Last year Oscar Francois celebrated 60 years in business. As executive chairman, Jacqueline Francois is paving the way for the next generation. While balancing business, family and volunteer commitments has been challenging, she has successfully left her mark on all these areas.
by Jade Cumberbatch, Freelance writer
Published in CONTACT Magazine
Jacqueline Francois does not dwell on challenges. She sees what has to be done and does it. As a woman in business, Jacqueline says she always overcompensates by being extra prepared for everything. She gets her hands dirty and leads by example so no one can question her knowledge, skill or authority.
Oscar Francois: a pioneer
“Overcompensating was my dad’s advice. He felt that the best preparation he could do with his four daughters was to give us a tertiary education outside of Trinidad and Tobago. He wanted us to not just have a sound education but exposure to other cultures.”
Jacqueline’s father, Oscar H. Francois, first started off by helping to establish a pharmaceutical distribution department within a major company, working there for 17 years before moving on to start up his own business. She recounts how, when he met her mother, he wanted to get married. He also wanted financial stability, so he took what he knew best and started Oscar Francois Limited out of a personal desire for independence and independent decision-making.
Jacqueline Francois is now the executive chairman of Oscar Francois and managing director of the manufacturing company Intersol Limited, which her father co-founded. She started working part-time with both companies at the age of 17, and was employed at Oscar Francois after graduating from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in computer science.
“After graduating I joined the family business so I could learn it from scratch, because my father had a heart attack in my first year of university. He recovered well, but it brought some reality that I’m the eldest and I more than likely had to help my mum.
“There was no point in time that I did not want to be part of the business. Making them proud and making my contribution to the family was definitely central to my motivation. Having said that, my sister Jasmine and I have always said we have been so fortunate that we love what we do.”
Building a business
In 1958 Oscar Francois started with the distribution of prescription drugs. Over the years, the business expanded to include over-the-counter drugs and veterinary drugs. Eventually it expanded further into distribution of personal care products with the manufacture of the Fabergé line of fragrances at Intersol.
In the mid-90s, Jacqueline was personally responsible for the introduction and growth of the agricultural side of the business, providing fertilisers and seeds as well as organic solutions to farmers. She also launched a motor vehicle security division in 1990, which was sold earlier this year.
Oscar Francois continued to expand the personal care line, moving beyond shampoos, conditioners and styling products to introduce products and training for professional hairdressers. The medical department also introduced surgical instruments for public and private operating theatres. In addition, in 1998, when Unilever purchased the Fabergé line, Intersol began manufacturing Alberto VO5, TCB, and Motions hair products.
As she moved through the various departments of both companies, Jacqueline had to learn fast, make quick decisions and adjust to new circumstances. She learned about markets, export sales, technical information about vehicle security and other subjects on-the-go through workshops, personal reading, private tutors and even returning to school to earn an MBA in Business at the UWI-Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business (UWI-ALJGSB).
“This degree exposed me to human resource management and organisational design and development, in which I developed a keen interest. I immediately saw the benefits of adopting some of these practices.”
As a result, upon assuming the role of CEO in 2000, Jacqueline made the development of her team a primary
focus as she grew and re-shaped the business. “We invested heavily in managerial and staff development by training our leadership in change management techniques, and sponsoring cross-functional teams who planned and executed process improvement projects. We have been very pleased with the results.
“I have grown as a businessperson, learning from numerous mentors over the span of my career. Therefore I also love to share my knowledge and experience, and have gained a great deal of joy in leading the charge of investing in the development of our team. I have received immense satisfaction from seeing the growth of each team member.”
Jacqueline’s fast-paced life of business and learning has led to a lot of personal sacrifice, not just for the good of the family’s businesses, but also to give back to the country. She volunteered to represent the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce on several Cabinet-appointed committees, including the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee and the Drug Advisory Committee. Jacqueline was also a mentor with the UWI-ALJGSB BizBooster Incubator programme where she coached female micro entrepreneurs. She also headed the Membership Committee of the Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago (PLOTT) for five years.
She continues to actively contribute to the Holy Name Past Pupils Association through various committees, and recently helped organise a career day for Form Four students. For the past six years, she has been a volunteer catechist at St Finbar’s Roman Catholic Church where she teaches confirmation. And for the past year she has been the coordinator of several programmes at the church – baptism, first communion, confirmation, and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
“God is at the centre of my life. God has graced me with an extremely caring mother who has very high standards, not just for me but for each of her children, grandchildrenand the people she comes into contact with. And a father who was very open with his tutelage, particularly his experiences.”
Jacqueline is very close to her siblings, thankful for her wonderful brothers-in-law, and thoroughly enjoys her three nieces and four nephews, who she admits that she spoils. Her love of family also means that, while she may get tired and stressed at times, she has never regretted working in the family business or wanted to go elsewhere.
On the business side, things have been challenging as a result of the local economic climate. Jacqueline says demand is down in some areas, though growing in others. There has been some growth in the export market however, as Intersol recently launched Diquez Baby Lotion, which has been well accepted locally and internationally.
In the area of chronic disease medicines, Jacqueline says, business is becoming more costly because of delays created by inefficiencies in the system, waiting for approvals, and other time-related factors.
“Every transaction costs more money. Because of that, we are constantly looking at becoming more and more efficient so we could keep costs down and pass savings on to the consumer.”
Despite these challenges, Jacqueline is looking forward to the future. Oscar Francois already manages sales and marketing efforts for a few international companies, and she would like to see the business move beyond manufacturing and distribution into added services.
“My role as executive chairman for the last two years has really been about building that foundation for growth while the rest of the executive team takes care of the day-to-day operations. I am certainly looking forward to seeing the fruits of my labour.”
Who is Jacqueline Francois?
She is executive chairman of Oscar Francois Ltd and managing director of Intersol Ltd. At the age of 17 she started working part-time with both companies while still attending school.
In 1981 she graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in computer science and was permanently employed at Oscar Francois. From then to 1983 she worked in the accounts, customs, and information technology departments of both companies. In 1983 she became the export sales representative for Intersol. In 1985 she took on the role of sales and marketing manager for the personal sales division at Oscar Francois.
That year she also joined the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce’s (TTCIC) pharmaceutical committee.
She became vice-chairman of the committee in 2009 and eventually became chairman before the committee was disbanded. In 1990 she became the pharmaceutical director at Oscar Francois. She then completed her Executive MBA at the UWIALJGSB, and became the deputy managing director at Intersol in 1994.
In 2000 she became CEO of Oscar Francois, and held the position for 17 years. That year she also became and remains managing director of Intersol.
In 2013 she was elected a director of the TTCIC. Since 2017 shehas been the executive chairman of Oscar Francois.
About Oscar Francois Ltd
- Founded in 1958 by Oscar H. Francois
- Started as a prescription medication distribution company supplying doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies
- The veterinary division for animal pharmaceuticals was formalized in 1965
- In 1967, Oscar Francois co-founded the manufacturing and export company Intersol Ltd.
- Also in 1967, the company expanded into distribution of personal care products, with manufacturing and distribution of the Fabergé line of fragrances
- Today, Intersol manufactures a range of cosmetics and personal care products, including the Diquez and Day ‘n Nite brand. It exports to several countries including Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts & Nevis, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Suriname
- Oscar Francois has locations in Port of Spain, Arima, Chaguanas, and La Romain
- It added surgical instruments, professional haircare products, fertilisers, insecticides, and veterinary medicine and health drugs to its product line
- Oscar Francois employs 180 persons, while Intersol employs 25