Take your values into the world;

Take your values into the world;

BY AUDREY MARKS

Sunday, July 05, 2015

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(This is a lightly edited address by Ambassador Audrey Marks, Managing Director of Paymaster Jamaica Ltd, to the 2015 graduating class of the St Mary High School)

I am honoured to be with you today at your graduation from one of the finest schools in Jamaica and in the best parish.

You are following in a tradition of excellence. St Mary High School in its short history has produced outstanding graduates numbering among our Parliamentarians: (with us this afternoon) Senator Robert Montague, President of the Senate Senator Floyd Morris and the MP for this constituency Morais Guy; Judiciary: Douglas Leys QC, former Solicitor General, Senior Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey; other professional bodies such as medicine, here is your Chairman Dr Dane Levy, Academia -- Prof Verene Shepard among others; in the field of journalism, the CEO at RJR Group Gary Allen, veteran journalist Owen James, Garfield Burford, Irvin Forbes, Rodney Miller... and many more outstanding graduates.

Graduands, you and I have many things in common I started high school right here at another of Jamaica's finest schools, Marymount High School. I boarded just 'down the road'... walked to the library right beside your gate many times. I boarded because I am from a rural district about 10 miles from here. In first form when I told my classmates that I was from Dressikie, most had never heard of such a place and decided I was from the 'bush'. So I concluded that Highgate was a big town.

A few years later I went to Immaculate High School in Kingston and proudly told my class that I was coming from Marymount in Highgate. To my dismay, again hardly anyone knew where Highgate was and many concluded such a place sounded so remote, not only was I from 'bush,' but worse, I was also a Country Bumpkin. Many persons here on the platform are also from 'bush'. Your principal is from Bonnygate beyond Dressikie, and I don't know why Senator Montague is laughing, he is from the deepest bush -- a place
called Derry.

So I learned early, everything is relative and there is really no boast in where you are from, there are far more important measures of who you are. And it was a good thing I learned that early because a few years later, when I landed at a university in the USA with all the arrogance of a 'yardie', it was a bit easier to come to terms with the fact that we are really mostly only 'big a yard'.

So as a graduate I know you are proud of your achievement today... you all look very radiant and happy. Your family and friends have gathered to celebrate with you on this distinguished occasion. So what's next?

I have good and bad news for you. I will start with the bad news and get it out of the way. Some of you will go to sixth form and onward to tertiary institutions, others will immediately seek employment or migrate to family members overseas, while others, because of your inability to secure payment for tuition fees or gain employment, will join the swelling ranks of Jamaica's unemployed youth. For those of you who will move on to tertiary institutions, the threat of no jobs still remains after the completion of your tertiary education. The reality is that the youth of Jamaica are mostly facing three options: migration, no or under-employment, and crime (lotto scam, etc).

As unbelievable as option three sounds, studies are now showing that 60 per cent of crimes in Jamaica are committed by youth aged
15-25 years. Further studies have shown 75 per cent of youth, 15-35, are the main perpetrators and victims of crimes. The main reasons given are:

Firstly, no growth in Jamaica's economy for the past over 20 years thereby creating an environment of high levels of unemployment and poverty. This has contributed to the second cause: low self-esteem among the majority of our youth which creates the vulnerability to the third cause: the lure or threat
of gangs.

The good news and my message to you today is that these are not the only options. We have often heard 'youth, is wasted on the young'. Today, I want you to know and understand that this is your time, and there is no time to waste. Start this evening like I did, to embrace and make full use of 'The Audacity of Youth'. There was a time I would say the Oxford Dictionary, but today I will say Google says audacity means extremely bold and daring, brave, fearless, original, without restriction to prior ideas, highly inventive, unrestrained, uninhibited, bold in defiance of convention. The UNICEF definition of youth is young adults 15-24, most developing countries extend this definition by a decade, at
15-30/35.

The world is changing exponentially. Recently, my daughter told me a joke about 'hanging up the phone". I didn't get it... but you will get it. This is your world of cordless hand-held phones, Wi-Fi, touch screens, talking to your phone and your phone talking back to you. So I want to share four of my life lessons with you with the hope they will help you make use of these amazing times by taking audacious decisions, for a successful future.

LIFE LESSON 1:
Be Audacious with your ambitions

After leaving high school, I was not so sure what I wanted to do; the only thing I was clear about was that I wanted to go on to university. However, times were as difficult as they still are today and with four younger siblings, I knew it was difficult on my parents for me to go to university full time, and so I started to look for a job where I could either work part time or full time. I gave no consideration as to how I would work full time and attend university full time.

