Cecil Smith Jr's spirited ride to achieving glorious results

How Calabar graduate blazed a 20-year trail at J Wray & Nephew

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 18, 2018



CECIL Smith Jr is on the brink of making the quantum leap into the corporate ballpark, though that was furthest from his mind 20 years ago.

Now, the Calabar High School graduate has begun the process of packing his belongings for a grand take off to super cold Canada within weeks to wear the nomenclature of vice-president, sales at Campari, Canada — one of the highest positions ever reached outside of Jamaica's shores by a Jamaican.

J Wray & Nephew's (JWN) commercial director, Smith has been promoted to a market that is number one in sales for the legendary Appleton Estate range of rums, and a growing landscape for the projection of other Campari brands.

After seeing his father Cecil Sr work at Campari affiliate JWN for 42 years before retiring, the “true son of J Wray & Nephew” has blazed a trail at the organisation, which is the envy of many.

“I started at J Wray & Nephew as a summer intern in 1996 and was assigned to the production team. This was right out of high school, and so it was a temporary assignment because I wasn't yet old enough to be employed to the company. My first official job came in 1998 when I was retained as systems and promotional stores officer,” said the former George Headley Primary (Duhaney Park) pupil.

This marked a 20-year journey that saw Smith serving several roles — first in the production, then into planning, raw material inventory, and later in sales and marketing where he still is today.

Originally from Cooreville Gardens in western St Andrew, Smith was thrust into the leadership role in the infancy of his career, beginning in 2001 when he was tasked as merchandising supervisor to managed a team. It was there that Smith discovered his love for his interacting with customers.

“For 11 years, between 2001 to 2013, I was managing customers and customer interactions. During that time I was given increasing responsibilities at two year intervals, beginning as the relief sales rep for the entire island from 2002 to 2003, so once a rep went on vacation I was pushed in that role to continue the sales results until that person came back from vacation. Then in August of 2003 I got my own route. A Kingston man born under the clock, I took on a sales vacancy in western Jamaica — I was now the salesman from St James to Savanna-la-Mar. It was a leap of faith as I was born and bred in Kingston with only periodic stunts in the country,” Smith told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.

For a near five-year period, 2003 to 2007, Smith was in contention for the top salesman in the island award, never being outside of the top three. From there he went into sales management in 2007, which resulted in him moving from western Jamaica to central Jamaica, as regional sales manager responsible for activities from St Catherine to St Elizabeth.

“I had to physically live in each of those locale, Montego Bay first, then St Ann, then moved across to Manchester, before officially coming back to Kingston in 2011,” he revealed.

Smith, who has held all the sales positions within the company from 2001 to present, also did a stunt as marketing manager between October 2011 and February 2015 when he was responsible for all traditional brands. It's against this backdrop of success that he was asked by his seniors to get back into the sales side of business, ending in him being appointed commercial director.

As for his new challenge of going up north to run sales, starting in May of this year, he is looking forward to the unknown with a steel-willed approach.

“Canada is a big potential market. Our brands are growing there year after year and the group sees a bright future. My task will be to lead our efforts to break into the Canadian market in a big way,” Smith stated.

“Canada is an interesting place. and is the biggest market for Appleton, but there are other brands in the portfolio like Wray & Nephew White Rum that though still in their infancy have great growth potential there. These include Grand Marnier, Campari and Aperol, which have a far way to go to bring them to the level of development that Appleton now enjoys,” he stated.

Appleton has been in that market for well over two decades.

“I went to Canada in 2010 when I was asked by the company to spend a month there. It was cold. Being a Jamaican accustomed to 30-plus degree weather, that is going to be a big change for me. But I'm all for breaking new ground and helping to develop the business, and capitalise on the greenfield opportunities in Canada.”

In Canada Smith will lead a team of 43 people, many of whom are seasoned professionals. The sales efforts will be spread across all 10 provinces in Canada, a country of 36 million inhabitants.

