THE Jamaica Observer yesterday formally launched its annual Business Leader Award, setting the stage for a programme that is designed to engender public discourse around the country's post-Independence business and economic development.
As the award programme is unveiled throughout the pages of the newspaper, beginning later this month, readers will learn which of 15 companies to be nominated for the award, and which can trace their roots to pre-Independence Jamaica, has had the most profound positive impact on the island's economic development.
The award ceremony, at which only one of the 15 nominees will be named Jamaica Observer Business Leader Corporate, will be held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel on Sunday, December 2, with the formal presentation beginning at 6:00 pm. The formal event will be preceded by a cocktail reception at 4:30 pm.
Moses Jackson, the convenor of the award, told journalists at the press conference, held at the Beechwood Avenue Kingston headquarters of the Jamaica Observer newspaper, that the criteria for nomination were quite liberal and were intended to make it possible for as many companies as possible to be considered for inclusion in the programme.
"Companies will be eligible for nomination whether they are privately held or publicly listed, locally or foreign owned, as long as they can trace their heritage to at least 1962," Jackson explained. "It is important to look at these companies that have survived over the long haul to see if there is a template, a virtual road map that they can provide younger entrepreneurs to guide their success."
A nod to Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, this year's award represents a break from the Business Leader 16-year tradition where individuals rather than corporate entities have been the nominees.
The idea of highlighting those firms that have been pivotal to Jamaica's post-Independence economic development was welcomed by four of Jamaica's most iconic corporate entities and which have partnered with the Observer to bring this year's project to fruition.
"Being in business for 11 years, the concept for this year's Business Leader Award will act as a platform and serve as an inspiration for other recently formed businesses," declared Carlene Edwards, senior corporate communications officer at Supreme Ventures, one of the four sponsors of the award.
Similarly, Jason Corrigan, commercial director of Digicel, sees the award as an opportunity to invite public focus on businesses whose longevity makes them exemplars within the business community.
"They have stayed the course for 50 years," said Corrigan. "This is an opportunity to highlight them."
Digicel, which like Supreme Ventures is a relative newcomer to Jamaica's business landscape, has for years been a sponsor of the Business Leader Award. Its principal, Irishman Dennis O'Brien, was named Business Leader Foreign Investor two years ago in the award programme that focused exclusively on foreigners who had invested in and operated businesses within Jamaica.
The principal of MegaMart, Gassan Azan, whose association with the award dates back to 1999 when he was nominated, is, for the first time, a sponsor of the programme. He pointed out the heightened importance of the award within the context of the current global economic challenges.
"This event is taking place when the global economy is experiencing a recession and social disarray," said Azan. "Jamaica," he cautioned, "can pull through if entrepreneurs play their role."
Azan, in later remarks, also paid tribute to former Observer Managing Director Dr George Phillip, who, along with Jackson, started the award.
"The success of the programme is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Mr George Phillip," Azan said.
Gary Dixon, head of marketing at J Wray & Nephew Limited, a long-time sponsor of the award, said he was pleased that as a company that can trace its roots two centuries back, the rum manufacturer was in a position to help pave the way for the success of the next generation of entrepreneurs and businesses.
The weighty decision of which company has had the biggest economic impact on Jamaica will come down to the collective wisdom of an eight-member award selection committee, five of whom were at yesterday's press conference -- Professor Neville Ying of the Mona School of Business and Management; Audrey Hinchcliffe, founder and principal of Manpower and Maintenance Ltd, and a former Business Leader nominee; Gassan Azan; Ambassador Audrey Marks, founder and principal of Paymaster Jamaica and former Business Leader nominee; and Ian Neita of the ATL Group, the parent company of Jamaica Observer Ltd.
The other members of the committee are economist Dr Clement Jackson; Fred Smith, principal of Tropical Tours and former nominee; and Charles Ross, principal of Sterling Asset Management and former nominee.
As a practical testament to the impact of the Business Leader Award programme, Hinchcliffe, in response to a question from the Observer's Executive Editor Operations, Desmond Allen, noted that her company had seen a boost in business from the publicity generated when she was nominated for the award.
Hinchcliffe stressed that the nomination had helped to realign the public image of her company to the serious multi-faceted corporate entity that it is. For years, she said, the public had the impression that Manpower was a firm that just cleaned buildings and places.
Observer Managing Director Danville Walker welcomed the journalists to the press conference and the headquarters of the newspaper, while Marketing Manager Avadaughn Sinclair, in closing remarks, said she expected the award programme to generate significant publicity and goodwill for the newspaper.