Ethline Maud McCalla was born in Bellas Gate, a remote village in the parish of St. Catherine on July 29, 1904. Today marks 113 years since her birth. She was the big sister of my grandfather A. Waters McCalla and I was privileged like so many others to call her Aunt Ettie.
Aunt Ettie became a chemist after moving to Kingston in the 1920s and she worked at PA Benjamin before starting her own business McCalla Laboratories in 1946 on the verandah of her Balmoral Avenue residence. The company eventually expanded to a place on King Street. She produced vanilla, wines, syrups under the brand name “McLas” which still exists to this day.
Like other family members, I got my first taste of the business world working for her company. My brother and I worked Christmas vacations of 1974 and 1975. Ironically it is after she retired in 1979 that I learned most about the entrepreneurial mindset that made her the success that she was.
Successful entrepreneurs are those who have learned how to overcome adversity. Aunt Ettie was an expert in this regard and I saw it demonstrated in how she handled personal crises. In 1985, she went to Miami and was hit by a car and broke her pelvis. She came back to Jamaica, was hospitalized and in 2 months was back in her townhouse climbing stairs and going to the gym at the age of 81.
Entrepreneurs have to be willing to step out of their comfort zones. Aunt Ettie was willing to leave a secure job with a regular pay cheque and step out into the very uncertain world of business where absolutely nothing is guaranteed.
She was a trail blazer. In the 1940s, black women did not start factories but Aunt Ettie decided to blaze her own trail.
Achieving work-life balance is always a challenge for entrepreneurs. With all the demands of her business, Aunt Ettie to me was always was a woman of leisure, enjoying fully what she worked for. From having her big American cars driven by uniformed chauffeurs, her many travels abroad, her love of brandy (Courvoisier).
Entrepreneurs need to constantly refresh their minds by coming up with new ideas. Have retired, Aunt Ettie loved to move house having done so at least 6 times. I think this was one of Aunt Ettie’s ways of constantly doing something different.
The ability to adapt to changing circumstances (Going to plan B). On one of Aunt Ettie’s many house moves, she had put a deposit on an ongoing townhouse development and was all but set to take possession but her lawyer raised some concerns. She got back her deposit and totally unphased shortly after bought somewhere else. On one of her regular travels abroad, her money was stolen. Again unphased, she borrowed some money from some cousins in England where she was visiting and had a good time.
On June 12, 2001, Aunt Ettie made her transition a few weeks short of her 97th birthday leaving behind a legacy of entrepreneurship that is worth emulating.