Aisha Campbell: Mother, Wife and Pioneer
Published July 27, 2018 Jamaica Gleaner
Every student of life eventually learns to trust that they know where they are going; that only after getting to a certain point can they look back and begin connecting the seemingly random dots. Ten years ago, when PROVEN Investments Limited set out on a course to fulfil its vision, it took many calculated risks - random dots - which would lead to its impressive expansion to PROVEN REIT, its real estate investment and development arm. Some three years later, the company would welcome another risk-taker, Aisha Campbell, to help steer it into new territory.
Campbell is an all-round Caribbean girl. Born in Barbados to a Bajan father and Grenadian mother, she grew up on a number of Caribbean islands. In addition to idyllic summers in her home country, she spent many of her early years in Jamaica, attending Mona Preparatory until around age seven, while her parents finished up degrees at The University of the West Indies, Mona.
She lived in St Lucia for a short period, then moved on to Grenada, where she spent her formative years, before getting her first degree in civil engineering in Trinidad. While there, she met Marvin Campbell, on the very first day of university, with whom she would rise in love and move back to his native Jamaica, to start a life right after completing her degree. The rest, as they say, is history.
A leader in the field of construction, development and engineering, Campbell credits her adaptability and openness to different people and experiences to her peripatetic childhood. Always being 'the new girl in class' taught her open-mindedness and non-judgement.
She notes, "As much as we think we are different, we aren't that much different across the Caribbean." She lauds Jamaica as being a place that fully embraced her, not only as a 'foreigner', but also as a woman in the male-dominated sphere of engineering. She has had a warm and positive experience living and working here, and speaks warmly of cultivating a friendship with fellow superwoman Judith Bruce, who first hired her and became one of her biggest cheerleaders during her 18 years in the industry.
Campbell's trajectory took her all the way from junior engineer at WIHCON, to general manager for its Development Division. This broadened her portfolio significantly in the areas of sales and marketing, project management and conveyance. She says during her time there, she never had limits placed on her because of her gender. In fact, some of her biggest supporters and mentors have been men, chief among them, Peter Melhado, the company's chairman. She tells Outlook, "Peter showed me what good leaders look like. He has taught me to lead with passion, innovation and excellence."
WHERE THE HEART IS
Although she had lived all over the Caribbean, Campbell's heart belongs to Grenada. It is the birthplace of her mother and shero, Shirley Brathwaite, whom she believes, heavily influenced her approach to, and clear vision for, her own life. In her farewell speech at WIHCON, she recalled one of her fondest memories: At age nine, she was walking with her mother when they came upon an old great house. On a hunch, she declared the great house as the future site of the school her mother had always dreamed of owning. Believing in her young daughter's insight, Brathwaite boldly approached the owner and told her about her desire to purchase the property to start a school. She received the owner's blessing and her dream became a reality.
The Alpha Junior School was born with approximately 20 children and Campbell watched as it blossomed, now boasting 200-plus students. When her mother transitioned, Campbell and her family had the honour of carrying on her legacy, and Alpha is now one of the top primary schools in Grenada. Her mother's bold move planted a seed in young Campbell, who would grow up firmly believing in the power of 'putting yourself out there'. She often thinks back on her mother's favourite quote: "If you're going to make your dream a reality, you have to be able to see it. Can you see it?"
Of course, she attended Alpha herself and credits her leadership philosophy to being grounded in values instilled by her mother - focus, discipline, passion for learning and most importantly, passion for helping other people learn. "You want to bring out the best in everybody that you are working with and see the best [in them] and try to help them learn and grow. That is my philosophy in how I really try and bring along my team," she says.
Additionally, her work ethic and execution reflects the perfectionist attitude of her father, Bert Brathwaite, the self-motivated gastroenterologist who recently obtained another master's degree from the University of London. He firmly believes that "one is never too old to learn and we should always push ourselves to step outside our comfort zones". So for Campbell, excellence and integrity are defining values. 'Anything worth doing is worth doing properly', is his philosophy, and like him, she believes in doing what you say you're going to do and giving it your all.
Campbell prides herself on being a hands-on mother who does not compromise on the values she has set with regards to being present for and raising her children - an incredibly inspiring stance as a female professional. She is well aware of the demands on women to balance all aspects of their lives and boldly states that they should not pressure themselves to maintain the facade of having it together 24/7, which is utterly unrealistic. She acknowledges that even a superwoman needs support.
"As much as I am an ambitious woman, I am a mother first. My daughter, Kyla, and son, Malik, are my number one priority. It is important for ambitious women to ensure that family life comes first," she says. "Also, it is critical for working mothers to have a strong support system in place. I would not be the successful leader I am today if it were not for my husband, the children's nanny, Miss Maureen, and a group of other moms from school who help to fill any gaps with pick ups and emergencies."
With her foundation firmly set, Campbell dares to push herself to break personal and professional boundaries and explore new ways of being. She notes having a recurring conversation with herself about the need to step outside of her comfort zone.
"Do not ignore the voice in your head, especially if it is what my friend calls 'the recurring decimal conversation in your head'," she says. She believes women really have to take the time to analyse what their inner voice is telling them in terms of the direction they need to take in life and then act on it.
Another of her mentors, Kelly Tomblin, former CEO of JPS, introduced her to the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, which addresses both the external and internal barriers that hold women back in their professional careers. She shares, "This book taught me how to negotiate and teaches us not to be afraid to show that you are vulnerable. Kelly also introduced me to the concept of 'building the adversity muscle,' which, in essence, means to learn how to deal with things which are not always easy. I started looking at all my challenges through these lens, and learned to view them as exercise to make me stronger and not get too caught up on them being problems."
THE MAGIC IN NEW BEGINNINGS
As a pioneer, Campbell loves new beginnings and is excited at the prospect of exploring new territory, both for herself and her new company. Although it was not an easy decision to leave an 18-year comfort zone, the magic of a new beginning deeply resonated with her. At this point, she can look back, connect the dots and affirm the divine timing of her life experience. She has been preparing for this new role for some time and charting a new course with PROVEN REIT is the next logical step.
As Campbell speaks, it becomes clear that there are strong similarities between her and this company she is set to lead. They are both risk-takers and forward-thinking pioneers, with clarity of vision and purpose. Thus, she is fully aligned with REIT's vision to expand into the Caribbean.
"We really need to capitalise on the economy's upscale that the region affords us. There are opportunities outside of the geographical boundaries of Jamaica, so we should go out there and seek them," she says. The dots of Campbell's life have connected in time for this bold new venture, and is clearly echoed in the words of Chris Williams, president and CEO of Proven Investment Limited, as he tells Outlook why he thinks she is the best fit for the role.
"I am excited to add someone who can build on the foundation PROVEN REIT has established, while maintaining our commitment to identifying and exploring viable real estate investment and development opportunities and partnerships, locally and regionally. The fact that she's also lived in a few of these Caribbean islands over the years only solidifies her advantage in leading us to our vision of Caribbean expansion. She gets it on a number of levels and we are glad we got her to lead the team! Myself and the board extend a warm welcome to her," said Williams.
TOP 5 BOOKS
1. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
2. Energy Leadership by Bruce Schneid
3. Good to Great by Jim Collins
4. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
5. The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, Kaley Warner Klemp
TOP 5 SONGS ON PLAYLIST
1. Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys
2. Beautiful by Christina Aguilera
3. Incredible by Kes
4. They Live in You, Lion King Soundtrack
5. Waka Waka by Shakira.