Captain Stewart: Leading from the front for 30 years
JONATHAN Perks remembers it like it was yesterday — an act of leadership three decades ago that defines his friend's character to this day.
Errol Stewart was among Jamaica's top officers sent to train at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom. Perks, an English officer in training at the time, recalls going through many "a scrape" with Stewart in trenches and blistering rain during training. One particular exercise stood out.
"Errol and I were part of a team on an exercise where we had to learn to escape and evade, chased by the enemy, through enemy lines," Perks recalled.
All went well until the "enemies" got wind of their location and they were caught and imprisoned on a compound. However, a daring and intuitive move by Stewart led to them breaking free.
"Errol had a friend who was Nepalese, who taught him Gorkhali, so he managed to speak to the guards in Nepali and we found a way of escaping and split in the forest in Wales," Perks said.
While Perks was captured after a day, Stewart was able to evade the enemies and make a complete escape. It was a major news item in the UK at the time, according to Perks.
"So he is sort of a man that will keep going and will not give up, even though everybody is against him," Perks told Sunday Finance.
Perks is today a professor in leadership at the Cass Business School in the UK, a leadership advisor and coach, and author of the book, Inspiring leadership. He is in Jamaica to both vacation and conduct a leadership session at the Caribbean Aviation Training Centre (CATC), run by his pilot friend and former Jamaica Defence Force official, Captain Errol Stewart.
"I saw him first-hand as a leader and respect him so much," Perks said of the man who will be the best man at his wedding next year.
"He is a man I trust with my life. And in the job of aviation, you got to trust the person with your life," he added, speaking with the newspaper inside Stewart's offices at CATC's headquarters at the Tinson Pen Aerodrome in Kingston.
Stewart has used his leadership skills to drive Jamaica's aviation industry the last 13 years. CATC, since its inception in 2001 has graduated more than 850 pilots, many of whom are making their mark all over the world, and are to be found especially in countries in the Middle East and in the US, where they have grasped opportunities in the commercial airline industry and the military.
The flight school is just one of 300 worldwide that have been set up by the Cessna aircraft company, and is guided by both the FAA and the Jamaica Civil Aviation regulations. In 2006, it was named the number one flight school out of the 300 Cessna pilot centres. In 2007, they remained in the top five and in 2009 claimed the top spot again.
Stewart has a passion for leadership and is committed to grooming young talent to help develop the local aviation industry. That is why he invited his good friend Perks to speak with pilots at the training centre.
"When we were at Sandhurst, we were given a book called Serve to Lead and the definition of leadership is the art of inducing others to cooperate willingly to the achievement of a common goal, I may not like you but we have a common goal and we are going to work together to achieve that goal," Stewart said.
"Each individual has traits, find the best of those traits, combine it and achieve the goal that you set out to," he advised. "That is how I lead and that's how my team has achieved our goals the last 13 years."
Stewart launched a mentorship programme eight years ago, mentoring kids from age nine to 15 on all aspects of aviation before having them join the senior programme. A former mentor student, Samuel Neil formulated an organisation called Aviation Club Jamaica which now acts as the primary feeder programme and is in many schools across Jamaica.
"I always challenged my students to go back into their schools and try to bring kids into the industry because if I don't do it, aviation will be a dying one," Stewart said.
According to Neil, there is growing interest in Jamaica for what he deems as a growing market for aviation skills.
"It is a very marketable field; in just one school alone we have over 150 students interested in aviation, not just in becoming pilots, but flight attendants, aircraft engineers, air trafiic contoller, etc," he said.