It used to be said, 21 Families, ruled Jamaica. But that was then! Since the ‘halcyon days’ of Plantocracy and Post-Independence,
Wealth and the spheres of influence have been expanded as some of the wealth of that 21-Families, have been whittled away with time, eroded by inflation, and decimated by the new cost of labour.
Couple the ravages of times that brought a shift from traditional ‘Industries’, to a new age, with demands for new goods and services, and viola – there you have it – a land resplendent with opportunities for the new entrepreneurial class.
So today, whilst there are leftovers from the 21-Families, Scions, have not been particularly entrepreneurial and so many have lost their financial pedigree, but still have name-recognition and some, property, directorships, and still cling to their past, with the desperate vengeance of Norma Desmond of celluloid immortality!
Since Independence however, the country has produced a number of business tycoons, who have, for the most part, helped in fashioning the industrial, commercial and financial infrastructure of the country; while charting a new course in commerce, service, technology, and the financial service sectors. Because of the success these entrepreneurs have enjoyed, many have risen to the rank of Titans, and it is said of some of these pioneers, they can make or break Governments, with their policies, or by withholding funding from candidates and or political parties.
In this, our inaugural Power Issue, we look at 10 Leading Titans, Who Are Thought to be, 10 Of The Most Powerful Business Leaders here in Jamaica, and the Caribbean.
These Business Tycoons, and one scion, through their innovation and industry, created business that employs hundreds of thousands; and in the process, built International brands and legacies, that redoubted to the benefit of the Country, as well as helped in creating and solidifying Brand-Jamaica, as some of these iconic brands are essential social and cultural components of the Jamaican identity.
And so, we celebrate those who, by their commitment and determination changed the course of history, of not just themselves, but also that of the nation; as their templates of success, become the model used by their successors and even by their competitors.
It is often said, that the industrious are always on the hunt for opportunities, but
a sage once said, ‘there’s no time like now!’ And it is those who recognize the importance of “Now”, who eventually succeed.
indeed, when we look around today, it is easy in our admiration of the contribution of our business-leaders and their living legacies, to forget that many of these Titans standing like skyscrapers defining the business landscape and dominating social and political life (from behind the scenes), built their fiefdoms, from the ground up, and are essentially self-made.
They understand that essentially, Jamaica, despite its years of global and pivotal import to the fortunes of its former colonizers, is still a relatively young country, pregnant with opportunities for the homegrown entrepreneur and they reached out to embrace their date with destiny, and destiny embraced their endeavors and saluted them with success.
As a result, Jamaica, today, stands tall on the shoulders of these early entrepreneurs. And whilst it’s our Captains Of Industry who are now mostly celebrated, Images And Profiles now profile 10 Of Jamaica’s Leading And Most Powerful Entrepreneurs – Titans all…
1. Karl Hendrickson: Karl Hendrickson, is the Patriarch of the Hendrickson Clan, whose interests today includes significant
tourism and real estate holdings, including the Landmark Pegasus, New Kingston, Courtleigh and Hotel, along with the original family baking business, the National Brand, where he earned the reputation for managing the business like a family business, where the employees are treated with the reverence and respect, reserved for family members.
A Quiet, almost reticent individual, Karl Hendrickson and wife Nellie Hendrickson are regarded as paragons of old-fashioned decency, who tend to avoid the social spotlight and or grandstanding, opting instead for more family-oriented quality time.
One of the country’s most powerful business Titans, a telephone call from Karl Hendrickson, would be akin to receiving the Holy-grail; A Social invite from wife Nellie, regarded as a treasured summons, of the highest order.
Today, Karl Hendrickson and wife Nellie have handed over the reins of the conglomerate to their two sons, Kevin and Butch, with Kevin reportedly in charge of the Hotel department of the business and his brother Butch, the Baking and Manufacturing.
2. John Issa: Is the Country’s leading tourism authority and Mogul, who is credited for remodeling the Jamaican Tourism
Industry, with the introduction of the All-Inclusive brand, at the Negril Beach Village, at a time when Brand-Jamaica, was taking a political beating from the US government and the Central Intelligence Agency, in opposition to the politics of the Michael Manley government.
