Douglas Orane: happiness is a positive cash flow.

Author:Labanca, Alejandra


For the last 20 years, the same small plaque has graced the desk of Douglas Orane, Jamaica's most famous and successful CEO.

"Happiness is a positive cash flow," it reads.

From the helm of the GraceKennedy conglomerate, Orane launched a wide array of Jamaican food products and financial services into the world, but he says it was his parents' experience as small entrepreneurs in Kingston that kept things in perspective.

"I remember my parents' efforts to get the money to meet payroll," Orane said during an interview with Latin Trade. "Many years later a group of young managers gave me this plaque when we turned around a failing subsidiary."

Orane says he is rational to the marrow of his bones- a product of growing up in a home of small business owners, and of his training as a mechanical engineer at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he was awarded a scholarship.

After returning to Kingston and working for eight years in the family construction business, Orane obtained an MBA from Harvard and joined GraceKennedy.

The company, which started in Jamaica in 1922 as a small trading establishment, today boasts some 60 subsidiaries and associated companies located in the Caribbean, Central and North America, and the United Kingdom.

Its operations range from processing and distributing Caribbean-style food to offering financial services, and an investment in construction materials retailing. GraceKennedy took off in the 1990s, in large part due to the leadership of Orane, who became CEO in 1995. He arrived just in time to lead the company through a period of great economic instability in Jamaica.

Opportunity arose from crisis, and Vision 20/20 was born--a strategy to propel the company onto the global stage and cement the foundation for its current growth.

"Ironically, it was the adversity that got us to try to move to a higher level," said Orane. "At the time, most of Latin America was suffering the effects of globalization. I decided to look at it in a positive way. It made us look outside to find our unique strengths."

One of those strengths was a deep understanding of the company's customer base--starting with the Jamaican population, and including a large segment that didn't live on the island, but in the diaspora.

"Jamaica wasn't so much a geographic situation as a state of mind," said Orane.

GraceKennedy then set out to deliver the flavor of the Caribbean to the rest of the world. The company complemented its...

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