The courage to persevere
This year comes with promises and problems, but two events last week reminded us that courage and perseverance will make it a successful one. Last Monday’s opening of the $6.2-billion plant in Montego Bay by Butch Hendrickson and last Tuesday’s celebration of Denis O’Brien’s Digicel journey are lessons in relentless perseverance.
At the Launch of the National Baking Company’s new factory, the 94th birthday of patriarch Karl Hendrickson was also celebrated. Karl started his career at his parents’ bakery in Magotty. He studied at Jamaica College and McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he met his beautiful wife, Nell. They returned to Jamaica and bought the premises at Central Avenue, where they set up National Baking Company and started their family: Lori-Ann Lyn, Gary “Butch”, Kevin, and Cathy Kerr.
With the guidance of their parents, the four embarked on their own entrepreneurial voyages. Lori-Ann with CB Foods; Butch with the expanded, retrofitted National Baking Company and the Coconut Bay Beach and Spa Resort in St Lucia; Kevin with the Pegasus, Courtleigh, Yummy, and other hospitality interests; and Cathy with Holiday Inn, Palms at Negril, among other initiatives.
Every parent will ask, how did Karl do this? He explained that he and Nell identified his children’s strengths and guided them to make the best of them.
His children have also emulated his social consciousness, which has resulted in them being indefatigable supporters of outreach programmes such as early childhood and The University of the West Indies STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, Missionaries of the Poor, Sister Mary Benedict’s Laws Street Trade Training Centre, Food For the Poor, and other great causes.
The first project I worked on with Karl was the former Primary Health Foundation as he believed that by strengthening primary health care there would be a reduction in non-communicable diseases and less pressure on our hospitals. Now we are hearing the same pronouncements from the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
We have seen Butch shut down his National Baking Company plant so the entire staff could pack over 2,000 school bags for early childhood institutions at the beginning of each school year. Then off went the trucks throughout Jamaica to deliver the bags. Butch and his close friend Glen Christian also built the multimillion-dollar model basic and primary school at Union Gardens. National’s ‘Bold Ones of Manufacturing’ saw over 30 companies selected for marketing packages and had their ads emblazoned on its trucks. The company is currently funding the building of 12 houses. Indeed, he has declared to his staff, “Work hard and make the money because you know I plan to give it away!”
Celebration for Denis O’Brien
The Digicel Jamaica Foundation has been run with the same spirit of nation-building for the past 20 years. Even as the telecoms business became more competitive, its patron Denis O’Brien insisted on investing US$45 million to fund education, special needs, community development, and environmental protection.
The focus on special needs was inspired by O’Brien’s chairmanship of the Special Olympics World Games, the first of its kind held outside the US. At the Tuesday celebration at the AC Hotel Kingston, Special Olympics Global Chair Tim Shriver recalled O’Brien’s leadership of one of the most spectacular events of its kind.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness lauded O’Brien for his landmark investment, making telecommunications possible for the humblest Jamaican. In turn, O’Brien thanked the Holness Government, specifically Minister Audley Shaw, for inspiring the building of their global headquarters on the Kingston Waterfront. He paid tribute to the P J Patterson Government for being “the architects of the telecoms liberalisation in 2000 in Jamaica… Jamaica’s inspired liberalisation policy was then copied by nearly all countries in Caricom and regionally”.
Videos and short messages marked the milestones of O’Brien’s impact in the Caribbean, Central America, Papua New Guinea, and islands in the South Pacific. His dedication to the development of Haiti was noted by former US President Bill Clinton and actor Sean Penn. The Digicel Haiti Foundation has built 192 schools in Haiti, rebuilt the Iron Market, and assisted survivors of the 2010 earthquake.
Here in Jamaica, the Digicel Foundation has created or significantly expanded 12 special needs schools, transformed the Alpha Institute, the St John Bosco Vocational Training Centre, several Mustard Seed residences, and Bethlehem Home for the Missionaries of the Poor.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation donated thousands of tablets to schools for online learning and has been steadily creating smart computer centres in schools throughout Jamaica.
Similar projects are also being managed by the Digicel Papua New Guinea and Digicel Trinidad and Tobago foundations. The foundation’s Global Chair Maria Mulcahy spends months commuting and directing country CEOs Serena Sasignan, Sophia Stransky, Penny Gomez, and Charmaine Daniels as well as chairs Josefa Gauthier, Desha Clifford and yours truly (serving my final year).
O’Brien took the time to congratulate all who had contributed to the group since 2000, too many to mention here. However, we have to remark on the joie de vivre of Frank O’Carroll; investors Leslie Buckley, Lucy Gaffney, and Seamus Lynch, the first CEO; the brilliance of the late group CEO Colm Delves; David Hall’s positivity; communications whiz Antonia Graham; spirited Peter Lloyd; and Pauline Murphy.
We can be proud of the experience and class brought by our fellow Jamaicans, including Anthony Chang, board director; Lisa Lewis; Harry Smith, now chairman of Digicel Jamaica; Ken Mason; Krishna Phillips; Donovan Betancourt; and the late Heather Asphall, who was dearly missed at the event.
Not ready to rest on his laurels, O’Brien has initiated the Repair Campaign, which is vigorously pursuing monetary reparation for the plundering of Caribbean countries by our former colonial masters. Kudos to Gaffney for leading the charge and for the support of Sir Hilary Beckles and Professor Verene Shepherd.
O’Brien expressed gratitude to his wife Catherine for her support and caring for their four children while also participating in another aspect of their business.
On a serious note, he said, “The telecoms industry is in a difficult place right now and investors are pulling back. This is because the industry is being forced to meet higher and higher investment demands in network capacity, both in LTE and fibre network, to carry traffic for OTTs [over-the-top media services] such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, YouTube, and Netflix and many others. This traffic carried free of charge represents 70 per cent of network throughput. The 10 largest Caribbean operators have come together to put forward a cost recovery plan to Canto and Caricom to force big tech to pay their way.”
He thanked Daryl Vaz, minister of science, energy, telecommunications and transport “for his leadership and support at a Caricom regional level, in drawing other governments’ attention to this serious issue with OTTs”.
As he will be demitting the chair, while still serving as a director of the group, O’Brien welcomed the new chair, Rajeev Suri, noting that he is “highly talented [and bringing] new ideas and a proven international track record from his time as CEO of Nokia and Inmarsat”.
It has been an honour to serve and be inspired by both National Baking Company and Digicel. Here’s wishing them continued success and O’Brien a happy and fulfilling semi-retirement.
Jean Lowrie-Chin is executive chair of PROComm, PRODEV, and CCRP. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.