Gail Abrahams makes work and family Flow
As the sun rose on Monday, January 13, 2014, Gail Abrahams gingerly exited her car at 6 St Lucia Avenue in Kingston. That day would be a day that she would never forget.
"This is different," Abrahams recalls. She had arrived at the offices of Columbus Communications were the Human Resources team was waiting to greet her. What was different for Abrahams was that their arms were outstretched, their voices excited, and they had permanent smiles on their faces. They were welcoming her as the new Director of Corporate Communications.
Days before, she had called her husband Michael and said, "Boy, I don't know if I should go to Flow again, you nuh, 'cause they're too happy!" His response, "But you're a happy person too, so you should fit right in." Confirmation from her husband was all the reassurance she needed.
A year in and Abrahams regards her first year on the job as "different" and "challenging", but is adamant that she does not regret the decision she made to join the Columbus family.
"Different because of my background. I had started out in media, and went into tourism, but my substantive experience has been in the financial services. So this (telecommunications/ICT) was a completely new experience. It has been challenging, it has been interesting, and it has been fun!" she revealed adding, "There's always something happening, there's always a new experience, so it's definitely not boring."
The office life
Abrahams, who is in charge of Corporate Communications, which includes stakeholder relationship management, sponsorship and public relations, has singled out corporate social responsibilities as a key area of focus. "Columbus is committed to positively impacting the lives of Jamaicans in a real way through its technology. So it should come as no surprise that the company has an active programme to provide free Internet in primary schools. Currently, there are approximately 200 schools in the programme, but we are looking into beefing up that number in the near future. That's just one part of what we do, but I chose to highlight that role because we are very big on that."
When asked about her daily office routine, her eyes widened. There may be a schedule which she plans prior to the beginning of the new day, but she admits, "It never works out. It's way too dynamic. This is certainly not a 9-5 job. At 5 p.m., we begin the 'second' shift. I spend most of my time with the team, I'm not talking eight hours. I'm talking much more hours than that. We work hard, but when it's time to relax, we go across to Spanish Court, have a drink and unwind. And then we get back to work."
When asked what best describes her leadership style - "big whip" or "hugs and smiles", she chose "hugs and smiles".
Laughing, she explains, "At the office, they call me boss, but I don't think they mean it. We have a good relationship, because I consult with my team constantly. I think for a communications team, feedback and dialogue are important. I strongly believe in rewards and I strongly believe in saying 'thank you'. If I have done something wrong, I will apologise, it takes nothing from me to do that. As a woman, you have to be strong, but I don't think you have to reject the fact that you're a woman. I've had some very strong women throughout my career who guided me, who told me to embrace my femininity."
Gail and Michael have been married for 12 years, Michael is an obstetrician by day, an entertainer by night and a newspaper columnist for The Gleaner.
She describes their relationship as "fun" said she has got used to her husband playing pranks on her, even when she gets home fatigued from a long day. She recalled an evening when she was greeted by the sounds of her husband and children shooting toy popping machines at her as she stumbled into the kitchen for a meal.
The couple has two sons together and one daughter from Michael's previous marriage. But Gail refuses to use the title 'stepdaughter' and regards Aliyah, as her child and is highly protective of the 15-year-old. The couple's other children are nine-year-old Zachary, and three-year-old Zane.
"I have to make sure I pay attention to each of them, because each of them is at a different stage of their lives. For instance, Aliyah is always on her iPod; Zachary is obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Zane, well he's the terror of the family. He demands attention from everybody; and everybody should be watching SpongeBob with him."
Though the children's ages would probably tell a different story, she is sure to stress that they are "tight" and "very protective of each other".
How is she is able to manage an office and a family, looking alert and smiling, she answers simply, "I'm sleep deprived".
Supported by her husband and a nanny, she said it would be impossible for her to do it all effectively on her own. "I am a big supporter of having a support system. I believe that if you need help, ask for help. I have a nanny who is a good support for me, my sisters as well as my mother who is always willing to help. But I will do anything to sleep the whole night. My three year old, who my husband calls 'kingfish', comes knocking at our door every morning at 4 a.m. requesting tea," she laughs.
Like any relationship, Abrahams said about her and her husband, that each has to prop up the other when the other needs it. "I tend to manage him. I said to him one day, 'I feel like you're my son'. Because I have to ensure that he eats properly. Ironically I sometimes have to threaten him to see the doctor. Because even if he's sick he will still be working and he would forget about himself."
Looking to the future, the Mount Alvernia and Mannings High Schools past student says she has no plans to leave the island, though she admits to contemplated taking up foreign offers in the past but simply couldn't.
"I will never leave Jamaica permanently. I just love the vibes. I like the people, we are unique. I have thought about leaving, but I just couldn't."
That is why when she's asked about the Cable & Wireless and Columbus Communications merger the first thing she insists on is that the merger will be good for Jamaica and the region.
"It's still an ongoing process; I know we're all excited and looking forward to it. I know that there will definitely be opportunities, I know jobs will be created. I know it will be very interesting for the marketplace and I know consumers will benefit." She continued, "Mergers happen all the time, but people are still working. We just launched our new product on February 25, so persons are not so focused on the merger itself. We're focused on making sure that the business continues."
Prior to joining the team at Columbus, Abrahams was assistant vice president of Corporate Communications with the Grace Kennedy Financial Group. She studied English at the University of the West Indies and was successful in obtaining a MBA in Banking and Finance from the Manchester Business School.
Some little known quirks about Abrahams: since childhood she has been unwilling to completely finish any beverage she's drinking. She also describes herself as "emotional" and "cries a lot", so she stays far from emotional movies or even commercials unless you're prepared for the tears that will Flow.