Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Paulette Simpson ranked among Britain’s powerful blacks

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Simpson’s profile in the 2018 Powerlist of Britain’s most influential people of African and African-Caribbean heritage.
Paulette Simpson
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Flipping through the pages of the 2018 Powerlist of Britain's most influential people of African and African-Caribbean heritage, one will find a list of powerful and famous black Britons.

Hollywood big wigs, such as Oscar-winning film-maker Steven Rodney 'Steve' McQueen of 12 Years a Slave, to John Boyega of the latest films in the Star Wars franchise, and the acclaimed comedian Sir Lenny Henry, who is of Jamaican parentage.

On page 55, you'll find the photograph of a Jamaican woman beaming gracefully in a stand-alone photo spread across the page. She may not be well known in Jamaica, but in many African and Caribbean communities throughout England, she is known simply by her first name - Paulette.

Paulette Simpson is the executive, corporate affairs and public policy at Jamaica National's (JN) representative office in the United Kingdom (UK), and executive director of The Voice - Britain's top black newspaper that has served the black community in the UK for 35 years.

 

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

 

Tasked with the responsibility of shaping and influencing JN's presence, and preserving and maintaining its reputation in the Jamaican UK diaspora, the Manchester High School past student doesn't make light of her role in JN's vast operations in that country.

"My job is about building relationships," she said. "Relationships are critical to everything that we do. It's not about doing something for someone so that they can do something for you in return. It's so that people can receive value and appreciate what you do. Networking is about knowing people and creating opportunities for people, because, in the final analysis, people do business with people who they know and appreciate."

It is that kind of thinking which makes her so influential, her colleagues say, noting that her influence reaches beyond the Caribbean community, to sectors which touch the length and breadth of the Jamaican diaspora in the UK.

Marie Stewart Lewin, senior manager at the Jamaica National Group, who has worked with Simpson on several projects during her 15-year career, describes Simpson's talent and adeptness at planning major events as "phenomenal". These initiatives include JN Outlook for the Future, Caribbean Question Time, and Meet Jamaica 2012, conceptualised by JN Group CEO Earl Jarrett to position Brand Jamaica at the 2012 London Olympics.

"I don't know how she does it, but whoever you want, Paulette can find that person," Stewart Lewin said.

"She's very good with people and very solutions-oriented. She doesn't see obstacles, she just thinks through the problem and how she can either make it work or find another way of doing it."

When asked whether there has ever been a project or initiative that has made her doubtful of its achievability and success, Simpson offered a long pause.

"You have to think through challenges. You can think your way through things. It is not that people are brighter than you are, it's about how you apply yourself."

Raised in Walderston, Manchester, Simpson attended primary school in both Mizpah and Christiana, before moving on to Manchester High School. However, she returned to the UK for tertiary studies, at the University of Scotland, where she earned a degree in marketing and finance and later attended Washington State University in the United States, before returning to England to get her MBA at the University of Westminster in London.

 

MORAL COMPASS

 

After a few years at PriceWaterhouse in various positions, with roles that included being seconded to the Commonwealth Secretariat for two years, Simpson was recruited by the National Commercial Bank to establish and manage its London office. When the ownership changed in 2002, she was immediately snatched by what was then the Jamaica National Building Society.

Although born in England, her grandmother, Violet Simpson, thought it best for her granddaughter to be raised in Jamaica so that she could cultivate the values and culture of the island, so she returned to Jamaica with her.

"My grandmother was a major influence during my early years, and she remains my moral compass. Whenever I face a moral dilemma, I look at a picture of her in my office and ask myself, 'What would she do or say?'"

The Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin has been another major source of inspiration for her. A Jamaican who grew up in Montego Bay, St James, Rev Hudson-Wilkin today serves as chaplain to the Queen, and chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the first black woman to hold those titles.

"I look to her for strength," Simpson said. "Her story as a 'barefoot girl' in Montego Bay, who grew up to become chaplain to the Queen, motivates me."

Similarly, Rev Hudson-Wilkin also takes some of her inspiration from her friend of some 20 years.

"She is a personable young woman with a real vision for the work that she does, executing it without fanfare, but with great determination to meet the needs of the community which she serves," Rev Hudson-Wilkin said.

The outspoken church leader, who is said to be tipped to be among the first cohort of female bishops in the Church of England, is herself listed on the Powerlist.

"She (Paulette) is well-known in the diaspora, and I love the fact that here we have someone who is not just doing a job, but someone who genuinely cares about the work she does," Rev Hudson-Wilkin said.