The spice of Saniah Spencer's life

Marketing executive reveals her secret to work-life balance

Monday, October 30, 2017

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ALMOST every weekend over the past year, Saniah Spencer, chief marketing executive at JN Bank, trades the convenience of modern living in the Corporate Area for a rustic life, retreating to her cabin in a remote area near the Buff Bay River in Portland.

Her fiancé Nicholas Watt, a marketing officer and graphic designer at the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited, participates in these adventurous forays, as they escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital city, exhale, and connect with nature. It is that kind of experience which has made the parish of Portland one of this country's tourist enclaves.

“We both love nature, farming and the experience of country life,” Spencer revealed. “Therefore, our getaways are stress relievers to [help us] focus and enjoy a rural experience.”

Interestingly, neither Spencer nor Watt had prior exposure to country life, having resided in the Corporate Area all their lives; however, they have both discovered how rejuvenating it can be.

“None of my relatives live in rural areas; therefore, while growing up, I never had the opportunity to spend vacations outside of Kingston,” she explained.

Routinely, Spencer and Watt would embark on their weekend cross-country trip. Last year, on one of those Saturdays, which coincidentally was her birthday, they discovered a well-fruited three-acre property in Portland that was available for lease. It was replete with crops including plantains, bananas, breadfruit, ackee, coffee, citrus, pear, coconut, sugar cane and coco. One month later, they signed a ten-year lease agreement.

“We added sorrel, peppers and carrots; however, half of the other crops and the makeshift footbridge which we used to get to the property were destroyed during the flood rains last October. We generally take the produce to Kingston and give them to friends,” Spencer disclosed.

With the assistance of carpenters in the community, they have almost completed construction of a cabin. The sole dwelling on that side of the river, it is only accessible by a footbridge. However, due to the recent flood rains, the cabin can only be reached when the river is not in spate.

“The living conditions are very basic. There is no electricity, so we use lamps when we stay overnight. There is also no running water, hence we installed a tank,” she said.

Andrew “Squiddo” Webber, a local resident who maintains the property, also serves as the chef on weekends, cooking meals on a wood fire in the yard.

“We cook produce grown on the property. We have ackee without the salt fish, which is quite tasty; and we use 'janga' from the river to make soup,” Spencer related.

In addition to her enjoyment of the breathtaking view of the lush flora and the serene environment, Spencer also has to contend with the fauna, represented by a variety of stinging insects, frogs and lizards that she fears.

“I usually go inside the cabin before it gets dark to avoid them,” she laughed, adding, “but thankfully, the soothing sounds of the crickets, birds and the sound of the river compensate for the unwelcome creatures.”

Fifteen years ago, Spencer started her tenure as a part-time teller with the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), which transitioned to JN Bank in February of this year.

She quickly made several lateral moves and was promoted four times while ascending the corporate ladder. This she attributes to the on-the-job coaching she received and the support from her supervisors. Today, at the age of 36, she has responsibility for brand and integrated marketing, sales promotions, events management and product development, and is the youngest executive at JN Bank.

A few months before she graduated from Northern Caribbean University with an associate degree in marketing, she applied to Jamaica National for a position. And although there was no vacancy at the time, she remained hopeful for a positive response even after being employed by another financial institution.

Spencer vividly recalls her persistent efforts to get a job at Jamaica National.

“For four consecutive months I called the JNBS human resources department to ensure that I did not miss an opportunity should a vacancy arise,” she disclosed, maintaining that she did not want to work anywhere else.

Her perseverance paid off when she was offered a position at the JNBS Half-Way-Tree Branch in 2002. Without hesitation, she quit her six-month-old marketing officer job to take up a part-time job as a teller, which actually paid less.

“My heart was set on working at Jamaica National,” she said. “I had a memorable experience working there as an intern while I attended St Andrew Technical High School. It was my first exposure to the working world, and I was smitten by the 'family culture' I experienced at JN. Staff members were caring, and I felt as if I belonged. As a result, I didn't want to work anywhere else.

“My experience at JN has been a fulfilling one that has enabled my professional and personal growth. What I enjoy most about being at JN is that I am given the latitude to execute marketing and sales strategies to meet the organisation's targets. One of my most rewarding experiences was being integral to the start-up of the MoneyShop model, which was a new concept to Jamaica,” she explained.

Philip Bernard, then executive in charge of Community Banking and Administration at JNBS, pointed out that Spencer was a valuable member of his team.

“She was proactive, always willing to try, and was never afraid of failing. She always took the initiative, and if something didn't turn out well she would use it as a lesson. Furthermore, she took instructions well.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Sandra Jones, sales quality reporting officer in the Marketing and Promotions Department, who has worked with Spencer for nine years. She commended Spencer for her diligent application to every task she undertakes.

“She always looks for ways to get the work done. She is very progressive, focused, approachable, and provides opportunities for employees to grow. I see her going places, because she is a hard worker,” Jones said.

As soon as Spencer settled into the rhythm of working with Jamaica National, she enrolled at the NCU Kingston campus to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in business management, specialising in marketing.

In addition to her work schedule, she also makes time to mentor ten youngsters who live in the Rainford Road community off Hagley Park Road.

“For the past year, Nicholas and I have been mentoring these young people,” she revealed. “We both believe in giving back. We talk with the youngsters daily and inspire them to live positive lives. We also take them on tours and visits to the farm.”

In Spencer's view, it is time management that enables her to maintain a balance between the rigours of corporate life and her personal life. Her typical day begins by 6:00 am and ends at around midnight.

“At the end of my work day and extra activities, I unwind by catching up with news around the world,” she said. “I believe that it is important to be aware of what is taking place in the wider society, locally and overseas, so that one can make informed decisions and, if necessary, influence what is happening.”









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