Howard Smith — Leading by example
There are many characteristics that mark a great leader. For Howard Smith, great leader is one who has an unwavering belief in everyone on his or her team, and provides unshakable support for the professional and personal goals of each team member.
The 37-year-old banker has led the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) unit at Sagicor Bank for the past two years in his capacity as manager for SME Business Banking. In this role, Smith also has responsibility for the recently launched Sagicor Bank Business Resource Centre, which provides support to small and medium-sized businesses by helping the entities to meet and exceed business objectives. Through targeted client service, he and his team support entrepreneurs in leading strong companies that positively impact society.
“I love what I do. It is an awesome feeling to develop a relationship with clients and be able to assist them with their circumstances. It is also very rewarding to witness a client and their business grow through the various stages,” he said.
Smith's journey with Sagicor started in 2003, after he enrolled in the Heart/NSTA Trust's (then HEART Trust/NTA) trainee programme and was placed at the then RBC Bank to support the operations team and gain work experience, fresh from completing his IT diploma from Portmore Community College. He soon realised his preference for helping people and would use his lunch break to train in the client services unit and ultimately transitioned to the department after six months as a teller.
With a background in IT, he has worked his way up the ranks with the company, moving from an entry-level position to now brokering relationships on behalf of the bank. Though client service is an unlikely occupation for a trained IT professional, Smith has carved a promising career in the field while maintaining a level of commitment to putting others' needs above his own.
With his mind set on building a career of helping people accomplish their goals through financing, he soon unlocked and succeeded in the roles of personal banker and relationship business banker, and was ultimately promoted to the post of branch manager in 2017.
His team then copped the coveted Branch of the Year award in 2018 and 2019 at the Sagicor Group's annual Corporate Awards ceremony.
Leading from the front, the innovative people manager noted that, despite being a branch manager, he would often sit in at the front desk for team members while they went to lunch or assist clients when the branch was full. This strategy, he believed, was one of the reasons the team members were fully invested in the success of Sagicor Bank, Hope Road branch.
“People management has changed; no longer can you sit in your office away from what is happening, without any idea of what your team members are going through. What you find is that you can get a lot more from persons when you are with them on their level, facing the same things that they are facing,” he said.
The formula for success, according to Smith, also includes his ability to take a vested interest in the individual development of each of his team members. For instance, when a team member had an interest in personal training, Smith, who has limited knowledge of the field, went above the call of duty to secure training opportunities for that individual. He also shared that when a team member, who was a teller, had her eyes set on doing actuarial science, he connected her with a mentor to guide her along her path.
“I believe that when persons are given the support needed to blossom and accomplish all their goals, whether personal or professional, they become willing to put their all into helping you as a leader to achieve the goals of the organisation,” he said.
Smith exercises this passion for people development even outside of the office through his philanthropic work. The past president of the Rotary Club of Liguanea Plains has dedicated an aspect of his life to selfless service and serves as a volunteer teacher and at the executive level at his alma mater, Greater Portmore High School, while maintaining a rewarding career.
Smith currently volunteers to teach adults in inner-city communities around Kingston, in a programme conceptualised by a friend of his, to empower parents to be comfortable with technology and achieve computer literacy. With classes now transitioned to an online environment, he hosts IT training sessions for parents of students attending Central Branch All-Age School, located in Kingston, twice weekly.
“It is something I enjoy. There are some interesting dynamics teaching persons who may have left the formal school system 20 or 30 years ago. I have encountered persons who were passionate about learning IT and others who had a fear of computers and wanted to get over it. I was definitely honoured to have been a part of that initiative and look forward to resuming soon,” a reminiscent Smith said of his experience.
His passion for education spans further than the boundaries of the classroom, as the benevolent banker also served as the president of the Past Students' Association at Greater Portmore High School and sits on the board of the St Catherine-based school. He also had a three-year stint as an online lecturer at The University of the West Indies, after completing a master's in management of information systems at the institution.
For Smith, his success is largely attributable to a can-do attitude, a passion for seeing others succeed, and a firm belief in leading a balanced life. Despite his many pursuits, he always finds time to have fun. One of his favourite things to do is travel. The globetrotter and adventure seeker earmarks time to satisfy his fascination with exploring, and has visited numerous countries across Europe, North America, and the Caribbean.
“In everything I do I strive to live a balanced life and ensure that no matter what, I am enjoying it,” he said.