Donna Duncan-Scott, the former CEO of Jamaica’s largest investment house whose April interview with Flair Magazine was previously covered by Landmark Education News, has shared with the Jamaica Gleaner her vision of what is possible for Jamaica and the difference the Landmark Forum made in her life.
A dream to transform self, company, country
by Camille Taylor
An encounter with Donna Duncan-Scott feels like a reunion with a good old friend. Her easygoing style immediately engages you and her animated mannerisms create such an air of familiarity, that you could easily find yourself kicking off your shoes, putting up your feet and forgetting you’re in a ‘business meeting’.
Five minutes into the conversation, you realise that although she has led one of the most respected financial institutions in Jamaica and is counted among the country’s most powerful business people, there isn’t a pretentious bone in her body.
In 2000, at the age of 36, Duncan-Scott became the CEO of Jamaica Money Market Brokers Limited (JMMB) the country’s largest investment brokerage house and third-largest financial institution. Her ascent to the position of CEO followed the passing of her mother Joan Duncan, JMMB’s founder and first managing director.
“It was scary,” Duncan-Scott admits, laughing. “I still remember meeting with the board, and you could feel the nervousness in the room. So much was coming at me that I felt like I had been thrown in at the deep end and I was drowning.”
To move past her self-doubt and get to a place where she could develop a clear vision for the company took a complete shift in Duncan-Scott’s way of thinking. She cites her participation in the Landmark Forum as a major turning point in her personal development.
“It helped me to get out of the victimhood and shape a possibility for where I wanted to take the company,” she said.
The rest is literally history as her five-year tenure at the helm of JMMB was marked by a series of impressive achievements. She spearheaded the company’s expansion into Trinidad and Barbados and piloted successful listings on both the Jamaican and Trinidadian stock exchange. Also, new business lines were added to JMMB’s local operations, including a full-service stock brokerage and an insurance brokerage company.
The company’s stellar performance in 2001 earned Duncan-Scott the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneurial Award and the Jamaica Employers’ Federation Award for Innovative Workplace Practices. She was named Business Leader of the Year by Florida International University’s MBA cohort in 2001 and again in 2003. In 2003, she also became the Northern Caribbean University’s Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs’ first inductee.
Stepped down as CEO
In 2005, when her career was at an all-time high, Duncan-Scott shocked the business world when she stepped down as CEO. She took the decision shortly after she and her husband, actor Alwyn Scott, had their second child.
“I am very intense about my work and I didn’t see myself being able to continue and still be emotionally available for my children, and you cannot short-change your children,” she says.
And, while there was pressure on her to maintain the balancing act that modern feminism insists is possible, Duncan-Scott shrugged it off and passed the baton to her brother, Keith, who has been in charge of the JMMB Group ever since.
“My superwoman image took a big hit,” she admits, clapping her hands together and erupting in near-raucous laughter at the thought of it. “The superwoman thing got a big blow but I am more committed to my children than to any image.”
Comfort in talking about her challenges and strengths is what makes Duncan-Scott endearing. Her down-to-earth personality is an offshoot of her belief that every individual is equal and entitled to respect, a philosophy she learned from her mother and father, Dr D.K. Duncan, member of parliament.
“My mother and father taught me that we were all the same, nobody was better than anyone else and everybody was to be equally valued,” she says.
This belief has been the bedrock of JMMB since the company’s inception.
“We respect every client, no matter how much money they have,” Duncan-Scott insists. “That is in our DNA, it’s part of who we are.”
In an age where ‘cash is king’, JMMB proudly proclaims that it was built on a ‘vision of love’ and exists to help all of its stakeholders – clients, employees and shareholders – to realise their full potential.
“We have a different perspective, so every decision is not about making money; it’s about serving our clients, serving team members and about making money for our shareholders. In everything, all three have to be considered,” Duncan-Scott explains.
As the company expanded and the staff complement increased, the challenge has been to ensure that the company’s core values do not get diluted. That task has fallen to Duncan-Scott, who has served as group executive director with responsibility for culture and leadership development since stepping down as CEO.
She is also leading the team that has been developing a business model with measurable standards and processes that enshrine the core values and desired behaviours in all aspects of the company’s operations. One of the team’s earliest discoveries was that the staff-selection process is critical to the drive to perpetuate the organisation’s culture.
“Behavioural patterns are as important to us as the technical qualification and now we actually select for both,” Duncan-Scott says. “When we started out, we would look at experience and skills sets but we soon understood that we also had to look at the behavioural side and consider if a person’s belief system conforms to what we believe and if they would be willing to live the values.”
The ultimate goal of Duncan-Scott’s culture and leadership development team is to create an organisation where staff members are “loving, caring, passionate and purposeful” and clients feel “honoured, valued and understood”.
There is a concerted effort to have staff members placed in areas where they can best utilise their talents and strengths and also to help them set and achieve personal and professional goals.
She can speak from experience, having had to make a fundamental change in her own thinking in order to go from being the unsure heir apparent to the confident woman in charge.
“I had to take responsibility,” she says. “I had to take control of my own destiny, I had to rise to the occasion and I couldn’t give myself any permission to make excuses.”
Having undergone her own personal transformation, she feels strongly that Jamaica could make a quantum leap if its people could change their thinking on a national level.
Dominating the world stage
“My long term thing is to try to transform how we see ourselves as a country so we can create a different future for ourselves. I think we got a glimpse of our potential this year in Beijing when you saw a little country like us with meagre resources dominating the world stage,” she says.
“Look at what our athletes did and look at what it took; it wasn’t money, it was determination, discipline, their belief in themselves and their coaches believing in them. They have taken away all of our excuses.”
Like thousands of people across the world, she has drawn deep inspiration from Barack Obama’s recent victory in the United States’ presidential election, which has literally redefined the possible.
“He had a vision, he took a stand for what he believed in, and it’s a whole new world now,” says Duncan-Scott, her voice brimming with excitement.