At 18, my youthful exuberance did not allow for those details. Again, I was facing the same reality facing many of you today; it was very difficult to find employment straight out of school. I started sending out letters applying for every entry-level corporate position I could think of: customer service, accounting, teller, etc, and I asked every one I knew to ask around for a job for me. For three months straight, I got only rejection letters or no reply at all. I got a copy of a phone book and just continued sending out applications.

Finally, I got a response. Citibank Jamaica invited me to an interview. I was over the moon, I saw myself just wowing the interviewer and getting a job at Citibank. I don't think I can describe my shock, when at the end of the interview, the interviewer told me that I was not suitable for the position being considered, or in fact any position at that time. I recalled thinking that the interviewer had no idea what a good employee I would have been, and I decided to write down her name so I could keep it for when I became president of the bank... How on earth do you just get flatly turned down and have the audacity to see yourself as the president of the bank? The answer is that I had fully embraced the audacious, unending, unfailing optimism of youth.

So I kept looking, finally, after nearly six months, my very good friend and I were hitchhiking from the university and got picked up by a gentleman who worked at Air Jamaica. Of course, I immediately asked if he knew of any jobs at his office. This was now December and he advised that he might be able to offer a holiday job in the filing room. We were ecstatic -- Air Jamaica!

The next day we put on our best-looking idea of a work suit and went to Air Jamaica to apply for the holiday job. We were told it was for two weeks and at a pay that would barely cover bus fare and a patty lunch. My friend thought it just wasn't worthwhile. I saw it as my first job, my first opportunity to get in a company. I thought, who knows, this may just be the company that I will become president of and not Citibank. So I argued and argued, trying to convince my friend that this was a great start, but in the end I had to start the job alone.

And that was it. I stayed at Air Jamaica for the next 10 years, moving from the filing room to accounting clerk to eventually assistant to the VP marketing & sales, while completing full time a bachelors degree and a masters degree. During this time, I also started to travel to many different countries and discovered my passion for business. I started to travel every weekend, buying and selling all kinds of commodities. I was able to supplement my income enough to buy my first car and apartment while still a university student.

Without judgment, I will share that my friend, who was from what would be described as an upper-middle-class family and who had started adulthood with many advantages, had a very difficult life financially after the death of her parents.
Her greatest difficulty was starting small. My message is: It's okay to start in lowly positions, just start with honesty and clear goals. Henry Ford said it best, "Whether you believe you can or can't, you are right." You can achieve whatever you decide on, so when you set a goal do not stop pursuing every avenue to actualise that decision.

LIFE LESSON 2:
Always calculate the long term impact of your decisions

As my weekend business grew, I expanded in the USA, UK, the Caribbean and finally Canada. I started taking boxes of rum to Toronto. After a year I had built up a thriving business. It was hard work. However, lugging two to three suitcases of rum, sometimes with a substantial amount of breakage if they were not packed properly. The only saving grace was that although the Canadian customs could charge for every bottle, most of the time they allowed free entry. These were the late 80s to early 90s before 9/11 when travel and security measures were far less restrictive.

Hence, after a while, I had become such a regular Friday evening visitor, I was mostly just waved through customs. On one such occasion, a dear relative was picking me up. He noted my quick exit through customs and seemed very interested in my methodology. After answering his many questions, he finally came to the point and told me I could make thousands of dollars without lugging all those boxes, if I would just take an occasional package of drugs from Jamaica. While being initially shocked at the suggestion, on hearing the amount of money I would earn for doing far less work,
I listened.

That night, I thought of what I could do with all that money, but I also started to think about what would happen if I got caught doing something that I knew was illegal. I could not sleep easily. It was a battle of the value system I was raised with and the desire to have easy riches. But as I thought about this opportunity, I felt a disconnect with the image of myself as the president of a company and someone who did illegal activities. And that was it -- the decision became easy, my audacious plan of becoming President of Air Jamaica was far more important than quick money.

Years later, I was asked to serve my country as the Ambassador to the United States. In my initial briefing, I was told that a very detailed due diligence on my background will be done and asked if there is anything that could be found that I would wish to disclose from now. I did not have to give it a second thought, the answer was an easy no because I had asked myself that question many years ago. Times are difficult and you may be approached, but getting involved in any form of illegality -- stealing, scamming, drug running, gun running, to even the simplest form of wrong activity -- is contrary to giving yourself the opportunity to live out your most audacious self without fear or favour.

