December 2014

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Citation: Catherine Rukmini Kumar, Degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD)

Chancellor, to say that Catherine Rukmini Kumar has blazed a trail for female executives only tells parts of her story. The parts associated with her very many outstanding accomplishments. Those parts are more than sufficient to acknowledge, honour and celebrate but in the deeper telling of her story can be found the details to inspire.

She is the second of nine children of Ranjit Kumar who was a major figure in national development. He was born in India, raised and educated in London and migrated to Trinidad while still a young man. As a civil engineer, he was responsible for the plan, design and construction of Wrightson Road, Trinidad’s first dual carriageway built in the 1940s on newly reclaimed land. An active politician, he served on the Constitutional Reform Committee in 1947, on the Legislative Council from 1946-1956 and as a Butlerite with the famous trade unionist, Tubal Uriah Butler. He made an impact culturally by being the first to introduce Indian films to Trinidad and Guyana. He and his wife raised all their children to strive for excellence and independence alongside a strong belief in ethics. This picture illustrates the platform from which Catherine Kumar would launch her trailblazing record.

She attended St Joseph’s Convent in Port of Spain and co-credits the school and her parents, for the strong moral compass she developed which, even in the roughest seas, would facilitate navigation of the right if not always the easy way forward. She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management Studies in 1974 from The University of the West Indies, became a Chartered Accountant in 1980 and a Fellow of Certified and Corporate Accountants in 1984. She also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Computer Systems and Design.

Through persistent application of herself to whatever challenge lay before her, she would begin to go where no woman had gone before. And far from simply being the first female to hold a particular post, she would perform with distinction and humility. She credits two additional elements with fuelling her successes. The mental stimulation and encouragement she received at The University of the West Indies remains highly valued, as is the advice of successful male executives to “network more.” That prompt would spark an epiphany as she purposefully built strong networks via business NGOs. More CEOs came to know her and to appreciate that she was highly competent, focused and visionary.

This was a turning point that would lead to breaking the glass ceiling.

She was:

  • The first female Senior Executive in the local subsidiary of a large international insurance company
  • The first female Inspector of Banks and Inspector of Financial Institutions of the Financial Supervision Unit of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago
  • First female Chief Executive of a major local bank
  • First female Chair of the Banking Association of Trinidad and Tobago
  • First female President of the American Chamber of Commerce

The magnitude of these achievements, the true extent of her pioneering can be glimpsed in the observation that Ms Kumar was often the only female sitting in the Board Room.

Recognition would come in leading or performing a prominent role in regional and international trade missions.

Fully accepting her civic responsibilities, both in her private interactions and in her many public speaking engagements, Ms. Kumar selflessly mentors other women to pursue their dreams and encourages them to achieve academic success while holding fast to principled conduct. She is proud of having accomplished much while also managing a family and being involved in several nation-building efforts. Prominent among those efforts was serving as Project Manager for the first political debate held by the Debates Commission for the 2010 General Elections in Trinidad and Tobago and again for the Tobago House of Assembly Elections and Local Government Elections in 2013.\

Chancellor, for outstanding corporate achievements, stellar mentorship to a generation of executives and especially female executives, and for selfless national service, I present Catherine Kumar, and ask that by the authority vested in you by the Senate and Council of The University of the West Indies, you confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

It is my distinguished privilege to address you, the 2014 graduates of the Social Sciences Faculty of The University of the West Indies.

I am thrilled, grateful and humbled that the University selected me. What an honour! There is so much I would love to share with you, including my personal stories and lessons learnt along the way, however, with only 10 minutes, I have chosen to précis.

When I graduated, I knew I wanted to be a successful business leader. As a woman, I had many difficult choices to make, including, how to circumvent the glass ceiling. In my day, communication was indeed different. Landlines were difficult to get through on, no campus selfies or the likes of Twitter or Instagram. Who here is old enough to remember TTT with one, maybe two channels, and the Kodak big camera?

Times are indeed different. As I planned to speak today and recognising the short time, I reflected on recent developments where one captures powerful and memorable words by Tweeting and, that this can easily be captured in 140 characters and reach the world in nano seconds; for example:

  • “Yes We Can”
  • “Change you can believe in”
  • “Power to the People”

Borrowing from this powerful development in communication, I ask you to recall my short advice to you today by remembering...

hashtag... mygraduation... 3Cs


The First C...# Choice

You can choose, and yes “choose”... to be a product of your circumstances or... of your decisions, your choices.

I am where I am today, standing here before you, because of the choices I have made over the years. Many, many choices – the choice to study hard and not be overly influenced by the party mood so that I could graduate with honours. It feels like just yesterday I was wearing a similar gown. Today, as it was for me, for you it is as much a celebration of the end of one journey, as it is about starting another. It is for this reason the graduation ceremony is also called commencement.