As for the progress that he has made with this historic appointment, Smith puts it down to the emphasis that the Campari Group places on the development of its talent pool across its geographic locations.

“Campari is a multicultural company, so there blacks and other races working in senior roles across the Campari Group. Our company is very fair and we have a system based on meritocracy that appoints people based on their track record. I have delivered in Jamaica and that has been the catalyst for this new role,” he said.

“There are many other Jamaicans who have gone outside of Jamaica and we have Jamaicans in Italy, in Canada, and all over Europe who have been appointed as a consequence of their performance here in Jamaica.

“Nevertheless, I understand that I am the first person coming from Jamaica going into an executive role in the Campari Group, and so it is very important for me to do a sterling job, because it can only augur well for the other aspirants who are working hard here in Jamaica to say that if Cecil can do it, so can we. I leave Jamaica with that huge weight on my shoulder, knowing that future appointments will be easier sold if I do well and excel in this latest appointment. and it is my intention to do as best a job as I can, so that the rest of us Jamaicans can be considered favourably.

Smith's initial three-year appointment is all performance-based, and nervousness will not be an item on his personal agenda as he insists that he lives by the adage: “If I can't do it, it can't be done.”

“It's not about being braggadocio, but it's a simple belief and notion that I am going to go and take on this challenge and I am going to do everything that I need to do in this latest adventure,”said the man who will be based in the populous city of Toronto, which has a Campari production facility about two hours by road outside of the city, where some amount of Appleton as well as other products will be produced.

Looking back, Smith credits his success in business on the building of long-term relationships that can stand the test of time.

“My greatest successes have come from starting out with a customer — from growing with them up to when the customer opens a building and starts to earn millions of dollars; helping them and being that point of reference every time they decide to upscale or reinvest in their business. There are many examples of that in my 20 years, where we have gone with customers from they had 600-square-feet shops in Montego Bay to where they are now in 20,000-square- foot brand-new facility with turnover in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, so I think those lifelong relationships that we forged are the greatest successes I have to show as a professional in the last 20 years.

As for Calabar High, although he has gone on to university to complete bachelor's and master's degrees, Smith credits the Red Hills Road-based, St Andrew all-boy institution with paving the way for him to be the success that he has become.

“Without the foundation at Calabar, I would not be as comfortable navigating the many business relationships that I have to manage, foster and help to grow ,” he suggested.

“Life at Calabar was punctuated with a lot of friends, because I came from a community where a lot of them went to Calabar, so I was always surrounded by familiar faces and I always had a sounding board on which I could go and talk to and get experience in a transitory-type place. That is the same kind of style I have adopted in my leadership model.

“Calabar has always been a competitive institution where winning was something to be very proud of. We are always around as Calabar Lions with our heads held very high, and coming into the work world you took some of that team spirit and camaraderie with you to help to choose the people that you associate within a professional environment and then to pick the people who share a similar values, and together we have been training and developing and mastering our craft, winning year after year, just like how Calabar is about to defend their seventh-consecutive hold on the Boys Champs trophy,” Smith said of his alma mater.

“It's very important that as young men we understand this whole business of teamwork. as any member of a team, the weakest link is just as important as the strongest link and you just have to play your part. That's the simple thing that I ask my team to do — do everything in your power without too much concern about what the competition is doing; pass the baton to the man in front of you and if he does a similar job and passes the baton to the man in front of him, then we will win the relay.

“I have seen the lane eight man win many a race and he won that race because he went in the race with his own tactic and zero concern about what the other runners are doing because, in all fairness, he could not see them at most parts of the races. If we as business professionals approach the job in a similar construct, where it's a race and we are all running to get to the finish line, it doesn't matter how you perform.

“From another perspective, having gone back to school and completed both a first degree and a master's, I can honestly say that the relationships that I have forged outstrip those scholastic qualifications many times over. I can't tell the last time that I have gone back to a text book, but up to last week I was in Negril with a customer trying to establish a relationship, showing him that if he adds Appleton to his business it would grow four or five multiples in a couple of years,” Smith said.

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