The annual Awards Banquet of H. Macaulay Orrett (Insurance) Ltd. was held in mid1979
and Carlton Alexander was the main speaker. His remarks were reported in the
Mr. Alexander said that Grace, Kennedy had always believed in keeping a low profile,
but the decision had recently been taken by the Board that Grace should now speak about
its own achievements. The Company, he said, was now going to tell the public what we
are doing and achieving and he hoped that the story would be well received.
Indeed, only eight months before, it had been suggested in a newspaper article that most
people's impression of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd was of 'A confusing mass, with the
emphasis of food'. But whatever the measure of ignorance or uncertainty about the
activities of the Company, there would have been very few of those attentive to the public
media who remained unaware of the importance of Carlton Alexander. Private and public
circumstances had altered much since the days of Dr. John J. Grace.
Dr. Grace had come to Jamaica to carry on and then to acquire, with Fred William
Kennedy, the small local branch of the international Grace, Ltd. A non-Jamaican, he
chose to remain here for many years. Gradually, he relinquished active management of
Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. and then, in the 1940s, determined to sell out and depart. He
was in some degree moved to this by the social and political upheava ls, which began in
the late 1930s. In the 1940s, Norman Washington Manley pressed for political
independence and social reconstruction:
.... if you look a little below the surface you will find that the emphasis on political
democracy has been designed largely to conceal from people the fact that there can be no
democracy without an economic democracy - a democracy in the actuality of the life of
all the people of the world. Democracy in a real sense must mean socialism. For its is that
alone that accepts the right of the common man to equality of opportunity in all spheres
The advocacy of 'socialism' - however defined - and the anti-imperialist stance of the left-
wing members of the PNP stirred anxiety in the minds of established, well-to-do owners
of landed property or business. Dr. Grace may well have considered that by leaving
Jamaica he would lose little beyond the enjoyment of a declining local comfort and
security. His deeper and more important commitments lay elsewhere.
For his successor, Luis Fred Kennedy, the circumstances were very different. A
Jamaican, now the majority shareholder and Governing Director of a growing business
founded by his father in association with Dr. Grace, his commitments were here. His
main concerns, beyond his family, his Church, and his old school, St. George's College,
were for the protection and expansion of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. Again to quote
Carlton Alexander, Luis Fred Kennedy was:
.... a bold and fearless leader with imagination, courage, dexterity, commitment, and an
abounding loyalty to business practices and to the free enterprise system.
He was, in short, the complete businessman. His antagonisms were directed against those
persons or agencies seemingly obstructive to his business. He challenged, from time to
time, all kinds at all levels: Alexander Bustamante, the Food Controller, the Trade
Controller, his colleagues in the Chamber of Commerce, the Governor, the Port
Authority, and, with equal vigour, his rivals in business. Hard working and competitive,
he disliked intensely any sort of controls inhibiting commerce; but, to continue in Mr.
Alexander's words, he was a 'private person'. He might find himself, temporarily, in the
limelight, but he was not drawn to it either by predilection or any perceived responsibility
to be there.
By the 1970s, Luis Fred Kennedy and James Moss-Solomon had yielded the front-line
position to Carlton Alexander, their long-time protégé. There is a story that an employee
in the Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. head office in the twilight years of Luis Fred
Kennedy's regime one-day asked a colleague. 'Who is that old man who comes in late
every morning and goes off before us? He must fancy he is Mr. Kennedy.' To which the
colleague replied, 'Are you serious? That is Mr. Kennedy'.
The 1970s were hard years for Jamaica. Our wide open economy, heavily dependent on
imports of manufactured goods of all kinds and certain basic foodstuffs, felt the effects of
international economic instability in 1973. Bank of Jamaica officials spoke of 'greater
strains and pressures than at any time in recent years'. In the same year, following the
Arab-Israeli war, oil prices escalated enormously and remained high even after
production recovered. The recently elected PNP Government had quickly introduced
large and expensive programmes intended to improve conditions and reduce the gap
between the economic 'haves' and have-nots'. The cost of those programmes became
increasingly onerous as more and more revenue had to be spent on goods and service
from abroad. Moreover, though many of the new programmes were splendid in
conception, they suffered from lack of proper managerial control and accountability.
Despite the strengthening of foreign exchange controls and the institution of import
quotas, licences and prohibitions in the seventies, the balance of payments continued to
deteriorate. Emphasis was given to the encouragement of greater use of local products;
but this was as an unfamiliar call on a population long accustomed to exhortations to
produce for export so that Jamaica might continue to import necessities.
As scarcities and hardships increased, so did political party rivalry, exacerbated by the
deliberate shift in the foreign policy of the PNP. The whole course of Jamaican life since
the nineteenth century had been influenced by increasingly close relationships with North
America, and, in particular, with the United States. The rapid development of transport
and the communications media had brought American goods, American music, and
American lifestyles into the awareness of Jamaicans, both urban and rural.
When, by the
mid-1970s, the PNP leadership had clearly indicated a shift of interest and approval from
the 'imperialist' United States to 'socialist' Cuba, there began a flight from Jamaica of
those at the professional, managerial and entrepreneurial levels, together with their
By the end of the decade, moved by high prices, scarcities, and general resentment of an
apparently increasing Cuban presence and influence in the island, the mass of Jamaicans,
unable or unwilling to follow the well-to-do trail to America, made their local move by
deserting the PNP. After a prolonged and bloody election campaign in which hundreds
lost their lives, the PNP was defeated in the General Elections of 1980, and the JLP
returned to power.
