Women Owned Businesses in Jamaica

Yaneek Page is president of the Women Business Owners (WBO) association in Jamaica.  WBO was founded in 2003 to foster and promote the success of women business owners through education, research, mentorship and education.

In 2005-2006 Women Business Owners (WBO) Jamaica completed a study of women and family owned business in Jamaica (the survey counted 2,916 family-owned businesses (FOBs) and 1,718 owned by women (WOBs)). The study was done in partnership with the Jamaica Conference Board, the Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica Ltd., the United States Agency for International Development and Mona School of Business at the University of the West Indies. The themes covered in the study included the business characteristics, business leadership, business relationships, succession and resource planning, and governance and citizenship. The key findings from the study were:

  •  There were 315 operations categorised as both FOBs and WOBs, largely based on the uncertainty of respondents attached to those businesses.
  • The highest number of FWOBs, approximately 1,512, was recorded in the Kingston and St. Andrew metropolitan area, skewed 60 per cent to FOBs; followed by St. Catherine with 1,308; and St. Ann with 449.

Building on this report, WBO has recently launched a program with Scotiabank Jamaica and the Inter-American Development Bank to support businesswomen who seek to grow their enterprises.  Under the new endeavor, Scotiabank has set aside J$300 million for members of WBO who need working capital, re-tooling of processes, upgraded technology, and other investments needed for growth.

The executive summary which is reproduced here, details in point form the main findings of the study:

1. Over 20 per cent of WOBs have been in operation for more than 20 years. Over the last two to three years, the number of WOBs seems to be growing at a faster rate than that of FOBs.

2. During the last two to three years, the highest percentage increases for WOBs were in real estate, renting and business and manufacturing activities.

3. Over 95 per cent of WOBs have 15 or fewer employees.

4. Social and personal activities (37.1 per cent) represent the largest portion of WOB activities.

5. For ‘wholesale and retail’ businesses, most have been in operation for over 10 years; 26 per cent have been in operation between 10 and 19 years; approximately 10 per cent of WOBs have been in operation for over 20 years.

6. Approximately 30 per cent of WOBs in the wholesale and retail sector emerged over the last two to three years.

7. Approximately 57 per cent of WOBs can be classified as sole proprietorships or partnerships.

8. About 81.8 per cent were started by the owner and 11.6 per cent were inherited.


9. Approximately 34 per cent have college or university education.

10. Approximately 5.5 per cent have improved their education level from primary and high school to university level.


11. About 89 per cent of owners reside in Jamaica.

12. Approximately 79.6 per cent of the managers have some form of ownership.

13. The main reasons for having their own businesses were: (i) having a sense of achievement; (ii) being financially better off; (iii) being self-employed; (iv) controlling one’s own destiny; and (v) leaving a legacy for their children.

14. Family members made up about 53 per cent among the businesses that have family members as part of the management team.

15. The top five factors proving the most problematic in doing business are: (i) inflation; (iii) tax rates; (ii) lack of access to financing; (iv) crime and theft; and (v) inefficient government bureaucracy.

16. Women made up approxi-mately 77 per cent of the employees.

17. There is strong family commitment and pride in the businesses. All sectors strongly agreed that family members are more motivated than non-family members.

18. Despite the high levels of violence in Jamaica, the conflict scores in the business arena were quite low, indicating relative harmony in the workplace.

Among the factors listed as reasons for conflict were: (i) late arrival of family members; (ii) a tendency to take time off from work; and (iii) lack of performance.

19. Businesses recorded a low average score for family conflict.

20. Generally, manufacturing, construction, hotels and real estate reported higher average levels of family conflict than agriculture, wholesale and retail.

21. The services most urgently required by the respondents are support to get low-interest funding, tax and accounting advice, and advice ongrowing and expanding the business.

All sectors showed strong interest in low-interest funding.

22. Businesses indicated a high tolerance for such issues as taking children to work, managers arriving late for work, granting flexi-work time and hiring/retaining persons who are HIV-positive.


23. Businesses agree that some form of succession planning should be in place.

24. Businesses agreed that (i) family affairs should be kept separate from business affairs, (ii) females should have an equal chance of being successors in the business, (iii) business rules are needed for entry and exit into the business, and (iv) owners/founders should play a formal role in the business.

25. Factors that got low scores included: (i) all family members should receive shares from the business; (ii) family members not involved inthe business should receive shares; and (iii) rivalry among siblings is good for the business.

26. Approximately 76.8 per cent of owners/managers stated that they had no plans to retire.

27. About 30 per cent said they have a plan.

28. Approximately 19 per cent indicated that they have chosen a successor.

29. Among those that have chosen successors, 21 per cent have chosen a male, 45 per cent a female, and 29 per cent a family member

30. Children, spouses or extended family members represent the popular choices as possible successors.

31. Among those that have no succession plans, hiring a professional manager or selling/ merging are the popular choices for the future of thebusiness.

32. Overall, the respondents strongly believe the business should be kept in the family.


33. Businesses expressed a relatively strong agreement with the following: (i) the level of crime is a disincentive to business expansion inJamaica; (ii) all their wealth is in the business; and (iii) they are happy with their present banking relationships.

