Christine Sahadeo FCCA has enjoyed an eventful working life as a cabinet minster, chief executive and now senior lecturer and deputy dean at the University of the West Indies, and she credits the mentoring she received early in her career as having played an integral part in her success. Here, we discover how she has gone on to devote much of her time to providing the next generation of professionals in Trinidad and Tobago with their own opportunities to flourish
It was a year after leaving secondary school and completing a teaching stint at a convent in Port of Spain that Christine Sahadeo decided to pursue a career in accountancy.
Back in 1979, she began her finance career at EY and registered as an ACCA student. It was a role in which she received guidance from the seniors and partners, who provided not only valuable support in her professional development, but also in her ACCA studies.
A couple of years later, Sahadeo took on an accountancy position at the country’s largest poultry processing company, Arawak Ltd, which was then a division of the Massy (formerly Neal & Massy) group of companies.
The times were particularly challenging for the poultry industry, and saw Sahadeo working closely with trade unions and a network of client farmers facing hardship, in addition to a workforce numbering in excess of 200 employees.
Sahadeo has acknowledged the guidance and mentorship she received from the managing director Jeff Rostant during her time at Arawak Ltd as a valuable learning experience.
Relocating to London in 1985 after receiving a government scholarship, Sahadeo completed her final ACCA exams the following year and spent four years at the Central Bank, which she cites as having provided a solid foundation in her eventual duties as a cabinet minister.
It was in 1991 – by this time an ACCA member – that Sahadeo returned to the Massy group as finance director and had the opportunity to work with ‘truly great leaders including Sydney Knox, Jesus Passos, the late Bernard Dulal Whiteway and Michael Marshall’ – the latter who Sahadeo considers ‘a genius mentor and coach; the founders of Massy, Harry Neil and Charles Massy, were both great mentors and their legacy still lives on.’
So, having been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of such invaluable guidance throughout her career, Sahadeo wanted to give something back.
In 2008, with a new role in academia, she finally saw an opportunity to share her experiences of mentoring and help the next generation of finance professionals.
One such initiative was the establishment of the Campus Chapter, Habitat for Humanity, which gave students the opportunity to work with renowned business leaders. Sahadeo went on to launch an eight-week financial literacy programme, 'Train the Trainer’, in partnership with the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, and was also instrumental in establishing an ‘In-Service Training for Accounting, Auditing and Taxation Students’ (ISTAATS) programme, negotiating in excess of 40 summer work placements for students.
Under Sahadeo’s guidance, the Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA UWI) was also established. The association was set up to help facilitate the development of young entrepreneurs through mentorship, education and exposure to the skills necessary to become a success as innovative business owners.
Sahadeo has been enthused by the findings of a survey that she conducted recently that revealed how mentorship is taken very seriously by some of the world's largest firms like BP, BG, Scotia Bank, and EY, all of which conduct employee programmes – both formally and informally – for training, career development and succession planning.
While the survey’s findings found that both formal and informal methods of mentorship produce substantial benefits to staff and employer, Sahadeo insists that the key to a successful relationship is selecting a mentor that is suitable.
‘My definition of mentoring and coaching goes beyond the developing of specific skills,’ she says. ‘It is that personal relationship based on caring and trusting and taking time to ask the mentee “where do you want to go”.
‘The reward for success is helping others by similarly being a mentor – it is a win-win situation as the mentor, the mentee and the organisation all win.’