Gordon Clarke: A Worthy Man
Bar NoneThursday, October 29, 2020
with Debbain Spence-Minott
We have all heard the name Worthy Park or more familiarly Rum- Bar Rum. But how much do we know about the man at the helm? Gordon Clarke can be described as a proud Jamaican who genuinely and deeply loves his country. Clarke informs that apart from attending school overseas, Jamaica has always been his home. He joined the family business at Worthy Park Estate after completing his MBA degree. At that time, he worked with the sugar division for a period of five years then left the family business and moved to Kingston. Clarke spent a little over a year in his own printing/promotions company and soon realised that being a salesman was not his passion. Thereafter, Clarke was offered a job as project manager at J Wray & Nephew (JWN) which he accepted. While at JWN, Clarke would work alongside consulting engineer Paul Stockhausen to build the winery there. This was an exciting project for Clarke as the tasks involved the relocation of the winery from the North complex to the South complex of the company's operations. The D&G winery was also encapsulated under this project. Clarke recounts that this was a successfully executed project that he and his team were proud of. Once the dust settled, then Managing Director Anthony Bell asked Clarke to take on the role of logistics manager, a position that would be responsible for 50% of all production at the Spanish Town Road location. In this new role, Clarke learnt about the blending and packaging of rums, and that experience gave him a solid introduction into rum production. After spending almost three years at JWN, Clarke returned to his printing/promotions company. While there, he began conducting a feasibility study for his family business with a determination to return the Worthy Park Estate back into the business of rum.
A Journey to Home
Upon successful completion of the feasibility study on the viability of revitalising rum production at Worthy Park, Clarke indicated that his family decided to move forward with the plan. Clarke's responsibility was now to build a new distillery and operate it. So again, Clarke contacted Paul Stockhausen to assist him with his newfound project — building the distillery at Worthy Park! The duo was assisted by a combination of efforts of hired management, suppliers, and consultants to deliver a state-of-the-art distillery in Jamaica. Clarke said, “We have the newest distillery here in Jamaica — a pot still, but an artisanal automation of a pot still.” The project team also assisted in completing supporting tasks such as the rum stores. By 2005, the distillery was completed.
It was now time to produce rum and the Worthy Park distillery answered the call. Bulk rum was produced and shipped to European bottlers and blenders. After two years, Clarke launched the Rum-Bar rum brand. Clarke recounts that in the first five years, the growth of the brand was exponential as the brand experienced double-digit growth. It was not until the Special Consumption Tax (SCT) structure changed in 2012 and the market leader becoming aware of the brand's success and attempted to claw back market share that the sales growth was tempered. Clarke indicated that he made a strategic move in the recruitment and hiring of Alexander Kong. Clarke recalls meeting Kong while at the VIP Lounge in Montego Bay. This was not a usual day for him as most of his travels did not see him departing from Montego Bay but via Kingston. While in the lounge, Clarke enquired from one of the guest relations officers why they did not have the rum on offer. He was asked to have a follow-up conversation with the then manager on duty — Alexander Kong. After speaking with Kong, Clarke was convinced that there was a role for him to play in the growth of the Worthy Park rum portfolio. Over the next five-and-a-half years, Kong developed his natural love for rum, and even could be considered a rum geek. Kong began travelling the world sharing the brand story and heritage of Rum-Bar Rum and the Worthy Park Estate. Today, the Worthy Park portfolio can be found in 28 countries and 26 of the 52 states in the USA.
Today, Worthy Park Estate has transitioned from the third generation of Clarke's to the fourth; and the distillery has been in his family for over 100 years. In previous years, there were two co-managing directors, one focused on farms, office, and sugar factory and the other on the distillery operations. For the first time in its history, Worthy Park now has a single head of operations. Clarke is supported by his team that includes Kong, who is now responsible for the rum business and administration (this allows Clarke to focus on sugar production). Tamika West heads the marketing division and with the support of Wisynco aids in strengthening the footprint of the brands.
In speaking about the future, Clarke disclosed, “I am fulfilling my destiny at Worthy Park Estate. I am the fourth generation of Clarke's. I live in the house built by my grandfather and that my father grew up in; I am happy.”
Clarke has certainly journeyed full circle as he leads the sugar production process and continues to support his team in expanding the Worthy Park Estate portfolio of brands within and outside of Jamaica. Clarke is grateful for the continued support of his wife of 30 years, Nicky, and his son and twin daughters.
Readers' Grapevine Club: If you are new to wines and want to join us on our wine discovery, then this is for you. On the third Thursday of each month, I will highlight your feedback on our grape variety/vine of the month. For November, we welcome the chilled atmosphere associated with Eiswein or Icewine. After all, if we were in wine country, we would be looking forward to welcoming winter.
Extraordinary wonder and joy are interwoven through ordinary life; seek them relentlessly. Please share with me your wine, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at email@example.com, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.
Dr Debbian Spence-Minott
An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association
CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines
President, Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited