All Woman

Marjorie Seeberan: Passion & commitment

BY NADINE WILSON All Woman writer

Monday, December 23, 2013    

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MARJORIE Seeberan has undoubtedly proved to be a good investment for the local and international banking sector. But given her unrelenting creative urge, her recent retirement from one of the country's top financial institutions will find her not resting, but instead helping to develop the hospitality sector and contributing to the personal growth of young boys and corporate women.

Seebaran has retired from the National Commercial Bank (NCB) where she has spent the last 11 years as the general manager for the corporate banking division. But long before accepting the challenge to tackle this very demanding post, she had managed to distinguish herself as a reputable corporate banking executive on Wall Street, where, among other things, she was the senior vice-president with responsibility for the entire New York and the north-east for what is now called JP Morgan.

"I was asked to come to NCB in a nation-building mode, but also to bring my experience from banking in New York to Jamaica, so that is what I have done," she said.

"It has been a wonderful experience, because the staff with whom I have worked, they have taken on the same interest in building the Jamaica that we want to see; paying special attention to the corporate clients that need to be handled in a very responsive way and also creatively, because their needs are customised, it's not cookie cutter," she explained.

Seeberan came back to Jamaica at a time when female executives were the exception rather than the norm. Even so, she was adamant in her pursuit of success, and so whatever glass ceiling, if it did exist, was no match to the blind determination of the tenacious executive.

"I think there is in a sense and it was the same abroad, that there is a glass ceiling. I think some of it is self-imposed, but personally, whenever I see a ceiling, I think I must test it, because it could be glass, it could be concrete, but it could be vapour; and I usually test, and when I test, I realise that a way is made for me to excel," she asserted.

Jean Wilson, who authored the book No More Smalling Up of Me, has been a personal favourite for Seeberan, and so she loves the fact that more women are now securing executive posts in corporate Jamaica and on private sector boards. She lauds the "I can do as well if not better" sort of attitude women have assumed over the years, and takes pride in the fact that she has contributed to the development of several young women over the years.

"For me, it just comes naturally, so it's not like I pursue it, a lot of my friends are women," said Seeberan, who is closely associated with the Women Leadership Initiative.

She doubts very much that her retirement from corporate banking will divorce her from her personal responsibility to contribute to nation-building by investing in the personal growth of others.

"There are many young people — I have a few at my home — whom I have had the privilege to give guidance through their university career, and to speak with them on a daily basis, share with them my experiences, find out what they are doing and give guidance, so I'm doing that as part of my normal life anyway," she said.

But while she does have a passion for seeing to the development of women, and young girls in particular, she does not easily disguise her concern for the future of young men in the country.

"I am very saddened that as a culture and a country we haven't paid much attention to our boys. They act with bravado because they think that this is what being a man is like, and our homes are so much deficient in the male figure, that many youngsters, many boys, have no idea what it means to be a man. Therefore, they are — especially if they do not have the money and do not have the proper guidance destined to become the marginalised in the society. And because they have the energy, so many of them turn to a life of crime," she said.

The mother of one adult son sought to throw some of these marginalised youth a lifeline two years ago when she started a remedial class for primarily young men at Mona High School. She started the programme when she was asked to head the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce education committee and after engaging the principal of the school in discussions.

"She (principal) expressed a need for people to be involved with school leavers, many of whom have left school without any literacy and numeracy skills; because with respect to money, they will always know the value of a 'dollar', but with respect to reading and being able to spell the word dollar, I sit here to tell you that I had 20-year-olds for whom the word 'up' was a problem," she explained.

The project has to date been one of Seeberan's greatest achievements, and with pride filling her voice, she spoke at length about the growth she witnessed in her students as she shared her views on the techniques needed to keep boys engaged in the classroom.

"You are not going to be able to reach boys with pencil and exercise books, but you put them before a computer and they will be excited because they all have their cellphones and those of them who don't have, they will avail themselves of others.

Understanding that technology is important to them, I said 'lend me your lab', and I got the lab with 19 computers and I developed an infrastructure. I got a centre manager, I got a reading specialist and I started with 25, mainly boys — there were probably two girls — between the ages of 18 and 21. Many of them, the average was second grade level," she said. "If nothing else was successful, the tremendous behavioural change that was experienced over those two years was."

Seeberan has travelled all over the world indulging her passion for classic arts, but it was only after she was able to help transform UWI's Senior Common Room into what is now known at this time as the Mona Visitors' Lodge at the University of the West Indies, that she discovered her knack for real estate. She wants to explore this new interest some more and so she has invested her later years into building two villas which she plans to offer on the market as rental properties now that she is retired.

"I wanted to have something that was totally coming out of my creative experience, and I was not sure how it would turn out, because I had heard such horror stories about building in Jamaica, but I am pleased to say that it turned out beyond my wildest expectations," she said.

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