GETTING MORE BY GIVING BACK

Jamaica 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Don Wehby, Chairman of JAMPRO and Group CEO of GraceKennedy Limited, on how the firm has contributed to Jamaica, its corporate structure, and primary target markets.

Don Wehby
BIOGRAPHY
Don Wehby is the Group CEO of GraceKennedy Limited. Prior to his appointment, he held several positions including Deputy CEO and COO for the financial services division. He was charged with leading the group's local and international expansion in banking, investments, and insurance services. He has directed the listing of the company in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, and the Eastern Caribbean Securities Exchange in St. Kitts. Under his leadership, GraceKennedy acquired 100% ownership of First Global Bank Ltd., while as COO, the financial services division’s pre-tax profit rose from USD280 million in 2000 to USD1.417 billion in 2005, an increase of 406%.

What has been the contribution of GraceKennedy to Jamaica?

GraceKennedy was established in Kingston in 1922 as a small trading company. In those days, we were primarily involved in the food and shipping business. Over the years, we have evolved to become one of the largest group of companies in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Our contribution to Jamaica has been significant. One of the areas we are serious about is our corporate social responsibility and the role we play in the country's development. That is why we are so proud of the work we are doing through our two foundations—the Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation and the GraceKennedy Foundation. Grace and Staff started in 1979 and is today making an amazing contribution to the lives of thousands of young people and inner-city communities across Jamaica. We are currently helping to send over 500 young people to school and in so doing we are changing lives, building dreams, and contributing to Jamaica's development. It is also our intention and my personal goal to increase that number to 1,000 by 2020. The GraceKennedy Foundation provides grants for early childhood projects and university scholarships, and hosts a public lecture each year focused on critical issues that affect our country. The Foundation also funds two UWI (professorial) chairs—the James Moss-Solomon Senior Chair in Environmental Management and the Carlton S. Alexander Chair in Management Studies.

What does the company's corporate structure look like?

In terms of our organizational structure, we currently employ over 3,000 people in the two main segments (financial services and foods) in which we operate. In the financial services segment, we provide banking, insurance, investment, remittance, cambio, and bill payment services. This includes our strategic partnership with Western Union where we currently represent it in 12 countries across the Caribbean. In our food segment, we have companies in many parts of the world and our products are found as far away as France, Germany, the UK, and even Russia. In 2014, we acquired a company in the US, a Hispanic brand called La Fe, and this has been a major game changer for the GraceKennedy Group in terms of getting our brand out there. We are currently in the major supermarkets throughout the US as well as Canada. GraceKennedy is truly an international company, headquartered in Jamaica and owned by Jamaicans. We have six manufacturing plants in Jamaica and many of the products on the shelves overseas are actually made right here in Jamaica. We have also created employment for our local farmers by partnering with them to provide us with quality products on a consistent basis to make our pepper sauces. This has worked very well for us and has resulted in us exporting not only to the Caribbean but as far away as Wales and Sweden. Instead of just spending foreign exchange, we are earning foreign exchange for the country, because we believe that what is good for Jamaica is also good for GraceKennedy. Brand Jamaica is very unique. When people all over the world think about Jamaica, they think about reggae music, Bob Marley, our athletes, as well as our other international stars. They also think about the natural beauty of Jamaica with its various attractions. All of these features make a strong brand, which are closely aligned with our products.

Do you consider entering in other markets in the coming years?

As we continue on our path to becoming a global consumer group, we are always looking for new opportunities to increase our footprint. We are currently in the Ghanaian market in Africa and we have a strong presence on the East Coast of the US. In Europe, we are in the UK and we need to continue to expand on the growth we have had in countries such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Are markets like the US, UK, and Canada, with large diasporas, your primary clients?

The diaspora has been the foundation of GraceKennedy abroad, but we have actually crossed over into the mainstream. About four or five years ago, in a WalMart, our products would only be in the Caribbean section or ethnic and international food section. Now our products sit along with other products in the mainstream section. This is because consumers of Grace products have, over the last few years, expanded beyond the diaspora.