The new matriarch of auto dealership - Jacqueline Stewart-Lechler
Stewart's Automotive Group has become synonymous with the auto industry in Jamaica as it is the official dealer for brands like Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, Land Rover, Jaguar, and Suzuki. With over 50 years in the industry, the company, led by siblings Duncan Stewart and Jacqueline Stewart-Lechler, has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
Walking along the passageway towards the office of co-managing director Jacqueline Stewart Lechler, there are family pictures galore on the walls as well as replica cars sprinkled all over. There is even a signed shoe of Olympic gold medallist Shelly Ann Fraser, which depicts an overall theme of family, cars, and sports.
Once I entered her office, it's hard to miss her distinguishable raspy, yet regal voice as she is having an informative conversation with her doctor. When the phone call ends, she eagerly shares the details with me. "I just finished talking with Dr Freddie Clarke, who has this new PET scan and heart MRI machine. I am really excited about it because it's a service I think we can benefit from in Jamaica," said Stewart Lechler, mother of four.
Ever since her father, Richard Stewart, who was a pillar in the automotive community, died from cancer in 2015, Lechler has become very vigilant of her family's health. "He was a cancer survivor for five years and one month. Over the period, he did over 10 operations, and we did most of the treatment here in Jamaica. However, in the last week, he couldn't fight the battle anymore," disclosed a disheartened Stewart Lechler.
Being strong for others
"I remember getting a call from the hospital early in the morning and I rushed up there. We had to make a decision as his condition was not improving. His lungs were giving up, so he was on adrenaline. Eventually, he was taken off life support and died at 4:30 a.m. The experience was rough on me because I saw when the heart monitor stopped beeping," recollected Stewart Lechler.
By 6 a.m. that morning, a heartbroken Lechler drove herself home and recounted some of the last conversations she had with her father. "He wanted a proper funeral, so that was first on my list. I remember going home and crying in the bathroom then gathering myself. I started making all the arrangements. The harsh reality with things like this is that the world is not going to stop, so you have to find the inspiration to push on," Stewart Lechler said.
With a staff of over 450 persons, as well as family members looking to her for support, Stewart Lechler had little time to mourn as she figured out how to keep things together.
Even though their transition to managing directors came in 2007, the passing of their father signified their true ascension as leaders of the business. Admittedly, the initial stage was tough, but Lechler has always been a determined woman who credits motherhood for giving her training to deal with unpredictable events.
"Luckily, I was able to watch my mother successfully overcome a lot of things over the years. As mothers, there are so many things we have to balance, especially with life-changing events. After my father's funeral, we were handing over the BMW dealership in a few months, and I had to ensure that the transition went smoothly. Plus, I had my staff to take care of because they have their families, too, and they have to provide for them. At the time it was a heavy burden, but there were so many persons depending on me," revealed Stewart Lechler.
For Stewart Lechler, the younger of two siblings, she has always depended on her strong will power and family foundation to guide her through life. "Growing up, we did everything as a family. I remember when I was about six and my father would do these dexterity races. I would stand at the fence and look on in awe. Sometimes I had to climb on it to get a better vantage point," said Stewart Lechler with a smile.
By the time she was in her teens, Stewart Lechler was salivating to have her own vehicle, especially because she lived in Gordon Town, which was far from all her friends. "In those days, a couple of the workers at my father's company would spend some time and teach me how to drive. So by the time I was 17, I got my licence and started driving a Suzuki J40. It's something like the Samurai," said Lechler.
This accomplishment also provided her with enough confidence to enter competitive driving with her father. "Me, him, and Duncan would enter in the same dexterity races. a Suzuki 310, a little hatchback car. I wasn't the fastest driver out there, so when I made the top 10, that was a victory for me."
During this period at age 18, Stewart Lechler started working at her family's company on Hanover Street, where she would do administrative work as needed. It was also the first and only time she had ever been late to work in her professional career.
"I remember coming to work late one morning, and my father and mother called me into the office after they had finished some business. Boy, did they give it to me! I was shocked and in tears because I had a legitimate reason for being late, but they weren't having it."
However, not one to easily give up, Stewart Lechler didn't let the admonition deter her from excelling. "I would do all the little odd jobs because I wanted to learn so much. Whether it was taking out the rubbish or typing up a letter, I was up for the task," she said.
Shortly after working for a year, she reignited her friendship with James 'Fuzz' Lechler in 1988. Soon after, the two were inseparable and got married in 1990. In the initial years of her marriage, her husband would serve as her navigator while she continued racing. "We had a lot of fun racing, but when I became a mother for the first time, I became more cautious."
Later this year Stewart Lechler will be celebrating her 30th anniversary of marriage with her two daughters and two sons that the union has produced. She is now fully seasoned in her position as co-managing director and is concentrating on expanding the business while carving out a path for the upcoming generation. "I am working on a smooth transition for the next generation the way our parents did it for us," Stewart Lechler stated with a smile.
As it pertains to future investments, Lechler is very optimistic and excited about what she and her brother has in store for the company. "We recently opened our Stewarts Automotive Group facility in Montego Bay, plus we have a massive bond storage facility and we will be breaking grounds soon for the Jaguar/Land Rover facility," disclosed Stewart Lechler.