Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 20th 2014 Contents JULY 20 • 2014 www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
PROFILE | SBG7
state salary. The Central Bank was setting
up the Deposit Insurance Corporation (DIC).
I worked there for two and a half years and
when I left, I was actually acting general man-
ager of the corporation."
It is a common theme that runs through
her life. Christopher is ambitious and focused.
"When I make up my mind, I make up my
mind," she told the Sunday BG.
Decisiveness is a good quality to have as a
leader, further developed by performing lead-
ership roles. As a woman, Christopher has
had ample opportunity to lead at a time when
there were few places at the top for women
and battles for them were hard won.
"I have sat in board rooms and I have been
speaking and men would begin speaking over
me like I said nothing. I have sat in board
rooms where I would take a certain seat, only
to get up and have a man take it. In the cor-
porate world, where you sit is important. There
are all these games!"
Female executives in those days, with no
template before them, found their way through
trial and error. Management jargon like "work-
life balance" visibly amused the First Citizens
deputy CEO as she related giving birth to her
daughter, Catherine, on a Sunday in July 1993
and having her boss, Ossie Nurse, come to
the hospital to have her review merger doc-
uments on Monday.
"People make it like its huge things but you
know...I guess all this talk about work-life
balance and what not, we didn t know about.
The truth is---and I think I was reading Harvard
Business Review---that it is not so much work-
life balance as work-life integration. We learned
how to do work-life integration.
"Women starting in those days didn t really
feel that our lives had to be balanced 50-50."
Inception to IPO
She would need this level of dedication to
get through the period she was entering.
In the late 80s and 90s, T&T was just
emerging from a recession that hit indigenous
banks hard. She was seconded from the DIC
to go to the failing Workers Bank. Christopher
said the team routinely worked Saturdays and
"I just stayed, once again, my passion found
me. Even though I was passionate about the
law I had stopped practicing in the courts for
some time. Now I was doing corporate law."
Christopher is a fount of information on
the inception of First Citizens and how the
country s financial system survived the reces-
sion that it grew out of. Many times there
was a number of near misses.
"There was a run on NCB, one Friday after-
noon and people were lining up on Maraval
Road and TTT, the only television station in
the country was taking pictures. The governor
of the Central Bank knew that if that ran
through the whole weekend, there would be
a run on the entire sector. He called all of us
who had worked on the Workers Bank (restruc-
ture). We went into the Central Bank and we
literally worked through the weekend. First
Citizens was born on the Monday morning,
the September 13, 1993."
Having been there, Christopher told the
Sunday BG, she found last year s IPO expe-
rience, "very painful."
The feeling arises out of what she said was
the condition of local banks and what First
Citizens was able to overcome and accomplish.
Just after the bank was formed, the then Man-
ning administration decided to hire a foreign
"They came and were here for a year and
a half. They said it was impossible, there was
no way the bank could ever survive. The people
didn t have the skills, the bank didn t have
the money and the government didn t have
the funds. That what was wanted was impos-
sible and that the whole thing should be sold
as scrap. Then they left."
Local talent rose to the fore.
In a move that she said the finance minister
credits as having been pivotal in his career,
Larry Howai was appointed CEO. As Christo-
pher recounted to the Sunday BG, the appoint-
ment of Howai was somewhat controversial,
with then finance minister, Brian Kuei Tung
wanting someone else. The bank s chairman
at the time, deceased Justice Guy Hannays,
appointed Howai anyway and resigned from
Christopher spoke of how they were able
to move the bank from last place in all per-
formance indicators in 1994 to "the third
largest bank in profits and assets moving past
Scotiabank in 2004."
She said, "We became the highest invest-
ment grade rated organisation in the entire
English-speaking Caribbean. We move from
a bank that was $3.4 billion in assets to $36
billion in assets."
She said this was happening amidst a culture
that thought a bank had to have a parent com-
pany in London, New York or Toronto to do
well. She also spoke about the pride that cit-
izens had in the bank and the attitude of per-
sonal ownership people took with regard to
it. She thinks this is why the IPO and sub-
sequent revelations had such an impact on
About the investigations itself, Christopher
chose not to comment.
The Sunday BG asked, given her role in the
development of the bank, how would she feel
if she were compelled to resign as a result of
their findings. She thought the possibility of
such action being taken slim.
"I can t see it, on a personal level. One thing
I am absolutely clear on, there is a lot of mis-
information out there and I cannot speak to
those things, but I can say that in terms of
the IPO, I did nothing wrong. I have acted
appropriately, based on the information that
I have had.
"If for whatever reason, I am forced out, I
will do what I have to do legally. But even
with all of that First Citizens is an organisation
that I have been honoured to play such an
integral role in and it is my deepest desire that
it become greater than I perceive it to be.
Whatever happens to me, I would always want
that for First Citizens. The people of T&T,
indeed the people of the Caribbean, deserve
The next evolution
Christopher is very concerned about the
development of women as leaders. This is
where she plans to focus her attention next.
According to the First Citizens deputy CEO,
female numbers within the top ranks remain
thin, victims of a "second-generation bias."
In a Harvard Business Review article of
August 2013, Herminia Ibarra said that "second
generation bias does not require an intent to
exclude; nor does it produce direct immediate
harm to any individual. Rather, it creates a
context-akin to something in the water- where
women fail to thrive reach their full potential."
Christopher thought the battles that her
generation had fought in C-suites would have
had more of an impact.
"Women now are being discriminated
against and they don t know, because it is far
Christopher wants to see more women exec-
utives living up to their fullest potential.
She also told the Sunday BG that there may
be a book in her future.
From Page 6
The many faces of Sharon
Christopher: executive, patron of the
arts and supporter of charitable
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