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The Quiet Jamaican in Britain

Mon 08 Jan, 2018

The Quiet Jamaican in Britain

JN’s Paulette Simpson ranked among Britain’s Powerful Blacks

Flipping through the pages of the 2018 Powerlist of Britain’s most influential people of African, African American, and African Caribbean descent, one will indeed find a list of powerful and famous Black Britons, from Hollywood big wigs, such as Oscar-winning film maker, Steven Rodney "Steve" McQueen of 12 Years a Slave, to John Boyega of the latest films in the Star Wars franchise, and the acclaimed comedian Sir Lenny Henry, who is of Jamaican parentage.

However, when you get to page 55 of the more than 100-page magazine, you’ll find the photograph of a Jamaican woman, who is beaming gracefully, in a stand-alone photo spread across the page. Although she may not be well-known in Jamaica, she is known, simply by her first name "Paulette", in many African and Caribbean communities throughout England; as well as, among Britain’s top ranking.

Who is she? She is Paulette Simpson, Executive, Corporate Affairs and Public Policy at JN’s Representative Office in the United Kingdom; and executive director of The Voice, Britain's top black newspaper that has served the black community in the UK for 35 years.

Tasked with the responsibility of shaping and influencing JN’s presence, and preserving and maintaining its reputation in the Jamaican UK Diaspora, the Manchester High School graduate doesn’t make light of her role in JN’s vast operations in that country.

“My job is about building relationships,” Paulette frankly says. “Relationships are critical to everything that we do. It’s not about doing something for someone, so that they can do something for you in return,” she continues, “It’s so that people can receive value and appreciate what you do. Networking is about knowing people and creating opportunities for people; because, in the final analysis, people do business with people who they know and appreciate.”

It is that kind of thinking which makes Paulette so influential her colleagues surmise, noting that her influence reaches beyond the Caribbean community, to sectors which touch the length and breadth of the Jamaican Diaspora in the UK.

Marie Stewart Lewin, Senior Manager, at The Jamaica National Group, who has worked with Paulette on numerous projects during her 15-year career at JN, describes Paulette’s talent and adeptness at planning major events as simply, “phenomenal.” These initiatives include, JN Outlook for the Future, Caribbean Question Time and Meet Jamaica 2012, conceptualised by JN Group CEO, Earl Jarrett, to position Brand Jamaica at the 2012 London Olympics

 “I don’t know how she does it, but whoever you want, Paulette can find that person,” Mrs Stewart Lewin relates, calling out names of well-placed and respected politicians, barristers, diplomats, church leaders and members of various other social bodies, who Paulette has been known to effervescently immerse in an understanding of Jamaica and the JN brand, and win their support for Jamaican and JN initiatives in the UK.

That includes the Birmingham City Council and leader of the Council at the time, Lord Mike Whitby, whom she got involved in Meet Jamaica 2012.

“She’s very good with people and very solutions oriented. She doesn’t see obstacles, she just thinks through the problem and how she can either make it work or find another way of doing it,” Mrs Lewin Stewart says.

Asked, during her interview, whether there has ever been a project, event or initiative that has made her doubtful of its achievability and success, Paulette’s immediate response is a long 15 seconds of silence.

“I’ll have to think about that,” she eventually responds in her crisscross Jamaican-British accent. “You have to think through challenges. You can think your way through things. It is not that people are brighter than you are, it’s about how you apply yourself,” she continues, still trying to pinpoint one initiative or event that has made her doubtful or fearful about success.

Paulette’s nurturing and grooming took place in the cool climes of a hamlet named Walderston in Manchester, located between Williamsfield and Christiana. She attended primary school in both Mizpah and Christiana, and then moved on to the well-known Manchester High School, following her success in what was then the Common Entrance exams. However, she returned to the United Kingdom for her tertiary studies, at the University of Scotland, where she read for a degree in Marketing and Finance and later jetted to the United States where she attended the Washington State University. She then attained her Master of Business and Science at the University of Westminster in London.

After a few years with PriceWaterhouse in various roles, including being seconded to the Commonwealth Secretariat for two years, Paulette was later recruited by the National Commercial Bank to establish and manage its London office; however, when the ownership of NCB changed in 2002, she was immediately snatched by what was then the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS).

