The Business Year

Michael Lee-Chin

JAMAICA - Economy

Doing Well and Doing Good

Founder and Chairman, Portland Holdings, Chairman, Economic Growth Council, Chairman, National Commercial Bank (NCB)


Born in Port Antonio, Michael Lee-Chin emigrated to Canada in 1970 to study civil engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton. At the age of 26, he became a financial advisor and progressed to the position of branch manager. In 1983, at the age of 32, he borrowed money to purchase USD500,000 of Mackenzie Financial stock. After four years, the stock appreciated seven-fold, and he used the profits to make his first acquisition, an Ontario-based investment firm called AIC Limited. Within 20 years, AIC grew from less than USD1 million to more than USD15 billion. Selling AIC in 2009, Lee-Chin remains firmly committed to creating wealth for investors as Founder & Chairman of Portland Holdings.

Portland Holdings manages public and private equity and strives to build strong businesses that support the well-being of the communities in which they operate.

What were the main highlights and accomplishments for Portland Holdings in Jamaica in 2018?

Portland Holdings’ largest asset in Jamaica is NCB, which made an offer in 2017 to increase our share of Guardian Holdings, the largest insurance company in the Caribbean, from 29.99% to 62%. That will diversify our business outside Jamaica and strengthen our Pan-Caribbean platform. In addition, NCB’s holding company, NCB FG, acquired an additional 51% of Clarien Bank in Bermuda, taking our ownership to 75%. In 2018, NCB continued to break records in terms of its profits and awards. When I took the role of Chairman of Jamaica’s Economic Growth Council on in 2016, Jamaica had an average GDP growth of 0.2% for the prior 10 years and an average of 0.5% for the prior 20 years. In my 2016 inaugural speech, I said that over the coming four years we would have 5% GDP growth. Achieving 5% GDP growth would be transformational for the country. The country is experiencing historically low interest rates and historically high confidence, and we have stability in the currency. Jamaica’s 3Q2018 report measured the country’s GDP growth as 2.2%, which is halfway to 5%, and we still have a year and a half to achieve our target.

What role has Portland Holdings played in developing Jamaica’s economy as a whole?

Our mantra at Portland Holdings is that businesses must ‘not only do well but also do good.’ When we took over NCB, it was inefficient and bureaucratic, and the citizens of the country had no confidence in the bank. As a result, we changed the mantra of the bank to “Building a Better Jamaica.” This is important because it gives staff members a purpose; they know they are creating a direct nexus between their efforts today and their children’s future by building a better Jamaica. Our NCB Foundation is extremely involved in education; 0.5% of the bank’s after-tax profits and sales of its key cards, respectively, go to the NCB Foundation. We support all types of educational endeavors through the foundation. We also give scholarships from that fund to hundreds of students every year to help them complete their university education.

How did NCB become one of the most important banks in Jamaica?

When we first took over the bank in 2002, NCB had a 24% market share in Jamaica compared to its largest competitor, which had 54%. Today, NCB has 44% market share, and its closest competitor has a 30% share; we are by far the largest bank in terms of profits, which are twice as much as our next competitor. In terms of profits, NCB is the number-one financial institution in the English-speaking Caribbean and number two in the Caribbean generally. The strategy behind this success is first building a bank that truly caters to the needs of Jamaicans and is sales oriented. Second, we had to build not just a bank, but also subsidiaries in wealth management, insurance, and capital markets that are world class. Not many businesses have been able to increase their after-tax profits from USD6 million to USD220 million in 16 years, as NCB has. Our strategy was to build up a bank and financial services institution, starting with Jamaica, and from that platform launch to the next concentric circle, which is our Caribbean expansion. We are doing this through Clarien Bank in Bermuda and Guardian, which gives us an immediate footprint in 22 countries.

What are your goals in 2019 for both Portland Holdings and NCB?

We want to stay healthy and continue with what we have been doing for the last 40 years. We want to remain passionate, stay lean, and not get complacent. We also want to lead by example.



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