At the time, Jamaica was in the crosshairs of the US government, who was trying to suffocate the country economically. With tourism is the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, and with the campaign on in earnest to rid the country of its democratically elected government, John Issa, who had gone into the hospitality wing of the family business (The House Of Issa included Auto-sales; Merchandising, Real Estate , and The Hotel/Tourism Industry) is credited with fashioning the campaign that saw Negril, marketed as a distinct destination, as if it was separate and apart from Jamaica.
The campaign was so successful, John Issa became one of the region’s biggest Tourism-power-player and business icon, whose counsel was sought at the highest level of Government; his own brand, SuperClubs, so successful, it was represented in at least 5-countries; and so coveted it fuelled a number of other brands.
Today Negril is still regarded as a tourism enclave, along the model of Acapulco, or the Riviera, but has evolved in recent times to being the resort party capital of the Caribbean.
Today, John Issa and his wife, Aida Issa, have scaled back their hotel-holdings, following a rift with their son, Joey Issa, who was largely considered the heir-apparent to the SuperClubs fortune, which is now managed by their twin daughters Zein Issa-Nakash and Muna Issa.
Joey Issa, on the other hand, has gone on to create his own burgeoning conglomerate and is considered a political heavy-weight.
Today John Issa and his family have reduced their tourism holdings, but Tourism insiders and movers and shakers credit him with saving the industry when it needed a saviour and for his unique marketing and branding strategies, which was widely adopted and used by others players.
3. Tony Hart: This Montego Bay Power-house Is the Patriarch of the Hart Group, now primarily headed by His Son Mark Hart,
but led for years by him and his wife Sheila Hart, and guided the Group into a period of national and regional success and expansion, whose portfolio now includes Shipping, Retail, Real Estate, and Tourism Interests Caribbean-wide.
He is considered congenial; she convivial, and together make for the perfect power-couple and A-listers who are firm believers and defender in Jamaica and its people!
Not one to trumpet his own goodness, he is celebrated and known for his philanthropic support of Education, as a tool to empower the less-privileged, And So actively, but quietly supports and promotes charities supporting Education, in an effort engineer change, in order to make a difference.
He is, however, an internationally recognized entrepreneur and a major power-player in the corridors of power, here in Jamaica, and is known to have the ears of the political class, and is held in the highest esteem by his peers, as well as his competitors.
4. Oliver Clarke: It has been said of Oliver Clarke, that he has been the most consistent and prolific non-elected King-maker and
Power-player in the history of post-independent Jamaica – For one who speaks softly.
A scion of the Clarke family who created the Jamaican National Building Society, Oliver Clarke, is better known for his role as the head Of the Gleaner Company and the Editorial path he has charted for the Newspaper, making it one of the most powerful newspapers in the region, with the capacity to influence not just Governments, but the Very Elections to determine Governments.
Indeed, in one of the Newspapers’ more interesting chapters, saw Michael Manley leading a demonstration of his supporters to the Newspaper’s North Street offices, in the 70s to protest what was then considered its destabilizing role not just of the Manley Government, But also of the Country, as The Newspaper and its MD, were regarded as tools of the US government and its CIA.
To Clarke’s credit, however, he would also go on to earn the ire of Manley’s successor, Seaga, who swore against granting him a Television broadcast license.
Oliver Clarke however, hails from a family of wealthy landowners, out of Westmoreland, and earned himself a reputation as being a shrewd businessman, whose Chairmanship of the Gleaner and Jamaica National, made him one of the most powerful businessmen in the region.
He recently stepped down from these two very powerful positions, for health reasons, but few who know him, believes Oliver Clarke, has simply walked away…His wife Monica Ladd, an accomplished Attorney, is not known to harbour any power-ambition, and their daughter, is considered way too young, to step into her dad’s powerful shoes, But Oliver Clarke, is that man, that any and all political leader, will take his telephone call, at any hour of the night or day!
5. Donovan Lewis: Highly successful real estate developer and Investment banking guru, who first came to prominence as an
OTB powerplayer. Lewis, is publicity-shy and so avoids the limelight as much as is practicable, but is considered a very solid entrepreneur/financier, whose no-nonsense approach to business has earned him many grudging admirers. He is considered a financial rock in an era of charlatans and posers.
His Ideal Finance Brand, considered a pillar of stability in the Investment Banking Community; and widely respected throughout the community. He also holds one of the Country’s single largest real estate portfolios, and is the go-to Financier, for many in the business community, for short and or longterm investment capital.
