Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Devon Dick | Learning from Michael Lee-Chin

Published:Thursday | August 15, 2019 | 12:09 AM

Michael Lee-Chin is Jamaica’s only billionaire in the world’s few black billionaires, according to a Yahoo news story. One feels a sense of pride to see that a Jamaican can reach such dizzy heights. Equally, there is pride to see billionaires from South Africa, Nigeria, USA and Zimbabwe.

But how did Michael Lee-Chin make and sustain his billions of dollars? According to the story, Lee-Chin was hit hard by the recession so he sold his company, AIC Limited, which used to manage US$10 billion, for an undisclosed amount. The article asserts, ‘He owns a 65 per cent stake in National Commercial Bank (NCB), Jamaica, which makes up the bulk of his fortune’. This means that the Jamaican economy can produce a US dollar-denominated billionaire!

This is a remarkable story of Lee-Chin taking over a formerly failed, highly indebted bank and made it into a financial success for himself, shareholders and management. How many Jamaicans would risk their wealth and buy NCB in the 1990s? I know of only one astute Jamaican businessman who told me that at the time that NCB would be a good acquisition and he would have wanted it.

What can we learn from Lee-Chin? Jamaicans need to take risk and analyse the risk. Obviously, Lee-Chin knew the art of the deal, but did the People’s National Party’s (PNP) government have the best negotiators on behalf of the people of Jamaica? Is it not paradoxical that it is the PNP which is squealing about the sometimes exorbitant, arbitrary and unjust bank fees?

INCREASE IN POVERTY

What explains that Lee-Chin can take a local company and make US billions from it and yet still Jamaicans saw an increase in poverty in 2017 and some 521,100 humans living below the poverty line? Why is it that Lee-Chin’s company can grow so much while the Jamaican economy cannot grow at five per cent? Lee-Chin complains about government bureaucracy for failure of Jamaican economy to grow, but that cannot be the full answer because the bank is full of bureaucracy and it is still growing. It is torture to reactivate a dormant account with all the unnecessary rules and rigmarole. It seems more likely that Jamaica’s economy is being stifled by systemic and sustained corruption that appears to be getting worse, and not to mention brazen criminality. Furthermore, the options for someone who cannot make two ends meet is getting handouts, which might be from persons with ulterior motives; or getting involved in immoral acts or illegal acts; or die for hunger and lack of medical attention.

Lee-Chin is doing well because of National Commercial Bank. No wonder acquiring NCB shares is a top priority for many Jamaican citizens. NCB must be doing something better or different from other banks because not all banks are doing as well.

Hopefully, there will be greater analysis of this success story. It would be good to hear from Orrette Staple, one of the most astute shareholders in Jamaica, about the NCB and the dividends paid to shareholders. In addition, is NCB salary structure different from the income inequality in the society?

This is a success story that should inspire Jamaicans. Lee-Chin had a setback during the recession but he had to ‘chin up’ and look for other opportunities. He knew when to sell his company and when to buy another one.

Who will be the next Jamaican billionaire?

PS: Condolences to widow of Tony Young, Marlene, and son, Ramon. ‘TY’ was one year my senior at Calabar and from then he was a decent Christian leader. He was a humble human being, who, although rising to stardom as a radio personality, never behaved like a ‘star’.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.