The Business of Nation Building: Excerpts from the Selected Speeches of Douglas Orane

If there is one thing reading this book made me realize, it is that leadership is not a one-way street. It is not a question of driving full speed ahead, with the dazzling light of your vision in your eyes. Rather, it is about taking a steady drive, checking the rear view mirror; remembering that in the mirror “objects are closer than they appear;and ensuring that passengers are secure and comfortable. Sometimes, it may be necessary to turn, slow down and take a look at things, or even take a little detour via the “scenic route.” 

"The Business of Nation Building" (Ian Randle Publishers) is available in all leading bookstores.
“The Business of Nation Building” (Ian Randle Publishers) is available in all leading bookstores.

Hon. Douglas Orane is now a very engaged retiree, but still in many ways behind the steering wheel of our nation. He is a Jamaican who has commanded huge respect over the decades for his leadership in business, politics and public life in general.  Nowadays, although his style may be a little more laid-back (with a spark of humor always just under the surface) his sharp focus remains. He remains focused on Jamaica, and more importantly, Jamaicans.

Mr. Orane has painstakingly put together a collection of excerpts from 200-odd speeches spanning thirty years – now published in a beautiful, glossy bound book by Ian Randle Publishers.  At the book launch on May 12 in Kingston, Mr. Don Wehby, who took over from Mr. Orane as Group CEO of GraceKennedy on the latter’s retirement in 2011, admitted that he was the one who had put the book idea into his head. Mr. Orane, for his part, said he never expected it to be such a challenging task. “It took a long time… But it doesn’t matter if it’s late,” he added. He is right. The themes he discusses are timeless, the issues ever-present; we are still trying to answer the questions he asks.

Managing Director of The LAB Kimala Bennett (a self-appointed menthe of Mr. Orane) was guest speaker at the book launch. (My photo)
Managing Director of The LAB Kimala Bennett (a self-appointed menthe of Mr. Orane) was guest speaker at the book launch. (My photo)

Mr. Orane and his publishers clearly gave much thought to the structure of the book. The excerpts are organized in seventeen topics, covering a range of “big issues.” Short “snapshots” give a quick, helpful background to each extract. The well chosen photographs greatly enhance the pleasure of reading. They capture different aspects of Mr. Orane’s character, family life, his day to day work and some special occasions. In a photo captioned “Learning from Maasai warriors how to leap” during a 2003 trip to Kenya, Mr. Orane is both feet off the ground, arms out at the sides, with an expression of sheer delight on his face. This photo prefaced a section on Globalization. Another photograph is of Mr. Orane visiting a customer – a shopkeeper in rural Jamaica. Mr. Orane is wearing a colorful T shirt and is holding a bottle of a Grace fruit drink in one hand. The customer is wearing a snazzy shirt. I love the expressions on their faces – comfortable, trusting – clearly a solid working relationship. A quote by Mr. Orane accompanies it: “No longer do you think about pleasing your boss. You think about pleasing your customer.” Credits for all the photographs are listed at the front of the book.

Notably, the book begins with an excerpt titled “A Sense of Belonging” (1983) and ends with a piece: “What is a New Definition of Jamaica and Jamaicans?” (2006). It is coming full circle, you might say. The question for Jamaicans,“Who are we, and who do we aspire to be?” weaves in and out of Mr. Orane’s train of thought, whether he is talking about business ethics, education or innovation.

This is a book for anyone who is in business, at whatever stage of his or her career. (Personally, I wish it had included more commentary on women’s leadership; “only a matter of time” was not quite enough for me). There are sections on competitiveness, setting medium and long term goals, productivity, transparency and corporate governance. These offer sensible advice and clear guidelines – business principles, if you will. Mr. Orane’s educational background is in engineering; he first worked as an industrial engineer in the sugar industry. He has the engineer’s pragmatic mindset, and like every good businessman, he is ready to make bold moves. In the mid-1990s, when the Jamaican economy was in the doldrums, he launched the GK 2020 Vision, a long term plan that helped relaunch the company on the international stage. “We need to grow faster than Jamaica is growing,” declared Mr. Orane. Over the next five years (1995 – 2000) the firm had doubled its productivity. “This is no marketing gimmick,” Mr. Orane told Canadian business people in 1998. I get the feeling Mr. Orane is not fond of gimmicks. He’s in for the long haul.

Like every good author, Mr. Orane thoroughly enjoyed signing copies of his books at the May 12 launch. (My photo)
Like every good author, Mr. Orane thoroughly enjoyed signing copies of his books at the May 12 launch. (My photo)

He’s also not an “inward-looking” businessman. He has a strong sense of Jamaica’s place in the world, and so there are several comments to, for and about the Jamaican diaspora, and the opportunities to be found in that big world out there. We cannot stand still, neither in business nor in other aspects of our society, he notes. Probably his experience living overseas  prompted him to see Jamaicans at home and abroad as a big family with a sense of belonging. His vision is of a “Jamaica without borders.”

You will discover, too, a fascinating perspective on Bob Marley. One would think we have all said everything there is to say about our unofficial national hero; but focusing on Marley’s commercial success, Mr. Orane made some interesting points. Yes, Marley was cool, spiritual, wrote great songs, etc. But what made him such a huge global success?  Mr. Orane observed that, while he may have seemed laid-back, “he was a very disciplined man” and a workaholic to boot. He was very good at establishing partnerships, wherever he went; he was always available. He was also a great communicator – in Jamaican patois, no less, but in a way that didn’t parody Jamaican culture but helped people the world over understand. This was a remarkable feat.