Considered aloof, by some he is most definitely Not one to hob-nob, he is a family man, who prefers to spend as much time with his wife Andrea, and children as well as his aging Mom, as against at sixes-and-nines with the cocktail crowd.
A Financial powerhouse, he is considered one of the Country’s most powerful entrepreneurs to remain under the radar, and this is a surprise many, and those out of the banking and finance industry, will be forgiven if they say Donovan Who?
Not known to not suffer fools…Not even lightly, he shuns profiling and is definitely not one of those who travel with or encourage an entourage, common to many entrepreneurs. He is, however, sought after for his acumen and foresight…
6. Las Chin: This manufacturing and retail Titan, is easily, one of this Country’s most admired, loved and respected business
leaders. And Little wonder, as Las Chin’s business model, has always been about promoting the welfare and wellbeing of his fellow customers, but particularly, those at the bottom of the economic ladder and who find it hardest to survive in the world of high-prices. And with his learning curve being rural Jamaica, where he was first exposed to retail in his parents groceries, Las Chin, knowns the struggle to make the dollar stretch, for the average family.
It is this knowledge that motivated him to source and fashion his product to make them affordable to those with the least to spend on their daily must-haves. And so, the LASCO brand was born.
Las Chin, is known and lauded for his philanthropy, as he personally, is one of the single largest contributors to educational causes and charities, to benefit the poor and needy; And as well as to laud our unheralded public sector workers, his Lasco Brand, created annual awards to celebrate and reward the exemplary service of our Teachers, Police and Nurses.
Today, the Self-made conglomateur and King Of Retail, manufactures and or distributes over a 1000 food and pharmaceutical items, through his Lasco brand adding to his Lasco Financial Services Division.
With his wife, Dr Eileen Gonzales-Chin, no longer taking an active role in the management of the Lasco Group, no clear successor to the Lasco group has been identified, but observers expect that an heir/heiress will emerge from any of his 6 children, when he decides to relinquish the reins to the Lasco Group Of Companies.
7. Kenny Benjamin: Is the success story of which dreams are inspired and movie-scripts are made. Born in India, Benjamin
came to Jamaica, on holidays over four decades ago, and never looked back.
Today he is the Founder and Chairman of The Guardsman Group of Companies, that started out primarily as a private security company, providing Canine, and Human Security-Officers for Industrial and close Security requirement, for residences, businesses and VIPs, that today, has close to 10,000 employees, on its payroll, that has since been expanded to include electronic security and observation to encompass the entire security spectrum., which has seen the Guardsman Group evolved into being a real-estate Power-player; with an ever increasing foray and mastery of the Tourism and Hospitality Industries, to complement it’s Real Estate holdings, as it expands its portfolio.
An Animal Lover who serves as the Chairman Of the Jamaican Society of Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (JSPCA), Benjamin’s home was once regarded as a mini-zoo housing many an exotic animals, fish, birds and reptiles, but has since downscaled his home zoo to merge with the management of the National Zoo, which he acquired, some years ago.
A celebrated philanthropist, who also serves as the Chair Of the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Benjamin is perhaps the Island’s leading Hosts, the soirees, dinner-parties, hosted by himself and his companion Aloima Suarez, at their home, coveted social outings; his Week-ending Office cocktails, at the Guardsman Group headquarters, likened unto
Considered one of the Country’s most powerful private sector business leaders, the Guardsman Group, is now a Caribbean-wide brand, and is on first-name basis, with a number of Caribbean Leaders.
With moves afoot for further expansion in Jamaica and other territories; Benjamin is considered the businessman with the midas touch and so his moves are observed with a keen eye for emerging trends.
A Father of three, Nicholas, Brooke and Brandon (Still In High School), it is thought by business observers, that his first born, Nicholas Benjamin, is being groomed as the heir apparent.
8. Gordon Butch Stewart: Considered, a no-nonsense entrepreneur, and an in your face self-promoter, at one time, by some,
The Honourable Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, OJ.
“Butch”, has earned the grudging admiration of some of his business associates; and the deep and abiding respect of others, over the years.
And so it is, as indeed, Gordon Butch Stewart, is a man who set himself an appointment with destiny, many mango seasons ago, on his way to becoming the contemporary face of Jamaica’s and the Caribbean, Premier and Premium Tourism brand, and not only kept his appointment, but facilitated the appointment of many others, whom enriched and empowered, as he fulfilled his destiny, by leading them to theirs.
