Thu | Oct 29, 2020

Mayberry doubles down on digital strategy; four managers exit

Published:Friday | October 16, 2020 | 12:11 AMNeville Graham - Business Reporter
Gary Peart, CEO of Mayberry Investments Limited.
Gary Peart, CEO of Mayberry Investments Limited.
Gary Peart, CEO of Mayberry Investments Limited.
Gary Peart, CEO of Mayberry Investments Limited.
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A push to digitise operations, accelerated by the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has coincided with a number of exits from brokerage Mayberry Investments Limited.

Three top managers and an assistant vice-president have exited the company since the summer, the latest being Financial Controller Rakar Williams on October 6. Williams had been with the firm for just over one year.

But one of the most noted departures was investment banker Tania Waldron-Gooden, who played central roles in various deals done by Mayberry over the years and who, because of her skill set, was otherwise in demand and sits on various company boards.

One of her directorships includes Caribbean Assurance Brokers Limited, where Waldron-Gooden was just hired as deputy CEO, effective October 1. Her directorship remains intact. She was named to Caribbean Assurance’s board while working with Mayberry, one of whose subsidiaries holds a stake in the insurance brokerage, but is not the company’s nominee on that board, said CEO Gary Peart.

Waldron-Gooden had worked with Mayberry since 2008, rising in the company over time. She held the title of director of investment banking, with a seat on Mayberry’s board, at her departure at the end of September, and has since been replaced on the job by Dan Theoc as senior vice-president of investment banking, and Rachel Kirlew in the role of assistant vice-president for investment banking.

“Tania is a highly qualified individual and based on the training, and so on, offered by Mayberry over the years, it appeals to a lot of people, so they would hire her in her capacity as the professional that Tania is,” Peart said of Waldron-Gooden.

Williams’ and Waldron-Gooden’s exit were preceded by CFO Dianne Tomlinson-Smith in July, and Assistant Vice-President in charge of research Shadaya Small, who severed ties effective August 21 but was said to have ceased duties from June. Andrea Whittaker has assumed the role of chief operating officer, while Kayone Burke was named group financial controller a week ago.

All the departures happened as Mayberry was in the process of re-adapting its operations towards more remote work. Peart says the managers who departed left of their own volition for other pursuits, while asserting that Mayberry has turned out to be a go-to place for corporate headhunters; and that the vacancies were filled from persons within the firm.

“In the organisation, we have persons who have been trained and cross-trained, such that they can take up other duties at a moment’s notice. The mission continues,” Peart said.

“From our perspective, it is a mix of circumstances where we see a number of highly qualified individuals who have taken advantage of opportunities. There are those that are affected by COVID-19 through lay-offs, and there are those who believe that they can find somewhere else and do better – and that is no different in other companies,” he told the Financial Gleaner.

Since the advent of COVID-19, the company has been testing how to operate on a tighter budget without impacting service delivery. The experimentation cemented for the company that it could do its work remotely, and more cost-effectively, and prospectively with fewer staff.

“At the height of the onset of COVID-19, when we didn’t know which way things would go, we ran a simulation. We ran the office with no personnel or customers at 1 1/2 Oxford Road and we balanced to the cent for that day,” Peart said.

“For us it was a revelation, because we realised that we can run the business remotely without 117 people in the office. The question then begs itself: Do we need all these people? Is there a different way that we can run this company?” Peart said.

Some staff were laid off temporarily, but Peart says Mayberry could eventually end up cutting its workforce by 40 per cent.

Over the first six months of this year, which includes a period of lockdown of the Jamaican economy, Mayberry made a net loss of $1.29 billion, mostly due to hits to its investment holdings as capital markets faltered under the pandemic. Some $325 million of the losses were contributed by non-controlling interests.

Mayberry had already begun digitising aspects of its operations before the pandemic. The accelerated shift towards reliance on technology as the coronavirus was spreading, and the switch to remote work, produced what the CEO noted were very attractive savings.

The company has since given up space that it leased last year at 1a Oxford Terrace to then accommodate an overflow of staff, while inside its own building at Oxford Road, Peart says one of the three floors is completely empty at times.

As to what the savings look like in dollars, he said they were viewed more as an opportunity cost, in that the company expected greater efficiencies from the digitisation programme to translate to faster processing, which in turn is expected to drive revenue growth.

Mayberry will maintain that mode of operation, the CEO said, as long it’s delivering savings to the firm.

“We’ve not hidden from the start that this is the direction that we are going,” Peart said. “Mayberry has gone through a process – indeed, it is ongoing – where we have had to lay off people. This is not something that we get up in the morning and say we want to do, but COVID-19 is real and an 18 per cent contraction in GDP means that you’ll have to look at your expenses,” he said.

The company intends to continue shifting towards a reliance on technology for service delivery. The Mayberry app, for example, now allows clients to keep check on their portfolios.

“You can now stay on your phone and check on your balances. This cuts down on the amount of customer traffic that would be caused by persons walking in. Things like that take up a lot of time,” Peart said.

“Mayberry is on record that as it advances a programme of digitisation, there will be less and less persons at their offices,” he said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com