August - Christopher Charley
The 1990s is known for many fads such as pop groups, the Walkman and welcomed a new era in dancehall; the decade is also known for a less celebrated moment in Jamaican history, what was dubbed the ‘financial meltdown.’ This period was characterized by a high interest rate regime, the collapse of several financial institutions and the closing down of numerous business places. Charley’s Windsor House, then a leading department store in St. Ann, was one such business that was affected by the crisis of the day, resulting in the company being placed in receivership. As a result, the family-run company, which had operated for over three decades, was now faced with bankruptcy.
In a bid to recover from bankruptcy, restructure the company and develop a new strategy going forward, the Charley’s decided to take a loan from their banker, to take advantage of the offer made by the Jamaica Redevelopment Foundation to pay off their debt. In a twist of fate, the Charley’s were, instead offered more favourable loan terms by JMMB in the early 2000s, which helped them to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
Christopher Charley Jr., now chief operating officer at KDC Group, credits JMMB for giving his family the second chance they needed, and allowing them to soar from bankruptcy. The Charley’s story is one of triumph, a feat that Christopher Jr. is exceptionally proud of. In reflecting on the journey, he shared that he grew up in the business, participating in every aspect of it, “I started with the business since birth. I remember the long days helping out – from doing accounts table to doing collections on the road, to sweeping up the place …I did a little of everything… and later to witness my parents (and their business) going through a financial downturn (that was devastating).”
From Bankruptcy to Business Success
He attributes the ability to rebound to the hard work of his team, dedication and the support of JMMB, who worked alongside his family, taking the time to understand the family’s business and customize a loan solution for their specific needs.
Although echoing the sentiments that SMEs are typically challenged with getting financing from banks and similar institutions, he commended JMMB for investing in a company like his family’s own. In explaining, he stated that the financial entity spent the time to examine their business operations and provide advice and direction, so that they could structure a loan facility to meet its growing needs, and not simply offer a ‘one size fits all solution.’ The now almost two decade old relationship forged between JMMB and the Charley family has been a fruitful one for this family-business, and has allowed them to defy the odds often associated with family-owned businesses. The Charley’s family operations now includes: CWH Gas Company Limited, one of the largest distributors of cooking gas across the island; Superior Gas – which resells fuel from Petrojam Limited, Jamaica’s sole petroleum refinery; manages KDC Car Care Centre Limited; owns and operates three service stations and distributes fuel to several companies island wide, such as restaurants and transportation companies. As for Charley’s Windsor House, it has been transitioned into a shopping centre - Brown's Town Mall, and is now one of the largest commercial real estate properties in St. Ann.
The Path to Entrepreneurial Success
The now seasoned businessman, Christopher Charley Jr., when asked to share the lessons learnt from his entrepreneurial journey, had these nuggets of wisdom to share with other entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Remain committed: Charley noted that as an entrepreneur he is guided by the motto, “You have to do what you need to do, even when you don’t want to do it,” which is a principle that his father, Christopher Charley Sr., passed on to him. He noted that running a business is hard work and that even during difficult times, like bankruptcy, they remained focused on trying to find a solution.
2. Practice the ‘ANC Rule’ (Aviate, Navigate and Communicate): As a commercial pilot, Christopher Jr. likened running a successful business to making a safe flight. He explains that the environment and the airplane makes it easy for you to fail, much in the same way macro-economic conditions and other factors do not necessarily support the growth of small businesses. However it is important to aviate, which simply means that, as an entrepreneur you have to be in complete control of your business and its operations. Additionally, you need to navigate, by developing a clear strategy for growth and success and then communicate this strategy to key stakeholders.
3. Manage your finances: Christopher implores entrepreneurs to keenly monitor their finances, no matter the size of their operation, so that they can determine their profitability. It is also good practice to have financial records so that as the business grows, it is easy to provide these documents to a financial institution or other financiers.
The family-run businesses headed by, Christopher Charley Sr., is a testament of the quote from Collin Powell, “A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”