Thursday Food remembers supermarket titan Ken Loshusan in the final of a two-part tribute paid to him by Wisynco managing director William Mahfood.
Ken Loshusan, in 1984, acquired the lands where Sovereign Centre is now located. There were many naysayers and detractors, but Ken was resolute in moving the project ahead. He had a vision for retail that would eventually change the face of the industry in Jamaica. Sing Chin said to me that he convinced Ken to make the move, and it was sheer determination that got them to develop the land and get the project off the ground. This brings to mind a quote from clergyman Bills Hybels: "Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralysed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution."
People were telling the brothers that they were crazy and that the project would never work, it was too much money, etc. But there is one thing about Ken that I have learnt and that is, when he makes up his mind, no one or any group of people can change it. Albert "Docky" Lym said that when Ken made up his mind and clapped his hands, that meant he was finished.
After much difficulty in obtaining permits as well as financing, the Sovereign supermarket was opened in 1989, the year after Hurricane Gilbert. The rest, as they say, is history, or maybe I should say the beginning of his story.
The initial response to the new store was far better than any projections that they made, and this was when Ken's creative spirit was able to take flight. Once the business started to take off, Ken found it difficult to remain occupied and needed to keep going. His tastes had expanded and his appetite was insatiable. I remember in the very early '90s having just really started to get my feet wet in the business and going to Sovereign and seeing Ken with his creativity doing what he did best — he was walking the floor all the time, checking the shelves, making sure that every item that a customer wanted was available. That is what made the store such an immediate success and what really differentiated Sovereign. Here's what James Rawle of Nestle Jamaica and also a dear friend of Ken had to say: " He (Ken) was extremely customer-centric. In his establishments he provided the ultimate shopping experience — an orderly and neat environment, well-merchandised and catering to all tastes and all socio-economic groups. Top quality service was his fundamental objective and his constant pre-occupation."
I have never really told his family this, but those early days of Sovereign made me realise what the future could potentially be for the food and beverage industry in Jamaica; and to a large extent it was Ken and his brother Gladdy who really helped me change the way I looked at doing business for the future. In many ways Wisynco's strategic vision for our business was hatched on the floor of Sovereign supermarket back then.
Ken decided he needed to take his vision to the next level and thus began the advent of Sovereign Manor Park. His real opportunity however, came in 1997 when the Allied Group was looking to sell their retail outlets. Ken approached his brothers who declined. The decision was made to make the next giant leap on his own and he put in a bid to acquire the three stores: Master's Barbican, Lane Liguanea and John R Wong. I remember clearly having been around a lot in those days with himself and Mr Gladdy. When the time came for him to make the offer, he contacted us at Wisynco and asked for our support to assist in the acquisition. He subsequently renamed the Barbican store Loshusan. It wasn't long before his landlord decided not to renew his lease and he lost the store along with the Lane Liguanea store where the rent had doubled. Ken was not to be stopped by that small setback and he decided that he would never find himself in a position where a landlord would determine his fate. He moved quickly to acquire the Barbican land where the current site of the Loshusan Supermarket and Plaza now sits. I remember visiting him there almost weekly for three years as he watched the construction of the plaza under the guidance of Camille. He would walk me through the site and tell me where everything was going to be long before the building was actually up. He could visualise every detail. The Loshusan store is now open five years and is the premier shopping destination in Jamaica. Ken's vision and his ability to execute that vision and bring it to reality had begun the process of changing the face of retail once again for all of us as consumers.
While all of this was going on with his personal business, Ken, his brother Gladstone, Albert "Docky" Lym and Sing Chin formed a new company named Progressive Grocers in 1999. The Shoppers Fair chain of supermarkets had gone on the market and they formed the company to acquire it. I remember it as if it were yesterday when Sing called me and said that he was on his way to my office for a surprise visit with some really big men and wanted to talk with us. They pulled into our offices in December 1999 in Sing's pick-up and we set up lunch that day in our conference room. My father Joe, my cousin Andrew and I, along with the new directors of the Progressive group, planned how we would work together and how Wisynco would assist to make the transition as easy as possible for the takeover of the Shoppers Fair chain. In 2000 the acquisition was finalised and from the seven Shoppers Fair stores and Welcome supermarket in Liguanea, Progressive has grown to 19 supermarkets across Jamaica today.
The crowning of his life's business achievements was soon to follow the success of Loshusan and that came when he made a bid for and successfully acquired the land at Barbican roundabout. The day the sale was finalised he called me and told me. That afternoon I stopped at the store and we sat and he told me of his plans for the land, just like when he was walking me through the Loshusan supermarket during construction and showing me where everything would be. I could see that gleam in his eyes as he walked me through his vision of what would be the new premier commercial and shopping destination in the island once it was completed. One of his last discussions with his children and Camille was that they complete those plans.
Ken's real pride and joy were his grandchildren: eight-year-old Anabelle; five-and-a-half-year-old Ava; and three-and-a-half-year-old Julian. They were the ones who really gave him joy over the past few years. Ken also did quite a bit of travelling with his wife Yvonne. His wife shared with me the trips they made to Europe including Paris, Rome, Vienna, and the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Sweden. The couple also travelled to Alaska and Hawaii and, most importantly in 2000 he returned to China to the village where he grew up as a child and visited with the lady who took care of him when he was there during the Civil War.
Ken's vision and passion were matched by his humility and generosity. I'll tell you two quick examples of this: when he was closing down the Barbican and Liguanea stores, he made sure to try to find jobs for every one of his employees that he could at that time. I also remember clearly the opening of the Loshusan Barbican Centre when the actual opening ceremony was going on. I was sitting in the back of the crowd while the officials were sitting at the front and Ken was sitting right beside me — he never liked the limelight.
Ken Loshusan has only gone through the doors to prepare the way, and it is important that as he told you, ensure that you develop the Barbican land, as it was his dream; you also need to maintain the legacy of his deeds and actions through the way that you share them with your children. In this way Maas Ken will live through them and their descendants to come. May his soul rest in peace.