Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
For decades Antony 'Tony' Hart has been acknowledged as a titan of commerce, an ambassador of business among the owners of private capital - and the status lingers even though he is long retired. On Thursday night, his peers simply decided to make it official.
Surrounded by family and Jamaica's most powerful corporate bosses, Hart was inducted into the PSOJ Hall of Fame on Thursday night. He joins 20 others who have similarly been honoured by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica over the years.
To be accepted into the Hall of Fame, the candidate must have at least 25 years of achievement in business and national life, and whose works have measurable impact on the lives of others.
Hart, who turned 81 on October 8, is the first inductee from Montego Bay and indeed from western Jamaica.
His life in business began early at age 18 when he joined his father at Samuel Hart & Sons Limited in Montego Bay, from where he expanded into selling radios, refrigerators, housewares and vinyl records.
In 1951, Hart started a record-manufacturing company, Records Limited, in Kingston. He left his father's company and formed another of his own, called Jamaica Electronics, also in Kingston.
But, he returned to his home base, Montego Bay, after only two years, to establish what would become a Ford dealership - Northern Industrial Garage.
Hart is the man most credited with developing Montego Bay into the city it is today, with his most well-known project being the Montego Freeport, which he conceived.
Started in 1967, it included dredging of the foreshore and led to the creation of 350 acres of land for ship berths and a mix of modern commercial and residential developments.
Freeport is now home to an industrial estate, the free zone, upscale residential complexes, resort offerings, a beach club, the Montego Bay Yacht Club and the seaport.
In his acceptance speech, Hart credited all his success to other people.
He acknowledged the legacy of another Montegonian - his grandfather Edmund Hart - and he cited the help of his late friend and former Health Minister Dr Herbert Eldemire who assisted him in securing the licence to dredge Freeport at a time when many were saying that the project would be a disaster.
"For Montego Freeport, Hugh Hart put the prospectus together to raise the money here," said Tony Hart.
"The key person was Herbie Eldemire, because the Government decided it was not going to give the licence to us," he recalled.
Eldemire, he said, threatened to resign and so provided the Freeport team the opportunity to demonstrate to government ministers that what had been publicised about the project was "completely false".
Tony Hart's notable successes as chairman of Air Jamaica between 1980 and 1989 - which included bringing the Concorde to Jamaica and convincing British Airways to share a London route, hence cutting losses of both airlines - he also attributed to Tony Hylton and Colin Marshall whom he said, "really helped me out with Air Jamaica."
Son Mark Hart, executive chairman of Caribbean Producers Jamaica, who was the master of ceremonies at the induction ceremony, said there were few people more competitive than his father.
"Dad loves to win and he does not play to lose. However, it's a little strange - anyone who knows him well knows he is not motivated by profit. He knows if he
makes a deal sweet enough for the other side, the deal gets done," said mark.
"There are few people we know who are less concerned about taking a risk."
Mark is one of four children for Tony and wife Sheila, to whom he has been married for 53 years.
The dredging of the harbour changed the Montego Bay landscape permanently."Every week, ships offload thousands of passengers at the pier, a far cry from the day when tourist disembarked from lifeboats," read Hart's citation.
Later, he took over the bankrupt Montego Towers Hotel, now the Sunset Resort, and started an all-inclusive programme dubbed 'Go-Bananas', filling the 350-room hotel every week at a time when visitors were scarce in the troublesome 1970s, his citation adds.
Hart's grandson, Frankie, described his grandfather as a "dreamer"; while long-time friend, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, chairman of the Sandals International Resort group, sees him as a premier salesman.
"What Tony is, is a super salesman. He is more subtle than some of us, but he sells Montego Bay in a way none of us can," said Stewart.
"As a friend, he has got to be the most reliable friend any one could have."
After the completion of the Freeport development, Hart, as chairman, focused on the Hart Group of Companies, which at one time included an apparel operation with more than 3,000 employees, a savings and loans company, an Avis Car Rental licensee, a stevedoring company, a hardware business, port management, a safety supply company, and five farms. One of these farms, Good Hope, is a premier visitor attraction in Trelawny.
Tony Hart was also involved in politics and Government, serving as chairman for a number of government boards, including Air Jamaica, the Coconut Industry Board, and Caymanas Track Limited, and as a director for Jamaica Development Bank and Sam Sharpe Teachers' College.
He also sat on numerous private- sector boards over time, spanning various sectors.
Tony Hart retired from business in 1983 after major heart bypass surgery, but proceeded to turn to farming, owning at one time or another 10 properties, from Which he engaged in cattle, sugar, citrus and fish farming. Good Hope farm in Trelawny was converted to a tourist attraction.
Now fully retired for the last 12 years, Hart remains engaged in voluntary work.
He said at his induction that he believed in investing in the education of children aged three to five years old. A favourite charity is St Mary's Preparatory School in Montpelier, St James, which has grown from 70 to 430 students in four years.
"The thing that has given me the most pleasure in life is seeing people whom I have worked with move on up," Hart said, telling the story of a former office helper who is now president of a large company in Canada and a gardener who now heads an accounting firm - which he owns - of 40 accountants in Los Angeles in the United States.
Hart ended the night thanking Dr Robert Reece, who, 30 years ago, "stopped my heart for seven hours and used veins from my legs to do six bypasses. Every day I wake up is a special day," he said.
PSOJ president Christopher Zacca in his comments about the new inductee, noted how satisfying it was to honour a man of true excellence.
"We suffer from a crisis of mediocrity in all our public affairs. Jamaica would be well served if more of our bright young people took a page out of his book," he said of Hart.