Wednesday, April 24, 2024

She means business


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“I think I have been able to help people to develop and to grow,” says Dr Jeannine Comma.
As head of the Cave Hill School of Business of the University of the West Indies, she may well leave that legacy, though retirement is still not yet within her sight. “I now feel as if I have a significant toolkit of experience that I can continue to draw on for quite a number of years.”
Jeannine’s career has taken her from file clerk in an insurance company to board rooms around the region. Though that first job by her admission may have been “the most boring”, it was also “the most critical job in my life because it taught me that I had to study hard if I did not want to be a file clerk for the rest of my life”.
She has a “passion” for adult learning, higher education, training and consulting, fostered through different work experiences along the way.
It is now 19 years that she has been directing the affairs of the Cave Hill School of Business (once known as the Centre for Management Development); “oftentimes very stressful years but different, challenging and enlightening” nonetheless.
Hers is a semi-autonomous organisation and she is responsible for its strategic development and business affairs.
The job has presented an opportunity for her to refine some of her passionate areas such as training executives and senior managers, doing executive coaching and engaging in consulting initiatives particularly as it relates to management type issues in organisations, performance improvement issues and working with various boards in different parts of the Caribbean.
 “I think I have been able make significant changes to the organisation’s landscape, to the organisation’s relevance, to the organisation’s breadth and depth of activities that I now engage in and the fact that the Cave Hill School of Business and its fore-runner the Centre for Management Development has over 2 000 graduates throughout the Caribbean at very senior and executive levels.”
Jeannine comes from a background where the ethos has always been learning. She is the niece of Barbados’ first Prime Minister and National Hero Rt Excellent Errol Barrow and also of late Barbados Governor General Dame Nita Barrow.
“I come from a family that is driven by success and driven by education and so the idea of going to university was not an option. I am saying that what I have been able to attain is really because of relationships, strong relationships in my family, the values they would have set and the high expectations and as I went off into my own career path on my own, what has propelled me.”
The Caribbean has been her oyster – a Barbadian mother and Trinidadian father who met and got married in St Vincent; moved to Antigua and then to Trinidad, where Jeannine grew up and had her primary and secondary education.
At her aunt Sybil Barrow’s urging, her parents sent her to the new University of the Virgin Islands, where she studied business management, so she would be near Sybil (then a pharmacist) in St Croix. For two years after graduation she taught school in St Croix before going off to George Washington University in the United States to do her Master’s following up with a doctorate in higher education and adult learning.
Jeannine asserts that each job prepared her for her current position. When she decided she wanted to live in Barbados, she was employed in her cousin Dr Basil Springer’s company Systems Caribbean Limited.
She later spent 11 years with the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) mostly as programme manager, training and technical assistance and worked throughout Caribbean.
“That was a phenomenal experience in understanding the wider Caribbean region and the important role that the private sector saw themselves playing in the development of the Caribbean.”
After 18 months at the helm of her own consulting firm, she was invited to give consideration to the CEO’s position at the Centre for Management.
Splendid opportunity
“I thought this was a splendid opportunity to bridge my education and experience” she said, adding “I would say all in all it has been fruitful, and I’ll be modest, fruitful not just for me but fruitful for the organisation.
“I think one of the most remarkable benefits that many of our participants talk about is the fact that they have business contacts and friends throughout the Caribbean region as a result of having gone through the institution.
“It has been fruitful for me as well because I have been able to broaden my own business acumen.”
The “flaming extrovert” says she gets energy from people. “I am driven by people and interaction and constant engagement with people.”
Her friends know she is a Trinidad Carnival devotee.
Apart from the fact that it helps her connect with her Trinidadian roots, she said, “it is a release to me. Trinidad may on the one hand be lawless but on the other hand extremely creative. If you can find the space to appreciate the in-between which is the creativity, the lawlessness really translates into a free spirit, a go with the flow kind of orientation and I am not normally that way. So even though I plan a lot of what I do for Carnival I still feel I am in and around that kind of cosmos that says relax and go with whatever is happening.”
For Jeannine, career has taken precedence over marriage, which in her scheme of things “was probably number two”.
“I think in large measure it was because I saw women who were doing things that were dynamic. I remember growing up in the 70s where women were coming into their own and taking leadership roles and maybe that was a lot more fascinating to me. So it was not that I never wanted to get married but it probably was number two in my priorities.”
Now in the twilight years of her career, Jeannine mused, “I still have a couple of significant things I would like to achieve at the Cave Hill School of Business and I would like to see them come to fruition before I retire. But I also feel like I am not the person who could retire.”


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