AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Sheena Thorpe and I am living proof that there is life in the corporate world after you’ve been sacked.
I’m a Southie, born and raised in San Fernando but I’ve lived in the West since I came back to Trinidad 20 years ago. I left Trinidad in 1986, when the oil went to US$9-a-barrel. I saw an opportunity to do what I wanted. So I studied art history at the Florida Institute of Technology.
I was married to an American Jew, Elliot Florin. It was really nice, actually. Jews are sort of rootsy. Brilliant, funny people. We met in New York. His father was Russian, his mother Austrian – and he married a Trini!
I miss everything about America – the freedom to just go when and where I want. I lived in Manhattan and I could just step out and go anywhere. I could sit in Central Park and watch the world go by. It’s just beautiful. I used to run all over New York City.
New York City is safe now. When I lived in the East Village, there would be guys shooting up in my vestibule.
I came back to Trinidad to do some training at [a company within a big corporate group]. And then I became the CEO for nine years. When I came, the company was in a negative position and I was able to take it to positive. We moved it from $12M to $38M!
When I discovered [the company’s terrible financial position], I told the [group CEO], “There is no money at all!” He said, “What I could tell you, girl? You call yourself a manager? Well, manage, then!” I was, like, wow! I left my life in New York and came down here for six months to find this? I went to the bank and borrowed half-a-million dollars off my own money and put it into the company. When [the CEO] found out, he said, “Sheena, you did that for me?” I said, “No, I did it for the company! And, when the company is making money, I want mine back!” When he saw how serious I was, he reinvested in the business.
My board felt I should always come to them first. In Trinidad, there’s this hierarchy system, where people take what you tell them [to the CEO] and act like it’s theirs. I told the CEO that I didn’t want the job if I couldn’t go to him directly. My board didn’t like that at all, so they were always looking to put me out. And they finally managed it one day.
When the [whole corporate group] collapsed and the CEO left [the enterprise], the board came after me. Eventually, about two years later, he [returned and] ran them out of the business. Luckily, he’d advised me to document everything so I was able to go to the Industrial Court and win.
My dad, a mechanic from Barbados, was very successful. He was the only black man with a building on the San Fernando wharf, which was all French Creole-owned at the time. He always told me, “Sheena, always remember: where there is no vision, the people shall perish!” So I always had a vision for something bigger.
Nine months [after I’d been fired], I opened a competing business right next to [the one from which I’d been sacked]. For months, I heard muttering from my old board but that was water off a duck’s back. My business has an edge because my vision was different. I buy the way I think people should live in my mind. So you’ll always find odd, luxurious things. I took one of their leading lines with me, too.
I always try to be a little bit “above” in my store. I’m a little more expensive but that’s because the products are a little more high-end. I want people to feel that, if they didn’t shop at my store, they didn’t really shop!
My mother always told me, when things are rough, put one foot forward and the next one will follow.
It’s so strange to reach the age of 60. It’s like you really start to see that life is “more than”. You start to see your mortality. I spend time with my family and the three or four or five friends I have and really enjoy that. It’s more quality than before – because you are aware of time!
I’m so happy I never had children. The world is so hard now. It doesn’t matter if you come from a well-off home, you still have to almost harness your child. Where did she go? Who was she with? When did she come back? It’s exhausting. When I see anyone’s child do well, I’m amazed, because it’s so hard [to raise children]. I would have had to tie my child to a bed!
I am a Catholic. I said the rosary [against crime] for the country for the 40 days. There are children now who are conceived in trauma, born in trauma and raised in trauma. Family planning needs to be back in communities. With birth control, women don’t have to have an abortion. God doesn’t judge. God has given us free will and self-control. But, if we can’t practise self-control, we should practice birth control. Women need to take back their dignity.
Every single gangster was raised by a woman. You hear them speak to their child: “Your father ain’t bring no money! What the ass wrong with your father?” This is why our country is the way it is. The politics play a part but we, as women, have thrown away the gift God gave us as mothers and caregivers.
Poverty begins when a woman who cannot afford one child has five, with five different men. You know what it is to have a boy and there’s no one to kiss your boo-boo? Nothing gets me more upset than seeing little 16, 17-year-old girls with babies. Come on! Where is your respect for who you are as a person? Young women have to understand their value.
I don’t know how a woman could walk around feeling they’ve done their job when their child is a bandit or a killer. Now not everybody is going to be a doctor or lawyer. But, when the police come to your neighbourhood to investigate a crime and you stand there shouting, “Police too wicked!” in front of your child, you’re teaching your children NOT to have respect for authority!
I don’t think I’m being hard on women. I don’t care if they hate me. They can say, oh, look, I didn’t have children. [But they know I’m right that] women need to take back their dignity. I know what child-rearing is supposed to look like! Certain things are universal.
I don’t know what the steel-cut means but I have steel-cut oatmeal and dried cranberries every day for breakfast. It makes you feel nice and warm. And it isn’t pappy.
A Trini is a warm, wonderful, kind, talkative person who always wants to make you feel happy. Trinis go out of their way for you.
Trinidad and Tobago is home and, in my time, the country made me feel like I could be any and everything I wanted to be. Because, every where I turn, I see me: I see a doctor – it’s me; I see a lawyer – it’s me. I see a teacher – it’s me. I see a business person – I see me. I’m there. So I’ve always felt I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be.