Passing of a giant
Lasco founder Lascelles Chin hailed as business icon, humanitarian
The late Lasco founder Lascelles Chin with his almost always ready smile (Photo: Observer File)

Lascelles Chin, founder of the Lasco Group of Companies who died in the United States Saturday night, is being hailed as a visionary Jamaican entrepreneur and humanitarian who almost single-handedly created a business empire spanning consumer products and financial services.

"His entrepreneurial prowess transformed Lasco into a household name, while his philanthropy uplifted countless lives," Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in a Twitter post.

Holness also described Chin as "a visionary leader and advocate for change" whose "legacy will forever inspire us".

Opposition Leader Mark Golding, in a Twitter post as well, said Chin was one of Jamaica's great entrepreneurial visionaries.

"His trusted Lasco products have brought value to the people with a commitment to quality and affordability," Golding said.

Business Titan Las Chin was 85-year-old at the time of his death (Photos: Observer File)

Adam Stewart, executive chairman of Appliance Traders Limited Group, which includes this newspaper, expressed sadness at Chin's passing, saying that he was "a man with a heart of gold whose name and business, the Lasco Group of Companies, are synonymous with the best of Jamaica".

Added Stewart, "He touched so many hearts and lives with limitless kindness and generosity, sharing his time, knowledge and invaluable experience with the next generation of businessmen, like myself. I will certainly miss his handwritten notes and words of encouragement to keep pushing the boundaries and always reach higher."

GraceKennedy Group CEO Don Wehby described Chin as a Jamaican icon and recalled that the late Lasco founder would often send him "notes of encouragement and congratulations" throughout his career.

In its tribute, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) said Chin dedicated his entire life to establishing an extraordinary entrepreneurial and philanthropic legacy that spans over six decades.

"His unparalleled business acumen and trailblazing spirit were evident across multiple sectors, including manufacturing, financial services, pharmaceuticals, and data processing.

"As we reflect on the remarkable career of this visionary, the PSOJ takes great pride in commemorating the life of a true titan of business whose selfless service contributed immensely to Jamaica's economic development. His outstanding achievements, including his induction into The PSOJ Hall Of Fame in 2011, were duly recognised," said the private sector group in a release.

Businessman Ian Dear said Chin's passing was a huge loss for Jamaica, describing him as a great man and nation-builder.

Chin's alma mater, Wolmer's Boys' School, hailed him as a titan of Jamaica's private sector, business icon, philanthropist, and quiet humanitarian.

"Las, as he was affectionately known...contributed his genius to a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, finance and insurance, and data processing. He championed the cause of export and actively sought out new markets. His keen eye for opportunity, his energetic leadership, his willingness to undertake risk and the ease with which he built partnerships, fuelled his inevitable success," Wolmer's Trust said.

Chin grew up penniless in the deep-rural village of Knolis, near Bog Walk, St Catherine.

"I did not have a lot of things available to me," he told the Jamaica Observer in 2000 when he was nominated for the newspaper's Business Leader Award. "If I wanted a penknife I had to make it myself...I made tamarind balls and asham [ground, roasted corn mixed with sugar] to sell for money."

As a child, all Chin knew was that he wanted to escape the poverty that surrounded him. He knew he had to work very hard.

"I had the mentality that I wanted to be important," the former student of a Jehovah's Witness school in Balaclava, St Elizabeth, told the Observer at the time. "I knew I had to work hard because I was an average student...I did not have natural ability for learning."

Chin was nominated for the Observer Business Leader Award due to his remarkable success at growing the firm he had founded 13 years before into one of Jamaica's most powerful manufacturing and distribution companies with 90 product lines sold at more than 3,000 outlets in Jamaica.

The story in the Business Observer in recognition of his nomination stated that Lasco that year recorded sales of $3 billion, and projected sales of $4 billion for 2001.

At the end of 1999, Chin bought the old Guinness warehouse at White Marl, St Catherine, for $75 million, and spent another $125 million to transform it into a modern storage and office complex to accommodate his fast-growing empire.

In 2000, Chin also began a US$2-million expansion of his facilities in Barbados to firmly plant his brand in that economy.

In 2001 Chin was invested with Jamaica's fourth-highest national award, the Order of Jamaica, for his philanthropy and contribution to the development of commerce and business.

It was a deserving recognition for a man who ventured into business in the early 1960s importing black pepper from Asia, and peas from Portugal and the United States, selling them to grain stores for a fixed commission of 10 per cent.

He overcome many obstacles, including being denied a loan by a bank, to emerge as Jamaica's largest trader of black pepper.

From those modest beginnings his entrepreneurial energy led him to seek out business opportunities, including early partnership with the German chemical company Henkel Limited and in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, data processing, car rentals, horticulture, insurance personal care products and pharmaceuticals.

As his business acumen continued to grow from strength to strength, Chin expanded the firm he founded to become Lasco Affiliated Companies, comprising Lasco Manufacturing, Lasco Financial Services, and Lasco Distributors.

Chin was awarded two honorary degrees — Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Humane Letters — from University of Technology, Jamaica, and Northern Caribbean University, respectively.

In 2011 he was inducted into the PSOJ Hall of Fame.

Chin, who was 85 at the time of his passing, was also known for staging events and competitions that highlight the work of teachers, nurses, as well as the police and which reward them for their service to Jamaica.

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