Tue | Mar 28, 2017

The Man of Steele - CEO of the year

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 2:00 AM

Jody-Anne Lawrence, Lifestyle Reporter

Though Marcus Steele is the top CEO in Jamaica for 2014, he is the first to tell you that was not the path his early years seemed set on.

Awarded by Business Suite Magazine last month, Steele recently sat down with Outlook at The Courtleigh Hotel & Suites, just before a business meeting, to tell us about his life's journey, which started in Payne Land, Spanish Town. His family soon moved to Grange Lane in Portmore, on a piece of land they had 'captured'.

He describes his childhood as rough.

"There is a thin line between living poor and poverty," he told Outlook, explaining that living poor means that you have basic amenities - for example, water or access to running water - while poverty was not having access to water and having to depend on rain to provide such a basic necessity. Steele experienced poverty.

While living with a maximum of 14 persons at any one time, he had 25 siblings. His father had children with nine different women. His family was a little community unto itself. Despite his living conditions, he has still managed to have fond memories of his childhood. One he remembers vividly was when he received his first toy.

"My toys as a child consisted of rocks and rubber bands. We made games with the stones and the rewards were rubber bands. Then my aunt gave me a small green truck. I was so overjoyed, I didn't even know what to do with it. I slept with it and moved it around," he recalled.

MOTIVATED BY MOM

He notes that he had a very close relationship with his mother, and it's one that motivates him until this day.

"Let me tell you about Wilmena Nicholson. She is my source of inspiration. I do not do anything without thinking about her. Seeing her proud of me is the best thing," his face glowed with boyish joy as he spoke about her.

Out of frustration, his mother left home when he was 11 years old, and in anger, his father prevented himself and his siblings from attending school for a year.

The importance of education was something that his mother had instilled in them, and Steele knew that something was wrong with this equation. So he ran away in search of her.

For four
months, he lived on the streets, begging to make it to another day. Each
day, he moved from bus stop to bus stop, hoping that he would see her
coming off a bus. One day, he did.

"When I saw my mother, it was
like when I got the truck times 10. I knew I had to find her to change
my future, change the future of my children, and to even change hers.
She would need the help," said Steele.

He later
returned home with his mother to snatch his sister, Shernette, from his
father. They were fearful, but managed to do so without
incident.

"I must commend my mom's boyfriend, who
later became her husband but is now deceased. He must have really loved
my mother to take in her two children in a one-bedroom home with one
bed. He is the closest thing that I had to a father figure, and he was a
good man," said Steele.

It was there that Steele
lived until he went to university. But, for Steele, finding his mother
did not mean the end of his struggles.

"We were out of
school for a year and they did not want to take us. My mother, being
the resilient woman that she is, went there every day and begged until
we got in," he recalled.

SHUNNED, THEN
SAVED

When Steele returned to school, it was his final
year to sit the Common Entrance Examination to enter high school.
However, the teacher who taught the class decided that she did not want
him in her class.

"She did not believe in me and
thought that I would make up numbers and fail, so she refused to have me
in her class."

However, he was not left by the
wayside, as the teacher for the 'slow learners', Mrs McIntosh, took him
under her wings and registered and prepared him for the exams. She
believed that leaving him out would be an injustice and ensured that he
got the opportunity to attend a high school.

Steele
did not disappoint; he passed for St Jago High School.

He remembered the very teacher who didn't want him in
her class calling his name, and he, at first, thought he was in
trouble. Then he saw Mrs McIntosh coming towards him with tears in her
eyes. She hugged him and said, "You did it!" That was when he realised
what had happened.

Attending St Jago was a great
experience. Though his living arrangement was anything but ideal, it was
much better than where he was before. At school, he became a 'bottle
cop' - picking up bottles for a small cost. This gave him some
independence, because it helped him with his daily
allowance.

He constantly lived by the motto 'one step
back, two steps forward and a leap'.

He explains:
"The leap is because the hurdle might still be there when you go
forward, so leap over it."

He leapt over his hurdles
and was admitted to the University of the West Indies, where he attained
a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. He also has a Master in
Business Administration from Florida International University, and
completed an executive programme in general management at the Harvard
Business School.

Gradually moving up from the post of
management accountant at Carreras Limited, Steele is now the managing
director.

What is next for Marcus Steele? He wants to
teach.

"Someone imparted knowledge to me, and I want
to do the same. I want to do my PhD and focus on leadership, and I want
to do it at Harvard," he revealed to Outlook. This,
he does admit, would take over his life and a bulk of his corporate work
would have to be sacrificed, and he is not quite ready for
that.

He lives by three goals - ensuring he is
continuously improving, defining the way people remember him, and
impacting the lives of everyone he meets.

KNOWS HOW TO
HAVE FUN

While he works very hard, Steele knows how
to have fun. He considers himself a relatively good dancer and loves
nothing more than spending time with his two children - Marquis, who is
eight, and Sonique, six. He makes it his point of duty to take time off
so that he can take his family on vacation.

"I love
them to death," he admits. Though not married, he is still in a
committed relationship with his children's mother, Soan Madden. He
believes in marriage, and like everything else, he believes it will
happen at the right time.

What's his advice to the
youth?

"We live in a society that challenges you to
be accepted to fit in and be a part of the crowd. Just know it is fine
to be different. Try to build your own brand and think of yourself as
such. If everyone looked the same, you would not stand out. Figure out
what you want and go after it, notwithstanding the challenges - because
there will be challenges," said Steele.

But, most
important, he stresses that people should enjoy what they
do.

He noted that listening to one's parents is also
critical.

"You might not always like how it is said,
but know that they do mean you well," Steele said.

And
finally, "Remember that education is the singlemost important thing
that you can do for yourself, because that is something that no one can
take from you."