Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Grasping the Opportunity: The Joan Robertson Story

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Joan Levien Robertson (third right), celebrates as she is inducted into the Florida Custom Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association Hall of Fame. Pictured with her are (from left) Barbara Pimentel, executive director of FCBF and other Hall of Fame Inductees, Manuel 'Manny' Almira, Port of Palm Beach; Neil Mooney, attorney-at-law and mediator at The Mooney Law Firm; Kevin Sarsfield, senior vice-president, Avalon Risk Management, Incorporated; Jay Brickman, vice-president, Crowley Maritime; Hilda Rodriguez, president executive board, FCBF.<\n><\n><\n><\n><\n><\n><\n><\n><\n>
Joan Levien Robertson with her son Neil (left) and Nari Ward.
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Joan Levien Robertson was a mother of a three-year-old and three-week-old when her husband seized the opportunity of a lifetime, which moulded her into not only Woman of the Year in 2012, but also a Hall of Famer in 2015 in Miami, Florida.

Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Robertson attended the St Hugh's High School and went on to attend Kingston Commercial College, which was founded by her uncle, Spurgeon Black. Her mother May Levien, was also principal during her tenure. There she studied typewriting, shorthand and bookkeeping.

From there, she went on to attend New York University (NYU), Stern Business College (then School of Commerce) in 1957, where she studied for a bachelor of science degree in business administration. It was while she attended NYU that she met her husband - fellow Jamaican Alvin Robertson.

They met at a party with fellow students and there was an immediate spark. They started a conversation and it was as if they had been friends for years. The rest is history. After graduating from NYU in May 1962, that December the lovebirds were married. They had 42 years of married bliss until he passed away in January 2005.

 

Life-Changing decision

 

They had only been married for six years when a spur-of-the-moment decision changed their lives. Her husband came home one day and told her he had started a business. He had been working for a small distribution company that was part of a larger entity. It had suddenly been closed by the head office and Robertson saw this as an opportunity. He knew that there were clothes in storage that still needed to be delivered. Thus, he purchased the closing company's Volkswagen that he previously drove, to help with these deliveries under Robertson Forwarding Company (RFC).

After the initial shock, she dove right into the business with her husband. Her business background and his professional background equipped them both with maintaining their business.

A few years later, they expanded and started TNJ (Tracey, Neil, and Jennifer - children's initial) in 1975.

Robertson was not all about her career, however, as family was very important to her. As a mother of three, she ensured that she devoted time to them and was not consumed by the business. While she had someone to help her around the home Mondays to Fridays, she ensures that the weekend meant family time. She also believed in staying home with the children until they were able to go to school - no daycare.

 

Hall of Fame award

 

In mid-March 2016, Robertson was going through her daily routine when her daughter Jennifer Robertson-Ahrens, current president of RFC, called to tell her that she was to be inducted in the Florida Custom Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association Hall of Fame.

Robertson shyly admitted that it took her a week to come to terms with such an honour, and 'shock' was the only way to describe her initial reaction. But many onlookers would not be surprised as Robertson's track record spoke for itself. She was officially inducted on April 23, 2016.

She had previously received the Organisation of Women in International Trade award for International Business Woman of the Year, in 2012. Robertson Forwarding Company also arranged the air charter of United States Government shipment of equipment to Jamaica for the visit of President Barack Obama to Kingston. She was a force to be reckoned with.

Robinson enjoys travelling, something her job accommodated. Her most memorable travel experience was to Venice, Italy, which was a business trip. Robertson loved everything about Venice - from the art to the fashion, and was completely captivated by the city. At times she even forgot she was supposed to be working. The people she met there were just as lovely as the city.

Robertson also has a love for art and has been part of two boards that fuels this passion - the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Florida, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Design District of Miami, Florida, where she primarily resides. She travels home frequently.

Robertson admits that she has lived a full life, and believes that education is vital to success. She also encourages youth to "study everything presented to you. You have no idea what opportunities will present itself in your life." This is something she learnt at first hand. She never had any plans to be involved in international trade, and that course seemed like a waste for a Business Administration Major. But it was obvious that there was a greater plan for her life than she could have imagined.