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Risk-taker Howard Ward finds power in his tools

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Businessman Howard Ward, the founder and managing director of the western Jamaica-based Ward’s Power Tools and Supplies, is not ashamed to say that he is a risk-taker who gets bored quite easily.

And, perhaps, it is because of those traits why the 58-year-old native of Kingston is fast becoming one of the most successful businessmen in the western region of the island.

“I am a risk-taker; I get bored quite easily, so I tend not to focus on one thing for too long, but whatever I do, I do it with a lot of passion and then move on to something else,” said Ward, who spent most of his childhood days in the rural community of Bunker’s Hill, Trelawny, with his grandparents.

A past student of Unity Primary School in Trelawny, Ward attended the then Muschette Secondary School, also in that parish, before enrolling at the then Jamaica Hotel School in Kingston, where he pursued a course in culinary arts.

At age 19, he migrated to Florida after working at a few local hotels as a chef.

While in Florida he worked as a chef for Royal Caribbean Cruises, as well as a few hotels in the Miami area.

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But after working in the tourism sector for roughly four years, Ward said that his love for cooking began to wane, and so he decided to look for other opportunities.

“I really lost the zeal for cooking because the creativity was no longer there, and so I moved on and decided to open a landscaping business in Florida which later turned out to be a very successful venture,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

Interestingly, he said, entering that aspect of business was influenced by an experience he had with a work crew which had come to his house to install an irrigation system.

“It’s really funny. I was home and I called in a man to install an irrigation system and I watched him work, and when I realised the amount of money that he charged me for installing the system, I said to myself I could do that. And so from there on I just started to teach myself about how to install irrigation systems and how to do landscaping,” the astute businessman explained.

“From there on I just started to take on a few landscaping jobs — tree-trimming, cutting grass, planting grass — until the business started to grow and developed into a lucrative venture,” he said, adding that within six months he had achieved mastery of the trade.

Ward said that his big break came a few years later when he landed a three-year contract with Florida Power and Light, which provided electric power throughout most of Florida.

The contract, he told the Sunday Observer, involved the landscaping and maintenance work on the premises of all the company’s sub-stations in Dade and Broward counties.

Hurricane Andrew, which devastated a large chunk of southern Florida in August 1992, also provided a fillip for Ward’s landscaping business, which by then had employed more than 20 persons permanently.

“Immediately after Hurricane Andrew we were bombarded with work. In the Biscayne area for example, we had about 30 persons working there for about two months just cleaning up,” he said.

Hurricane Andrew was the first major hurricane to affect the Florida peninsula in well over 25 years when it made landfall, with the previous being Hurricane Donna in 1950 which made landfall as a slow moving, Category 4 system.

The hurricane destroyed nearly all of the thriving Australian pine trees, an invasive species, in Florida’s Bill Baggs State Park, which had taken up 95 per cent of the park.

Following the destruction of these trees, millions of dollars were spent to remove remnants of the Australian pines and plant native trees in a large-scale ecological restoration to replace the species.

After the hurricane, 12.7 million cubic yards of debris were removed from impacted areas in Florida, enough to fill roughly 4,000 Olympic swimming pools.

According to Ward, after the clean-up exercise was completed, he had saved enough money to purchase land at Coral Gardens in St James and to start the construction of a villa, while at the same time maintaining his landscaping business in South Florida.

Years later after the end of the contract with Florida Power and Light, Ward said he got bored with the landscaping business and opted to come back to his homeland to focus on the construction of the villa.

“At that point I started to travel back and forth from Florida to the Jamaica, and it was during that time I met businesswoman Veronica Pennycooke, so that gave me even more reasons for wanting to return to my homeland,” Ward shared.

In April 2001 they tied the knot and later purchased land in Coral Gardens where they began construction for their home.

According to Ward, it was during the construction of the house that the idea dawned on him that he could make some “extra money” from selling tools.

“While building the house we had some workmen who were asking me to bring tools for them on my return to the island. They were asking me to bring for example a saw, a drill… and so I start thinking that I could make this a business, and so that’s where Ward’s Power Tools started,” he explained.

Fifteen years later, Ward’s Power Tools and Supplies Limited is one of the leading dealers in western Jamaica
in heavy-duty generators, industrial tools, welding equipment, landscaping tools and supplies, plumbing, electrical and hardware supplies.

The business also sells and rents cranes, forklifts, light towers, compressors and generators from 5 KVA to 1 megawatt and provides outside lighting plants and generators for several events across Jamaica.

“We now have in our inventory over 30 lighting plants and a total of six megawatt of power for rental, making us the company with the biggest fleet of generators and lighting plants in Jamaica,” Ward boasted.

He said that his company has provided power for a number of major events across the island, including Soul in the Sun, Reggae Sumfest, Rebel Salute, Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival, Nyammings and Jammings, Rainforest Seafood Festival, GT Extravaganza and Hague Agricultural and Livestock Show.

He added that about two years ago, his company was for more than a month the primary supplier of power to one of the island’s bauxite companies.

According to the businessman, Ward’s Power Tools and Supplies’ portfolio also includes several properties in St James.

These, he said, include the former Eagle Merchant Bank building on St James Street in Montego Bay, a commercial building in Ironshore, as well as “a couple buildings in the Montego Freeport and Fairview areas”.

He alluded the tremendous growth of his business over the years mainly to the construction of several resorts in western Jamaica, as well as the expansion of the Bogue Power Plant in St James.

“We did a lot of business with a number of hotels that were under construction in western Jamaica between 2001 and 2006. During that time we were able to capitalise on the business and expand our rental fleet. We also sold them a number of equipment,” said Ward, adding that “we also did a fair share of business with the JPS when they were rebuilding the plant at Bogue”.

As a result of its contribution to the business sector in Montego Bay, Ward’s Power Tools and Supplies Limited received the award for being the best new business in 2004 from the influential Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Four years later, also, the company was recognised by the chamber for being the best exhibitor at its annual exposition.

A dedicated philanthropist, Ward, is passionate about giving back to his community and is an avid sports enthusiast.

“I have worked with the 4-H Clubs, a number of church groups … I always try to assist them whenever possible,” said Ward, who is a former chairman of the St James High School in Montego Bay.

The astute businessman is also a member of the Ambassadorial Corps of the University of the West Indies, Western Jamaica Campus, and chairman of the Catherine Hall Sports Complex for several years.

He also finds time to participate in the annual Reggae Marathon, numerous cycling events, and works out at the gym at least four times per week.

“People always ask me how come I find time to do so many things, but the truth is that I try to manage my time. I like to be organised so I get a lot of things accomplished,” said Ward, stressing that he is always driven by challenges.

“Whenever I see a challenge, I always want to go at it. For example, if I see a big job being advertised, I am going to check it out and try my best to get it, even if it means going to the bank to borrow money. I am really a risk-taker. I love taking risks,” he stressed.

He told the Sunday Observer that in coming weeks he plans to aggressively market his hardware retail business located in Ironshore, which stocks a wide variety of items.

“A lot of people don’t know that that we stock a wide variety of hardware items, including paints, nail and bolts, weed eaters, saws, hammers … so we are going to make that know to the public,” he pointed out.

Thanking his scores of customers, his bankers Scotiabank, as well as his wife and children and his 20-odd employees for their support over the years, Ward said, “Without them I would not have accomplished a lot.”

Former president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry Davon Crump described Ward as a very influential businessman and philanthropist in the western region.

“He is a very good person and someone whom I have a lot of respect for,” added Crump.

Originally posted in the Jamaica Observer

By Mark Cummings – Editor At Large


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