34. Little confidence expressed in a positive impact of the CSME on business and plans to make major investment in equipment in the next three years.

35. The manufacturing, real estate and computer technology sectors plan to expand sales over the next three years. However, the manufacturers do not plan any major investments in equipment.

Overall, there is low expectation for expansion across business sectors.

36. Businesses are open to borrowing overseas. They expressed relatively strong disagreement with the following statements: (i) my businesswill be listed on the stock market within the next three years; (ii) I am concerned that outside shareholders will change how I run mybusiness; (iii) I am concerned that growing the business will destroy my quality of life; (iv) I am concerned that growing the business will resultin loss of control; (v) my business is currently a part of the exporting sector; and (vi) I plan to start exporting in the next three years. All of these ratings vary by business sector and by size and type of business.

37. Regarding banking services, regular banking is the area of services most used, 33 per cent.

38. Approximately 72.8 per cent indicated an interest in the following bankingservices: (i) regular banking, (ii) loans, (iii) bill payments and (iv) card services.

39. Businesses expressed low interest in the following banking services: (i) mortgage, (ii) insurance and (iii) cambio.

40. The level of interest shown in banking services seems to be generally consistent across business sector and type of business.

Businesses with fewer than five employees showed a greater interest in bill payment as a banking service.

41. Most businesses would finance their business’ growth through own savings (32.2 per cent), a bank loan (26.4 per cent) or business cash flow (21.7 per cent).

42. Own savings (59 per cent), and bank loan (21 per cent) were the two methods most used in financing the business at start-up.

Family loan and ‘partner’ pooling were also used.

43. Where bank loans are concerned, the following areas seemed to have received greater support: fishing, mining and quarrying, transport, storage and communication, media and communication, computer and information technology, and real estate renting and business activities.

44. Preferred source of a loan or funds: credit union, medium or long-term bank loans, family and friends, and bank overdraft.

45. Most WOBs are more inclined to save or invest with credit unions (37.5 per cent), with commercial banks (32.1 per cent), or with family and friends (16.2 per cent).

46. Of WOBs that obtained business financing from financial institutions or other means, over 54 per cent utilised the services of Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica (31.8 per cent) and National Commercial Bank (24.6 per cent).

47. WOBs expressed problems with obtaining loans from a bank for start-up and business expansion, even though they expressed some level of satisfaction with their present banking relationships.


48. Approximately 76 per cent of WOBs operated from a well defined business plan. Businesses with more than 15 employees seem unenthusiastic about operating from well defined business plans.

49. Measures of business success were ranked in the following order: (i) profit; (ii) growing sales; (iii) good cash flows; and (iv) positive family relationships.

50. Approximately 84 per cent of WOBs indicated that their annual revenue was less than J$15 million. No WOB reported annual revenues of over J$200 million.

51. Most board meetings were either monthly (33.3 per cent) or annually (43.6 per cent).

52. Only 18.4 per cent of WOBs had a board of directors.

53. Women made up 57.1 per cent of the boards of directors.

54. Of the businesses that had boards of directors, 67 per cent were chaired by women.

55. Only 0.4 per cent of businesses were part of a larger group of companies and owned by extended family

56. Businesses showed themselves to be good corporate citizens. This was partly reflected in the number of businesses that have contributed to areas such as community events, schools, and indigent persons.

The data showed that these contributions were common across size of business, business sector and type of business.


57. Just over 86 per cent of WOBs are managed by the founding generation. The second generation manages about 7.2 per cent.

58. Over 76 per cent of owners started, acquired or inherited the business before age 39.

59. Approximately 35.6 per cent of the current owners were reported to be between the ages of 40 and 49, 25.6 per cent between 50 and 59, and 7.4 per cent over 60.

60. Approximately 67 per cent of WOBs disagree that the successor generation would be likely to sell the business.

61. Approximately 71 per cent of WOBs believe that the successor generation will likely continue their business transactions with the banks with which they now conduct business.

62. Most of the respondents agreed that the successor generation is/will be better educated.

63. The successor is already in 25 per cent of the businesses.


64. The following ethnic distribution was reported: Black Jamaican (78.5 per cent), Brown Jamaican (12.5 per cent), Chinese Jamaican (0.6 per cent), Indian Jamaican (2.6 per cent), Non-Jamaican (2.2 per cent) and White Jamaican (3.7 per cent).

65. The majority ownership of WOBs has been reported to be firmly in the hands of women (92.2 per cent), with 5.5 per cent being shared with men.

66. About 91 per cent of WOBs were reported to be managed by women.

67. The greater portion of family income is generated from the businesses.

68. All the business sectors indicated a strong interest in obtaining advice on banking products. The survey instrument did not capture the area of advice that could be obtained from the banks.

69. The areas of lowest interest as far as advice on various issues was concerned were: (i) advice on managing conflict, (ii) advice on family meetings and boards, and (iii) advice on preparing the business for sale.

70. There were very high ratings in the level of satisfaction with their choice of business. There was also a high level of interest in encouraging friends and family to enter business.

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