By anyone's standards, Jillian Gayle, general manager of human resource development at First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union Group (FHC) would be deemed successful.
Currently managing more than 250 employees across the island, this mother of two also played an integral role in the formation of FHC two years ago.
Gayle previously served as senior manager of human resources at Churches Co-operative Credit Union Limited. In fact, it was under her stewardship that Churches Credit Union won the Jamaica Bureau of Standards/Ministry of Industry and Commerce National Quality Award in the area of human resource focus in 2008.
Her achievements have not been by sudden flight, but were attained through many years of toiling through the nights, a para-phrasing of her favourite motivational phrase.
Relating her story to Flair, Gayle explained that when she relocated from St Thomas to Spanish Town at age seven, it was a time of epiphany, as it was only then that she realised her family was poor. While living in Spanish Town, Gayle said they had to buy everything they needed instead of partaking from the luxury of her father and uncle's farms in St Thomas. "This proved very difficult, putting immense strain on my mother," she recalls.
"Along with my mom, there were five siblings living in one room. I remember going to college, coming home at the end of each day, seeing the place and saying, 'Bwoy, I can't work in this'. What I did was to wait for everyone to go to sleep, and then I would get up and do my school assignments," she recalled.
The second of five children - the last almost 20 years her junior - Gayle said that much of the responsibilities fell on her. "The death of my father when I was 12, really altered my life, it was definitely a major turning point. I decided that I couldn't be a little princess anymore because now it was mommy alone, and I knew she would not have been able to manage on her own. That reality propelled me into adulthood very quickly. So from a very early age I felt responsible for how things would turn out."
Determined to change things for her family, she committed to ensuring that her siblings' lives were not as hard as hers. Gayle was a late academic bloomer who was not successful with her Common Entrance Examination and was placed at the Jonathon Grant Secondary School.
It was there that she started to blossom and even excel in her studies. "I went to Tivoli Gardens Comprehensive High School only because Jonathon Grant didn't prepare students for CXC examinations, and my teacher called my mom and said: 'Listen, you need to get her into a high school where she is able to sit the CXC examinations, because she is a very good student'. That comment served to further boost my confidence and so I became fixated on the ultimate prize at that time - that of getting into a high school," said Gayle.
"I was offered places at Immaculate Conception and Tivoli Gardens Comprehensive High schools. However, my mom said she didn't have the money to send me to Immaculate, so I had to go to Tivoli. At the time, there was a stigma attached to Tivoli but that did not deter me because I knew that I was going to achieve greatness! I even reassured my mom, I distinctly remember saying to her, 'Mommy, don't worry yourself, I am going to go in and do well.'." And she did just that.
With assistance from guidance counsellors, who at times provided her with lunch money and a haven at school when she felt overwhelmed with the situation at home, Gayle successfully completed high school, with one of her outstanding achievements being elected to serve as deputy head girl.
"At the time, I wanted to do five subjects but my mom could not afford to pay for them - but I had saved enough money through a school savings plan to pay for two subjects. This is perhaps why I have such a healthy appreciation for thrift," Gayle explained.
Fortunately, an English teacher at Tivoli had submitted Gayle's name for a grant scholarship and only informed her when she was successful. "When I graduated from high school, I was one of the top performers and at graduation I copped more than half of the sectional prizes. I remember having to get up repeatedly to collect them all. I know mommy was beaming in her seat. She has always instilled high standards in her children, a standard of excellence which also spoke to keeping ourselves clean, uniform 'crisp' at all times and hair well groomed, which resonates in me even today."
Upon graduation and with no money for sixth form, Gayle found a job but it was short-lived. "I told myself that I was not going to stay, even though as a teller, for a poor girl, the salary I was being paid was good. My ambition to get my degree was at fever pitch and my immediate supervisor sensed my burning desire and called me aside quietly, and in a motherly manner said to me, 'Don't let this job stop you from pursuing a higher education'.
"Needing very little encouragement, I applied to what was then College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST) and got accepted into a full-time programme. I managed the fee for the first year, but the subsequent years were so difficult. In fact, at the start of every term, with much anxiety, I didn't even know where the money would come from for tuition and other expenses," she explained.
But as fate would have it, Jillian was called in to work at the bank during the summer and Christmas breaks throughout her entire tenure at university. This allowed her to complete her studies without taking a loan.
"From as early as high school, I realised I didn't favour the sciences, I liked social studies, geography and business subjects, so going to work at the bank helped me cement what I really wanted to do. I also liked interacting with people, so I started to think about doing human resource (HR) management. HR allows you to play an important role in an organisation," explains Gayle about her chosen career path. She would then go on to get married and struggled through to complete her master's degree as well.
"The journey I went through made me a better person. I have never ever regretted my background as it has made me into who I am today - a very determined, focused and sound person. I am internally motivated, I know who I am, I'm not easily swayed and I know what my priorities are. I work hard and continue to aspire for greater personal and professional achievements," says Gayle.
Being in the HR field for more than 10 years, Gayle cherishes the opportunity she has to impact lives as she now finds herself pouring into the lives of others, after having been on the receiving end herself.
"People seem to always come to me for counselling, always confiding in me. I now have a desire to pursue studies in counselling psychology even though I did some amount in my previous academic programmes", she said.
But for Gayle, this is all a part of being a good human resource development practitioner - understanding people and helping them to optimise their potential. She explained that to be successful in HR requires excellent people skills, great talent management and strategic-thinking skills, wisdom, honesty, and the ability to give tough love. "Employees must have complete and unquestionable confidence in me to deal with their individual stories, information, personal or business-related challenges with utmost professionalism. They also need to feel that I will go all out to help them whenever possible. My staff must also be convinced that I deal with all matters objectively, judiciously and fairly. Most importantly, every member of staff should realise, undoubtedly, that I do have his/her best interest at heart," she said passionately.
Gayle's interest extends to her employees' physical health, which recently led to her developing and implementing a health and wellness initiative at FHC. This includes provision of vitamins and other health supplements for team members, hosting yoga classes and the introduction of the always eagerly anticipated 'Biggest Loser' competition. She is convinced that healthy team members are happier, work harder, require fewer sick days and are ultimately more productive. Her strategic plans encompass a holistic approach to staff care. This includes mobile screening for team members, a sports bar, tennis club, a fully equipped state-of-the-art gym, and a day care and homework centre for employees' children.
Definition of Success
"At FHC, we don't think of our people as employees, we have team members and so we care for each other". As such, Gayle is constantly concerned with the team's professional, social, spiritual, mental and emotional development; hence the implementation of policies and projects that seek to facilitate a safe, happy and healthy working environment for all.
"One of my greatest achievements is the level of success I am enjoying today. My definition of success is - being self-sufficient, happy, having a great job that I enjoy immensely, and most importantly, being married to someone who is an excellent husband and father."
Jillian's effervescent spirit, caring soul and brilliant mind have made her what she is today - a strong, determined woman who is a force to be reckoned with; but a force, nonetheless, that pushes others forward.