Style Observer

Cocktails With— Erin Mitchell

Sunday, January 28, 2018

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E rin Mitchell, co-founder, The Portal, providers of Virtual Administrative Services, and The Xchange, a company focused on Culinary Marketing and Culinary Talent Management, has had a super-busy week. Back on The Rock after a weekend away it's the perfect opportunity we reckon to catch-up on her latest venture. The Cabana at the Spanish Court Hotel provides the necessary solace...

What are you drinking?

A Moscow Mule.

What's in it?

Vodka, ginger beer and lime. It's even better with a fresh fruit twist; for example, slices of pineapple and ginger.

You have left corporate Jamaica to set up your own company. What prompted the decision and how has it been?

From a common problem, an idea struck. My business partners and I were commiserating about the lack of response from a small business owner. We realised that the business owner didn't have the need for a full-time administrative assistant, but didn't have the time themselves to respond promptly. Hence, The Portal was born. In early 2017, The Portal needed another of its founders involved and another idea was simmering — The Xchange, a consultancy focused on culinary marketing.

As with my move home to Jamaica, it was a “now's the time decision,” and hence the leap of faith. Moving into your own company is different from starting a new job. There's no new employee orientation, no one to transition you into the role. I'm lucky that in both ventures, there was someone who blazed the trail ahead of me. Still, after 10 years of a steady pay cheque, the change in status is daunting. But I continue daily to 'scare' myself out of complacency. I am also very lucky to have a full-on cheer squad in the form of family and friends who listen and advise.

What's the competition like?

Both ventures are in fledgling industries that could easily take off. Having spent my career building brands, I am applying that discipline; focusing on both companies' strategic and unique points of differentiation so that we can stand against whoever comes along.

The ubiquitous cry in Jamaica from millennials is that there aren't enough opportunities and that post-tertiary qualifications they remain unemployed. What say you?

This is such a complex problem, that I'm sure to have a very limited take on it. From the position of a hiring manager, greater collaboration needs to take place between employers and tertiary institutions. Are institutions adequately preparing graduates for situations that an entry-level employee will face in the workplace, whether through internships or coursework?

Additionally, human nature means that we may not be passionate about the fields that have job openings. Are too many millennials focusing on too few jobs? We need to be creating and highlighting growth industries and educating students for the skill sets necessary for those industries.

Were you afforded the opportunity to transform our education system, where would you start, and why?

I think tertiary — based on where my input could be of most use. To my detriment, I went through my undergraduate degree with no internships. During my graduate degree, I sought out an internship which, besides giving me real-world experience, expanded my network of contacts. Additionally, based on what I've looked for as a hiring manager in entry-level candidates, I think there is more that tertiary institutions can do to prepare candidates for the interactions that come when applying for jobs in any industry.

What's your take on the crime situation?

I don't think about it — which is inherently the problem. Outsiders looking on think that we are crazy to ignore the violence that is commonplace. We, as citizens, have become desensitised to crime until it happens to someone within our circle. The great minds of this country, both public and private sector, need to come up with lasting solutions before it derails any strides we've made in our economy.

Why are there still too few women in the boardroom in Jamaica?

I am a part of an “Unofficial Association” of dynamic, intelligent and, importantly, well-rounded women. Statistically, at the stage we are at in our careers, if multiple members of the group are not in the 'C-suite' in the next two to four years, then the current business leaders have failed. It CANNOT be solely about women 'sending the elevator' back down, since there aren't currently enough women at the top! Unfortunately, as women, we have to PROVE that we can juggle family and career. Women, just like men, should be judged solely on our ability to do a job, not on our ability to 'juggle.'

Share with us five things that we might not know about Erin Mitchell.

• Thanks to Select Brands, I am Wines and Spirits Education Trust Level 2 Certified.

• I really like to read — mostly fiction — but I will occasionally dabble in non-fiction.

• Drake is my rapper.

• I've met Drake.

• My friends and family affectionately call me 'Future Belly.' My next meal is always planned ahead of time, ie, at dinner, I'm asking what's for breakfast.

Which book are you currently reading?

I just finished reading The Billionaire's Vinegar which tells the true story of years of alleged fraud within the rare and fine wine collectors' industry.

Which song is on rotation in your car stereo?

CardiB - Bodak Yellow. Besides the fact that Cardi B has crazy determination, the song just has a vibe.

Describe your perfect date.

I'm simple. I'm OK with having my someone special's undivided attention, preferably around food.

Heels or stilettos?


LBD or jeans?

Jeans, more often than not.

Porsche or BMW?


A penthouse or a picket fence?

Both — can't a woman dream to have multiple homes!

Oprah or Kerry Washington?

Oprah! She's been declared by 'the people,' as a candidate for president of the US, all while running an entertainment empire.

Paris or Dubai?

As a history buff, Paris.

Finally, which five individuals would you want in a brainstorming session, and why?

• I'm such a literal thinker — I need a subject matter, but if you insist: Oprah.

• The Collective 'Unofficial Association' for all their female brain-power.

• THE foremost expert in the relevant matter being brainstormed.

• Gordon Ramsay to make sure we're fed, and loudly and profanely arbitrate any arguments!

• Ava DuVernay to document the movie about the brainstorm!

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