A Colossus of A Man

Attribution: James Rawle

 The Honourable Lascelles Chin was indeed our institutional father, leader, inspiration and guiding light.  His values and ideals, solidly implanted in the affiliated companies, will continue to guide us as we seek not only to preserve but also build on his legacy. Affectionately known as ‘Las’ to his friends and associates, ‘Chairman’ to his colleagues at work, or simply as ‘Mr.  Chin’ to many others, he was loved and admired for what he represented, that is, his determination to succeed against all odds, his humility and generosity, as well as the outstanding service he offered to his communities and Jamaica, as a whole.

 To eulogise ‘Las’ was not an easy task…given the depth and breadth of his persona, character, and life’s work.  The turnout at the thanksgiving service coupled with the genuine outpour of condolences and expression of loss as conveyed in messages, letters, calls, articles, radio programmes and features in various fora and media, far and wide, and from all conceivable strata of society, represent a potent eulogy to this great Jamaican patriot - small in size but a colossus of a man.

 It is most fitting that throughout his life’s journey he was regularly recognised and   bestowed with honours and awards - locally, regionally, and internationally - for entrepreneurship, contribution to business and commerce, philanthropy, and service to his country including The Order of Distinction (CD) in the rank of commander in 1986, The Order of Jamaica (OJ) Jamaica’s fourth highest civilian recognition in 2001, and the GUSI Peace Prize International Awardee in 2017, awarded to persons who contribute to global peace and progress, among other awards. He was ranked among the top business leaders in polls conducted by several entities on multiple occasions and he was also inducted in the PSOJ Hall of Fame.

We can justly ask, “who is this man, how did he get here and from whence he came?”

He saw the light of day some 85 years ago in the district of Knollis - just outside of Bog Walk in the Parish of St Catherine but grew up with extended family members in Kendal, Manchester where he attended primary school.  He later moved to Balaclava in St Elizabeth to live with other relatives and finished his elementary education. Being from a family of humble means he learnt frugality, self-help, and resilience.  To quote him, ‘the things we needed were out of reach’; he related that life was hard for everybody. He saw poverty all around and wondered why this had to be so.  Although poor himself, he noticed that his schoolmates were even poorer which made a lasting impression on him.  He vowed that he had to make something of himself and help others at the same time – the seed of his eventual philanthropic endeavours was sown at this early stage.   

At age 12, he moved to Kingston, where he attended the Wolmer’s High School for Boys.   Surmounting numerous challenges, he applied himself, did well and met the academic requirements for entering the University College of the West Indies (formerly a college of the University of London), where he wanted to study the sciences.  He could not find the fees to matriculate and so, in typical pragmatic fashion, he got a job as a laboratory technician in the department of Pharmacology at the school as he saw working at the institution conferring certain advantages to gain admission, all while accumulating the financial resources to fund his university studies.  The studies were  not meant to be, as to supplement his income, he started to buy and sell things. It was then he discovered that he was a good salesman – and in a sense the rest is history. 

He became a salesman selling black pepper, peas, and Henkel adhesive for a distributor.  In 1962 at the age of 25 years he decided to go into business – trading – on his own. When the distributor closed, he took on the role of commission agent investing his life savings of £175.  All his endeavours thrived and by 1969 at the age of 32, he became Chairman and CEO of Henkel Jamaica a subsidiary of the German Adhesive Company, steering the local company to attain the highest sales per capita of any Henkel branch in the world. 

With characteristic drive, hard work and excellent customer service he cornered the market.  But that was not enough.  He saw himself owning businesses. Over the ensuing years, Las founded a slew of companies including National Trading, Versatile packaging, Kingston Heirlooms Limited, Triple A Car Rental, Zenith Insurance Brokers, he entered the cosmetics business selling Studio Girl and Helen Curtis Cosmetics and he even ventured into farming.

