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Lee-Chin recalls how letter to Shearer propelled him to success

Young entrepreneurs inspired as billionaire secures berth in PSOJ Hall of Fame

Published:Saturday | October 22, 2022 | 12:09 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Jamaican billionaire businessman Michael Lee-Chin shows off his citation as he was inducted into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Hall of Fame during a glittering banquet at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Thursday.
Jamaican billionaire businessman Michael Lee-Chin shows off his citation as he was inducted into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Hall of Fame during a glittering banquet at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Thursday.

“Jamaica has enabled me and for that I’ll be forever grateful.” These are words of gratitude spoken by Jamaican billionaire businessman Michael Lee-Chin, shortly after he was inducted into the the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Hall...

“Jamaica has enabled me and for that I’ll be forever grateful.”

These are words of gratitude spoken by Jamaican billionaire businessman Michael Lee-Chin, shortly after he was inducted into the the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Hall of Fame on Thursday evening.

The 71-year-old is the chairman of the NCB Financial Group and Portland Holdings as well as of Jamaica’s Economic Growth Council since 2016.

In his response, Lee-Chin thanked the PSOJ for the honour and recalled the letter he penned decades ago to then Prime Minister Hugh Shearer requesting a scholarship.

Lee-Chin faced financial hardships after the first year at McMaster University in Canada and had no resources to pay the remainder of his tuition.

Shearer honoured his request, and after graduation, Lee-Chin returned to Jamaica and worked with the Government as a civil engineer.

That act propelled him towards greatness and the businessman said for that, he will always be thankful to his country.

The billionaire shared that being an entrepreneur is not easy, but it is fulfilling.

“You have a commodity on your hands, lots of it: time. Make sure you use that commodity very well. It’s like a knife or a two-edged sword; it can harm you or it can build you,” charged the 28th distinguished inductee, who received a standing ovation and a rousing applause from the audience of government leaders, members of the business community and family.

Established in 1992, the PSOJ Hall of Fame honours business leaders who have made significant contributions to the development of the private sector and Jamaica.

Lee-Chin has impacted the lives of many Jamaicans through direct mentorship and inspired others with his story.

Managing director of The Lab, Kimala Bennett, was among 20 young business owners and CEOs who were mentored by Lee-Chin through NCB Foundation’s Next Generation programme.

The biggest lesson she has learnt from him is to ask herself a couple questions at the end of each business quarter.

“What is the reputation of my business? How is my business differentiated in the marketplace? Am I really and truly addressing clients’ needs? This gives us a good gauge if we are on the right track,” she shared, adding that she considers herself lucky to have benefited from his wisdom.

Bennett described her mentor as “the ultimate face of business success”.

She told The Gleaner that Lee-Chin was most deserving of the PSOJ honour, adding that she was surprised that he had not been inducted earlier.

WiPay Country Manager Kibwe McGann vividly remembers a speech given by Lee-Chin while he was a student at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

“I’ll never forget the impact of gratitude. He has inspired me from university to now. In all of the times I’ve seen him speak, he has been super gracious. He often speaks about his humble beginnings; he’s very genuine and very real,” McGann said.

He told The Gleaner that the seed sown through the scholarship extended to Lee-Chin birthed a lifetime of loyalty, gratitude and visionary leadership to Jamaica.

McGann, too, believed the businessman is most deserving of the honour, which he considers to be about a decade late.

“He bailed out NCB, and had NCB collapsed, the country would have collapsed because NCB is the country’s bank. He is the one who saved the financial sector on a whole, so I do believe it’s about 10 years late, but nonetheless, deserving,” he said.

McGann said his takeaway from Lee-Chin’s speech was the importance of predicting, planning and persevering.

“It was just really eye-opening and amazing to see how a person at that level thinks. He has thought of a future beyond himself and one of the things that is clear in everything he does is how can he give back or what can his higher self offer to Jamaica, a country that he definitely assigns a great value to,” said an enthusiastic McGann.

Founder and CEO of One On One Educational Services, Ricardo Allen, told The Gleaner that it was a fantastic event honouring Lee-Chin.

“For a young entrepreneur, it is quite inspiring to hear the story of someone else who started from humble beginnings. Some of the things he mentioned are things that I resonate with, coming from Trelawny and going to school in the way I did,” the 33-year-old said.

Launched in 2013, his business has grown from a small tutoring programme catering to six students to a full-fledged educational service, which has provided personalised online learning solutions to more than 150,000 students across the Caribbean.

One On One Educational Services was listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange in September, after raising over $358 million in its initial public offering.

“I was just so engrossed by his delivery and I feel like I have inspirational overload right now and I just want to continue to chart my own path and use some of those templates and frameworks he has mentioned to guide me to be equally as successful or even beating him,” Allen said with a chuckle.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com