Those were the years and conditions during which Carlton Alexander, no less a
businessman and fighter than Luis Fred Kennedy but far less a 'private person' moved
into the glare of constant publicity. Again, circumstances had altered. Alexander, equally
committed to the protection and advancement of the Company, had to face a government
which sought to take over the 'commanding heights of the economy', of which one peak
was the conglomerate, Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. He had to protect the business in
times of scarcity of foreign exchange, managerial flight, violent political rivalry and
uncertainty of life, and while there was decreasing confidence abroad in the future
stability of Jamaican institutions.
As an acquisitive businessman committed to the play of free enterprise, Carlton
Alexander ranged himself against an acquisitive 'socialist' government, which sought to
bureaucratize entrepreneurship. Thus, he clashed arms with an ideology, and was
instrumental in the formatio n, in March 1976, of the Private Sector Organization of
Jamaica (PSOJ) to '.... help guarantee the preservation of personal liberty, democracy and
continued social and economic development....' in Jamaica, where '.... the private sector is
deep-rooted in the psychology of all classes of our society [and is] a permanent feature of
our democratic way of life'. Luis Fred Kennedy had been Defender of the Company and
the Trade. Carlton Alexander was to be Defender of the Company and the Capitalist
There can be little doubt that Kennedy in his most active years would have met wider
challenges such as those Alexander faced with equal determination. It is, however, less
likely that he would have moved, as Alexander did, from the defense of private enterprise
into the wider field of public address on various aspects of 'Nation Building'. At any rate,
he could not have done so and remained 'a private person'.
When the time came for obituaries, Michael Burke, a much younger 'Old Boy' of Jamaica
College, wrote of Carlton Alexander:
His life was a life dedicated not only to the success of his company, but to the well being
of his country and his fellowman. An in all his greatness, there was humility.
To borrow his own terms, he, equally with Luis Fred Kennedy, displayed '.... an
abounding loyalty to business practices and to the free enterprise system' and he set out to
explain the corporate philosophy of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. which he described as:
.... a partnership between shareholders, the employees and the community in which the
Company operates and earns its revenues and profits. We firmly and irrevocably believe
in the profit motive and free enterprise and we hold a strong belief that the profit must be
the main motivation in all business undertakings. We do not subscribe to the belief that
all profits belong to the shareholders. The shareholder is entitled to his share, which he
receives in the form of dividends and a portion being reinvested in the company for
future growth. The employee must receive his fair remuneration for his service and must
share in some form of profit distribution. The needs and demands of the community must
receive attention and the Company must be prepared to assist financially and, through its
people, to fulfil the community needs. In this way we can build the community and
contribute towards the creation of useful citizens. We must also ensure that the needs of
our customers are fulfilled.
It was a perfectly clear exposition. The ultimate objective was profit. But profit could be
achieved only through the loyalty of staff, the goodwill of the community, and the
satisfaction of customers. Like other large and well-run businesses, Grace, Kennedy &
Co., Ltd. sought to enjoy all three.
In 1975 the Directors of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. established the Company's Human
Resources Development Division (HRDD) with Mr. George Phillip as the head. The
Division was to be responsible for Training, Industrial Relations and all personnel
matters, a Library Service, and Welfare. In September of that year the first issue of the
Grace News made its appearance. These events marked the beginning of a new era in the
Company's general policy in respect of its employees. The timing was important. In 1975
the Company, like all other similar large private business firms, was under attack from
the 'socialist left' and was feeling the effects of managerial flight; times were hard for the
mass of the workforce and, because of political strife, increasingly dangerous for many.
In addition, Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. had embarked on large expansions which had
already brought into the Grace Group workforce units which, if they acknowledged any
allegiance of interest, had given it to the firms with which they had come into the Grace
Group of companie s.
In a very clear sense, the HRDD and the Grace News marked the recognition by the
Board of Directors of the transition from the 'family-firm' to the 'firm-family' which
needed corporate planning as much as personal leadership qualities to hold it togethe r. As
we have seen, the Company had already, from time to time, initiated measures intended
to hold the loyalty of the staff. The success of these is adequately illustrated in the
extracts from the two letters quoted below. So, too, is the recognition of the Head of the
Company as the individual largely responsible for the benefits bestowed. This first is
from Mr. W. A.
As an ex-employee of Port Services Limited, 1960-1975, I am always very proud
to speak of Grace, kennedy & Co. Prior to joining Grace, Kennedy I worked in
the U.S.A., followed by a similar company like Grace, Kennedy in Jamaica. None
of these gave me that proud feeling that I experienced at Grace, Kennedy & Co.
Grace, Kennedy & Co., starting with the leadership of Mr. Fred Kennedy [i.e.
Luis Fred Kennedy], followed by Mr. Carlton Alexander, through this era,
became the greatest company for me, both here and abroad. From my experience
as an employee, no other company to my knowledge, that once an employee
remains an employee even after retirement. I am a retiree now fifteen (15) years,
receiving the same benefits including medical attention as present employees
In 1972 I underwent an eye operation that kept me away from work for nine
months, and every month a pay cheque was brought to my house by my
immediate Boss. During my fifteen years with the company there was never s
strike in any of the Departments. If any employee had a grouse, which his
immediate Boss failed to solve, Mr. Fred Kennedy would be quite willing to
entertain such an employee.
Miss Marie Bent wrote:
I was not aware that you the Co. was going to celebrate the 70th. I can tell you that I
certainly enjoyed the 60th along with my children.