On my graduation day, while Stephen Covey’s advice “to begin with the end in mind” was not yet written, I knew it instinctively. Do YOU know your destination point?

Yes you can work very smart and get to a destination only to find out there is not where you wanted to be. Don’t let circumstances rule you. You have to be in charge.

Of course, I made mistakes along the way and so will you. Thankfully, my missteps were known only to me and my dearest. YOUR mistakes, your missteps will be recorded for all to see – selfies, Facebook, Google, etc. The internet search world of today is very revealing.

The choices you make henceforth, will indeed determine your future.

Dream! Use your human imagination, know your destination, write a plan and follow it to achieve that dream, changing the course as is necessary along the way. There are many roads to take you to the same goal.

The Second C... # Commitment

A degree is a great start, but it is neither a magic wand nor mover of mountains. Doors will not instantly open to the jobs or business you want, nor opportunities you believe you deserve. Your commitment must be steeped in passion and push you to aggressively go after the goals you set.

  • Commitment means showing up in the workplace, on time inspite of any challenges
  • Commitment means delivering on or ahead of time, keeping your word
  • Commitment is taking pride in your work, making it shine with the success you hope to be

Who here has thought about the difference between being “interested” in something or being “committed” to that goal? John Assaraf defines the difference as... “if you are committed to something you will do everything in your power to make it happen. If you are only interested, you will find excuses when the going gets tough.” I ask you. Are you interested? Or, are you committed?

A scary scourge of entitlement seems to be plaguing our land, and many of our new graduates. Far too many walk through the doors of business, degree in hand, expecting success, unwilling to work a long day. In some, I have seen commitment so lacking that more time is spent on social media than in toiling to deliver quality work on time, or without excuses.

My father was tough on my eight siblings and me. He was committed to our success. We were constantly encouraged to stay committed to our education and our dreams. Naturally as children, our commitment was to play hard.

However, he taught us to work harder than we played. With thanks to him, we are all professionals with two lecturing right here at UWI. Miss school? Church? Hand in assignments late? No chance! Up to this day, my siblings and I, inspite of juggling family lives, successful careers and glorious social lives, are known for keeping our commitments because THAT is part of who we are.

Commitment is part of the magic formula. It starts with the dream you envision and continues with a commitment, to see it through to the end.

Be passionate. Strive for the goals you set. Commit to your dreams.

The Third C...# Conscience

Conscience is the judgement that assists in distinguishing right from wrong. As you choose your journey and commit to seeing it through, as a citizen of this world I urge you to have a conscience.

We live in a world today, where giving back seems to be something we leave to others. The concept of making the world a better place, let alone leaving it a better one, needs more ambassadors.

Conscience is not martyrdom. Conscience is volunteering. It is giving back... to your church, your community, helping those less fortunate than yourself, opening doors for others, etc.

I say to you that a truly successful person is one who is known not only for reaching the pinnacle of their business or profession but for the lives impacted along the way.

I urge you to revive the conscience of your homeland with urgency.

Our society needs us, Ladies and Gentlemen, if we have any hope of being better. Success is conscience. Build and create your legacy with a conscience so that it is filled with inspiration, as it will be with financial means. Do it, so that you are proud to say... “I too, walked here.” graduation ...3 Cs

#Choose your dream and #Commit to it with #Conscience.

I urge you to grab hold of your future by using these three Cs, these 33 characters... choice, commitment and conscience... as a guide. You can build it out to Twitter’s 140 characters as there is a lot more one can add. It is my wish that years from now, when called upon to impart a few inspirational words to a graduating class, you will be able to say... “choice, commitment and conscience, helped me to audit my life as I journeyed to success.”

I wish you future success with the deep understanding that the future of this world depends on each and every one of us. Don’t be afraid of the big wide world as you are already there through the world wide web.

I, Catherine Kumar, say to you today, “Go forth and let your light shine.” On this special day I congratulate you on this great accomplishment of completing your studies.

Our university’s Latin motto translates as, “A light rising from the West.” Go out there and light up the world, you Social Sciences graduates. A candle loses nothing of its light by lighting another candle. Turn away from the “naysayers” and the “why it can’t be done.” As the late Steve Jobs said: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice.” Each and every one of us is a unique individual and we should let our candle burn brightly.

  • May you choose dreams like Martin Luther King... super-sized
  • May you be COMMITTED to inspire future generations like Malala, the Pakistani child education activist who recently visited these shores, and a 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • May you live a life steeped in conscience like Father [Gerry] Pantin and Mahatma Ghandi had

When you leave here this morning, look each other in the eye and say “See you at the top!” as you ascend even greater heights together.

Congratulations once again. God bless you all.