Bencle Hibbert still has the Thunder
Bencle Hibbert has always prided himself on being an ambitious and driven man, which was quite evident as soon as I arrived at his establishment on Hagley Park Road in Kingston. As part of the country’s road-expansion exercises, businesses on the stretch have had to make unbearable compromises. On this day, Hibbert was asked to make an impromptu accommodation for digging to be done. Prancing with a walkie-talkie in one hand and a cell phone in the other, the preacher-voiced owner refused to relent, stating. “It’s 11 a.m. now. If you block my entrance, I will have to send home all my workers. This is unfair to them, plus I was not given any notice.”
This is the type of steadfastness someone needs to make it out of an impoverished lifestyle in rural Jamaica. “To be honest, I only knew I grew up poor when I came to Kingston because I went to school barefooted in Porus, Manchester, and that was the norm for us. When I came to Kingston, I saw all these persons wearing shoes, and I was shocked,” said Hibbert while laughing.
Deep roots in hometown
He was unapologetic about his love for his hometown, Porus, while being brutally honest about his upbringing and the fact that he wasn’t a brilliant child, academically, but he had a tremendous work ethic. “My father played a major role in my education. I was the second to last of 11 children, and he groomed me till the day he died. Sometimes it was a rough road because I failed the Common Entrance exam in 1976 and then I failed the Technical Exam in 1979, which made him very disappointed,” revealed Hibbert.
After leaving school with no successful results, Hibbert, with the support of his mother, sought refuge at his uncle’s house, while his father coped with his failure. Hibbert spent four months at his uncle’s house before returning home, where he was once again guided by his father’s prophetic words. The older Hibbert advised his son to go into the mechanic industry. According to Hibbert, “Less than 10 per cent of the people in Jamaica at the time had cars, but he [father] felt that it was going to be a profitable business in the future. At first, I never loved it, but he asked me to go to mechanic school and give it my best shot, and I did.”
With a focused mind and an education in mechanical engineering, Hibbert gained employment in 1987 at Motor Sales and Services Company. At the time, they were the new car dealers for brands such as Valiant, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi. With a new address, Hibbert stuck to his game plan. “I told persons that I came to Kingston to make a better life for myself. I remember I bought three Ladas to run as taxis while I took the bus to work every morning. One of my co-workers laughed at me at the time.”
The jeering did not deter Hibbert, as his taxi business grew, and in 1991, he left his job and opened a mechanic garage named Thunder Reliable Garage in Denham Town. During this period, he married his wife Marcia and fully committed himself to expanding his business. At this point, the only regret he had was that his father, Adolphus Hibbert, who passed away in 1984, did not get to see the man his son had become. “I wish he was here to reap the fruits of my labour because he believed in me”
Throughout the ’90s, Hibbert also continued to buy and sell cars to the point where he is now a formidable player in the industry with his flagship company, Wheels and Wheels. His operations now span several parishes and employ 97 persons.
A staunch patriot, Hibbert believes in investing in Jamaica as he jokingly allegorised, “You can’t be a great reggae artiste abroad if you don’t buss a yaad. Look on Shaggy. He was in the US army but had to come back to Jamaica to make it as a top artiste. So yaad is key.”
Never losing sight of his roots
While finding success in the automotive industry, Hibbert always gives back to his community of Porus, where he recently donated a bus to the Ramble Seventh-day Adventist Church. “This was the church where I was born, and it has been a staple in the community. It’s actually the second bus I have donated,” revealed Hibbert.
Having been a cricketer in high school, Hibbert holds the sport close to his heart and sponsors a year-long cricket programme at Manchester High School. “We have been pumping money into this programme for over 10 years. I want to give the young boys and girls who are not necessarily academically inclined a chance to make something of themselves through cricket.”
When the topic of cricket came up, Hibbert seized the opportunity to share his wealth of knowledge on the sport. So as we segued, I asked, “Who is the best cricketer?”
He replied, “The best cricketer in the world, people say it is Viv Richards, but the best cricketer I have ever seen is Brian Lara.”
After which I mischievously asked, “Where is Chris Gayle among the greatest batsmen?”
He boldly stated, “Chris Gayle is a baby. If we are to make a list of the 10 greatest batsmen in West Indies cricket, Chris Gayle would not make the side. If we are talking 20/20, then he is number one.”