I pray every day for God to bless Grace factory and keep it going on forever. I
was a very hard worker and sometimes when I look back on the pages of life I
remember I have to laugh. About 6 or 8 of us working on the Guava Jelly line
went on sick leave. It wasn't planned but it was a case that if you didn't take it by
the month of Oct. we would not get it, 2 wks. When we all came back Miss Tenn
says it must be an Epidemic break out so we must all go to the Health Office so
we were all out till we got the results about 2 weeks. That was at the old factory.
Life was very rough.... I had to walk and run to work. Two co-workers use to pass
me in the bus use to tell me that my foot going to drop off.... Thank God my foot
did not drop off.
I have no regrets it is through Grace that I spend a weekend at Mallards Hotel and
know all the Beaches at the North Coast and Boston Beach. Above all I still get
the Benefits. I can go to the Dr. and get all the medicines.
If I had my life to live over I would work all over with Grace and I hope the
young will follow and I do hope the new Chairman [Rafael Diaz] will walk in the
late Carlton Alexander footsteps. He says we must hold hands and walk that extra
In May 1978, the first Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. Staff Retreat was held at the Hotel
Intercontinental in Ocho Rios. Five hundred and sixty-one employees attended. They
represented various categories of staff: messengers, storemen, maintenance personnel,
factory workers, canteen staff, and others. They discussed a wide range of topics: the
economic state of the country, the company's present operations and future plans,
personnel policies and employee benefits. There have been subsequent similar exercises,
but though they may be held may be regularly, they obviously cannot be held frequently.
As the Company's employees grew in number and its subsidiary and associated
businesses were more widely spread in location, a stronger bond than personal loyalty to
an increasingly distant Chairman became essential.
One answer was the Grace News. Laudatory of Company leaders, exhortatory to
employees, encouraging of friendly rivalries between the various Divisions and
Companies of the Group in productive efforts, in sports, and in other activities, and
informative of the achievements of the Group, of its constituent Companies, and of
individual employees at all levels, Grace News, as the organ of the HRDD, was designed
to provide some of the necessary additional cohesion.
There have been times of doubt. The Grace News has not always appeared with
regularity, and the editorial column of Vol. 3 No. V in 1978 sought an explanation:
One problem could be that workers do not really partake in that 'family feeling' that is
often spoken about within the Group and the skepticism results in the difficulty that
cooperative projects such as this magazine experience in surviving. If this is so, it augurs
badly for the morale and overall performance of the Group.
Within individual companies there was evidence of local 'espirit de corps'. They put on
Christmas parties, they sometimes went on picnics, as the Kingston Wharves staff did on
Lime Cay in April 1977, they sponsored their sports teams and, in 1978, the Harbour
Cold Stores Canteen Committee opened its doors, introducing the 'After Work
Experience' for staff and friend s to join in enjoyment of games, music and contests. As
the invitation went:
That is where you can how total togetherness can change a dull moment into the best
thing that happened to you.
A fascinating proposal, even though it was to happen in the Cold Stores.
In March of the same year, Donald Myrie, a member of the Grace News editorial
committee, had asked 'Why no Grace, Kennedy Sports Club?' Were they all to wait for
'our Good Samaritan' Carlton Alexander to do it for them, or 'do we do something for
ourselves?' There had been such a Club formed in 1959 by founder and first President
'Junior' Foote. It was bases at the old Wembley Club on Dunoon Road. The opening
activity had been a cricket match -Jamaica Rums vs. Merchandise Division. It was
described as a 'very liquid' affair. Much liquor flowed, much food was downed, and the
famous 'Sugar Belly' and his Combo provided music. Neither Captain Bradie Hale
(Rums) nor Carlton Alexander (Merchandise) was able to give a clear account of scores
or result of the game, or indeed whether there had been any result.
The Club, providing scope for football, table tennis, lawn tennis, netball, excursions and
'bruckins', had stumbled along until 1976 when it had folded altogether. Hence Mr.
Myrie's question, followed later in the year by the formation of the Grace, Kennedy
Football Club and, subsequently, a Sports Club.
Another 'togetherness' feature was the Grace Staff Commissary first opened at 71
Harbour Street in the 1960s, then moved to Breezy Castle and again in 1977 to Newport
It was to be a Supermarket for Staff where, at concessionary prices, they would be
able to buy foodstuffs, haberdashery, and indeed, almost anything from the Grace
cornucopia. The Commissary was also to serve as a training area for the staff of the
Merchandising Division, and a 'merchandising laboratory' for the Products Departments
of the various Distributive Companies in the Group. Early in 1978 the Commissary put
on a Special Sales Drive, advertising in the Grace News shank-end hams at good prices,
the lucky draw of a 'basket of goodies', and listing half-a-dozen simple recipes based on
ham. Perhaps following this super-sale, Anthony Synmoie of the Complaints Department,
Merchandise Division, penned his lines:
O Lord, the Creator of all good things
Guide us, give us faith, keep us free from all sins.
Your wondrous power and will is a blessing to us,
So in problems we should be meek,
We should not fight and we should not fuss.
Whatever Mr. Synmoie's motive, complaints had been coming in. The Commissary was
overcrowded and there were many customers who were not members of staff in the Grace
Group; staff members were, in consequence, often unable to get fresh produce or items
which were scarce outside; prices were no better there than elsewhere; and the clothing
items were not fashionable. The answers came. A supermarket of that size could not be
operated for Grace Staff only, so 'in the interests of good business', the facility had been
opened to 'certain other individuals and staff of other companies, at a fee'. As
Wednesdays and Saturdays were delivery days for fresh produce, those days would be set
aside for Grace Staff only, and that should also give them more access to scarce items.
