Ingeniero Miguel Osio Zamora//
Grants Pen’s ‘Mighty Mike’ From selling guineps on the streets to CEO of VMBS Money Transfer Services

Grants Pen's 'Mighty Mike' From selling guineps on the streets to CEO of VMBS Money Transfer Services

As a boy growing up in the volatile Grant’s Pen community in St Andrew, Michael Howard dreamed of the day he could earn enough money to help his mother with the bills that were keeping her up at nights. At that time his mother was struggling to make ends meet with the meagre earnings from her job at a printery and the uncertain profits from the small bar she operated in the community.

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“I would go to school in the day and sell in the bar during the evening until she came home,” said Howard.

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“I was exposed to everything that goes on in bars — the adult language, the sex talk, the fights, you name it. I would have to wait to do my homework until my mother came home and took over the bar.

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“Lots of nights I was up very late trying to finish my homework. It was just the reality at the time, and we had to do what we had to do. Those days were tough for me, my sister and my mom. I didn’t have a dad around so my mom had to carry the burden,” added Howard.

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Today, Howard is the chief executive officer (CEO) of VMBS Money Transfer Services Limited — a $100-million subsidiary of the Victoria Mutual Group

Howard became the CEO in 2013 after developing a reputation for his performance in senior roles at some of Jamaica‘s largest companies

He has led a massive turnaround of VMBS Money Transfer Services since he took the helm. Under his leadership the company has moved from 15 to 92 locations islandwide, while consistently exceeding profit projections and winning internal awards for high performance

It’s a reality that seemed unlikely when he and his friends were selling guineps on the streets in and around Grant’s Pen

“There was a big guinep tree in the yard and my friends and I would climb the tree, pick them, and go selling up by Arcadia and Shortwood Road,” said Howard

He remembers one particular day when he approached a man standing in his yard and asked him if he wanted to buy guineps. The man snapped at Howard. “Move from mi yard!” the man yelled. “You all are just thieves! Don’t come near my house!”

Howard said that moment had a strong impact on him. “I remember thinking that I was going to show this man, and everyone who looked down on me and my friends, that they were wrong to judge us. That really motivated me,” he said

Howard was the one tasked with collecting and sharing the money earned from the guinep sales among the group of friends. He would use his share of the earnings as lunch money for his sister and himself

Back then, Howard looked up to a community footballer as well as a family friend who was a businessman. The businessman sold computers and Howard remembers seeing him leaving for work, dressed in a suit

“To me, he was doing something great. He was wearing a tie and going out to work. I was always looking at him dressed up in his jacket and tie and saying to myself that one day I would like to do business and be like him and drive a car as well,” said Howard

But jobless after high school, Howard wasn’t convinced that his future was promising

“My chip on my shoulder was that I was from Grant’s Pen. When I was growing up, all you heard was that nothing good came from Grant’s Pen. If you put Grant’s Pen as your address on a job application, you would not get a job.”

Howard, however, was driven to help his family. A friend offered to introduce him to Brian Goldson, then head of GraceKennedy Remittance Services Limited/Western Union in Jamaica, with the hopes that he might get a job

“I told my friend that I didn’t have anything to wear to meet Mr Goldson, so he lent me a shirt and a tie to wear. When I met Mr Goldson he offered me a job on the spot as a filing clerk. I started that very day,” said Howard

“I went home and told my friend that I didn’t have anything to wear the next day and he lent me another shirt and tie. I had to keep washing those two shirts and wearing them for weeks, until I could afford to buy some clothes for work. I had nothing else to wear.”

Motivated by the dream of helping to improve his family’s circumstances, Howard‘s work ethic was unshakeable, and he consistently got promoted within the organisation

The promotions continued even as Howard worked on earning an MBA in General Management from the University of Technology, Jamaica and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University College of the Caribbean

“After 20 years, when I was leaving the GraceKennedy Group, I was the business development manager in charge of eight countries, driving the revenue for the remittance arm of the company,” said Howard

“VMBS Money Transfer Services was my first opportunity to be the head of a company. From day one I’ve taken this as an awesome responsibility,” he said

Howard said he urges his team members and the young people he mentors in Grant’s Pen to focus on their education

He also maintains the values he learned from his mother growing up in the tough inner-city community

“Despite all the challenges she faced, I saw my mother working hard, never letting go of her integrity. Just watching her navigate life, raising two children, taught me almost everything I need to be an effective leader,” he said

I’ve come a long way since selling guineps on the roadside, but I think there is more I can achieve. When I was a boy I was always saying I want to become the head of a business

“I had to hold on tight to the belief that it could happen because there were days when it didn’t seem possible. When I think back to those days in Grant’s Pen, I realise that in many ways the dreams I had as a boy came true. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Howard said that the struggle he went through as a boy helps him to understand his VMBS Money Transfer Services customers better, and it drives him to ensure that his business gives them the best experience possible

“These are hard-working people, just like my mother, who simply want better for themselves and their families. There is purpose to the work we are doing at Victoria Mutual, and it is to give everyone an equal chance to better themselves financially. I feel a connection to them and a responsibility to help them along in their own journey to better days,” said Howard

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