Venice Williams-Gordon: From one subject to 'corporate hustler'


Monday, June 24, 2019

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IT is often said that what matters is not how you start, but how you finish. This is definitely true for Venice Williams-Gordon, an attorney-at-law and corporate secretary.

Despite having what many would consider a poor start, Williams-Gordon eventually achieved her childhood goals, and then some.

In fact, she did not only ensure that her younger siblings — who were entrusted in her care after their mother migrated — got a head start on their careers, but she sprinted after her own dreams after seeing them through theirs.

“I'm here,” a smiling Williams-Gordon said as she reflected on the 43-year journey that took her from her first home on Slipe Pen Road in St Andrew — where she lived with her parents who worked at the Kingston Public Hospital, her mother as a janitor and her father as a handyman in the dental lab by night and a handcart vendor by day.

“But after a while he was made redundant, so his 'sky-juice' cart was his only source of income,” Williams-Gordon told All Woman from the West Indies Home Contractors Limited (WIHCON) head office in Harbour View, St Andrew. “When I was 19 I got accepted to go to Monroe College in New York, and my mom said, 'Ven, just give me one year to go up and get everything sorted so everybody can come up'.

“But one year eventually turned into two, which turned into 10, which turned into 15, and I had to take care of everybody,” the attorney-at-law recounted.

In her mother's absence, the teenager had to assume the role of “woman of the house”, being responsible for nurturing her two younger sisters, who were five and 10 years old, and her brother, who was seven. She also had two older brothers who relied on her as the maternal backbone of the home.

“And my mom had spoiled my father. They have been married now for over 40 years, and she was the kind of wife who would feed her husband with six plates to eat out of. So she left me in that setting, and I had to now continue to feed him that way,” she said. “And because of the work that he did, he would come home late at night. So when he came in at 10 o'clock, I had to ensure that he was fed, and then I had to wash up the dishes afterwards.”

As a result of trying to run a household while attending school, Williams-Gordon left Merl Grove High School with only one Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subject. It was at this point that she decided she would not give up on herself.

“I went to Alpha Business College to apply, and Sister told me that I wasn't qualified to attend the school. I pleaded for a chance, and she said she was sorry, but I wasn't qualified,” she recalled. “So I left, went back the next day, and I pleaded again. She still said no [because] I needed four subjects. So I left and went back a third day. I was crying, and she was consoling me, but still saying, 'No', I just wasn't qualified.”

It wasn't until Williams-Gordon returned on the fourth day that she got a breakthrough.

“She said, 'Listen to me, Sit down! I'm going to give you one chance, but you have to complete all your subjects in one year'. So I went to Dunoon [Technical High School] evening school and did five courses, and got all five,” she beamed.

She entered the world of work as a secretary in the legal department at the Ministry of National Security and Justice. She then got wind of an opportunity at the law firm Livingston, Alexander and Levy, so she went there as a secretary. Little did she know, at the time, that she would someday be a founding partner of a law firm.

Still being the woman of her home, and now a breadwinner, young Williams-Gordon took on another responsibility — a husband.

“In all the chaos, I got married at 23, and took on a husband,” she laughingly said. “But the good thing was that he was a family person, so he understood. He would sleep at my father's house, and then I would sleep at his house, and it worked.”

Williams-Gordon went on to study business administration at the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean, but by the time she earned her first degree, she realised that she hated it. That's when she saw the writing on the wall that she should pursue law.

“At this point, I was still caring for my siblings. My tuition fees were never paid in full – it was all paid from my savings, and me and my husband's earnings. When I finished law school, I decided that I was going to do my masters [degree]. By that time my siblings were older, and my sister was in law school,” she said.

She studied at the University of London, then Norman Manley Law School, and then University at Buffalo.

While at University at Buffalo, her friend Kathryn Lewis asked her to come back to Jamaica to start a law firm with her, along with Michelle Smith. Williams-Gordon agreed, and soon after Lewis, Smith, Williams & Company (LSW & Co) was founded.

“I think that was divine intervention,” Williams-Gordon pointed out, as she shared how Kathryn's father, Jamaican business tycoon Donovan Lewis, provided them with almost everything they needed to start their business.

“He gave us everything to start, except the clients,” she recalled. “For the first year, I only had one client, and every day I would sit in the empty office until eventually I got frustrated. I decided that I needed to do something different from what everyone else was doing. I wasn't going to sit in the office in black and white and pretend to be somebody that I wasn't. So I decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.”

Her first break as a legal entrepreneur was at the National Irrigation Commission Limited, where she became the corporate secretary, after which she landed another corporate secretary job at KLE Group, where she did a short stint. Today she is also corporate secretary for Indies Pharma Jamaica Ltd, a partner in the now seven-year-old LSW & Co, WIHCON's attorney, a justice of the peace, and a regular contributor to the Business Observer.

“I'm a hustler, pretty much — a corporate hustler,” a smiling Williams-Gordon said, adding that she enjoys corporate law and how it allows her to create wealth.

“I don't know if it's because I had to be responsible very young, but for me, balancing different responsibilities is very easy. And I believe that you have to share in order to live. I have all this work, but I can't do all the work, so I pay for good help. Some lawyers spread themselves thin trying to do it all on their own, but I get good help, and that's how I'm able to manage, because my 'me time' is very important.”

'Me time' took on a whole new meaning for Williams-Gordon a few years ago, when her marriage of 14 years ended in divorce. Leaving everything that was built by the union, including properties, she decided once again not to give up on herself, but to make time to enjoy her life.

“I have a hobby, that is travelling, and I have to do it. When I got divorced, I started looking at myself. The one thing I learned from the two or three counselling sessions that I went to, was that I needed to do me. I have been taking care of people my entire life, so I decided that I need to live, and by any means, I am going to live,” she told All Woman.

She decided that every month she would visit somewhere different, and do something just for herself. These monthly excursions have taken her to different destinations around the world in the last three years. Her Instagram page, which features snapshots from her tours, boasts that she has now visited 28 countries.

“What drives me is creation of wealth,” she shared. “I have always believed that I had to create wealth, and I think it's important for me because of how I was raised and what I did not want to be — I know I don't want to be poor.”

Having seen her family through, and then run her own race, Williams-Gordon is now on her victory lap. She believes she is playing catch-up for the years she put others first, and is focused on enjoying the rest of her life. Still, she believes she has to give to receive. With no inclination to raise any more children, she devotes her time and resources to the Maxfield Park Children's Home.

“When I reflect on everything that I've been through with my family, and my marriage, and struggling with the law firm, and then to get a break, I say, 'Venice, you did well. You were not supposed to be here, but you are here',” she said.

Still, Williams-Gordon treasures her upbringing. Her father, who she eventually weaned from being dependent on her culinary skills, is now a very skilled chef, and her siblings are all doing well in their chosen professions.

“I would never ever exchange my life, because I can be very downtown and I can be very uptown,” she said bluntly. “I am very grateful that I was at Slipe Pen Road, and then went to Rollington Town, and I'm now at Stony Hill, (St Andrew).”

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