The entrepreneurship journey can be such an exciting venture, seeing your vision through from just an idea to a reality can be exhilarating. There is however the truth that it takes time, effort and resources, and often the entrepreneur may battle discouragement along the way. Ups and downs are part and parcel of navigating real life and just like other things that concern life, sometimes what helps to propel us is a bit of motivation and inspiration. Entrepreneur Weekly is aware that true stories of entrepreneurs that have excelled amidst hardship have the potential to encourage others along the journey and so today we are featuring Norman Wright founder of Perishables Jamaica Limited (PJL).
Stories that Inspire – The PJL Story
Mr. Wright is notorious for his role in putting Jamaica’s herbs on the map and people’s tables locally and in the diaspora. PJL is an agro-processing and research & development company that was one of the first tea companies in Jamaica. With 35 years of history, Norman undoubtedly believes they are still the leading bush tea company in Jamaica.
PJL boasts a wide range of teas that fall under two major brands – TOPS and Sipacupa Ital. The first Jamaican herbal tea bag blend was TOPS Pep O Mint, a blend of tea and Jamaican peppermint produced in July 1985 by Perishables Jamaica Limited, which was exported to the Canadian market. Both TOPS and Sipacupa have a wide variety of flavours and mixtures such as Ginger, Cinnamint, Bissy and Guinea Hen Weed that PJL has turned into tea bags that are used locally and are also exported.
A Heart for Nation Building
Norman describes PJL as “a part of nation building, building the socio-economic fabric of our nation by focusing on domestic capital formation. We want to develop indigenous herbs and agricultural products and by-products.” PJL prides itself on using Jamaican grown products such as ginger, mint, sorrel, vervain and moringa and will not compromise on quality and consistency. These are important values for entrepreneurs, using what is available and finding your value proposition and niche and being willing to be consistent with them.
The 1970s and 1980s in Jamaica were a particularly difficult time and many had begun to consider migration. Instead, under these conditions, Mr. Norman Wright chose to plant his roots further into the Jamaican soil. He recounts that the early motivation he had to push forward with his business were his tutors, Dr. Alfred Sangster and Dr. Henry Lowe who prompted young people to go out and improvise and create a chain reaction of innovation. He also associates his motivation with seeing what was familiar to him from childhood, which was agriculture and also discerned the time as ripe for exporting. Entrepreneurs would do well to surround themselves with persons who have vision and have made strides within the field they are pursuing.
Agri-business is Big Business
Agriculture and agro-processing is increasingly becoming more interesting to young people but there are still some who do not see it as viable or attractive. Mr. Wright encourages young people to look at what is available and points to the sustainability and profitability of herbs and various crops. “Young people need to think long-term and if they plant crops now, they can be there 35 years from now and become pension for them,” he said.
The agricultural sector represents a critical component of Jamaica’s national development as an important contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment, foreign exchange earnings and rural livelihoods. Agro-products enjoy a strong domestic market bolstered by over 4 million visitors annually prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19). There is also increasing demand for high-quality Jamaican fresh produce, specialty and organic products globally, largely owing to the country’s proximity and preferential access to key export markets.
Developing the Agro-Processing Sector
The JBDC has found that despite efforts by agro-processors to offer new product lines, only a few producers enter and can sustain export markets. This is in part due to a lack of resources, including appropriate production spaces, packaging, and storage. Interest in the development of an agro-processing cluster has emerged in response to a number of micro and small firms seeking JBDC’s support for business development with innovative product ideas.
In 2021, the JBDC was successful in its bid to acquire funds to carry out minor renovations to its food technology incubator, located in Kingston, to function as a food safety certified production incubator. Once completed, it will house equipment to facilitate appropriate testing, packaging and labelling of products to meet the technical barrier to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary requirements of cross-border trade. The project, which focuses on training and marketing support, growing exports, as well as increasing the economic opportunities to those along the agriculture value chain, is financed by the European Union (EU) and supervised by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
Entrepreneurs are born to Lead
Norman Wright reminds himself, employees and other entrepreneurs with this statement repeatedly that “We are all born leaders and we follow by choice.” He believes that “in all of us is the capacity to lead, and this began from in the womb. A person who does not lead, does not know their potential.”
Norman Wright is filled with nuggets of wisdom from his 40 years in entrepreneurship and has summarised his advice to entrepreneurs in this way, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so just begin the journey, be willing to fall and make mistakes but quickly learn from them. You must also have a mission and vision and stick to it or you will get lost. Remember to also keep records of your finances and operations.” These are very encouraging and practical tips from a man that has seen both victories and weathered the storms of entrepreneurship.
There is great wisdom that comes with age and experience and Mr. Wright is filled with advice and encouragement for any entrepreneur starting or continuing their journey. Norman is working toward maintaining PJL’s status of being the leader in providing unique Jamaican flavoured tea bags locally as well as expanding their export reach.
Entrepreneur Weekly hopes that stories from entrepreneurs like Norman Wright will inspire you to launch out into your dreams, as we share with you real life examples of others who have done so.