Sun | Sep 27, 2020

Ja’s women have combated and won in business

Published:Monday | March 9, 2020 | 12:16 AM

At age 13, Nadeen Matthews Blair, chief executive officer of the NCB Foundation, challenged the tide to prove to a guidance counsellor at her United States-based school, that black girls can overcome all odds to become powerful leaders.

Matthews Blair was among a group of accomplished women who shared their journey to success in their respective fields yesterday, during the Top Tier Women Conference.

The conference, which was organised by the Women’s Leadership Initiative, was held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in St Andrew, in celebration of International Women’s Day 2020.

The other women included Lisa Lake , group executive director, cultural and human development at the Lake Group of Companies; Chorvelle Johnson Cunningham, CEO of Sagicor Bank; Mariame McIntosh Robinson, president and CEO of First Global Bank; as well as Donna Duncan-Scott, group executive director of culture and human development at the Jamaica Money Market Brokers.

The NCB Foundation CEO told the room, packed with women from numerous corporate entities, that if it were not for the seeds of positivity planted by her parents and the people in “her corner”, achieving success would have been only a dream.

“I attended school in the Bronx, New York. At 13, I took a specialised exam for math and science for entry into high schools in New York and I became the first person in my school to pass that exam for a math and science high school in New York. When I passed, I became the first person in my school to pass that exam.”

After the exams, she shared how her parents were called into the guidance counsellor and told that their daughter was unworthy of attending such a prestigious institution.

“Of course my parents told him to go fly a kite,” she said, to much laughter from the attendees.

Matthews Blair, who is also the chief digital and marketing officer for NCB Jamaica Limited, said it was important to give that reflection, because children are unaware that seeds are being planted in them. She pointed out as important, the need to have people around to support and propel you.

For 88-year-old Lois Sherwood, the woman responsible for taking Burger King to Jamaica, becoming a giant in business as a woman comes with a lot of obstacles but she expressed joy that things have advanced past a time when a female starting or running a business was forbidden.

Sherwood shared that while in the US for an art exhibition, more than 35 years ago, she was inspired by the sight of burgers everywhere.

“What made me start Burger King is that I am also an artist. I was away, having an exhibition and I saw a lot of people having hamburgers. We didn’t have that here. We were more patty-orientated. When I went to the bank to get a loan, they asked me to bring my husband. I told them it was not my husband’s money. It is my savings and that is what I want to start with. I just laughed and asked how they didn’t ask where the money is coming from. I was the saver,” she said.

Sherwood was also the creator of the Mahogany House furniture store. This idea came about after much success in getting local cabinetmakers back in the day, to pattern British-styled furniture and make their own from mahogany.

Story by Jason Cross

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com