Women driving the spirit!

MD, directors, tell how they collaborate to keep Wray & Nephew holding its liquor

Sunday, October 20, 2019

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Jean-Philippe Beyer is not in the least perturbed by a sex imbalance in the top brass of spirits conglomerate, J Wray & Nephew Ltd.

For the managing director of the Campari Group affiliate, the fact that eight of 11 members of the company's senior management team are women makes it even more satisfying to savour the flavours and tastes that the company offers to its public across the globe.

Frenchman Beyer believes that it is a good thing for women to be showing up their worth in a society in which a vast majority of graduates at the tertiary level are females, but whose skills are not reflected in the higher echelons of leadership in Jamaica.

“Yes, I have 10 direct reports, out of which eight are female. It is quite unusual, I guess it brings the question why is it like this, is it by design? It is not by design. There was no will or strategy to say, 'hey I want to be surrounded by women'. I like it but that was not the goal,” was Beyer's response to the question of why the dominance by the fairer sex.

“What came out is that each time there was a need to fill a position we had a slew of candidates. First of all we look from within the company. Is there anyone within the rank and the talent pipeline that we can bring up? Then we look in general within the Campari Group and see if we have senior executives who can come and do a good job here. When we don't have any of these two options, we look outside, either in Jamaica, when we can and then if not in Jamaica we will look globally. When looking in Jamaica we have found that the talent pool can be a little difficult or shallow, and the competition is fierce among the big companies for talented executives, this is not surprising with 80 per cent of university graduates migrating from Jamaica.

“We ended up, not by design, but because the candidates who come out on top are normally women. They go through a number of interviews and at the end, and frankly I have seen not that many men that reach the top when it comes to the interviews. The females were the best qualified, they had the best attitude, and they were the ones to embrace the company's values. In a way it is strange, because in Jamaica the executives are mostly men, which also is a bit strange when you think of the fact that most graduates are women,” Beyer stated.

Among the top women are newly-recruited Senior Director of Human Resources Jacqueline Cuthbert; freshly promoted Senior Director Public Affairs & Sustainability Tanikie McClarthy Allen; and Director of Marketing, Jamaica and the Caribbean, Marsha Lumley, who all sat in on the interview with journalists at the company's headquarters recently.

In addition to those, Michelle Brown-Sinclair is Commercial Director, Jamaica & the Caribbean; Yana Samuels, Senior Legal Counsel; Michelle Bispott, Senior Information Technology Manager, IT Jamaica; Leleika-Dee Barnes, Trade Marketing Manager, and Vinessa Cadien-Miller, Internal Audit Manager, are the company's other women of power and clout.

For the record, Mark McDonald, Senior Director Finance; and Jorge Gonzales are the men left in unfamiliar territory with Beyer.

Cuthbert, who was born in West London, England, of Jamaican parents, underscored the role of women at the workplace.

“The more women you have at the senior level, the more role models they represent, and they can inspire. So you do need people at the top that you can resonate with. It's also coupled with great HR practices that help women do better and also let's be frank, the men who are in senior positions are those that are aware of the benefits that women can bring to business, are the ones that will be successful,” she reasoned.

“After three months on the job I would say that we should protect one of our gems — the Wray & Nephew culture,” Cuthbert went on. “We have a very strong culture. We have employees who have been with us a long time, building a sense of pride for our products, our brands. I see that as the key to retention.

“It is important, given our international footprint — Campari — that we provide employees with as many opportunities to grow their skills, whether that's opportunities for further abroad, or opportunities within the Caribbean and that will also assist with employee retention. I'd like to see us attract more women into our supply chain — into engineering and technology. Given the shrinking pool in Jamaica, there's an opportunity to bring more women into those disciplines.

“There is a connection to Jamaica. My parents are Jamaican and by virtue of that I am a Jamaican citizen.”

“You have a Jamaican passport too,” Beyer interjected.

“Indeed, yes; TRN … you name it, I've got it,” Cuthbert poked, picking up the verbal baton again. “But the primary driver is to be able to join an international company, given the Campari umbrella, but also to join a company which is one of the crown jewels of Jamaica. Also from a personal mettle to bring semi-exposure to a company that's really growing,” said the woman who admitted to working “all over the world” and has gained considerable experience in her chosen field.

“The interesting thing is that I would like to say I know Jamaica well, coming here over the years, but the other interesting thing is being able to work in a Jamaican corporate environment. Growing my career up, most of the time I was the only black female in the facility and I am now working alongside Jamaican professionals so it's a blessing for me,” Cuthbert added, whose ambition is to end her career at J Wray & Nephew.

Recruited from a related industry company, Lumley had always yearned to become a member of the team that has already cornered 80 per cent of the spirits market in Jamaica.

Now, is this the tallest tree that she has ever climbed?

“Yes it is,” was the zippy answer, while relating a story that she told Beyer about her ambitions a few years ago when she left her former employer, that J Wray & Nephew was on her list of companies that she wanted to work.

She had heard about a possible job opening at the company, but was late out of the blocks in making contact and the opportunity went to someone else.

“So when I got the call for an opportunity at J Wray & Nephew I was so excited. It is the tallest tree that I have ever climbed, but I have always respected Wray & Nephew brands.

“When I travelled, whenever there was a bottle of Appleton at the back of a bar I would strike up a conversation with a bartender, not because we are competitors but because it was Jamaican and for me, being in one of the iconic companies and being able to impact the brands in that company and impact the people and be a part of that team is really exciting. I am looking forward to leveraging my experience and learning the Campari way. It's been a good journey so far,” Lumley said.

She is the first female marketing director at J Wray & Nephew in the last decade.

Yet another of the company's shining lights is McClarthy Allen, whose responsibilities include directing the operations of the foundation; being the link between the company and government officials, and corporate communications.

She suggested that the movement of women up the ranks was only the start of positives to hit the Jamaican marketplace, as the groundwork upon which the growth of women was laid, and is progressively being made firmer.

“We have had female dominance at the middle management level for quite some time and we have stellar examples like Joy Spence, the world's first female Master blender. However, the shift from middle management to senior executive roles have been slow and that is because you have to balance the commitments of parenting and family, where women often are the main caregivers. But that is changing, as companies move to introduce policies like ours … flexi work time and cater more to family dynamics, you are going to see more women take up that mantle of the top job and not be afraid of it, because they won't have to sacrifice as much.”

For Lumley, who like Cuthbert has been with the company for three months, her main focus is not to keep the status quo. “We want to make sure that we continue to drive brand growth, consumer loyalty, consumers recognising and loving Campari, J Wray & Nephew brands.”

The ladies represent a shift in the modern workplace and while acknowledging this, all three ladies agree that they are focused on driving results in their respective areas, even as they seek to set the example and mentor the next group of leaders for J Wray & Nephew and the wider society.


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