KAREN Richards realised from a tender age that she had to get a good education if she wanted to get ahead in life. She made a vow when she was 10 years old, after walking for over a mile in her rural community of Lime Tree Gardens, St Ann, before she was able to get a ride to the town, that she would attend university regardless of what it took.
Richards now serves as the assistant vice-president, investment client services at Sagicor Investments Jamaica Limited (SIJL), and as she reflects on the 30 fulfilling years that she has worked in the local financial sector, she is pleased that the investment in her education has paid off.
“I've always been a bit of a futurist. I always try to imagine what the future will look like and make a game plan to see how I can step in the game and win,” Richards shared with All Woman. “In my mind, I knew that having a good education would give me the things that I needed, because it's not like we were wealthy. That helped to steer me ahead because I was focused.”
So focused was Richards that, by the time she was 15 years old, she had graduated from York Castle High School and had gone on to Brown's Town Community College for sixth form. She had her sights set on law school, so she studied the arts at the advanced level.
“But I didn't get into law for my first year of university, so I did history with the social sciences faculty,” she recalled. During that year Richards was exposed to disciplines such as management studies and economics, and she became so engrossed in them that, even after an opportunity came up for her to pursue law in her second year, she decided to stay in the social sciences.
She graduated from The University of the West Indies in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in economics and management and soon thereafter landed her first job as a computer operator at Manufacturers Credit Information Systems (MCIS).
“The role was largely administrative, but I was a quick learner and was doing the work of an account manager by visiting the companies and also assisting with signing up clients and delivering the Advance motor vehicle credit cards to them,” Richards said. “The assistant vice-president in charge of operations recognised my work ethic and asked me to join Manufacturers Merchant Bank.”
Richards started working at the bank as an operations officer, but she didn't get complacent. She kept upskilling and climbing up the rungs of the corporate ladder. She was headhunted for a role at Knutsford Capital Merchant Bank, where she worked in several roles. She has also worked as an investment advisor, foreign exchange trader, and treasury officer.
“I was once again sought out to join Sigma Unit Trust Managers as an account executive,” she said, musing at the sheer serendipity of having worked in the different companies that helped to form what is now Sagicor Investments. “My journey in life was also a part of the journey of Sagicor, interestingly, and that has taught me something — whatever you're doing, do it to the best of your abilities.”
“I am now responsible for growing the retail business and leading the Business Support Team at SIJL,” she said proudly. “I work with some of the most wonderful team members, leaders and, of course, our clients, with whom I have built relationships over the years.”
While she grew in the Sagicor family, Richards also grew her own by giving birth to three beautiful girls — Sara, Chelsea, and Kelly.
“Motherhood has been a blessing for me. It has taught me the importance of planning and organising one's time, as well as how to deal with different personalities. My children are like the different elements which makes life even more interesting,” Richards said affectionately.
She also enjoys tending to her orchids and, contrastingly, watching football.
“Football is the greatest game. It's like chess, only faster. It involves strategy, quick thinking combined with execution, and an excellent coach. I also have a love affair with Pep Guardiola,” she admitted humorously.
Orchids, for her, represent beauty in the purest form. “They teach you patience and the importance of nurturing the plant, even if it takes long to bloom, plus I get to solve a lot of problems in my head when I am gardening,” she shared positively.
Even with 30 years of work experience under her belt, Richards is still keen on learning, even as she teaches and leads her team. She is eagerly learning Spanish, even if it will take some time, as she plans to someday visit Cuba and experience its culture.
“I don't set limits on myself,” she said, noting that she also hopes to someday complete a book she began writing at eight years old. “I aspire to continue growing personally and spiritually, and I expect to grow with my company and to continue making my contribution in helping to build a formidable team.”