Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
Last week, the 35-year-old Barita Group of Companies celebrated its mammoth milestone with a range of activities. And Rita Humphries-Lewin, founder of the successful company, is not about to call it quits. She plans to remain at the helm until "they take me out in a coffin". This in spite of having passed what is the official retirement age.
And with good reason: she is in excellent health, her mind is as sharp as a tack, and she still has a passion for the business bearing a name coined from her sister, Barbara's, and herself. Their initial company, Barita Limited, was actually formed to handle a growing real-estate portfolio, having inherited properties. That name could not be used for the business that exists today, hence the twist.
Humphries-Lewin's story is fascinating. The Immaculate Conception High School alumnus was not interested in sixth form and wanted to go straight to work after graduation.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career," she said with candour.
So a series of jobs, including as a secretary and another with the bauxite industry, followed.
One possible determining factor in where she is today came directly from home. Once each of her siblings entered the world of work, Humphries-Lewin's mother insisted that for the first six months her brood shopped as they pleased with their earnings, but thereafter, they were required to pay for room and board. "That taught me responsibility and the value of money," Humphries-Lewin said.
It was later at a Canadian stockbrokerage firm where she fell in love with the business that has become her passion, and when the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) was born, she was ready for action.
By 1967, she was a stockbroker, having progressed from being a secretary. She also believes that there's good in every crisis as it was during the turbulent '70s that her road to financial wealth began.
Trailblazer in business
"I was glad I took the opportunity to go to Canada and learn the business, Many men were invited and did not take up the offer," she said, when asked how it felt to be a trailblazer in the business.
The first female stockbroker and chairman of a stock exchange in the Caribbean, today Humphries-Lewin reflects upon the journey with a wry smile.
She has led the JSE on two occasions, and was the driver for the start-up of the Jamaica Central Securities Depository in 1998. She also spearheaded the development of electronic trading on the JSE in 2000.
She describes the establishment of the JSE as timely. Back then, the Bank of Jamaica, did not allow anyone to do business with it without going through a broker.
"They also pushed for the establishment of the JSE," Humphries-Lewin said.
But the savvy business dynamo also worked in the public sector, where she helped to set up the Small Business Development Centre. That experience is not one she would gladly repeat, describing it (public sector) as extremely difficult to get things done in.
"I am not accustomed to that. I am used to situations where decisions are taken on the spot," she said.
Today, the thing which leaves Humphries-Lewin most satisfied is the fact that in the 35 years of business, Barita has never made a loss.
"We may not make as much profit as we would have loved, but we have never lost money," she said, obviously pleased.
She is happy that from very early in life she pledged never to work for anyone after a certain age.
"I didn't want to have a big business and I didn't want Barita to close after I am gone. That's why I went public. I had no desire to be superrich; I am not greedy and I am grateful for what I have," she said.
Having never relished the idea of being accountable to someone else, she said she loves to be independent.
"I have seen so many risks taken in business, many have come and gone. I want to be in charge of my own destiny; no one must be looking over my shoulder. I just didn't want to be fired by anyone," she disclosed.
On the national front, she thinks there's now a deficit of qualified men in her chosen field of business and women are outperforming them. She is also concerned that, economically, we seem to be turning back the hands of time as not enough is being done to stimulate growth.
"The times are hard. I just thank God that I am at an age where I don't have to fret."
Listed on the JSE, the Barita Group of Companies include Barita Investments, Barita Unit Trusts, and offer a wide range of financial products and services including being a primary dealer for the Bank of Jamaica, a cambio dealership, trading in commercial paper, capital growth fund, trading in United States securities, trading in bank deposits, producing daily and weekly market updates, and even providing the internationally famous Standard & Poor's rating agency based in New York with statistics for its monthly and annual publications.
Rita Humphries-Lewin is married and loves to travel with her hubby. Their most recent trip was to Turkey and Egypt. She does not dwell on negatives so she harbours no regrets about anything in life. An avid golfer, she plays up to three times a week. She's not a churchgoer, but communicates with God daily.
"I think my life has been led in a certain direction by a superpower and I have learnt to accept it."
After all is said and done, Humphries-Lewin would like to be remembered for the education foundation that she has established. It is committed to improving the literacy and numeracy of children in scores of early-childhood institutions in the in the island.
Humphries-Lewin is particularly pleased with the sports day that was introduced by the foundation for parents and which targets fathers. She finds her work in this area most rewarding.
No longer fond of the party scene these days, she says she's had enough of them. Relaxation comes from entertaining in the comfort of her home.
The Barita headquarters is located at 15 St Lucia Way in New Kingston with branches in Mandeville and Montego Bay.You can contact Barita at email@example.com or visit the website, www.barita.com, or call toll free1-888-429-5333.