Lunchtime Conversations with Robert Lalah
Dr. David Lowe - 'Lowe' profile, major rewards
If you never met Dr David Lowe in person, you probably know nothing about him. And that's odd, considering he's a well-accomplished, highly respected business and finance expert whose work has transformed multinational businesses across the globe. The Campion College old boy is currently chief revenue officer at Caribbean Producers Jamaica (CPJ), and even as the fruits of his labour have materialised in a fast-enhancing public profile of the company, Lowe remains a relatively obscure figure on the local business scene.
"I'm admittedly media shy," he said as he and I had lunch in New Kingston last week. "I prefer to do my work behind the scenes. I've never really been motivated by public glory, so I don't feel the urge to be more of a public figure. I get my satisfaction from goals I set for myself and from seeing others I'm working with improve as well," he said.
Lowe is a cool customer. He has a friendly way about him, is soft-spoken, with a ready smile. His ego is conspicuously disproportionate to his achievements, and people who work with him say that's the way he has always been.
He was born in Australia to Jamaican parents. His father, the well-known Dr Henry Lowe, was working there at the time. When his family moved back to Jamaica, young David started attending Campion College.
I asked him about his high school days. "When I was at school I really wanted to go into medicine. That was where my mind was at that time. However, I wasn't always the most focused student, and so my grades in the sciences, which are obviously essential for a career in medicine, weren't always what they should have been," he said.
advised to do business
Lowe was advised by a teacher at the school to consider focusing more on business subjects and to consider a career in that area. "He said I seemed to have a knack for it, and I took his advice," he said. Lowe went on to master his subjects, sat the SATs, and was offered a scholarship to study in the United States. After talking it over with his family, he made the move.
Fresh out of college, he got a job working at a financial institution in New York and was later offered a post at the burgeoning Century National Bank in Jamaica. He took the job, moved back to Jamaica, and within four years, rose from being an entry-level recruit to running the division.
But Lowe's dreams of testing and developing his skills on a global platform were nagging him. He applied for and was awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship to travel to the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. There, he earned a doctorate in business administration.
"I was recruited from university to interview for a post at the Accenture group. It's a rigorous process and I was interviewed three times. Accenture is known for its very gruelling recruitment strategies. It involves personality and aptitude tests, and so on. At the end of it, though, you do feel some pride if you are selected. It's a boost to the confidence," said Lowe.
His appointment to the senior executive post at Accenture would take him back to Australia, where the office was located. "It was time for me to make another major life decision. Taking the job in Australia would mean a major change. I wouldn't be going back home to Jamaica. I had left Australia when I was young, and so I would know nobody there," he said.
chance to learn
Lowe, who says he is constantly in search of new opportunities to grow through life experiences, decided that the job presented a chance to really test himself and to learn. It turned out to be the learning experience he was hoping for.
During his tenure at Accenture, he travelled extensively across the Asia Pacific region, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. As lead project manager, he worked across industries, which included government and financial services. He was presented with major tasks and, in some cases, had to initiate major restructuring activities to increase revenue and reduce costs. His work made him a hit with the board, but it certainly was not all smooth sailing.
"When I first got there, I was meeting with a member of the team. He had reviewed my credentials, but, let's say, he didn't expect me to look the way that I do," Lowe smiled. "He kept asking me questions like, 'So how did you get to Australia?' and 'You earned a doctorate in England?'"
Lowe said he could tell that these weren't friendly enquiries but were instead incredulous musings from someone whose expectations of a 'Jamaican' were far inferior to the man standing in front of him.
"But there's something I learned from working in different areas. I knew that the best thing for me to do was to keep my cool and let my work speak for itself. I didn't let it bother me. I simply got to work."
decided to come home
That work would lead to Lowe being the star of many boardroom presentations and a treasured member of the team. When his father would later ask him to come home to Jamaica to help him work on a business idea, Lowe decided to go for it. The Accenture group did not happily let him go.
"I remember I called a partner and told him I was leaving, and he couldn't understand it. I told him I was going back to Jamaica. He asked me if I was going on vacation. I said, 'No, I'm moving back to Jamaica.' Then he said, 'But we don't have an office in Jamaica'!"
Back home, Lowe helped his father set up the now-popular Eden Gardens complex on Lady Musgrave Road and did some work restructuring operations in the agriculture sector. His former school colleague, Dr Christopher Tufton, had recently been named minister of agriculture, and he convinced Lowe to put his skills to work for the country.
"At first I told him I wasn't interested in getting involved with politics, but he showed me that I would be taking it on from a business point of view, improving efficiency, cutting costs, etc. I was happy I did it," said Lowe.
It was not long before CPJ came calling, and Lowe readily joined the team of which he is now a part.
Looking back at his career, Lowe's only regret is that his work has somewhat hindered his social life. "I am a family man at heart, so without a doubt, I do regret putting that off. I always wanted to travel the world and work on a global platform. I'm proud I have been able to do that, but it perhaps took longer than I would have liked," he said. "However, I feel like there are advantages to starting a family later in life. I have more experience and knowledge now that will be useful when the time comes."
Lowe loves mentoring. He has a very young staff at CPJ and gets a thrill from seeing them develop. "That's the most rewarding part of my work. I don't think there is a more noble calling than to teach others," he said.
Some years ago, Lowe met a bike messenger who was looking to further his studies but could not afford the exams. Lowe made him a deal. "I told him that I would pay for him to sit the subjects, and for each one that he failed, he would have to pay me back. He passed them all. Today, he owns several bikes and hires other messengers to transport documents. Every time he sees me, he tells me thanks for that help. That's where I feel most rewarded. Success in business is important and great, but when I see people transformed like that, that's when I feel true happiness," said Lowe.