother was pregnant, she had made a trip to Montego Bay and went into labour midway her journey and was rushed to the hospital. The doctor realised that her labour was not progressing, and the child went into distress. When he was three years old they came to me after deciding to get therapy for him, and I was able to help his speech progress greatly.”
Wray beamed with pride as she shared that the child was able to successfully graduate from the University of the West Indies with an honours degree and is leading a fulfilling life.
She fully endorses having a balanced life between work and family, and with two adult sons – Garel, 28, and Jevon, 26, she is able to achieve and maintain a work-life balance.
“My sons are past the age when they need my undivided attention and guidance, so work-life balance is easy for me. I am very active in church and I teach Sunday school. My job allows me to spend a lot of time with my parents and a lot of time with children. Plus the pharmacy has always been a part of my life. I love to work with children, so my two jobs never feel like work,” she declared.