The prices, regularly checked against markets outside, were said to be generally lower
and some much lower; and the fashions were those of the uptown stores and much
cheaper. The Commissary would suffer its ups and downs, but for some time it remained
with advantage to staff.
Through the HRDD and the Grace News there were other continuing attempts to foster
and maintain a Group-family feeling and high employee morale. Newly appointed staff
was named, their posts identified, and they were 'welcomed aboard'. Departures were
mentioned with regret and with notice of any special individual contribution during the
leaver's stay with the firm. Winners of awards for long service, production, salesmanship
or other work performance were congratulated. Anniversary celebrations were
highlighted, and in competitive sports, trophies carried the names of Company
Executives. In the late 1970s, for instance, nine track and field teams from Grace
Companies competed for the Rafael Diaz trophy at the first Grace, Kennedy Group
Sports Day. The third Annual Sports Day, held at Jamaica College on Saturday, July 18,
1981 attracted nineteen teams.
These, however, were all recognized as cosmetic rather than deeper treatments. Worker
satisfaction, in any basic sense, depends on job security, acceptable material reward, and
prospects of advancement. Membership of the team implied job security, so long as it
was merited by performance. Material reward in the form of wages and other quantitative
benefits lay beyond the control of HRDD. However, training on or off the job, the
footstool to promotion, was one of the Division's most important concerns.
Within months of its establishment, the HRDD put on an 'Introduction to Management'
course at the then Manpower Development Centre at 75 1/2 Harbour Street. Befitting on
August 8, 1975, it was conducted by George Phillip, Head of HRDD, and Horace Davis,
Training Co-ordinator. Eighteen Supervisors taken from various companies within the
Group attended. There followed other courses -in First Aid, most important for factory
and hardware workers; in Telephone Techniques, for office clerical workers; and many
more. In October 1986, senior executives would be involved in 'the first computer
literacy programme for managers at Grace, Kennedy', designed and presented by Webb,
Terrelonge, Gibbs & Co, (WTG Systems Ltd.). The Industrial Relations Division, the
new name given to the HRDD in 1981, organized the course. These are simply a few
examples. From the earliest days, as we have already seen, the Directors of the Company
had recognized the importance of training, whether by advised job experience (such as
Carlton Alexander had early received), by formal job-training courses, by seconding
employees to other institutions for academic or technical training or for work experience,
or by calling in specialists (such as WTG) to run courses for them. The Board of
Directors had agreed in October 1979 that it was imperative that ways be found to
identify talented young employees and to assist in their development towards managerial
qualification. Carlton Alexander was to put the matter in clear statement of policy:
Without your contribution to our operation, reinforced by a willingness to grow
with the Company, we would stagnate. The motivation to grow must start from
the top and permeate throughout the whole organization.... The individual must
show a willingness to train and develop himself as part of a personal growth
programme. The Company will support this demonstration of the willingness and
desire to progress, morally and financially, and we will offer any assistance
possible to the individual to enable him to grow.
Continuing, he spoke in particular of the need to provide well-rounded training for future
managerial assignments in junior and in senior positions. The inferences are clear. The
training would be intended to produce better performance in the service of Grace,
Kennedy & Co., Ltd.; but that suggested both job security and advancement.
It is the declared policy of the Company to give preference to those already in its
employment that qualifies for adva ncement. There is also a longer-term possible reservoir
of future new staff. Every year, Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. places over two hundred
students in summer jobs, but not only within the Company. Most of them are assigned to
be assistants in a number of educational and welfare agencies.
There is no suggestion that
they will ever again be on the Grace payroll, but good employers always note the promise
of developing competence in a temporary employee.
Nor were the material inducements to permanent staff neglected. The Grace Co-operative
Credit Union had been in existence for several years when in June 1976, at its seventh
Annual General Meeting, chaired by Rafael Diaz, the eighty or so members present heard
that for the third year in succession the maximum legal dividend of 6 per cent would be
On January 1, 1975, the Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. Pension Scheme drawn up to meet
new statutory requirements, provided for all members of staff who were not members of
the established Superannuation Fund. Normally, the employee would contribute 5 per
cent of salary to be matched by 10 per cent paid by the Company, but the employee might
give notice of intention to pay an additional 5 per cent. Pension would be payable at the
retirement age of 60 years, and the Trustees of the Fund (the Chairman and one other to
be Company appointees, and two to be elected by Members of the scheme) could award
pensions following retirement due to ill-health, or financial assistance to the surviving
spouse and children of a pensione r.
Employee Stock Units were still, in 1974, offered only at the discretion of the Governing
Director and his Board, though new terms and conditions governing their issue had been
laid down. But in the following year it was agreed that Employee Stock Units would be
offered to all permanent employees on the Grace, Kennedy payroll at July 18, 1975.
Limits were, however, stipulated as to the total number of units, which might be offered
to various categories of employee, as shown below:
- Chief Executive Office - 100,000
- Group Directors - 37,500
- Other Directors and Group Secretary - 25,000
- First Line Managers - 6,000
- Second Line Managers - 3,000
- Senior Supervisors - 1,000
- Other Supervisory & Senior Sales Staff - 500
- Senior Secretaries, Junior Secretaries & Sales Staff - 300
- Clerical Workers - 200
- Sub-staff - 100
- Other Sub-staff - 50
The helpings varied enormously in size; but for the first time, the cake of ownership was
uncovered to the knife. Since then, opportunity has widened for any employee to (using
the Jeffersons' phrase) 'own a piece of the pie'.