He had tremendous bandwidth as notwithstanding the growing demands of overseeing his businesses - and managing the Henkel operations - he responded to the call for service to his country in chairing several government agencies and statutory boards and was a regular member of several national trade missions to various countries.  The boards included the Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation (JIDC), Jamaica Shipper’s Council, The National Productivity Council and The Jamaica Korea Economic Committee.  It was during his tenure as Chairman of the JIDC in the mid- to late-80s that the rapid expansion of the Freezone operations took place that resulted in the creation of some 25,000 jobs for women in the garment industry.  In addition, he served two terms as President of the Jamaica Exporters Association, underlying his strong belief the exports were critical to the country’s economic growth and development. 

Astutely he set about rationalising his companies.  Some were divested and others consolidated as he sought greater focus and efficiency.  National Trading Company became LASCO Distributors Limited in 1988, LASCO Manufacturing Limited was formed from the amalgamation of LASCO Foods Limited and LASCO Foods Successors formerly Versatile Packaging in 1986 and LASCO Financial Services was formed by the consolidation of LASCO Remittance Services and LASCO Cambio in 2004.

Here, we see Las, the consummate entrepreneur and shrewd operator at work - investing, managing, adapting, and streamlining.  In 2010, he made the bold move of listing all three companies simultaneously on the Jamaica Stock Exchange Junior Market – thus broadening the ownership structures and raising capital to fuel the expansion and growth that he envisaged for the companies. The three LASCO Affiliated companies under his skilful leadership have grown to become very successful business leaders in their respective spheres of activities - offering high quality affordable, nutritious and refreshing products, meal solutions, personal care and hygiene products, pharmaceuticals, and financial services. 

Over the years his companies have provided meaningful employment to thousands – another one of his dreams – another factor by which people, the Jamaican people, by earning  regular incomes could improve their lives.  Today, the companies provide direct employment to close to 1,500 persons - one of Jamaica’s largest employers, and indirectly to thousands more.   

We could easily substitute the name Las Chin for the LASCO brand – in fact they are one and the same as the brand’s essence reflects his values and so, he delivered on his ambition to provide affordable nutrition for those who need it most.  He personally nurtured and curated the LASCO brand – the essence and persona of which is quality, affordability, and care.  Brand LASCO is now easily, among the most recognisable brands in the country - woven as it were into our local vocabulary - a brand of first choice and also well-established throughout the Caribbean region and other overseas markets.

Las was the eternal optimist – his wife, Eileen remarked, “Las’ positivity was enviable; he had a way of focussing on the solution and not the problem.  He was very optimistic; you hardly ever saw him beaten down.” Most importantly, he was a man of balance. He worked tirelessly, but ensured time was reserved for family. A devoted husband and father, brother and relative and a good and trusted friend to many, he was always willing to give a helping hand. 

He never forgot his youth and the challenges he faced and deprivation and poverty that he encountered - he remained grounded - humble, kind and compassionate.  Authentic – not given to pretensions. 

His life was a model of responsible community involvement and concern for the environment exemplified as by the signature Corporate Social Responsibility Programmes that he instituted and supported for over twenty-five years.  These include annual recognition and award programmes for our public sector professionals - in the areas of education, health care and security and funding for the LASCO Re-Leaf Environmental Awareness Programme (REAP) which focuses on environmental education in primary schools.  This is in addition to funding and support to scores of social outreach programmes in communities and schools’ assistance initiatives, including nutrition support, throughout the country.  All this is part of his concept of giving back. He had an astounding work ethic and sense of urgency; he was a man on a mission to make this a better place.  He believed in, valued and respected people whatever their status may be.  He made time for people. 

Four years ago, he established the LASCO Chin Foundation with a separate governance structure – with a vision to change the way Jamaica views and treats its most vulnerable, especially youths, so, that they will be empowered to succeed in the future and a mission to help vulnerable at-risk youth groups break the cycle of poverty and crime and become highly skilled entrepreneurial citizens who care for others and the environment. No doubt a huge task, but in his words ‘entirely do-able’ with an eye on the future.  The work continues.  

His life is a model of business resilience and astuteness.  He was hands on and knew instinctively how to invest and build businesses.  He had disappointments with some ventures but knew when to cut his losses and move on.  For him, failures were lessons learnt and he would fearlessly move on to the next venture.