Looking on, many sees the charmed life of the iconic leader now feted on the world stage, but few recall the blood, sweat and tears, that went into the building of the iconic Sandals Brand, that is now the marquee brand, of the Appliance Traders Group, The Signature Brand, that made Butch Stewart, a household regional name!
Gordon Butch Stewart, is not just a story, if it were a movie, it would be an epic bio-pic, as this is the story of homegrown success of the fabulous order. – Imagine dropping out of School at 14, to roam the seas in a little ‘boat’ built by his own hands, to fish the north coast seas, then selling your catch, to the then Hotels; moving from being a ‘fisherman’, to Air-conditioning salesman; and then start your own company, a substantial one at that, before age 30?
Well, if you can imagine that, the story has come full circle as today, Gordon Butch Stewart, is regional Tourism’s Powerplayer; The Sandals and Beaches Brand, two of the Tourism world most recognized resort brands; And yet, Butch is still not yet resting on his laurels.
That brand, Sandals Resorts, is a global one, and contrary to its name, which conjures images of leisure or the laidback, the Sandals brand which includes Beaches Resorts and is located in every major Caribbean destination, is a high-end brand, catering to newlyweds, honeymooners, anniversary celebrants, and traditional vacationing couples, under the all-inclusive concept, where vacationers, buy a prepaid holiday on their Island of choice, and party their holiday away!
While Sandals is indeed synonymous with Gordon Butch Stewart, his portfolio includes extensive real estate holdings; high-end motor-vehicle dealeships; distrubution of high-tech household appliances, and yes, Air-conditioners…
Easy of manner with his friends, staffers and VIPs alike, the father 6, seemed to have identified son, Adam Stewart, as his heir apparent, who observers say, is assuming more and more of the everyday management duties.
9. Chris Blackwell: Highly regarded as the God-Father of Reggae, because of his early work in taking Reggae to the world,
Blackwell, whose global image is that of the counter-culture playboy, has emerged as the Country’s’ unofficial International-Ambassador-At-Large, his pull being that laidback cachet that he has melded into a chic resort brand, tucked neatly away from the maddening crowds on exotic islands, with Jamaica, being his operational base and home!
Blackwell continues to pull the international Jet-setters and “A- Crowders”, to the shores of Jamaica. His unassuming air, and effortless promotion of Brand Jamaica has earned him the respect of the Jamaican business community, policy-makers, and tourism power-players.
He has no known designated heir(s), but is the Father of One.
10. PB Scott: Is the scion (Grandson) of the late regional business tycoon Desmond Blades and wife Mrs Pegy Blades, who came
to Jamaica, from Barbados, PB Scott, is the son of their daughter Susan Scott.
Now PB Scott inherited an Empire and then some, and has been remaking that empire in his own corporate image, since ascending the throne of the Musson Group of Companies, in 2009.
As the Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and Principal Shareholder of the Musson Group, which operates in over 30 Countries (Latin America And The Caribbean), PB Scott is indeed one very powerful ‘youngman’.
Indeed, A Corporate powerbroker and powerplayer, he is courted and sought out by the political elite across the region as he is crafting his mark in the region as a hard-nosed tycoon, with an expansionist vision, determined to transform the Musson Group, whilst improving on its considerable fortunes.
And With the Musson Group, being the umbrella to the: PBS Group Ltd; Facey Group Ltd; T. Geddes Grant Distributors Ltd; General Accident Insurance Company Ltd; and Seprod Ltd; while serving in the capacity as director to several other companies and organizations, including the Development Bank of Jamaica, and the Honorary Consul General, for the Republic of Guatemala; the founder of Sail Jamaica, Jamaica’s only sailing school, PB Scott, is hot Corporate Real Estate!
And little wonder as since assuming the reins of the Musson Group, he has spearheaded a transformation drive that has seen the Group emerge from its old shell as primarily a distribution network of local consumer goods, to a regional conglomateur, operating with over 5000 employees; with an expanded portfolio that now includes industry, agriculture, food, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, information technology and insurance.
A sailor, who enjoys the seas, PB, wife Jennifer, and their two children, are known to entertain on their yacht regularly, cruising the Cays off the Port Royal coastline.