In the middle of March 1957, the Daily Gleaner carried a report of a businessmen's
The readiness of the businessmen to give time and individual gifts to build up the
communities in which their businesses are located, was described as essential to the
sound advancement of commerce and the nation by Mr. Dudley Levy in a recent talk to
the St. Andrew Businessmen's Association in the process of formation at Magnol House,
Some twenty-five years later, Carlton Alexander put it in a rather different way.
We feel committed to the involvement of our members of staff, particularly our
managers, in community activities and institutions. We feel that all employees must
participate in community action that is for the common good and we will continue to
contribute to worthwhile community causes consistent with their importance to the good
of the Community and to this end we have a Community Relations Department under the
Human Resources Development Division.
Under the generic title of Welfare Projects many kinds of activity are carried on, and
from a variety of motives. Since the 1950s, following the establishment of Jamaica Social
Welfare by Norman Washington Manley with the help of Sam Zemurray and the United
Fruit Company, the previously popular, charitable, 'do-gooding' hand-outs in the style of
Lady Bountiful helping to succour the poor had come under question. In the 1940s, with
the publication of Professor T.S. Simey's Welfare and Planning in the West Indies, that
style came under attack. Thenceforward, social needs came to be more carefully defined.
There are those, physically or mentally incapacitated who need assistance because they
are incapable of helping themselves. There are those who need assistance in order to
enable them to begin to fend for themselves. There are institutions, which, though active
in works of social development and welfare could accomplish more if their resources,
whether of persons, materials, or money, were greater. There is the possibility of creating
new agencies to fill gaps in the existing corps of welfare institutions. And there is often a
perceived need to offer assistance simply in the hope that it will soothe discontent and
help to maintain social order.
The Grace, Kennedy Group has moved in all of these directions. Their motives have
varied, but there remains behind it all the clear and unequivocally expressed belief of
Carlton Alexander that it is, in any circumstances, the duty of a corporate citizen, as he
described Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., to, contribute to the society in which it is rooted.
It is true that his pronouncements on this were most emphatic during the hard years of the
later 1970s, and there cab be little doubt that he was influenced by the desire to arrest a
growing social disorder which was unfavourably affecting his company's business; but
the masses who had no large business to protect were also anxiously concerned, and it is
very likely that Carlton Alexander, had he been a worker in one of Grace, Kennedy's
factories, or a postman or a higgler or a gardener, would have been one of that concerned
In considering the large development of what may be described in the current jargon as
the 'outreach programme' of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., there are two central dramatis
personae - both arriving on the Grace scene in 1979 - the Grace and Staff Community
Development Foundation, and Miss Olive Lewin, in that year appointed Cultural Affairs
Officer in the Grace Group.
Olive Lewin brought with her a wealth of talent and experience in music, teaching and
research as well as her abiding interest in our national lore.
Christine Bell featured her
appointment in the Grace News:
Proper direction of creative energies can make all the difference between a person
being at peace with himself and contributing to life around him and a person not
being able to control these and using them destructively....
This is the voice of Olive Lewin.... as she talks to me about what she refers to as
'Grace Kennedy Thinking'.
Olive Lewin's own thinking was not in conflict:
I feel that one of the most important things in building a nation is getting people
to appreciate the beauty of what is here. And one way of doing this is to use
indigenous materials in cultural programmes.
.... When Grace Kennedy approached me and indicated that they were thinking in this
direction, I jumped at the opportunity to continue doing music in a manner, which will
enrich the daily lives of people....
And one aspect of the agreed cultural programme was the collection and documenting of
traditional Jamaican songs.
Olive Lewin would build on what she found already in existence within the Grace Group.
At National Processors Ltd., for instance, the staff had for some time been putting on
light dramatic and musical entertainments for their own enjoyment. But she would also
The first Grace Cultural Concert was held at St. Andrew's High School Auditorium in
1980. Organizer and Director was Olive Lewin, and the occasion was for the
entertainment of Grace staff, family and friends. The list of participants is revealing:
- The Grace Choir and Glee Club
- The Immaculate Conception Preparatory School
- The Grace Children's Club
- The Majesty Gardens Basic School
- The Hillel Academy
- The Kingport Singers
- The Bellevue Occupational Therapy Department Choir.
In the same year, Olive Lewin introduced the first Grace, Kennedy talent day. The idea
quickly caught on. On the next occasion, held at the YMCA auditorium at the end of
October, there were displays of Art and Craft, Culinary Arts, Photography, Visual Arts,
Performing Arts and a Fashion Show (Were the costumes provided from the Staff
Commissary?). There were prizes. The Shield for Participation, or most entries, went to
Grace Food Processors (Meat Division). Mr. Horace Davis announced the individual
prizewinners, some of whom like Carmelita Pyne, Chiketa Brown and Elvita Taylor had
won in more than one display. Horace Davis himself had won in only one, Photography,
but it was the First Prize. Michelle Davis, who organized the Fashion Show, took Third
Prize in song, coming behind Vernal Reid, known as the Grace Kitchens singing star, and
Leo Ferguson who made joint claim to First Prize. Behind the scenes, Mrs. Florence
Largie had laboured to ensure a smooth production.
Also in 1980, Olive Lewin worked with the Grace and Staff Community Development
Foundation to run a series of workshops in Rae Town for children aged five to fourteen.
