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Odetta Rockhead, the woman who conquered the BPO challenge

Published:Monday | March 16, 2015 | 3:00 AMKarrie Williams
Odetta Rockhead, the vice president for the globally renowned Sutherland Global Services

WESTERN BUREAU:

Steeped with ambition and motivation and blessed with unbelievable self-belief, Odetta Rockhead, vice-president of the globally renowned Sutherland Global Services, is highly revered as one of the big success stories of the local business process outsourcing (BPO) sector.

Rockhead, one of the panellists at last Thursday's Gleaner Editors' Forum, which looked at the strategic importance of the Montego Bay Free Zone to national development, spoke candidly about rebounding from having a child at age 20 to becoming the vice-president of a BPO entity by age 25.

"I grew up in a household with very confident and proud women, and I was exposed to persons like my son's grandmother, who was an assertive, professional and ambitious woman," recalled Rockhead. "I think when you are surrounded by so many people who think that there is nothing they can't do, you start believing it after a while."

It was that strong foundation that helped Rockhead to stay focused, regroup and rebound after becoming pregnant with her son, a situation that could have derailed her career plans had her circumstances been different.

"When I had my son, I realised my mother was very disappointed in the fact that she had invested so much in me and she didn't think anything was going to come to fruition ... . I realised immediately that, one, I had to make my mother proud, and, two, I had a life to care for," said Rockhead.

After giving birth, Rockhead, whose ambition at the time was to become an architect, yearned to get into the working world. She wanted to put herself in a position to finance her college education and pursue her dreams. The opportunity to launch her career came one day while she was being visited at home by a Jehovah's Witness missionary.

"I stayed home for the first two years with my son, and within those two years I met a Jehovah's Witness lady, who always came through to do studies," said Rockhead. "I told her that I wanted to go back and figure what I wanted to do (with my life) and she told me she worked at the Montego Bay Free Zone for an American company that had a vacancy in its accounting department."

"She told me the job didn't pay much but it was a way for me to get into the working world ... . I went in and did an interview and I was hired," Rockhead said.

That was the beginning of Rockhead's journey into the world of business - a career that has allowed her to travel the world, providing optimisation and operations training to other BPO enterprises.

"I was an accounting clerk - almost a clerk to the clerk, but it didn't matter," said Rockhead. "What that opportunity did for me though was, working in accounting, you were able to see salaries of everybody in the organisation, and I'm talking 21 years ago, when back then every management position in the Free Zone, for the most part was occupied by an expatriate ... . So it almost was impossible for me to want to aspire for one of those positions but immediately I knew this is what I wanted to do."

However, before she could be considered for a management role, Rockhead realised she first needed to become qualified. So, after two years in that job, she resigned and enrolled at the Montego Bay Community College, where she pursued a bachelor's degree in business administration. She financed her studies through scholarships and by working weekends and summer jobs, such as her stint as a ticket sales attendant at Walter Fletcher's Beach.

After completing her studies, Rockhead was rehired by the same company, which has undergone several name changes and is now known as Xerox. She was employed as an administrative assistant but, after six months in that role, she was promoted to account manager. By age 25, she had climbed up the ladder to become a vice-president of the company.

Now employed to Sutherland Global Services, Rockhead has the enviable distinction of being the first Jamaican to head the company's local operations.

Having seen and conquered the vagaries of a sector whose leadership was once dominated by expatriates, the 38-year-old Rockhead, who hails from Hampton in rural St James, is committed to helping other ambitious young persons and is currently investing in various development initiatives to open up opportunities for them.

karrie.williams@gleanerjm.com