Thursday 21st April 2005

 

Grace ready for CSME

Douglas Orane leads rising Jamaican company

 
 
 
 
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Douglas Orane, chairman and CEO of Grace Kennedy at an investors’ briefing at Hilton Trinidad.

Photo: Keith Matthews

BY ASHA JAVEED

Douglas Orane compares himself to a gardener. Unlike the typical gardener, though, who nurtures plants, he nurtures people.

“I like to think of myself as someone who grows other people’s careers and I love watching them developing and blossoming in their own individual way,” he said.

One look at the tall, well-dressed Jamaican chairman and CEO of Grace Kennedy with his clean, long fingers and it’s difficult to imagine him dabbling in dirt though he quickly points out he can cook and does so when he has to advertise new products.

At 57, he admits though to having a penchant for hiking, and recently spent three days climbing up 13,900 ft of Machu Pichu in Peru.

“It was seven of us and we had to camp. It was great. I like the outdoors,” he said in a recent interview with the Business Guardian.

He’s just as comfortable playing in Brian McFarlane’s Washing this Carnival, which he admitted while clad in suit and briefing investors on the achievements of his company which reached a record $3.23 billion (US$53.8 million) in profits before tax, an increase of $564.9 million (US$9.4 million).

“I love my job. The work is a pleasure to do,” he enthused, nodding his head in affirmation.

He quickly adds that it’s his family life—he’s married with three children—that inspires him as well as the social work he does in his spare time.

His understanding of his people came after he left Jamaica to study abroad.

“When I was at Glasgow University in Scotland, I was able to interact with a lot of Caribbean people and it was my first interaction with them and it gave me an informed view of myself and a view into the region. It also helped form Grace’s new mission statement—to satisfy the unmet needs of Caribbean people wherever we live in the world,” he said.

Orane heads one of the Caribbean’s leading conglomerates—which is divided into four groups Food Trading, Retail and Trading, Financial Services and Information Services.

“We have a diverse range of business which gives us a level of stability as we don’t depend on a single company,” he explained.

Orane, who’s been with Grace, for the last 25 years, said he left his parents’ small business to begin work as a corporate planner at Grace.

“I always had this curiosity about the corporate world and I wanted to join a company that would be like if I started it from scratch and that company would have looked like Grace. The company is always changing to meet the demands so each generation gets new opportunities,” he explained.

He pointed out that Grace now conducts businesses in 36 countries but is committed to manufacturing as evidenced by their J$1 billion (US$16 million) upgrade of four of their Jamaican factories.

This, he believes, has given Grace, the only Caribbean company to be listed on all four Caribbean Stock Exchanges—Jamaica, T&T, Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)—the position of being a CSME-ready business.

“With globalisation, we went from being a protected island-economy to an open one and we thrived in that new environment. We operate as a CSME company already because we trade throughout the region, have subsidiaries and are listed on all the stock exchanges. We not only want to satisfy customers, we want them to participate in wealth creation—as we do well—they will do well financially,” he said.

He noted that a regional stock exchange would remove all inefficiencies which currently exist and would allow for trading in a single block, which will obviously be more efficient.

“The Jamaican economy has done really well, as it has given us in the Caribbean the self-confidence that we can do well in any environment. A person who would have invested US$1,000 in Grace about ten years ago would today be worth about US$17,000,” he boasted.

He explained Grace’s position of giving their shareholders 15 per cent of its profits compared to other companies where shareholders receive a higher percentage.

“In Jamaica, the inflation rate is higher than anywhere in the Caribbean and it is prudent that we keep more profits to finance other investments. In a lower inflation economy, the dividends may be higher,” he said.

He believes Caribbean companies can develop into world class companies and create value for anyone, as long as employees believe in themselves.

“I believe in the demonstration effect, when there is one success others will follow. If you look at the Jamaican economy right now, where there is a projected economic growth, a declining interest rate and a demand for the tourism sector to build new hotels to earn more foreign exchange and the inflation rate is in the single digits, it is very encouraging,” he stressed.

As chairman, Orane said he spends more of his time helping his staff develop leadership skills.

“When Grace formed its 2020 Vision, where we would like to see the company in the next 20 years, investing in people was one of those things. And this is something that I have spent the last two years of my life working with—helping people develop their leadership skills,” he said.

He explained the company’s meritocratic culture empowers its workers and one of its visions was to double the productivity of its people.

“People laughed and said we couldn’t do that in the Caribbean but in the last five years we’ve done just that,” he boasted.

He spends his spare time at his alma mater, Woolmer’s High School, the first free school in the Caribbean.

“At my age, I’ve realised that giving back is important. It’s easy to give to charitable causes but not a lot of people have that philantrophic spirit. I’m inspired by John Woolmer—when he died he left the majority of his estate to form the first free school. That’s something we need more of,” he said.

 

 

 

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