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Managing people no small task

Published:Sunday | June 12, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Jennifer McDonald meets with members of her staff, (from left) Steve Vernon, Norvia Golding, Elaine Hartley, and Diana Britton-Cummings at the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency on June 9.- photos by Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Chief Executive Officer of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA), Jennifer McDonald, is in great demand by Jamaicans and non-locals alike.

But, she asserts, it is neither magnetism nor her vivacious charm that has been luring Jamaicans in droves to the organisation that she guides.

For four years, McDonald has been wedded to her job at PICA.

Enthusiasm oozes as she talks with The Sunday Gleaner about her job of "managing the movement of people".

That is no small task as each year, PICA administers the movement of more people than the population of Jamaica through local borders. Not to mention the thousands of passport applications that the organisation processes each year.

The multitudes of Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans who pass through local ports, as well as the thousands who are in need of passports, rely on PICA for professional service.

They can constantly be seen at the airports lugging heavy baggage and at the central offices applying for, or renewing passports.

The throngs that swarm these areas are testimony to PICA's workload.

McDonald became PICA's first chief executive officer (CEO) in 2007 when the organisation took on executive status.

fourth anniversary

In another month, she will be celebrating her fourth anniversary at the helm of this agency, which has surpassed several ambitious targets on both the immigration and passport sides.

McDonald baulks at sounding praise for what has been accomplished over the past four years.

"I think we have a good staff in place," she declared. "I think a lot of work was done on the modernisation programme, so we are not just working without direction, we have a plan of action."

McDonald notes that her team seeks to update its targets every year.

A glimpse at the figures for 2010 that cannot be released to the public just yet (the report has not yet been tabled in Parliament) is quite impressive.

"We have certain targets that we have moved determinedly to meet, and so every month, we monitor how many immigrants and passports we process, and these must be error-free," declared McDonald.

Asked to characterise the atmosphere at PICA, McDonald described the organisation as a relatively new entity with a variety of characters who make work enlightening and challenging.

"We have persons from the old school, we have persons in the new school, and we have persons in the middle," said McDonald.

"So part of the good thing, or perhaps the bad thing, with the team is to work with all of those contending forces, because they all play a role," she adds.

The down-to-earth McDonald appears to be living in the real world.

"There are some viewpoints and personalities which persons could consider to be one's nemesis, but then they play a role because I tell my staff I do not want a bunch of 'yes' persons because that will not advance us, but having a different viewpoint one needs to be respectful."

The Sunday Gleaner asked McDonald how she and her staff got along.

"I am not the best person to ask that question," she smiles. "People will say to me, and this is unsolicited, that my staff loves me."

highly driven

Although McDonald seems disinclined to beat her own drum, signifying that was why she was not in a band, she was asked whether she considered herself to be a motivator.

"I think I am highly driven, I enjoy what I do. I reflect many times about my role on Earth and I see my role as one to bring about change," she told The Sunday Gleaner.

McDonald recalls that she was among the first batch of graduates of the MBA programme at the University of the West Indies under the tutelage of the likes of Professor Alvin Wint and Professor Gordon Shirley.

"One of the things they taught us at the very end is that we are change agents of organisations, and so I enjoy the cut and thrust of bringing about change."

McDonald admits that such a task is a challenging undertaking. "It is difficult, and I don't know that I would want to do it again. This is my third job in which I have been involved in change."

It was under McDonald's watch that the fireworks first began to glitter and sparkle at the Kingston Waterfront while she was at the Urban Development Corporation, which she managed.

Then she went to the National Land Agency (NLA) as head of corporate service to help bring about the modernisation programme.

But McDonald, who specialised in geography and international marketing at university, also taught customer service and marketing at the University of Technology.

While she was at the NLA, she saw the advertisement for CEO of the new executive agency, PICA, and the rest is history.

But what about a special someone in her life to take her mind off that busy schedule she has embraced?

The immediate response was a chuckle, then a sigh.

In apparent fear of a mad rush of potential suitors, McDonald reluctantly whispers: "No, I am not, but I have over 400 children" (in reference to her young staff).