Years ago my daughter, who just graduated two weeks ago, recited a poem to me that she had memorised in sixth grade. This poem is called The Voice by Shel Silverstein. I want to share that poem with you today:

"There is a voice inside of you

That whispers all day long

I feel that this is right for me

I know that this is wrong

No teacher, preacher, parent, friend,

Or wise man can decide

What's right for you -- just listen to

The voice that speaks inside."

The most important things to take with you out into the world after you leave this school are your values. You know your morals and your understanding of right and wrong. You must learn to trust yourselves. This world will not take care of you or be kind to you until you are able to be kind to yourselves.

LIFE LESSON 3:
You can employ yourself -- entrepreneurism is an option

After 10 years at Air Jamaica, my immediate boss was, without any warning, let go. I was devastated. Here was someone that I had a huge amount of respect for and who had been at the company for twice as long as me. Up to that point, I had assumed that performance would guarantee you job safety, and I had seen myself advancing in line with my boss until eventually I would become president. Overnight, I realised that was not reality. I therefore decided to leave Air Jamaica, get a bit more variety of work experiences, and then start my own business and become the president of my own company.

I first went to Telecommunication of Jamaica (TOJ), which later became Cable & Wireless before becoming LIME. I also decided to switch my side business from buying and selling goods to become a trader in stocks and securities. During this time ToJ decided to offer shares to staff at a discounted price. Amazingly, there was no limit on the amount which could be purchased by each staff member. After a quick analysis, I saw the immense profit potential of buying the ToJ shares. I therefore went to the bank to take out a loan of maybe 10 times what I was getting paid to invest in the stock. The first banker was clearly shocked at my audacity... who lends money to buy shares? After searching around for awhile, I did find a merchant bank being run by a couple of youth who were equally audacious in their thinking and their plans to own the merchant banking space by doing innovative deals such as the one I presented.

After going through the process of purchasing the shares, just before they were to be transferred, the size of the transaction was brought to the attention of the executives of the company and I was requested to attend a meeting. The executive, a wonderful man for whom I still have the fondest regard, tried very diplomatically to advise me that it may have a negative impact on my future job prospects if I proceeded with this transaction. So here was the situation, job security versus legally making 10 times my current annual salary in a single transaction.

Now, after Air Jamaica, the clear picture in my mind was that I would be the president of my own company in the future. So in my best effort to match his diplomacy, I pointed out the math and advised that I am pretty sure that with this investment I would find ways to provide my own employment. In other words I could employ myself. The executive saw my point and actually concluded that I was a valuable employee.

I, however, shortly left thereafter and became a serial entrepreneur, my seventh business is the one for which I am best known nationally, as the president and CEO of Paymaster Jamaica Ltd. The title of president that I had the audacity to claim from my first job interview was the title I earned while still a youth.

CONCLUSION:
You are already Perfect, you just need to believe it

As I bid you farewell, I want to share one last life lesson that I pray you will never forget... because I want you to always know and remember that you are already perfect -- 'wonderfully and fearfully made'.

Fifteen years ago, while I was still within the extended definition of youth, Paymaster sued Grace Kennedy Ltd and Paul Lowe in what would become a landmark case for intellectual property in Jamaica. It was a most audacious suit -- to believe and pursue a belief that your intellectual property could be worth over a billion dollars. Shortly thereafter, a business associate came to see me with what she considered a most urgent concern: she was coming from a meeting where the Paymaster case was discussed and from what she was told, it was expected that in six months Paymaster would be put out of business because I was a 'nobody' going up against big business.

'Country Bumpkin' I could understand, but I actually could not comprehend how anyone could be so misinformed as to call me a 'nobody'. I was not angry, but rather surprised that they did not know who I am. You see, years before at age 12 while living right here in Highgate, I was baptised just 'down the road' at Emmanuel Baptist Church. The pastor called me a princess, the daughter of the most high God, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and as a child I accepted that first title and that truth in every fibre of my being.

This is my secret and the most important life lesson I am sharing with you. All these years, every audacious action I have taken was because I know who I am and whose I am. So today, more than anything else, I want to share with you that this, my most precious title, is not unique to me but that title is yours too. You are Princes and Princesses, children of the only everlasting King, so you should not ever define yourself otherwise or allow anyone to label you otherwise.

I leave each of you with a book voucher, read a new book as often as possible. Remain youthful, live from love not fear... Pursue your dreams with audacity: if you fall down, just get right back up and try again... As long as you have breath nothing and no one can stop you if you believe you can... You are made in the image and likeness of God, the creator of the Universe, therefore the creative DNA of the universe is within you.

I leave you with the words of Steve Jobs who tapped into this creative power from within to create the wealthiest company in the world without even a college degree. He said "... most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."


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