The Man of Steele- CEO of the year
Though Marcus Steele is the top CEO in Jamaica for 2014, he is the first to tell you that was not the path his early years seemed set on. Awarded by Business Suite Magazine last month, Steele recently sat down with Outlook at The Courtleigh Hotel & Suites, just before a business meeting, to tell us about his life's journey, which started in Payne Land, Spanish Town. His family soon moved to Grange Lane in Portmore, on a piece of land they had 'captured'.
He describes his childhood as rough.
"There is a thin line between living poor and poverty," he told Outlook, explaining that living poor means that you have basic amenities - for example, water or access to running water - while poverty was not having access to water and having to depend on rain to provide such a basic necessity. Steele experienced poverty.
While living with a maximum of 14 persons at any one time, he had 25 siblings. His father had children with nine different women. His family was a little community unto itself. Despite his living conditions, he has still managed to have fond memories of his childhood. One he remembers vividly was when he received his first toy.
"My toys as a child consisted of rocks and rubber bands. We made games with the stones and the rewards were rubber bands. Then my aunt gave me a small green truck. I was so overjoyed, I didn't even know what to do with it. I slept with it and moved it around," he recalled.
MOTIVATED BY MOM
He notes that he had a very close relationship with his mother, and it's one that motivates him until this day.
"Let me tell you about Wilmena Nicholson. She is my source of inspiration. I do not do anything without thinking about her. Seeing her proud of me is the best thing," his face glowed with boyish joy as he spoke about her.
Out of frustration, his mother left home when he was 11 years old, and in anger, his father prevented himself and his siblings from attending school for a year.
The importance of education was something that his mother had instilled in them, and Steele knew that something was wrong with this equation. So he ran away in search of her.
For four months, he lived on the streets, begging to make it to another day. Each day, he moved from bus stop to bus stop, hoping that he would see her coming off a bus. One day, he did.
"When I saw my mother, it was like when I got the truck times 10. I knew I had to find her to change my future, change the future of my children, and to even change hers. She would need the help," said Steele.
He later returned home with his mother to snatch his sister, Shernette, from his father. They were fearful, but managed to do so without incident.
"I must commend my mom's boyfriend, who later became her husband but is now deceased. He must have really loved my mother to take in her two children in a one-bedroom home with one bed. He is the closest thing that I had to a father figure, and he was a good man," said Steele.
It was there that Steele lived until he went to university. But, for Steele, finding his mother did not mean the end of his struggles.
"We were out of school for a year and they did not want to take us. My mother, being the resilient woman that she is, went there every day and begged until we got in," he recalled.
SHUNNED THEN SAVED
When Steele returned to school, it was his final year to sit the Common Entrance Examination to enter high school. However, the teacher who taught the class decided that she did not want him in her class.
"She did not believe in me and thought that I would make up numbers and fail, so she refused to have me in her class."
However, he was not left by the wayside, as the teacher for the 'slow learners', Mrs McIntosh, took him under her wings and registered and prepared him for the exams. She believed that leaving him out would be an injustice and ensured that he got the opportunity to attend a high school.
Steele did not disappoint; he passed for St Jago High School.
He remembered the very teacher who didn't want him in her class calling his name, and he, at first, thought he was in trouble. Then he saw Mrs McIntosh coming towards him with tears in her eyes. She hugged him and said, "You did it!" That was when he realised what had happened.
Attending St Jago was a great experience. Though his living arrangement was anything but ideal, it was much better than where he was before. At school, he became a 'bottle cop' - picking up bottles for a small cost. This gave him some independence, because it helped him with his daily allowance.
He constantly lived by the motto 'one step back, two steps forward and a leap'.
He explains: "The leap is because the hurdle might still be there when you go forward, so leap over it."
He leapt over his hurdles and was admitted to the University of the West Indies, where he attained a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. He also has a Master in Business Administration from Florida International University, and completed an executive programme in general management at the Harvard Business School.
Gradually moving up from the post of management accountant at Carreras Limited, Steele is now the managing director.
What is next for Marcus Steele? He wants to teach.
"Someone imparted knowledge to me, and I want to do the same. I want to do my PhD and focus on leadership, and I want to do it at Harvard," he revealed to Outlook. This, he does admit, would take over his life and a bulk of his corporate work would have to be sacrificed, and he is not quite ready for that.
He lives by three goals - ensuring he is continuously improving, defining the way people remember him, and impacting the lives of everyone he meets.
KNOWS HOW TO HAVE FUN
While he works very hard, Steele knows how to have fun. He considers himself a relatively good dancer and loves nothing more than spending time with his two children - Marquis, who is eight, and Sonique, six. He makes it his point of duty to take time off so that he can take his family on vacation.
"I love them to death," he admits. Though not married, he is still in a committed relationship with his children's mother, Soan Madden. He believes in marriage, and like everything else, he believes it will happen at the right time.
What's his advice to the youth?
"We live in a society that challenges you to be accepted to fit in and be a part of the crowd. Just know it is fine to be different. Try to build your own brand and think of yourself as such. If everyone looked the same, you would not stand out. Figure out what you want and go after it, notwithstanding the challenges - because there will be challenges," said Steele.
But, most important, he stresses that people should enjoy what
He noted that listening to one's parents is also critical.
"You might not always like how it is said, but know that they do mean you well," Steele said.
And finally, "Remember that education is the singlemost important thing that you can do for yourself, because that is something that no one can take from you."