January - Dr. Noel Lyon
While others in the farming community of Alexandria, St. Ann, tended their small crops, young Noel Lyon tended his big dreams. One of four children born to a World War II mechanic father and dressmaker-cum-nurse’s aide mother, Noel’s life in the country was humble yet fulfilling. And though the family was not wealthy, the Lyon children were taught that the future could be anything they dreamt it to be. Little did his parents know, one of those dreams would lead him to become a pioneer in the local financial services sector, as co-founder of JMMB.
When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, his response was simple, “... I want to be educated.” With a quest for education, Noel Lyon’s journey led him beyond the acres of crops that lined his community, to the busy city streets of North Street in Kingston, where he attended the renowned Kingston College. Living away from home helped to develop his character, shaping the young man into a problem-solver with a solution-oriented mindset. Lyon notes, “While boarding with one particular lady, there was a rule that you had to turn off the lights by 9 p.m.; well, I bought my Home Sweet Home kerosene lamp so I could stay up and read as long as I wanted.” He added, “To prepare for my 6th form Economics exam I would go to the Institute of Jamaica to read economic books (because I did not have text books), and it wasn't until years after that I realised that I was reading books that even my professors hadn't read.”
The next stamp in his ‘education passport’ would come from Canada where he attended the University of Guelph, having secured a scholarship. There he received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Agricultural Economics, no doubt influenced by his upbringing in a farming community. His educational pursuit continued at Harvard University in the United States, where he would emerge with a PhD in Economics as Dr. Noel Lyon. He then spent a year at Harvard Business School to broaden his knowledge base.
Returning to his homeland, Lyon put his education to further use in developing his country, by using his expertise at organisations such as Kaiser Development Corporation; The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ); Frome Land Company; and the State Trading Corporation of Jamaica. He then went on to establish the National Development Bank of Jamaica and, thereafter, moved to establish the Jamaica Venture Fund, where he partnered in the initiation of 14 projects, the most successful being JMMB.
In sharing the birth of JMMB in 1992, he explains, “I saw the need for a market for suitable short-term financial instruments and shared this idea with a colleague who was also a mutual acquaintance of Joan Duncan (and) within a week of being introduced to Joan, we began to strategize how we would make the dream a reality.” A month later, the two equally unorthodox visionaries started JMMB in Joan’s daughter, Donna’s, apartment.
This partnership led him to help shepherd the now JMMB Group, including its regional expansion in Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic, for its first 24 years, as chairman, before retiring in 2016.
Prescription for success in entrepreneurship
To those seeking a prescription for success in entrepreneurship, Dr. Lyon offers these wise words: “Know yourself, dream, which is to say, have a goal and imagine the path to be taken to accomplish this goal. Be willing to sacrifice to make your dream a reality, do what is necessary to put yourself on this path, and learn as much as possible about the area you want to start a business in, by observing and researching. Do everything you do to the very best of your ability, however menial or trivial the task may be. If you want to start a bakery, do not hire a baker first; instead, learn to bake so that you can understand the (core of the) business. To succeed, you sometimes have to fail; so, have a contingency plan for failure, learn from your mistakes and try again. Start small until you feel confident. Try out your idea as a hobby or do it on the side, if you can, to see if you have a viable business idea.”
Dr. Noel Lyon, was conferred with the Order of Distinction, in the rank of Commander (CD), in 2017, for his outstanding contribution to finance, regional economic development and public service.
With a little more time on his hands, Dr. Lyon is able to dedicate his energies to his other passions – reading and, not surprising, horticulture; with a garden boasting wide species of exotic plants as evidence of his green thumb. He reveals with a smile, that he is a true farmer at heart, “Through most of my career I operated a farm in Smokey Vale where Jamaican exotic flowers were grown largely for export, (and) my flowers were even featured on Good Morning America.”