Lifestyle

My Kingston - Michael Allen Chastanet

Chairman of the Super J supermarket chain, Chairman of Cocoa Resorts, Vice Chairman of Caribbean Metals, St Lucian business titan

Sunday, March 25, 2012    

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What were your first impressions of Kingston?

I came here in the 1950s and stayed at the Pegasus Hotel. I fell in love with Jamaica and Kingston then. It was exceptionally clean and the people were wonderful. I thought I wouldn't want to go back to St Lucia when I first came here but I have to say 15 years later when I came here, I was a bit disappointed with Kingston. In my view, it had deteriorated a lot.

What do you think of Kingston of the 1950s and today?

I still remain disappointed and as a matter of fact, two years ago I went to Kingston and toured all the buildings which I think should be restored and not left in the derelict condition. I think Kingston itself has so much character, it's fitting now that something should be done to reactivate the city. The potential is there.

What do you miss most when you're away from Kingston?

When I first came here many years ago, I was taken with the safety factor. You just felt extremely comfortable and everything seemed to be in place, but 15 years later it's a bit chaotic and in my opinion, imbalanced, but I have not lost hope for it. I think under proper administration, it can be restored.

What would you do if you were mayor of Kingston for a day?

Finance is extremely important because it takes money to do things and I am a realist. I feel several countries in the world would be quite willing to come into Jamaica and give a helping hand. I would talk to mayors from cities in different countries and bring in the ideas. Something can be done and it really should be done, to be honest with you. When you look at Montego Bay today, there is no reason why MoBay should surpass Kingston as your capital.

What's your most memorable meal in Kingston?

When I came into Kingston the very first time, I stayed at the Pegasus and enjoyed everything there. I met the Hendrickson family and brought them into St Lucia...they own a beautiful hotel there called Coconut Bay. Recently when I was here, Mr Hendrickson took me to his Courtleigh and Knutsford Court Hotels and I was so impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the local dishes at the restaurants.

You are good friends with Jamaica Observer chairman Gordon 'Butch' Stewart. How far back does your friendship go?

I've known him over 21 years. My son Allen, who was director of Tourism, brought Mr Stewart to St Lucia after meeting him in Aruba at a tourism conference and suggesting he come over. When he did, my son introduced me to him. As Mr Stewart was coming into a new place, he asked me my views and I told him that it was a good place to invest and offered any help he wanted. I told him he could count on me. He reminds me that was the biggest mistake I made because we have stayed friends for 21 years (chuckles). I have learnt a lot from him and he has been very kind to me and I have reciprocated.

What impact would you say Mr Stewart and Sandals have had on St Lucia?

He changed the tourism industry in St Lucia. When he came there, the island enjoyed only 10 per cent of the North American market. Today it's 56 per cent and that's because of Sandals, so he's done a lot.

What are your thoughts on the Sandals Corporate University?

I think it's absolutely wonderful. For an individual who can afford it, it represents genuine thoughfulness. Let's face it, education is key and it can only be a plus for all of us in the Caribbean.

What's your favourite beverage?

I'm quite happy with a fruit juice.

What's the title of the last book you read?

The last one I read was written by my best friend Nobel laureate Derek Walcott — Omeros. I had the pleasure of going to receive the Nobel prize with him in 1992.

What cologne are you splashing?

None. I find myself very allergic to those things. I am a naturalist.

What was your last bit of retail therapy?

I have not splurged very much on myself, but I have three children and I tend to splurge more on them. I go to Europe with them. I assisted my daughter in getting a lovely apartment, not over-the-top, in the South of France. She spends a lot of time in London and I enjoy going there with her. I am actually a simple person, to be honest with you.

What was the last bit of music that you listened to that moved you?

I love classical music in small doses. Mozart is my favourite classicist.

Clearly you're considered a heavyweight mogul in St Lucia. What is the focus of your business now?

My life is focused on assisting and helping invest in St Lucia. I am dedicated to seeing my country build a good middle class and I have focused a lot of time and energy on doing that. Many people might not want to accept that, but I know within myself that's what I enjoy doing most.

Have your efforts to boost the middle class been successful?

It's been very fruitful. I have assisted a lot of people to start their own businesses and when you talk about splurge, a month ago there was a young St Lucian I met who I liked. He was very educated and I just financed him with $50,000 to start up a computer industry and I am proud to see what he's doing. He's gone to the schools and now offers classes in one of my shopping centres. You can only prosper from a middle class and that's what I want to see in my final days, that's what I look forward to.

Share some places in your black book.

If I go back to my shipping days, a place called Santos in Brazil. I also love New Orleans quite a bit as I used to spend a lot of time moving cargo there. Cape Town in South Africa and Durban, which is also interesting. I also love London.

What are your fondest memories of your time in the shipping industry?

I miss the mobility it allowed me. I moved a lot. I traded with Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Panama, Suriname, Guyana, Sweden and Holland. Shipping allowed me the opportunity to experience various cultures and people. One of my fondest memories was standing in Rotterdam after I had just bought a ship. I was about to leave and the broker came and said, "I will give you two ships for the price of one" and I thought something had to be wrong. I found out that both ships had just been denied their licences so I was able to buy them. I love making a good deal.

What's the best deal you've ever made?

Those two ships. I was able to buy both ships worth over half a million dollars for $100,000. I loaded them with cargo, sent one to Venezuela and one to Puerto Rico and when I got to Venezuela, my agent who fell in love with the ship, paid me a quarter million dollars for it.

What's your philosophy?

My philosophy in life really has been I have been a fortunate individual and I would like to pass on a bit of what I have learnt because I started off with nothing. I'm from a very large family. I was the last of 10 children. I would say that by dint of hard work, I try to advise people to look forward in that direction.

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