Internal & External Grace 1972-1982

Internal & External Grace 1972-1982

Leadership Styles

The annual Awards Banquet of H. Macaulay Orrett (Insurance) Ltd. was held in mid 1979 and Carlton Alexander was the main speaker. His remarks were reported in the Grace News:

Mr. Alexander said that GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy & 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 of life.

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 GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy & 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 capital.

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, GraceKennedy & 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 formation, 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 Faith.

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 GraceKennedy & 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, GraceKennedy & Co., Ltd. sought to enjoy all three.

Internal Grace

In 1975 the Directors of GraceKennedy & 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, GraceKennedy & 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 companies.

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 together. 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. Ritchie:

As an ex-employee of Port Services Limited, 1960-1975, I am always very proud to speak of GraceKennedy & Co. Prior to joining GraceKennedy I worked in the U.S.A., followed by a similar company like GraceKennedy in Jamaica. None of these gave me that proud feeling that I experienced at GraceKennedy & Co.

GraceKennedy & 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 enjoy.

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 mile.

In May 1978, the first GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy 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 West. 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy’, 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 GraceKennedy & 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 reservoirof future new staff. Every year, GraceKennedy & 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 paid.

On January 1, 1975, the GraceKennedy & 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 pensioner.

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 GraceKennedy 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’.

External Grace

In the middle of March 1957, the Daily Gleaner carried a report of a businessmen’s meeting:

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, Slipe Road.

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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy’s factories, or a postman or a higgler or a gardener, would have been one of that concerned majority.

In considering the large development of what may be described in the current jargon as the ‘outreach programme’ of GraceKennedy & 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 ‘GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy 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 activities.

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 continue.

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 GraceKennedy & 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, GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy.

In August 1980, the Board of Directors decided to establish the GraceKennedy 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.

The GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy 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, GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy & Co., Ltd. of $4.5 million. The GraceKennedy Foundation administers the fund, and one component is a Bursary Scheme for children of members of staff of GraceKennedy. 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy & 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-White.

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 GraceKennedy & 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 rooted.


GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy & 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. GraceKennedy & 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 consuming public.

The migration of entrepreneurial and managerial personnel, which rapidly increased during the later 1970s, affected GraceKennedy & 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 not migrate.

In the 1970s, led by Carlton Alexander, GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy, remain faithful customers, taking anything from 50 per cent to 90 per cent of their current stock from them. The explanations are several.

GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy & 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. GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy 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 GraceKennedy & 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, GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedy & 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 that is again like we learned at GraceKennedy. It helps you know – those you help come to you.

Those whom GraceKennedy & 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 them.

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 GraceKennedy & 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, GraceKennedy & Co. Ltd. have never, even in the darkest days, ‘gunned-down’ a rival.

Now on St. Valentine’s day, 1992, neither GraceKennedy & 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. GraceKennedy & 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 GraceKennedyunderstanding of a wider responsibility, which does not diminish as the years go by.