Glen Christian: a heart for people, a mind for business

November 4, 2014 4:04 pm

Glen Christian PSOJ 2

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) last Wednesday inducted the first truly grassroots businessman, Carimed’s Glen Christian’s into its hallowed Hall of Fame in an evening of glitz and glamour witnesed by a packed ballroom at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston. The Glen Christian story is yet another Jamaican best seller.

Glen Christian learnt the art of business at the feet of his mother, Evelyn, one of those hardy rural women who helped build Jamaica from the bottom up. Evelyn Christian religiously took the weekly trek from the farming district of Brandon Hill, Clarendon to the mecca of markets, the Coronation Market in the island’s capital. When she couldn’t make it, she would send Glen.

It was a two-way trade that was as efficient as it was rudimentary. Ground provisions were purchased at the community farm gate. The goods were moved by market truck to what is the largest commercial district in the English-speaking Caribbean. The proceeds from the usually brisk sale was in turn used as capital to buy wholesale goods for re-sale to the shops in the teeming rural townships and districts. That indomitable spirit of entrepreneurism would be Glen Christian’s certain destiny.

His dad, Franklyn Christian passed away when Glen was a toddler at two and he would later celebrate his step-dad, Edward Mitchell as the angel his mother had married because he took her up with eight children. Wearing the cloak of humility bequeathed to him from boyhood, he learnt fast and early that people had to be at the heart of a successful venture. Evelyn Christian had taught him well; that he must use his divine blessing for the good of people; that God has placed us here as stewards; and she inculcated in him the moral and spiritual values of life, emphasising the importance of education and the guiding principle that success is only achieved through hard work.

Barefooted in Brandon Hill

From here on, Glen Christian had been set on a path that would blaze an inevitable trail of glory for a country boy who would rise to make his mother and family proud, and most of all, touch the lives of his compatriots in ways not yet contemplated as he walked barefooted over the hard ground of quiet Brandon Hill.

Once again, here comes a life and a story to inspire anyone challenged by poverty, adversity and misguided opposition from a powerful establishment that might have extinguished that light before it could shine bright. But Glen Christian embraced his humble beginnings and difficult struggles to bask at last in resounding triumph. His truly is a journey from barefoot to bowtie.

With 13 siblings vying for scarce resources, lunch money was a luxury scarcely afforded in the Christian’s home and young Glen, born January 27, 1943, frequently had to walk the two miles to the Brandon Hill Primary School and back home to have lunch and then back to school. It was a testament to the quality of great parenthood, that vital community spirit of caring and sharing and a lesson that poverty need not be a lifetime trap, that all the children went on to become successful professionals.

Destiny sometimes gives us a peek at what life is about to offer. At age 17, Glen Christian migrated to Kingston to continue his education at the Buxton High School on Victoria Avenue and to seek a job. He worked as a postman in the morning from the Hagley Park Post Office and attended school in the evening. Among the premises to which he delivered letters was 216 Marcus Garvey Drive.

It was the home of Colgate Palmolive whose assets he would in time acquire but could not have known it then.

In 1965 he enrolled at the Mico College, hoping to become a teacher, after being told by the police force that he was too short to become a cop. When he graduated among the first batch of teachers from Mico three years later, the only teaching experience he would know was the internship he did at the Buff Bay All-Age in Portland. He immediately went to work with the Child Care Division of the Ministry of Youth. But the choice of a career was already made for Glen Christian and that didn’t last for long.

Fate’s journey begins at HD Hopwood

In 1971 he at last embarked on the journey for which fate had appointed him, landing a job as a salesman in the pharmaceutical division of HD Hopwood. As Christian moved from pharmacy to pharmacy and other retailers across the length and breadth of Jamaica, he burnt with an unquenchable passion. In six years, he moved the pharmaceutical division’s share of company sales from 15 per cent to 85 per cent and was promoted to manage the division. While at HD Hopwood, he acquired the Portmore Pharmacy in 1979, leaving his wife, Marva to operate it.

After 16 years with HD Hopwood, Christian made a massive decision. He would go fully into business for himself. He was certain that all his experiences so far had led him to this day. The lessons his mother had taught him at the farm gate; the many nights when a market stall was his bed in Coronation Market; the people skills he was honing as he delivered letters in Cockburn Gardens and Olympic Way; the fire in his belly as he cross-crossed Jamaica as a salesman; and the managerial experience that was the final piece of the puzzle. The time had indeed come.

1n 1986 he established Cari-Med Limited out of a 3,500-square foot building at 20 Lady Musgrave Road to begin a new odyssey in business. The firm started operations a year later with three employees. That number in time would grow exponentially to 600. Wanting to focus clearly on his areas of strength – something he had learnt from Evelyn Christian – Glen sold the Portmore Pharmacy and asked his wife to join him at Cari-Med, saying they did not want to spread themselves thin.

Customs raid

The secret to Cari-Med’s success was generic drugs. While Jamaica was awash with the more expensive brand-name drugs, there was a growing demand, especially among low-income Jamaicans, for less expensive generic drugs. Glen Christian caught the vision. But as brisk sales kept his cashier machines clinking, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. Men worried by this audacious competitor, plotted…ominously.

