Deputy CEO of H&L giving back to the industry that raised her
O live Downer-Walsh has dedicated over three decades to the growth and development of Jamaica’s agricultural sector.
Born and raised in rural Jamaica, the deputy chief executive officer of Hardware and Lumber watched her father earn an honest living through farming. The community, which functioned in a like-minded manner, used hard work to feed many families and sent many children to school. Downer-Walsh not only appreciated this feat, but respected the men and women who engaged in the strenuous yet skilful labour and enjoyed the natural fruits of it as well.
While attending Holmwood Technical School, the young scholar was introduced to agriculture as a subject. She marvelled at the thrill of applying theoretical knowledge to the pragmatic approach, already garnered in ‘home soil’. She fell in love with the scientific aspect, studying agriculture in Jamaica before going on to attain a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture from The University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, in Trinidad and Tobago.
Downer-Walsh has since made it her mission to extend the ‘Olive’ branch of sustainable improvement to other farmers across the island, returning the love and expertise to the very industry that raised her.
Honoured to work in government in previous years, she was afforded the opportunity of implementing real change from the grassroots upward. Now she provides leadership and guidance, contributing significantly to policy directions.
“As the deputy CEO, you are second in command, as my boss would put it. And, therefore, you have that general leadership responsibility for the company. We have two businesses running, H&L True Value and Agro and H&L, and we have the support services. We are in retail and wholesale and we have suppliers and other stakeholders, including government partnerships which we work with in the industry,” she told Flair, adding that she is still the general manager for H&L Agro retail and wholesale.
For this savvy businesswoman, leadership is not only about what you know, but what it is that you pass on, sharing knowledge and guidance with others.
Gender biases might have come into practice but they weren’t seen as career deterrents for this agricultural specialist. When they occurred, Downer-Walsh was cognisant of the realities but felt encouraged to take the lessons at hand. That meant broadening her knowledge base, gaining necessary experience and showing the same respect that she required, by being non-confrontational, professional and cordial. If her job description came with riding a bike, as was the case in the past, then the consummate professional will take on the task at hand, conquering her fears in the process. “If the men can ride, I can ride, and I’m going to have the right attitude to learn,” she added, putting a new skill alert high on her radar.
In other circumstances, the school of life has taught her not to lean on thine own on understanding but the understanding and the culture of others. She recalled being called Mr Downer-Walsh by international clients via email and telephone correspondence and many being surprised when they discover a strong woman holding that title. “It was strange to see and hear at first, but over time, I understood the cultural dynamics at hand and learned to respect the differences,” she added.
Humility comes second nature to this agricultural awardee, who revels in the success of her clients, particularly in the innovation of helping farmers to work smart, not hard. She is honoured by the acknowledgement bestowed upon her by Flair, and hopes that she can continue to show compassion and kindness to the farming community. “You have to make sure that in all that you do, you are making a difference,” said Downer-Walsh.
On days when she is not in the office or in the fields, she may be found gardening at home. “I don’t garden as often as I would like these days, but it is very therapeutic for me. I also enjoy sewing,” she added.
When asked what her hopes are for the next five to ten years, Downer-Walsh pulled on heartstrings when she shared her dream to spend more years watching her granddaughter grow. On a professional note, she would love to be around to see H&L celebrate a century in business.