Although born in England, Paulette’s grandmother, Violet Simpson, nee Ashley, thought it best for her granddaughter to be raised in Jamaica, so that she could cultivate the values and culture of the island and returned to Jamaica with her.

“My grandmother was a major influence during my early years and she remains my moral compass. Whenever I face a moral dilemma, I look at a picture of her in my office, and ask myself: What would she do or say?” 

The Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin was another major source of influence for Paulette. A Jamaican who grew up in Montego Bay St James, Rev Hudson, today, serves as Chaplain to the Royal Family, and Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

“I look to her for strength,” Paulette muses.“Her story as a 'barefoot girl' in Montego Bay, who grew up to become Chaplain to the Queen motivates me.”

However, Paulette acknowledges that her leadership and professional inspiration comes from her own CEO, Earl Jarrett, whom she describes as one of her mentors.

“He has guided my career by giving me opportunities which no one else did, and that’s coming from a context in which you were often underrated,” Paulette explains. “In the end when it’s over he would simply say: ‘well done.’ He doesn’t define you by your mistakes, he just simply asks what can we do differently next time?' and moves on to the next project. That instils confidence and keeps your self-esteem intact.”

And that selfless style of coaching and mentorship has been a boon to Paulette’s success.

“I don’t have to pretend to be me in this job, I am allowed to be me and I enjoy that,” she says.

Her "hands on" leadership style is admired by her colleagues, who describe her as demanding, yet motivating.

“Yes, she can be demanding, and will put you under pressure; however, she is also very encouraging,” says Mrs Stewart Lewin.

Leon Hamilton, Chief Representative Officer, JN UK, admires Paulette's seemingly effortless style of getting things done, and particularly appreciates her ability to organise major annual meetings, such as the annual, JN Members Meetings.

“Paulette is simply masterful at creating linkages and works tirelessly in service of both Jamaica National and Jamaica. Many don’t realise is that she was also an integral part of the organisation of the Jamaican Diaspora in the UK, as we now know it, and even chaired the Advisory Board at one point,” Mr Hamilton relates.

“When I arrived in London in 2010, she had already done so much as the Chief Representative Officer that when I took over there, was already a foundation and a high standard that I only needed to maintain,” he says.  

Another of Paulette’s strong suits has been her management and implementation of elements of the JN Pension Provider Programme. From its inception, she has been its driving force in the UK and Jamaica.

The programme allows pensioners to make arrangements with their former employers and the UK government to have their monthly pensions sent to their’ JN accounts.  This has ensured that pensions are received on time and in a cost effective way.

“The JN Pension Provider has been a benefit to hundreds of retired Jamaicans, who worked all their adult life in the UK; and opt to return to their island home. We have, therefore, ensured that we keep every pensioner aware of the changes impacting the management of their retirement funds," Paulette maintains.

In that regard, Paulette would sometimes meet with retirees in the UK on trips across parishes in Jamaica, to up-date UK pensioners about the status of the pension arrangements in the UK and respond to their questions.  Her team in the UK also liaises directly with pension agencies in the UK on behalf of pensioners in Jamaica

Paulette Sterling, who worked alongside Paulette from 2011 to 2014, after taking up a post to lead the JN Money Services Limited’s team in London, recalls many personal stories. One which stands out in her mind is an act of kindness she never forgot when she fell ill during at an Independence Day church service in London.

“She took me to the hospital; and, I don’t know how she accomplished it; however, through her influence, I was immediately attended to with great urgency and care from the medical staff; and, she remained with me until I was stabilised,” Ms Sterling recounts.

Recalling I Love Jamaica Day in 2012, a festival organised under the JN brand, which catered to Jamaicans all across Britain, Ms Sterling remains astounded by the number of Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica, whom Paulette was able to influence to attend the event.

“I’ve never seen 20,000 Jamaicans in one place outside of Jamaica; and Paulette was able to galvanise the majority of them to attend! I imagine there is hardly anyone in the Caribbean community that could have mobilized so many persons,” she said.

“Paulette eats, drinks and maintains JN values. She treats every member as if they were a part of her immediate family: remembering their names and their special situations. She lives by her word and she will move mountains to get things done,” Miss Sterling affirmed.