An average daily attendance of over a hundred children worked with Miss Lewin and a
small contingent of highly talented people: In Drama, Leonie Forbes-Harvey and Fae
Ellington; in Art, Allison Stimpson; in Dance, Jackie Guy and Devon Shaw; and in
Music, Olive Lewin assisted by Hazel Ramsey and a very special gentleman, Bernard
Barrett. And they had been welcomed and assisted by the staff of St. Michael's School
and members of the community.
When should there be another series? Those were dark days:
It is hoped that when the area, which is now in the grip of serious tension, returns to normal, assistance can be given in cultural
Western Kingston was, like the eastern side, then full of strife. 'Due to the heightened
tension and violence', the Foundation's directors decided to 'to suspend person-to-person
relationships at this time, until after elections have taken place'. In the meantime, work
would be concentrated in Basic Schools and Day Care Centres.
The Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation, like Miss Lewin's cultural
programme, also had its less distinguished forebears in the Company. In early 1974, Mr.
Harry Smith, a senior clerk at Kingston Wharves Ltd., with some of his colleagues had
started a Charity Fund. About a third of the staff there agreed to have sums regularly
deducted from their salaries to finance charitable donations. The first such, made in the
same year, was %500 for the building fund of the Lopez Home for Mentally
Handicapped Children on Golding Avenue near Papine. In 1975 they donated music and
games equipment to the St. Christopher Home for the Deaf in Brown's Town. They
The idea of a Development Foundation had also formed among the staff of the
Merchandising Division, and it was from there that the new Grace and Staff effort was to
be extended to include all of the subsidiary and associated companies. The wider
Foundation was proposed and founded by L. Sam Richards, an accountant in Grace,
Kennedy & Co., Ltd. and a church leader and lay preacher in eastern Kingston. The
inaugural General Meeting was held on July 24, and mid-year 268 employees were
voluntary contributors. To every dollar they subscribed, Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd.
added two. The Development Foundation was set up to assist income-producing efforts,
training, sports, and community service in general.
It was in this year of positive and determined 'outreach' policy and action that Carlton
Alexander announced his intention to tell the public what was being achieved by Grace,
In August 1980, the Board of Directors decided to establish the Grace, Kennedy
Scholarship, valued at $5,000 a year and tenable at the University of the West Indies.
Announcing the establishment of the Scholarship, Alexander remarked on the effects of
economic crisis on the implementation of educational programmes, both formal, such as
the developing CXC examinations, and informal, such as JAMAL literacy programme.
This Scholarship, he said, was made available '.... in recognition of the need for
educational, advancements at a time when there is a serious crisis facing education in this
country'. The Scholarship would be awarded annually to the candidate who met the
prescribed qualifications, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Education.
Grace, Kennedy Group, operating through the PSOJ, would continue to collaborate with
the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) in the furtherance of educational projects.
To mark the Sixtieth Anniversary of the founding of the Company, Peter Moss-Solomon
put before the Board of Directors his memorandum to the Chairman proposing the
establishment of a Grace, Kennedy Foundation to provide assistance to national projects,
social and welfare conditions, personal development and other deserving causes. After
later discussion between the Chairman and the Prime Minister, the Foundation was
launched on February 1, 1982 with an initial fund of $500,000.
Since their inception, the two Foundations have achieved much. The Grace and Staff
funds have been used to set up individuals in small businesses; to provide basic relief for
the needy in a variety of forms - clothing, work tools, school fees, beds, and many others.
It became necessary to appoint a Projects Officer to screen and process applications for
help and to follow up on assistance given as grants or advanced as loans. The larger
Grace Foundation fund, with capitalization increasing up to a million dollars, has assisted
in the development of the arts, in health and educational programmes (it now administers
the Grace, Kennedy Scholarship), in skill-training, in sports, and elsewhere. In both cases
the lists of beneficiaries would fill pages.
There are however, four particular projects, which deserve special record. In September
1983, Grace, Kennedy awarded a scholarship of $30,000 to enable postgraduate research
to be carried out in the Department of History at the University of the West Indies. The
topic, in memory of Luis Fred Kennedy, was appropriate. In 1989, Shirley J. Robertson
submitted her completed thesis for the degree of Master of Philosophy in History: The
Maritime History of Jamaica, 1900-1970. And, in 1984, the Grace, Kennedy Foundation
gave the SOS Children's Village at Stony Hill, the 'Luis Fred Kennedy Home' to house
nine children and their 'house-mother'.
In 1990, the Carlton Alexander Memorial Fund was established with a capital grant from
Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. of $4.5 million. The Grace, Kennedy Foundation
administers the fund, and one component is a Bursary Scheme for children of members of
staff of Grace, Kennedy. Based on competitive application in which financial
circumstances, academic performance and personal deportment will be the criteria, six
scholarships - normally four at tertiary level and two at the secondary - will be offered
annually to children of permanent employees of any of the seventy-six Grace companies,
subsidiaries or associates. And, finally, Dr. Gordon V. Shirley, the 1974 Jamaica Scholar,
was the first appointee to a newly-created post in the University of the West Indies: the
Carlton Alexander Chair in the Department of Management Studies.
Endowments and donations receive notice in the public media on the dates of the
particular events, and then the work goes on behind the scenes. There is, however, one
very important component of the Grace, Kennedy programme that is daily brought to our
notice: the Grace Kitchens and Consumer Centre. In 1969, 'Grace Kitchens' began at 14
Surbiton Road near Half Way Tree. The aim of this new enterprise was the establishment
of better communication between Grace and the consumer. It was an inspired creation.
