A distinction is often made between good managers and good leaders and, while Richard Pandohie exhibits excellent traits of both, he will be the first to tell you about his personal evolution from being a managerial style thinker to one who places more emphasis on leadership as a process involving less control.
Pandohie, who wears the dual hats of president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) and chief executive officer of Seprod Limited, is an engineer by training, and notes that the discipline helped to shape his thought processes to being more analytic, systemic, and data-oriented. This approach to leadership has served him well and earned him many plaudits, not least from his alma mater, Calabar High.
Listing his family and a small circle of friends as his biggest supporters, but simultaneously his most ardent critics, Pandohie describes his journey as a work in progress, and part of this journey is a passionate commitment to nation-building.
“Success is defined in many ways,” he says, “but, for me, a key component is my contribution to nation-building. I've always grown up with an aspiration and belief that we must give back,” he said.
Indeed, Pandohie is a firm believer in Jamaica, and this ethos of nation-building is shared by his organisation, Seprod. Detailing an outstanding display of self-belief from one of his sanitation staff who convinced a senior manager that he could run one of the company's highly-automated mills, he says that this example has solidified his belief that: “So many people have the potential, but not the opportunity, and that's why in our organisation we are trying to create an enabling environment, where ambitious persons can have an opportunity to maximise their potential and change the economic trajectory of their family.”
When he is not leading one of the region's largest manufacturing groups, with over 2,000 employees, Pandohie likes to spend time travelling as well as meeting new people in different environments and sectors. Admittedly loquacious, he says the best learning occurs when you are most detached from your normal environment, and you're exposed to people from very diverse backgrounds.
His willingness to engage people through robust discussion has given rise to the parley many differences in viewpoint, but this is something Pandohie says he greatly appreciates because he totally eschews the notion of alignment and complete conformity.
“I encourage everyone to speak up; to be invisible is not a good thing. Being so aligned to the pack is not a good thing. You have to be willing to state your opinion and to be an out of the box and different type of thinker to add the most value,” the CEO explained.
The true test of a transformational leader comes during times of challenge than comfort, and Pandohie has certainly had his fair share of challenges, especially during the novel coronavirus pandemic. His experience, however, has enabled him to work with his team to manoeuvre this difficult period adeptly, and he notes with pride that not only has he communicated consistently with his staff since the onset of the crisis, but Seprod was able to protect its workers from significant adverse impact to their personal economy.
On the national front, he continues to lead the JMEA team as they advocate tirelessly for the sector and strives to play a positive role as Jamaica navigates its biggest economic crisis. During the most challenging period of the pandemic, he was actively visiting Seprod operations and members of the JMEA to discover and highlight inspirational stories — and there were many — during the heavy rainfall towards the end of 2020. Seprod's dairy farms suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to its drainage network, but through extraordinary effort from heroic workers toiling across rugged terrain, the impact was mitigated. On the JMEA side, he highlighted companies who were pivoting to achieve amazing breakthroughs and playing a big part in helping the most vulnerable in our society.
A powerful visionary, Pandohie wants to see Seprod continue to expand and gain international recognition: “I want us to be a proud ambassador for Brand Jamaica in everything that we do. It gives me great pride when I travel to hear people say they know about our company and our products.” To this end, Seprod has had an aggressive innovation pipeline, with key new launches such as gluten-free flour and Coffee Supligen, utilizing linkages in the agriculture sector.
Pandohie's vision, however, is not limited to just Seprod, but also extends to the wider manufacturing, agriculture, export sectors, and Jamaica at large. He says, “I want the productive sector to be a bigger contributor to the economy and be a key pillar in the post-pandemic recovery. The manufacturing sector contributes eight per cent currently to GDP [gross domestic product] and employs roughly 92,000 persons, [but that] is not adequate, we should be contributing 14 to 15 per cent of GDP and employing around 120,000 persons.”
Another component of Pandohie's vision involves minimising the apparent deficit of trust between the public and private sectors: “[A]t times it is almost as if we are adversaries. I don't know what has caused that…we have really talented people on both sides who want the best for Jamaica. It is time that we — private and public sector — agree what we must achieve to make Jamaica prosperous and then define how are we going to work together to get there. We have missed and are continuing to miss some major opportunities because of the lack of alignment and trust. It is time to fix that.”
Pandohie actively promotes any activity that will close the divide and allow practitioners from both sectors to spend some time in each other's ecosystem, suggesting a period of mutual secondment as a possible solution. More employees in the manufacturing sector will help to grow the middle class which is key to the growth of the economy.
Richard Pandohie understands the big picture and has an innate ability to execute well while knowing that it takes a team effort to create sustainable, high-performance results. He and Seprod make a good fit and, ultimately, the legacy he'd like to be remembered for: “I want to be seen as someone who played a key role in taking the company to another level and delivered superior results for all stakeholders. I want to make a positive difference in persons' lives and to serve my country well.”
His example should serve as an inspiration to us all as he continues to make his stellar contribution to nation-building.
Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd is founder and managing director of Make Your Mark Consultants. She is a transformational leader, coach, organisation and people development specialist, and national productivity ambassador. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.