Bev Thompson -- from packing bags and cleaning floors to corporate queen

Bev Thompson -- from packing bags and cleaning floors to corporate queen

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large

Saturday, March 07, 2015

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Only a week ago, Beverley Thompson did her company and country proud by winning a silver medal for sales at the prestigious Stevie Awards held in Las Vegas, United States -- Sales and Customer Service's equivalent of the Oscars and the Grammys of entertainment.

Beverley is the director of consumer sales and retail services at Columbus Communications Jamaica Ltd -- Flow. Several years ago, reaching such a senior position in a highly respected and profitable organisation was, for her, more like a pipe dream.

But coming from a situation in which she started the world of work by packing boxes and sweeping a wholesale in downtown Kingston, she beat the odds and gradually climbed the ladder of success, defying her own peers, some of whom believed that she would not have impacted positively on life in the corporate lane.

As a segue into International Women's Day being celebrated today, her feats fit perfectly into what role model seekers expect from the ultimate achiever.

Born Beverley Wellington in the Shortwood community of North East St Andrew, she left for West Rural St Andrew five years later, settling in the villages of Pigeon Valley, Fern Hill and Unity.

Unity Primary and Oberlin High schools were the institutions charged to shape the young Beverley's future, and having left the latter with three GCE 'O' level subjects, it was time to feel the heat.

"I had an interesting high school life and a month after my 17th birthday I left home and was on my own," Beverley told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.

"I was grateful for Miss May, who provided me with a home. I began to reflect on my life and what I saw around me and from then I decided that I wanted more," she said, having now moved to another nearby village, named Unity.

In search of work, the 'country' girl combed the newspapers for jobs and eventually took the ride to Beechwood Avenue in response to an advertisement placed by an employment agency, which pointed her to the wholesale downtown. She ended up getting a job that same day, as a part-timer who would pack boxes, sell on the counter and clean the shop when rostered to do that.

"In high school I was stopped from going to school several times. There were some teachers who rescued me while I was in high school, including my principal Rev Richmond Nelson, as they said I had too much potential not to be attending school," she recalled.

"I needed to take care of myself, so I went downtown to work on Saturdays first, until somebody left and I got a full-time position. That has helped me today, because I interacted with everyone from all sectors of society, including pickpockets, and they got to know me. You could even tell them not to bother pick anybody today," she said.

From that baptism, Beverley secured a job at Knight's Green Grocery on Gordon Town Road in Papine, Eastern St Andrew, where she learnt how to, among other things, carve the various cuts of meats. About a year-and-a-half later, she went to fast-food store King Burger, operated then by businessman Ken Spencer. There, she worked substantially as a cashier, but had to learn every part of the business before she could touch the money, including how to make hamburgers, while working at the New Kingston Shopping Centre outlet.

But she wanted to improve her education, which was a challenge because of the long hours that she worked.

Having left Unity and gone to live with another friend in Spanish Town, it was time to step up a gear. She soon quit the King Burger job. This came after her two-month daily campaign directed at the human resource manager at the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) to secure a job there finally landed her one that would essentially see her doing field work.

On the same day that she walked through Statin's doors as an employee, she registered as a part-time student to do three more subjects at St Joseph's High School, even though she initially did not have the money to pay for tuition.

Soon, her entry into the telecommunications business was a stone's throw away. Among the firms from which she collected information was the then Jamaica Telephone Company (JTC), now LIME Jamaica. Being privy to the attractive wages and salaries paid to its employees then, Beverley set her sights on getting onto the phone company's payroll. Her two-and-a-half years of toil at Statin ended when she was chosen by the JTC to be a part of history -- the introduction of cellular technology to Jamaica.

"Mr Moses Salmon at JTC said they were going to start this new thing where people could start walking with phones, and that's how I entered the telecoms business. They wanted people with energy to start," she told the Sunday Observer.

"Upon entering with my six subjects, I started as a cellular sales clerk and at that time both senior and junior staff collaborated to figure out how to make this new arm of the business work. This was a tremendous experience which prepared me for the road ahead," she said.

