Wednesday, April 17, 2024

SEEN UP NORTH: Giving thanks to dad


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MOST SUCCESSFUL EXECUTIVES in and out of private business and government in the United States routinely recall an important bit of advice from their parents.

The words of wisdom go something like this: because of the pervasiveness of racial prejudice, Blacks must work twice as hard as Whites to achieve any measure of upward professional mobility on the job.

Just as important, parents, especially Bajan mothers and fathers, put education at the top of their children’s list of priorities.

Eric Holder, America’s first black Attorney General, and Commander Jaja Marshall, captain of the anti-missile destroyer, USS Hopper, both with Bajan roots, frequently speak about their parents’ guiding hand, especially what they taught them about hard work, competence and education.

Not surprisingly, Blacks in the United Kingdom have a similar story to tell.

Karen Blackett, one of Britain’s most influential businesswomen can write chapter and verse about the value of education, perseverance, hard work and parental advice.

For the Barbadian chief executive Officer of MediaCom UK, one of the largest media buying and planning agencies in the Britain, with billings of about 1.2 billion (BDS$3.6 billion) last year, recalled what her father told her as a young woman growing up in Reading, England, a place she called “mini-Barbados” where thousands of Bajans and other West Indians settled after leaving their respective birthplaces.

“He told me ‘you are black and female so you will have to work twice as hard’,” Blackett, a 42-year-old mother told The Independent newspaper. “He knew how awful prejudice could be; as a bus conductor in the 1960s, he suffered extreme racism and abuse.”

But his advice didn’t end there. And it wasn’t simply about racism. The man who left Barbados more than half a century ago and whose hard-working Bajan wife was a nurse gathered their two daughters in the living room when Diane Abbott was elected to the British House of Commons in 1987. Abbott was the first black female sent by voters to the lower house of parliament in London and he told the family some facts of life.

“I can still remember the day. My dad turned to us and said: ‘There’s a black woman in Parliament; you can achieve anything in this country with hard work’,” said Blackett recently to a reporter in London.

After following his advice for many years, 20 of which were spent at MediaCom, the Bajan-Brit is the toast of the UK’s advertising industry and she is routinely hailed by such major papers as The Independent, The Guardian and The Telegraph as a shining star in the media advertising constellation that generates tens of billions of dollars in advertising every year paid for by corporate giants.

Her MediaCom, for instance, manages advertising for Audi, GSK and BSkyB; employs almost 1 000 professionals and support staff; and has successfully launched and conducts an apprenticeship programme for economically disadvantaged young people looking for careers in the media industry.

“With university fees so high, industry needs to be doing all it can to promote apprenticeship and to get talent,” she said.

Just recently, Blackett became the first businesswoman chosen to top the Britain’s Black Powerlist 2015, a nationally recognised honour that hails the most influential Blacks across the UK. She surpassed such internationally famous figures as Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One racing champion, and Steve McQueen, who won an Oscar last year for his movie about slavery.

“I haven’t been openly judged on gender and skin colour, but I’m sure it goes on behind my back,” she was quoted by The Telegraph which concluded that the recognition was evidence that “the hard work is paying off”.

Another honour came from Buckingham Palace which recently advised her that she was to be awarded the OBE in the Queen’s honours list. And when she receives it her mother, sister and son will be there for the presentation.

Clearly, her climb up the corporate ladder can be traced to hard work and the competitive spirit for which she is known. She didn’t have the corporate godparents who opened doors for her but it was her tenacity that did it.

“I think there was always a competitive streak and I had to push myself,” She told The Independent.

“That was the influence of my dad, who always said ‘you’ve got to be the best at everything and try twice as hard’.”


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