Ron Young - You have to fail to succeed
Ron Young Jr has built a reputation as a highly respected attorney in commercial, property and civil litigation. He is widely known in Jamaica as the attorney for chart-topping international reggae artistes and as the principal of Zen Events, which produces the popular all inclusive party 'Nirvana'.
Young has a pleasant and easy going demeanour, making it difficult to believe that someone with such a positive disposition attributes his success in life to his failures along the way. He lives by the mantra, "Don't be afraid to fail - it will teach you how to be successful."
When he was 17 years old, Young put on his first 'pay party' and by 28, was diagnosed with cancer. Today, we delve into how it all began for Young, who has managed to garner an equal amount of credibility on the social scene as he has within the legal sphere.
Born in Scotland, and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Young is the second of three boys for Ron Sr and Pansy Young. His parents were academically inclined - his father now a retired pro-vice chancellor, and his mother a senior administrator, both at the University of the West Indies.
Young was instilled with a zest for teaching and learning. The Young family lived in the nearby university housing. Young remembers that his parents were never rich - they grew up with humble means with other faculty members and their children, which he remembers as a happy and safe environment. "Our parents instilled in us the importance of being good to everyone - money was never a determining factor about someone's worth. It was about who you are as a person - your character. I still live with this moral code today," he told Outlook. Young remembers that his parents loved to entertain and host parties at the house. "My parents would have these great New Year's Eve parties for their friends. My brothers and I would come downstairs and see people partying, with sparklers going off. Though we weren't allowed to participate, we were amazed with how it brought people together." It is no doubt that these parties sparked his love for entertaining and hosting events.
"From as far as I can remember, my parents played music all the time, specifically reggae music and occasionally some Motown. This included the giants - Bob Marley, The Wailers, Gregory Isaacs, Leroy Smart, Jacob Miller, Ska and Rock Steady. It helped me to grow up with a strong cultural sensibility which has helped to carry over to my love of what I do today."
Every year the Young brothers were taken to the reggae festival 'Sunsplash' in Montego Bay by their parents. As a result of all this musical influence, today, all the brothers work in entertainment. Older brother Colin, is a self-taught bass guitarist with Rootz Underground and now works in visual communication; younger brother Craig, lives in Dubai with his wife and does voice overs for major companies all over the world.
Young's high-school years spent at Campion College turned out to be a very pivotal time. He said, "High school was great. It's where some of my lasting friendships were shaped. My parents were very welcoming to our friends, and more and more friends would come over to our home just to hang out. Each time I had a party at my house, it had a big turnout."
The ability to draw a certain crowd and volume of people to any event by anyone is no easy feat - let alone by a teenager. This caught the eye of an already accomplished party promoter - Greg Smith, as he saw the potential of utilising Young's network of friends to come to his parties. Together Young and Smith's collaborative effort was coined 'Gin N Juice' and was a hit from the very beginning.
High School failures lead to success
"It sounds harsh, but kids need to fail to understand how to succeed".
Young told Outlook: "I always felt that I was a bright person. I wanted to balance my life with parties, girls, and a social life, but that soon caught up with me and based on the standards at Campion, I did horribly in my CXC exams. My parents were disappointed, but I was devastated. One of my best friends, Philip Rose, currently the regional director, Canada, of the Jamaica Tourist Board, and I both messed up on our exams. However, we both knew we had the ability to do better. The day the results were announced, I remember being in my room, distraught, when Philip knocked on my window for about half a day until I let him in. We had a pep talk and decided that as young men with bright minds that whatever we did, we would do to the best of our abilities. Failing after Campion taught me almost everything I know today - because I have no fear of failure now. Until you know failure, you won't have the drive to understand the value of success".
He continued: "My parents though disappointed with my CXC results, were not hard on me, they explained to me I had to live to my potential. It was my friend Philip whose persistence and that conversation which helped to push both of us to where we are now. That's why it's so important to keep the right friends around you, I could easily have gone the other way".
After studying hard, Young re sat and achieved the CXCs and A-Levels he needed to enter UWI. He became very serious about school and got a first-class honours degree, securing a scholarship for his master's in literature. However, a few months into the scholarship, Young would break the news to his parents that he wanted to abandon the scholarship he received to pursue a career in putting on events. Though disappointed that he was taking this big risk - like they did before, his parents allowed him the freedom to make his own decision.
The pivot back to school came after a year of doing events. His father told him he had to find something to do with his education, so Young would return to the university to complete his law degree. Being the risk taker that he was, he decided to merge his love for academia and his love for entertainment and specialised in entertainment law - a speciality which was not offered at the time. He bought books and took it upon himself to learn the intricacies of that field. Due to his success in law school, Young was recruited while in school by one of the leading legal firms in the Caribbean, where he began his career.
Cancer at 28
At 28 years old and in the space of one week, Young went from finding a swelling on his neck at a Christmas dinner party to bring on an operating table to treat what was quickly diagnosed as thyroid cancer. "People always told me how brave I was. But to be honest, I credit God and my faith for the strength to fight and the refusal to give up. When I got the news, I had two choices - do whatever it took to beat cancer, or I could give up. Ultimately, I am a fighter, and fight is what I did. Looking back today, I was subconsciously ignoring signs of something being wrong with my body, and the lesson here to anyone reading is to always listen to your body don't ignore the warning signs; early detection is the best cure."
Cancer survivors share many traits, and one underlying trait is their outlook on life. "When you are faced with your own mortality, you have to choose to live life abundantly, take care of your health by eating right, getting proper rest, making the time to unwind and never underestimate the power of laughter". From 28 years old till today, every two years he has been tested for cancer and he has been cancer free.
"I have always tried to give back. With the 'Gin N Juice' series, we donated part proceeds to different children's homes. Through Zen Events we have supported Chain of Hope for Bustamante Hospital for Children, the Jamaica Cancer Society, and through the fundraising live show Mahima, we gave over a million dollars to the Hope Institute, which provides free or low-cost care to cancer patients.
"I have had three very close friends die young, who deserve special mentions because their friendships and my battle with cancer helped to push me to live my fullest life. Gregory Aiken, who died of kidney failure; Raquel Walsh, who died giving birth; and Monique Geourzoung, who died of breast cancer - who was the inspiration behind the Mahima series of fundraising shows conceptualised by Zen Events and Roots Underground".
When asked why entrepreneurs are drawn to him for legal counsel, he told Outlook, "I have been a lawyer for 16 years and a businessman for twice that time. I think that gives me the unique ability to target and assist in resolving issues not solely from a legal perspective, but from a practical one."
What do you do for fun?
"When I'm not putting on events, I'm pretty much a homebody. My wife Vanessa and I have a home in the hills and on the weekends we watch a lot of movies. I enjoy sci-fi movies and don't judge me, but I also love 'Family Guy' for the humour and dry wit. When we aren't entertaining small gatherings we go to have fish at AndrÈ's in Fort Clarence".
What is the best advice you've ever received?
"Long ago I was expressing my fears about going into my own practise and a respected senior attorney, John Graham, essentially told me: 'You will never live your true potential unless you take a leap of faith.' It gave me the final push I needed. I'm still trying to reach my full potential, but it's worthwhile trying."
What is your favourite poem?
"In the great book: 'Change your thoughts, change your life" Wayne Dyer included a short poem by 14th century Persian poet named Hafiz:
All this time
The sun never says to the earth
"You owe Me."
With a love like that,
It lights the
That poem reminds me to love and give without ego or expecting something in return. If you can achieve this, what you do get in return is invaluable".