Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has led people to reconsider their career paths, as lockdowns and other measures taken to combat the spread of the virus forced many businesses to close or downsize. Many people started their own enterprises and others moved way beyond their “comfort zones”.
One such person is Nicole Johnson, the Director of Sulam Construction and Property Management Services.
Johnson previously spent 21 years in life insurance sales, starting out with the Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO) where she spent 11 years before that company’s highly-publicised collapse in 2009.
She recalled: “The collapse of CLICO had a devastating effect on my family and me. At the time, I was doing very well as a sales agent.
Unfortunately, my mortgage suffered and my family’s way of life; all commitments were on hold. I had worked with limited pay and, closer to the end, no pay at all, as we were asked to stop selling completely. Savings were quickly depleted as my mortgage payments were high and if I missed one payment, it meant that I needed to find a large amount to make up. I nearly lost my home.”
Johnson eventually moved on to work at another insurance company, but after ten more years in the industry, she felt the urge to broaden her horizons. She ended up in a completely different line of work.
“I felt the need to do more with my life. I got involved in construction during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The construction field was not new to me as I spent a lot of time on-site in the construction sector serving the construction workers and government workers. It is where I felt comfortable and the guys gravitated towards me. I never knew that I would end up in that field, but I am not surprised as I loved the interaction with the guys, and I learned a lot over the last 20 years.”
When asked how she felt about going into a traditionally male-dominated field, Johnson added: “Going into construction was natural as I started with another construction organisation and then branched out on my own. I currently work with a team of women I consider the best painters/trowel plasterers in Barbados, and I have skilled and competent men at the highest level.
“It is a male-dominated field but being a woman who has worked with so many construction workers, I bring calm to a hostile environment. When a customer has complaints and the workers are ready to flare up, my approach is ‘there is always a way’, and although some customers are difficult at times, they only want to know that they are getting value for their money. We never cut corners.”
The entrepreneur said her experience in life insurance has been highly beneficial in her current field because of the patience and perseverance lessons she has encountered.
“I learned never to give up, and to follow my dream. I do not believe in failure; I believe in temporary setbacks that lead to greater outcomes.”
Johnson is also the founder of the Bajan Alliance of Businesses and a charitable organisation known as Family Matter. The alliance began in December 2020.It is intended to bring together business people from linked professions that benefit from the same resources – for example, contractors, real estate agents, hardware stores, architects, quantity surveyors and insurance providers.
“As time went on, one business did not gel with the others and we then decided to incorporate other businesses.
Only one category of business could join to avoid issues in this early stage. We have a dynamic and forward-thinking management committee and various other members comprising 23 companies thus far, and we look for business opportunities for each other,” Johnson explained.
She considers Family Matter a way of giving back to the community by providing help to vulnerable Barbadians.
“Every Thursday evening, we host Zoom meetings covering a variety of topics, focusing primarily on family and relationship issues. Some of the topics covered so far have included ‘Is the Church responsible for the breakdown in family values?’ and ‘Abuse: the Ugly Truth’, hosted by Dr Denise Charles and her husband Pastor Gabriel Charles.
“Apart from that, we have gone around the country helping families in need, including presenting back-to-school items, and we have counsellors on board who can help people with any psychological issues they face. We recognise there is a need for more of these services in Barbados and that is what Family Matter has set out to do.” (DH)