Mr. Orane puts his finger on a number of issues that remain “issues” in the problematic sense. At the launch, he did make a wry comment about “déjà vu.” The “lack of private sector-public sector collaboration on the major issues facing the economy” bothers him. He also gets irritated by the concept of “Jamaica time” (a phrase that should be simply abolished, in my view: you are either on time – or late!) Mr. Orane believes this is an indicator that “we are largely an unreliable people.” Ouch! He said this back in 1988. Has very much changed? In 1995, Mr. Orane observed that many aspects of Jamaican society are “tarnished by corruption” – and that we all have a duty and responsibility to take action, report it and “let the chips fall where they may.” Twenty years later, how much farther are we down that road? As for the free movement of Jamaican people, to work wherever they are needed – which he has been advocating for some years, one notes, including as an Independent Senator in 2000 – this is still a hugely relevant issue.

Lincoln McIntyre (right), chairman of the Wolmer’s School Board, makes a special presentation to Douglas Orane, chairman of the Wolmer’s Trust Infrastructure Committee, during last Friday’s launch and inaugural induction of the Wolmer’s Hall of Fame held at the Wolmer’s Boys’ High School Auditorium at Heroes Circle in Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)
Lincoln McIntyre (right), chairman of the Wolmer’s School Board, makes a special presentation to Douglas Orane, chairman of the Wolmer’s Trust Infrastructure Committee, during the launch and inaugural induction of the Wolmer’s Hall of Fame at the Wolmer’s Boys’ High School Auditorium. (Photo: Gleaner)

Mr. Orane was appointed as an Independent Senator from 1998 – 2002 by Prime Minister PJ Patterson, along with academic Trevor Munroe. He argued at the time for the entrenchment of independent senators in the Jamaican Constitution, pointing out several other CARICOM nations that have this tradition. This was never done; I agree with him that this was a missed opportunity. Be that as it may, governments, he said, should behave like businesses: “Every citizen should demand value for money.” Indeed!

A later section in the book discusses “giving back.” At the launch, Mr. Orane noted he had given much thought over the years to what he called the “ebb and flow of philanthropy,” noting its steady decline in Jamaica. Perhaps Mr. Orane’s ongoing involvement as a Trustee of his beloved alma mater Wolmer’s Boys’ School initially sparked this concern. On addressing the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica when he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2004, Mr. Orane asserted simply that “leadership is about giving back to one’s society.” He outlines his take on philanthropy, which I believe he is developing further in his new life of retirement, thus: “As a leader, I am here to create a pathway, a ladder for others to climb to success in the same way that others did so for me. Doing this has become an activity I deeply love and enjoy.” It is not about giving out money and needed items. Rather it is giving of himself, his time and guidance, from his own life’s knowledge and experience, to others; something that is arguably much more valuable than money or things. I love the “pathway” concept. It sounds like mentorship with an extra twist.

Part of Mr. Orane’s vision is for the youth of Jamaica. He gives a scathing assessment of Jamaica’s education system (“grossly inadequate to meet the needs of our society”) in a 1992 excerpt. Much of his critique rings sadly true today. In a 1988 address at his old school, he is worried about a“barrenness” in children’s lives – a growing emptiness, a vacuum that must be filled with something positive, or… Well, how prophetic is that nearly 30 years later? But Mr. Orane’s preoccupation with education is not just words; he mentors forty boys in one of the entry level first forms at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, every year. He helped raise over J$100 million for a new state-of-the-art auditorium and has offered to advise other schools on fund-raising strategies.

Douglas Orane speaks at the launch of his book. (My photo)
Douglas Orane speaks at the launch of his book. (My photo)

Now, we know Mr. Orane is more than “just a pensioner,” as he joked at his book launch. That evening Don Wehby (who, by the way, has just been sworn in as a Government Senator for the second time) gave him a rather emotional endorsement, as his boss, mentor, confidant, friend: “You are a legend – my hero. You’re the brother that I never had!” I had the sense that Mr. Orane is perhaps a reluctant hero, however. The book launch was typical, I am told, of the way he likes things done: No big fanfare or grand speeches. The event started bang on time (no “Jamaica time” here!) and the speeches were not long-winded. Nor were there any “cultural items”! Plenty of books were signed by the author. And, like a good businessman, he made sure we all knew where the books can be bought (every respectable bookstore in Jamaica!)

Mr. Orane has an inclusive vision, as it should be: “I see a bright future for our country, and all of us, when we begin to express the vast potential which exists among us.” Perhaps young Jamaicans, in particular, can follow Mr. Orane’s pathway.

Please note, very importantly, that part proceeds from the book will go to the Grace & Staff Community Development Foundation – established back in 1978. As Mr. Orane suggested, buy a copy or two for your school library. He laughed at his own suggestion: “That’s my sales and marketing function!”

GraceKennedy is working on a new headquarters in downtown Kingston, to be completed by mid-2018.
GraceKennedy is working on a new headquarters in downtown Kingston, to be completed by mid-2018.

 


3 thoughts on “The Business of Nation Building: Excerpts from the Selected Speeches of Douglas Orane

    1. Thank you, Marguerite! There was so much food for thought. I hardly knew where to start! 🙂 I found it inspiring and at times quite challenging. I hope lots of young people will read it!

      Like

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