Within three years of being a clerk, she became a supervisor. But riveted to her mind was the burning desire to attend university, a place which was unknown to her when she left high school. She opted to enrol in a diploma course in business administration at the then College of Arts, Science, and Technology (CAST), now the University of Technology, Jamaica, but challenges again emerged.

"Before I got promoted, I was told at the time that I couldn't get the time to go to classes. I remember going up to administration at CAST to cancel the application, but I quickly went back down the stairs, headed to my office, called up my colleagues and arranged a schedule that would allow me to attend classes," she said.

That collaborative effort with her co-workers would see them working on their days off in order to accommodate her, while she would work, religiously, every Saturday.

There was more in store for her, as the company, in a strong demonstration of support for further studies by its employees, paid for her to do her first degree in business administration marketing, and an MBA in finance and banking. Along the way, she managed several cellular retail stores as the company changed to Cable & Wireless, worked as a business analyst, senior account executive, international account manager and head of department from 1995 to 2004 when she left the company.

"After 13 years I felt that I had made a significant contribution and achieved most of my objectives, so I left Cable and Wireless in 2004. I also got married in 2004, just before I finished my MBA at the Mona School of Business a year later," she said.

But after a year's break, she was now looking for a new challenge. Flow was about to change the telecoms landscape and so the opportunity to be a part of something new presented itself again.

"I hesitated about going to Flow initially, but quickly learned that it was a start-up with great potential and landed the job as sales manager in February 2006. Being a brand new company with new technology, they were looking for someone to create a sales department. At that time all your previous experience was required to operate in a space that was new with a lot of unknowns -- this gets my adrenalin going," she said.

A year-and-a-half later she was promoted to director of sales, but a long-time objective to travel and experience the world lurked in the shadows, and so in 2008 she headed for England with husband and technology specialist Hughton, a Kingston College old boy.

Describing the trip to England as "a fabulous moment of my life", Beverley got a job with Royal Mail in Nottingham at the height of the global financial crisis. She also travelled Europe and Africa while in England. As a financial service specialist she benefitted from extensive sales training as the 500-year-old postal service was trying to privatise its operations at the time. Interestingly, Royal Mail was starting up a new sales department and recruited people with sales experience and among the first set of trainees was Beverley.

But the arrow in her heart was pointing to Jamaica, and after two years in England she returned home.

"When I got back to Jamaica my friend and I started a training company, but as luck would have it Digicel was launching 4G and I again got the opportunity to create a new sales channel. While I was there, Flow asked me to return and I did in 2010. I restructured the Flow sales department, and within two years was given more responsibilities, to transform the retail channel into a serviced-based sales organisation which involved 13 stores. Since January 2013 I have been responsible for the company's residential sales operations," she said.

Credited with mentoring several members of her staff, she insists that as a leader you must get your team to buy into the vision and involve them at every step while providing the support they need. "My management style is that if I am not at work the show must go on -- there is a system in place. I like to bring people along with me," she stated.

As for the Stevie Awards, Beverley is waltzing the floors of the high achievers.

"This is really a prestigious award -- a silver medal for sales. Companies from around the world participate in it. There were over 1,900 nominations from around the world last year in different categories, presided over by experienced judges who narrow it down to finalists who are divided into the categories of gold, silver, and bronze. We were finalists in two categories -- Leader of Sales Education, where I was a finalist for that category and received a silver award, and Sales Coaching Programme of the year, for which the Flow retail team got bronze. The retail team did training with the company named Value Selling, which actually nominated us, and as far as I am aware, no other Jamaican individual or company has ever won or been nominated for the Stevie Awards.

"In one room you have over 500 people from all over the world, including India, Australia, Dubai, Turkey, and some of the big companies of the world, like Marriott, DHL, Lennox, Wyndham. Winning these awards mean a lot for the organisation," she said.

Now, the former member of Youth Opportunities Unlimited plans to focus on assisting the schools which laid the foundation for her rise -- Unity Primary, and Oberlin High -- a quest that is being propelled by the supporting hand of her husband.

The main life lesson for the lover of football, one-day cricket and track field is "knowing what you want, sticking to it ... and be not derailed by distractions or bumps along the way."

Beverley enjoys travelling, spending time with friends and family and watching television.


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