12 top CEOs nominated for Observer Business Leader Award

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The Jamaica Observer Business Leader Award programme will this year recognise a category of corporate personalities whose role in business success is often overshadowed by the central place that the owners of these institutions usually occupy.

The theme of the award, 'Business Leader: Executive Steward', encapsulates the Observer's nod to chief executives of companies who, while not the owners themselves, have been the stewards of the investments made by the ultimate financial risk-takers.

Twelve of the country's most transformational CEOs — men and women who, by the tenor and unqualified success of their stewardship have become publicly synonymous with the company they run — have been nominated for the award.

Over the next few weeks the journeys of the 12 individuals towards becoming the public face of their corporations will be uncovered throughout the pages of the Observer, culminating in the award presentation and banquet on Sunday, December 10 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. The announcement of the Business Leader: Executive Steward will take place at this gala event.

According to Moses Jackson, chairman of the Award Selection Committee, this year's nominees “were culled from the archetypal starting list and run the full gamut of Jamaica's corporate experience”.

Jackson said that among the nominees “are men and women who arrived at the concept stage of the business and had a full hand in building the enterprise from the ground up. There are those who were handed existing success stories and took the enterprise to heights not contemplated by the owners. Others have rebooted flagging brands, transforming them into virtual money machines for stakeholders”.

Danville Walker, managing director of the Jamaica Observer, noted that many Jamaicans tend to underestimate the role that professional management plays, not only in a company's financial success, but in driving entrepreneurism and employment creation.

The purpose of this year's programme, Walker stressed, is to reorient public perspective towards a better understanding of the role of the professional management class in entrepreneurism.

“The CEOs are the ones who steer the enterprise towards opportunities that beckon and navigate it through the challenges that inevitably emerge from evolving market conditions,” noted Walker. “Their decisions, actions and recommendations can at once be perilous and opportune. Indeed, for the far-sighted entrepreneur, the availability of the right executive steward weighs heavily in the risk-reward equation of an investment decision.”

The Business Leader Award programme is sponsored by Digicel Jamaica, Scotiabank Jamaica, and J Wray & Nephew — companies which, according to Walker, “have bought into and continue to strongly support the Observer's mission of encouraging and promoting entrepreneurism and risk-taking in Jamaica”.

The award presentation on December 10 will be carried live by Business Access Television.

This year marks the 20th staging of the Business Leader Award which began in the second half of the 1990s at the peak of what was characterised as Jamaica's financial sector meltdown. The programme was intended to bring positive attention to local businessmen who, despite negative headwinds, had taken risks and built enterprises that transformed hundreds of lives.

According to Jackson, over the two decades, “the programme has sought to engage public awareness on the range of structures through which entrepreneurism shapes the local economic landscape. So, for example, we have looked at 'Families in Business', 'The Diaspora Community', 'Foreign Investors', and 'Government Institutions that aid Private Sector Development', among others.

Last year's award was held under the theme 'Business Leader: Corporate Philanthropy' with the Observer newspaper turning the national spotlight on the country's most generous corporate givers. The National Baking Company emerged Business Leader.

The 2017 iteration is arguably the most competitive in the 20 years of the programme, with one of the members of the Award Selection Committee, Ambassador Audrey Marks, commenting that “this is the most compelling list of outstanding CEOs” she has ever seen assembled, and making the case for the expansion of the nominees beyond the 12, to include some of those who were winnowed from the initial list.

The award this year is also unique in what appears to be a subtle drift from the traditional core mission of focusing on the founders and owners of businesses.

But Jackson argued that “while the owners sit at the very pinnacle in the pantheon of entrepreneurism, it is the executive stewards who are the enablers of their entrepreneurism, by providing the assurance that their companies are in safe hands, and freeing up the owners of capital to undertake multiple investments”.