Complaints were fired off through the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and the Jamaica Manufacturers Association in early 1987. The plan was to muddy his name. In short order, customs officers staged a lightning raid on Cari-Med and the home of Glen Christian. Whatever they sought they did not find and the company and its managing director were given a clean bill of health. It would be the springboard from which Christian would launch, based on a groundswell of support that emerged out of the incident, after two of the most well known journalists, the late Carl Wint and Dr Carl Stone chastised the effort to stop him in his tracks.

Ironically, Christian would later serve as a Director of the Chamber of Commerce and chair of its Pharmaceutical, Medical & Health Committee.

In 2002, the HMED division was formed as an offshoot of the Pharmaceutical Division responding to the need in the marketplace for more competitively priced, high quality medical equipment and supplies. In 2005, Christian acquired the assets of Colgate Palmolive and walked through the gates of number 216 Marcus Garvey Drive, not as a postman but as owner and principal. The letters he delivered now were employment letters to recruits who would man the operations of Kirk Distributors, the consumer products division which he had just established and named after his son to distribute Colgate products in Jamaica. But he was still hungry.

After 10 years concentrating on pharmaceuticals, he added supermarket supplies through the acquisition of Kendel in 2012. Following a brief foray into beauty products, he withdrew from that line, admitting that it was distracting him from his core business.

From 3,500-square footage, the group now boasts nearly 400,000 square feet of office and warehouse space and counting. Cari-Med is the leading distributor of pharmaceutical products in the Caribbean, with 54 principals, including 15 of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies. It controls 45 per cent of the pharmaecutical market and total group employment has topped 600.

Earlier this year, Christian bought the former Claro building at 30-36 Knutsford Boulevard, a masterpiece of real estate property in New Kingston, in a move to further diversify the group’s operations and to satisfy his thirst for acquisitions. The building was rented the same afternoon Christian inked the purchase agreement.

Cari-Med’s successful track record is evidenced by the numerous awards it has raked in over the years: These include:

* The Governor General’s Achievement Award for community service in 1995

* The Stiefel Labs Award for being number one in the Caribbean for Outstanding Sales growth for five consecutive years in 1996-1997

P&G – Distributor of the Year for the Caribbean

* Apotex Inc Award for continuously achieving top status as one of its leading distributors worldwide.

* The Caribbean Pharmaceutical Industry Award

* Wrigley Jr Company Award in recognition of extraordinary efforts and commitment to excellence

* Purina Award for Outstanding sales performance

* Novartis Award in recognition of 20 years of sterling partnership

* GlaxoSmithKline Award for Best support in implementation of trade promotion

* Wrigley Jr Company Award in recognition of outstanding service, continuous dedication and professionalism

As success attended him, Glen Christian became what his mother had taught him to be — a man for the people and a philanthropist extraordinaire. Under his leadership, the Cari-Med and Kirk Foundation continues to make a significant difference in the lives of countless Jamaicans spending tens of millions of dollars on projects in education, health and community building.

These include a fully retrofitted computer lab valued at over $5 million to the Brandon Hill Primary School in Clarendon; the Cari-Med wing at the Hope Institute and the state-of-the-art complex built at a cost of $70 million for the Top Hill Basic School where he began his education, on lands owned by the Jamaica Baptist Union. He fittingly named it the Evelyn Mitchell Infant School/Centre of Excellence after his mother.

The Foundation also supports the Burke’s Basic School in the Swallowfield community of St. Andrew; the Port Antonio Infirmary, Portland; The National Chest Hospital; the University Hospital of the West Indies, the Bustamante Hospital for Children, and the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay,, among many others institution. The company is also a regular sponsor of sporting events.

The accolades flowed

The inevitable accolades followed Glen through the years: These include:

* The national award – the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) from the Government of Jamaica in 2001

* The coveted Jamaica Observer Business Leader Award in 2007

* The prestigious Mico Gold Medal Award in 2010

* The Doctor of Education, Administration and Leadership (Honoris Causa) from the Mico University College in 2011

* The Jamaica Observer Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012

* The Individual Chamber Member Award from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce

Glen finds time in his full career to be chairman of the Fund-raising committee for the Healing Ministry of the Bethel Baptist Church and member of the Chase Board and UTech Board of Graduate Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship. He is also a member of the Mico University Board of Directors.

The Christians attribute Cari-Med’s success to many factors, two of which are their strong belief in God and the dedicated support of their staff. Glen attributes much of his personal success to his wife, Marva, his rock who has served in the capacity of credit manager for Cari-Med Limited since 1987, and currently occupies the position of credit director.

He also celebrates fatherhood through his love for their daughter Althea and three sons, Kavell, Gregory and Kirk.

And so on the 29th day of October, 2014, the Private Sector Organisation once again inducted into its Hall of Fame another extraordinary Jamaican businessman, a philantrophist from the heart, a patriot to his compatriots, a servant of God, a man of the people and a true son of the soil – Glen ‘Glenford’ Christian.

Article by The Jamaica Observer