The name kept the public reminded of 'Grace, the Good Food People'; the kitchen is the
home of good food, or should be, and if not, Grace Kitchens would help the housewife
make it so. Culinary classes were to be held on the premises; a quality control laboratory
would also be established there to ensure, and to convince people of, the excellence of
Grace Products. Mrs. Doreen Kirkaldy was in charge.
With changing times and circumstances, Grace Kitchens and Consumer Centre, as it was
renamed, moved into service in an impressive way, In 1972 Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd.
instituted a nutrition programme in which nutritionists from the Kitchens went out into
the schools to lecture on good low-cost meal planning and to demonstrate good low-cost
meal preparation. At first the programme was offered only to secondary schools; then, in
1982, with the co-sponsorship of the Montego Bay Kiwanis Club, it moved into ten
primary and all-age schools in St. James, and the annual expenditure was doubled to
$100,000. In 1983, Mrs. Kirkaldy retired and was succeeded by Miss Heather Little-
In early 1984 the Centre was closed for three months for refurbishing and reopened in
July. The programme, however, had not closed. In May, Child's Month, nearly one
hundred children in Places of Safety and Children's Homes throughout the island had
been helped. In half of the sixteen institutions visited, the nutritionists had been at work
with their lectures and demonstrations and the provision of a hot, low-cost, but nutritious
meal. In the other institutions, breakfast supplies were distributed.
By then, Grace Kitchens had established liaisons with teachers' organizations, with 4-H
clubs, church groups, the Library Service, and, of course, with the Ministries of Youth
and Community Development and Health. A training scheme for household helpers was
introduced. In 1985 came the next stage of development. Through a breakfast feeding
programme in five primary schools and Children's Homes in the Corporate Area, the
Kitchens and Consumer Centre had served over 1,000 children with 10,000 breakfasts of
crackers, cocoa and (need it be said?) Vienna Sausages - so good! The school breakfast
programme has continued to expand. In October 1989, it was taken into St. Mary.
Throughout the island in many schools and homes for children the Grace Kitchen's
Nutrition and Breakfast Programmes are in operation and in these hard times are
increasingly in demand.
The expanding activities of the Grace Kitchens and Consumer Centre, now located on
Hope Road, have been emphasized because they combine in obvious measure both the
desire of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., like all other similar organizations, to advertise
their wares, and also the Company's aim to offer nourishment to the society in which it is
Grace, Kennedy and Co., Ltd.
was described as 'widely ramified and rich' in the mid1970s.
The Company had by that time invested in a wide range of enterprises, some
highly profitable, others less so, but all together rewarding to the shareholders and
permissive of further growth.
The first major acquisition had been that of Cecil de Cordova, also an importing and
distributing firm, followed by a widening range of agencies. Then, a decade later, the first
move into the hardware trade, later to be reinforced by the acquisition of the Sheffield
and Rapid companies. None of this had posed any large, unfamiliar problems beyond the
need to find managerial staff in the difficult days.
The next important step, into the food-processing business, brought new sorts of
managerial and other skills into demand. As an importer and distributor, the Company's
operation depended on the punctual arrival of goods to be distributed and the efficiency
with which the distribution was managed and carried out. When goods did not arrive in
sufficient quantity and quality within the expected time, the resulting problems lay within
the experience, even if not within the responsibility, of the Company's staff. Food-
processing, on the other hand, required not only the arrival in good order of the materials
to be processed, but, equally important, their arrival in the required quantities, the correct
admixture of ingredients to be processed, the proper maintenance and operation of the
machinery used, the supervision of the actual processing procedure in order to meet
standards of quality and the packaging of different finished products in a variety of
appropriate containers to be supplied by others. It was in all this that Grace, Kennedy &
Co., Ltd. began to lean on foreign expertise and advice in a local operation.
It was as a consequence of scarcity of materials for processing that Mable Tenn first
suggested that the Company move into large-scale agricultural production, and a
consequence of the scarcity of foreign exchange that led to the attempt to produce winter
vegetables for export. Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. has, since the failure of Halse Hall
venture, been reluctant to engage as sole investor in any large agricultural enterprise.
Now, more in keeping with their policy of commitment to national economic
development and encouragement to others to produce, the Company guarantees markets
and prices to farmers of the products (vegetable and animal) they require; and by
demanding proper grading of the quality of produce they can do much to encourage the
improvement of local farm practice. Thus, through the farmers, The Company has begun
to spread its roots into the basically important source of national well being, namely our
arable and pasture lands. Such a spread has long been achieved in the wholesale and retail
distributive services by which the fruits of production find their way to the cons uming
The migration of entrepreneurial and managerial personnel, which rapidly increased
during the later 1970s, affected Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. in ways already described. In
addition, the migration of many Chinese and other wholesale and retail distributors of
foodstuffs had two major consequences: it disrupted the Company's established trading
pattern, and it opened up opportunities for those with entrepreneurial ambitions who did
In the 1970s, led by Carlton Alexander, Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. embarked on a
deliberate policy of helping some of those who wished to start out on their own in the
wholesale and retail distributive trades. Throughout the parishes of Jamaica there are now
scores of such businesses - wholesale and retail distributors of foodstuffs, agricultural
supplies, and others - owned and operated by individuals who were originally aided by
Grace, Kennedy in the acquisition and establishment of their enterprises. Most, but not
all, were ambitious employees of the Company. For all, the procedures were much the
same as in the following case.
