Who is a nation-builder?


Friday, September 21, 2018

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On Wednesday, one of Jamaica's leading personalities, and business people, passed away — William “Billy” McConnell. This was really very sad news for me, as Billy is someone I have a lot of respect for, not just as a business person, but as a person.

While I was at the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) treasurer, and even after that he sat on Council, and was always very active. Like other leading business personalities, whenever he came by the PSOJ he would come in the office and talk to me, always giving suggestions about ways we could improve and help the membership, and he would always have some personal advice for me. For me his success was not just as a business-person, but more importantly as a person generally.

On the news I heard the Prime Minister refer to him as a “nation-builder”, and it led me to think about what qualities does a “nation-builder” possess, as the truth is that countries are usually built by the efforts of these “nation builders”. We only have to think back to people like Martin Luther King, JFK, Mandela, and locally people like Marcus Garvey, Bustamante, and Norman Manley.

Effectively, a “nation-builder' is one who by his/her actions add to the development of the country, whether it is nationally or on a smaller scale.

So the fact that you are a business person or a politician, and have achieved personal wealth, does not make you a “nation-builder”. It is the action you take towards developing something to move the needle forward that makes you a “nation-builder”.

Billy McConnell was in fact one such person who added value to the country by the things he did.

In my view though, his most important actions and attributes were not due to his business acumen, but rather the qualities he possessed outside of that. This is a common trait I have seen in many of the leading personalities I have interacted with.

One of the distinct advantages I had working at the PSOJ was the opportunity to interact with, and learn from, some of the leading business and political personalities in Jamaica. There are some who have been successful in acquiring wealth and awards, but for me have not yet made a mark as a “nation-builder” even with the wealth and awards acquired.

At the PSOJ, I got to understand these people at a deeper level than the public would, as no matter how much they had on their plates, many of them would always stop to talk to me in my office. And that is when you really got to understand them.

I can think of people like Dennis Lalor (whom I have always considered a mentor), Don Wehby, Butch Hendrickson, William Mahfood, Glen Christian, Butch Stewart, Chris Zacca, PB Scott, Oliver Clarke, Howard Mitchell, Billy McConnell, and others, who would always stop to have a talk with me, and many times just on thoughts they are consumed with about how to get the country moving forward — any times even at the expense of their own business interests.

There are many politicians too whom I have a lot of respect for, because they do make a lot of personal sacrifice for the country. And there are others I wouldn't spend two minutes with, as business people and politicians.

In interacting with all these people I find that they have very common traits, even though they are in different areas of business or service.

Many times the perception the public has of them is very far from reality, and a trait amongst all of them is that they are often not bothered about the falsehoods, and they just keep on doing what they think is best for the country.

So one of the first thing you will notice is that they don't engage in gossip and public spats. This is because the service they do for country is a passion, and as I always say to people who ask, when you are passionate about something you have a greater chance at success. You can't pretend to like to do something for too long.

I remember, when I was divesting Air Jamaica, going to see Butch Stewart for 10 minutes, and it turned out to be over an hour of me listening to him express his commitment to Jamaica, and the pain he felt when Air Jamaica had challenges.

I can remember also sitting with Dennis Lalor for hours, and him talking about his disappointment with how Jamaica developed since independence, including the indiscipline in the society, and what we can do to change it.

I remember also the support I received from William Mahfood and Butch Hendrickson, when I was appointed chairman of NSWMA, and the commitment Butch made by being a member of the board. Which leads me to another trait that these people don't criticise blindly but do so while offering a solution to a problem.

They also care deeply for the people they lead, and talk about the development of their team all the time.

Don Wehby comes to mind who is always looking for the best for his team, and always talks to me about it. Talk to the people at National and they will tell you how blessed they are to have Butch as a boss. This doesn't mean they want people around them that are unproductive, but when you are on their team they are always committed to your development, and will always allow their team members to shine and not seek the glory.

There are many other positive traits, but space does not allow me to go into all of them. The last one I will talk about though is their undying commitment to charity.

If you take a close look at any of these people, you will always find that they each have a personal charity that they help with. It may be an organisation or an individual, but they give a lot of their personal resources to charity.

This is a lesson that many can learn, and I have been very privileged to have worked with many of these people, and more importantly to talk to many of them on a personal level. I am comforted to know also that I can still call many of them for advice, and from time to time do call Dennis Lalor, Don Wehby, Butch Hendrickson and Chris Zacca in particular for guidance, and as successful as they are they will call me also similarly. Because for these people knowledge does not reside in one place.

So I end where I start, and say that Billy was indeed for me first a good person, and will be missed, as one of Jamaica's foremost nation-builders.

Dennis Chung is the author of Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development AND Achieving Life's Equilibrium . His blog is


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