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Making headlines

rhondathompson, [email protected]

Making headlines

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Years ago Vivian-Anne Gittens set aside her engineer’s hard hat to step into the corporate business arena, managing figures. Today she has successfully made her mark in various fields since getting her first degree from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus.
The Publisher and CEO of the Nation Publishing Co. Limited first qualified as an engineer, deciding on this profession after leaving Queen’s College and enrolling at UWI.
She had determined engineering would be a “more practical adaptation” of her dream to be a physicist, and settled for electrical engineering with a focus on telecommunications and electronics largely because of the element of problem-solving attached to the discipline.
“A German lecturer I met in my first year taught me a lot about decision-making and finding solutions. He was very much into the fact that an engineer is one who solves problems and I took that into almost every aspect of my life since then,” Vivian-Anne said.
Working as an estimator for Williams Electrical, her interest in cost accounting was aroused. The responsibility for estimating the quantities of electrical materials required and the amount of labour needed for the various jobs to enable the company to bid for major electrical installation jobs opened her eyes to the possibilities of a career change.
“It is there that I got the crux of what I wanted to do with my life.”
She went back to university and completed a master’s in business administration specialising in finance and marketing, majoring in finance.
“Before I came to The Nation I never would have spent more than five years in any one job,” said the CEO, counting out experiences: at Systems Caribbean Limited, a solutions company consulted by many businesses; at the international engineering firm where she worked as financial controller; at Peat Marwick Associates Limited where she was a senior consultant – all served to build her accounting and management skills.
On the other hand, working in receivership with Peat Marwick Associates also sharpened her eye for the pitfalls in business and that ability to discern financial trends in the organisation has been a strong point in her present position.
“In receivership you have to keep your eyes on the assets and make sure you are making a reasonable return, otherwise you can quickly fall into insolvency and from there it is very hard to recover, so I think receivership teaches you the hard part of business and it becomes very handy when you are running a business.”
She joined The Nation as chief financial officer though she said, “I had not a clue about newspapers . . . . That is why I always encourage the staff to have the public do the tours (of the operation) because outside you have a different concept of newspapers. You would never realise it is such a complex operation.”
Satisfied with the state of the accounting system she found, she “began to get more serious about understudying the then editor-in-chief because when I was hired it was noted that I would be understudy to the editor-in-chief.”
Vivian-Anne says she likes challenges, and believes she has met this one to run “a profitable business that would remain profitable over the years.”
“When I became the publisher of the paper, the company had moved from what I was most familiar with as The Nation newspaper, a small company with the share ownership plan with the staff, to a bigger company. . . . We were merged with CCN in Trinidad as part of One Caribbean Media and we were now holding shares in a public company.”
She may not have had a clue about a newspaper’s operation, but she did have a vision for the company, supported by a management team with the same focus.
She said the strategy  which she had supported to diversify The Nation’s operations in Barbados “met some resistance because we are and have been for a very long time a media company. . . .”
“The feeling was that we were a business which was in the media, we have no intention ever of leaving the media, and it would always be the majority of what we do. But the shareholders gave us their money mainly because they wanted to get a return on it, and to the extent that we can generate a return we should do that, but we have to choose what we invest in judiciously.”
The board agreed on diversification and she now says “It is all good because the Nation Publishing Company is a successful company. The Nation Corporation which is our parent company is a successful company.”
And she maintains “Our shareholders expect us to continue to grow and be successful.  We want to deliver that. That is the commitment of the management team explicitly, that we are here to generate returns for the shareholders; (provide) a comfortable and interesting and stimulating place for people to work and be engaged. . . and also to be very caring to the community in which we operate.”
Very positive relationship
“One thing I appreciate in working at The Nation as a senior manager is the relationship I have with the management team. I think I have a very positive relationship with them. I try to help people to grow and to look at the world on a wider scale.”
One detects toughness, a position that comes from a place where she is fortified in confidence based on experience.
“I think there are times when you feel down and times when you feel depressed and when you know how to handle those times is when you have your greatest strength and as long as you get it handled once, it becomes easier and easier and the converse is also true.”
“I think it is very important to tell the young people as they move from the care-free days of youth to the more responsible days of adulthood, to help them to know of ways to handle, not the bed of roses, but the thorns. Because roses are there but so are the thorns.”
She has faced challenges as a woman making the climb to the top and said “Sometimes I find other women are not as helpful or as progressive. But I have had quite a bit of encouragement from men. Most of the people who have assisted me in advancement in life have been males. But I understand that too because my mother never worked outside the home and the women before me were not in a position to assist me. It would have had to be my contemporary or near contemporary who would assist me.”
On this score she credits her father “the greatest influence in my life”, for having a “positively influential influence” on her life. She was one of nine children for all of whom their father ensured a good education was a must.
Now that her own children have flown the nest, Vivian-Anne regrets her success came at a heavy cost of sacrificing family life, leaving some lingering guilt as a mother.
“My children went through primary school, secondary school and before you know it they left and went overseas to study but I feel now a lot that I wish I had spent a bit more time with them.
Vivian-Anne credits husband Don as a coping mechanism for her career, because as a mother she had to leave a three-year-old and one-year-old daughter behind with Don to go abroad to study.
With that, she advises young women “to have the biggest of ambitions, but don’t feel compelled to mortgage your family or family life for it.”
Vivian-Anne is advancing towards retirement, committed to the strategic plan she has devised to move The Nation to a “multi-platform” of media and other areas of activity.
“One of the things I try to do in terms of my legacy is to share my experience with people and how I see life, to encourage people to be persistent.”