Mr. X joined Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. in the late 1960s as a salesman. For about ten
years he worked on the North Coast and in Kingston. In the late 1970s, he located a
supermarket whose owners had migrated. He proposed to acquire and operate it. His
proposal had to be properly presented to the Board of Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. The
Board examined the proposal to determine whether it appeared to be economically viable
and interviewed the applicant to see if he seemed to have the necessary experience,
competence, and other more personal qualifications to support his endeavour. Satisfied
on all counts, the Board approved a supply of goods on Special Account (to be sold and
paid for within a specified period, usually a year but sometimes longer) and a Credit
Account such as was allowed to other customers of the Company. Mr. X. rented his
supermarket and began to trade. Recently, having years ago cleared his indebtedness, he
obtained a much larger financial assistance enabling him to build his own premises and
install more modern equipment.
There is hardly a large town in Jamaica in which there is not such a business originally
sponsored by Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. in order to assist a former employee. In the
agreement there is no stipulation that the assisted person should continue to be a customer
of Grace, Kennedy either in whole or part. Indeed, the only commitments made by the
assisted person are for payment for the Special Account goods and for the satisfaction of
the Company's general arrangements for credit or any other foods requested and supplied.
And yet, years later, even those completely free of any financial indebtedness to Grace,
Kennedy, remain faithful customers, taking anything from 50 per cent to 90 per cent of
their current stock from them. The explanations are several.
Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. (and some would more specifically name Carlton
Alexander) was the provider who 'set them up', and even though there no formal strings
attached, there remains 'a sense of indebtedness'. Nonetheless, these are business people
who would be unlikely to choose to see their business fail through thankfulness for
assistance given and paid for years ago. There has to be more than a fading sense of
gratitude. There is.
As one partner in a wholesale business with another past employee of
Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. put it '.... having come from the Grace family one felt almost
obliged to buy from them'.
Sense of 'family' is not quite the same as of 'gratitude'. Moreover the sense of 'family' is
felt on both sides. Grace, Kennedy managers and salesmen know those who used to work
for the Company and treat them as 'family', concerned for their continuing welfare. But
there are occasions, as more than one such retailer noted, when, because of the feeling of
family loyalty, the Grace, Kennedy salesperson will sometimes give earlier and greater
attention to others whose business is not secured by ties of 'family' loyalty.
There is more than loyalty. The service given by Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. to their
customers is generally acknowledged as reliable and considerate. There are other
distributors who, in particular respects at different times and places, may surpass them;
but there is no general recognition of a superior source of supply or of a superior sense of
service. When the announcement was made by the Government in October 1991, of the
impeding introduction of a General Consumption Tax, Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. led
the way in arranging seminars at which the Company's customers would be informed of
the nature of the new tax, and of the procedures to be followed in adopting it. Loyalty
apart, these are the expressed views of business people whose successful operations
depend on good, reliable service.
Still more. Working for Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., it is claimed, allowed those who
sought to learn from experience to succeed:
We had good managers. That is very important. We had good managers at the top and in
the middle to guide us.... All of what I know I learned there, going to them straight from
school, that was there I learned about business.... They instilled in us a work ethic, which
I think today, is missing in so many young people.... The commitment is not there, and I
hope the managers today are continuing to emphasize the importance of dedicated
work.... The salary was reasonable and the operation of the commissary used to help to
stretch the pay cheque. I don't think they have that any more, but I think the staff would
be very glad to have it back.... The same work ethic that was instilled in us we try to
instill in the young people who work for us. We require 110% loyalty and commitment
from them, just as Grace required from us.... And we try to help out in the local
community tha t is again like we learned at Grace, Kennedy. It helps you know - those
you help come to you.
Those whom Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. helped to fill the gaps left by migration and
other causes have now become the local root system of the Company's distributive trade.
They have carried with them some of the commonly held percepts of the successive
heads of the Company - the importance of good work, the importance of good business
service, and the importance of a wider concern to serve the community which supports
In any highly competitive environment, be it social, economic, or political, there will be
found hard rivalry or the safer and convenient agreement to avoid it. Where there is no
such agreement, social, economic, or political rivals attempt to outdo, or, negatively, to
'run-down' their competitors by 'bad-mouthing', by innuendo, by upstaging, or by sheer
trickery. Big businesses are not built by the unacquisitive. The expansions of Grace,
Kennedy & Co., Ltd. into so wide a range of enterprises have come about in a variety of
ways. There has been active policy in the acquisition of ailing but recoverable business;
offers made by others wanting to liquidate their companies have been taken up; moves
have been taken to fill vacant spaces in the productive or distributive spheres; and there
have been, undeniably, occasions of hard competitive business practice.
The boundaries of acceptable behaviour in a world of hard competition are marked by
commitment to one's word, and by formal legality of action. Most competitors for
supremacy, whether social, economic, or political have at one time or another sought to
outdo or to 'run-down' a rival; but, in company with many others, Grace, Kennedy & Co.,
Ltd. have never, even in the darkest days, 'gunned-down' a rival.
Now on St. Valentine's day, 1992, neither Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd., nor the country in
which it has grown, would be easily recognizable to those who signed the first
Memorandum and Articles of Association.
So much remains to be done; by government, by the private sector, by all, if the young
Jamaican X is to find himself. Grace, Kennedy & Co., Ltd. have in the past opened many
trails into the service of the national community -not from solely altruistic motives, it is
true, but in the certain knowledge that the 'goodwill' which is so important to good
business cannot be won by 'good food' alone. That has long been their stated
understanding of a wider responsibility, which does not diminish as the years go by.