By RON FANFAIR
The responsibility for boosting workplace diversity rests squarely on the shoulders of executives who are willing to take risks to realize the rewards inherent in a diversified setting, Jamaican-born British entrepreneur, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, told delegates at the annual Innoversity summit in Toronto last week.
“One often talks about diversity, and organizations set up departments to demonstrate that they are engaged in the process,” he said. “But the reality of making a difference in people’s lives is what one does as an individual.
“When was the last time you gave someone an entrepreneurial opportunity when you felt you might be making a big mistake? Merely talking about diversity does not achieve anything. You, as individuals, are the ones that will make that change.”
Emmanuel-Jones, Britain’s only Black large scale farmer and a Conservative Party candidate in the next general elections constitutionally due to be held no later than 2010, knows what he’s talking about.
Emmanuel-Jones was four years old when his family moved from Jamaica and settled in a small home in Birmingham, England. To supplement his income, his father rented an allotment of land from the local council and, as the oldest boy, it was his responsibility to oversee it.
“This allotment really became the oasis away from the misery that I was surrounded by,” he said. “I can remember, at age 11, making myself a promise that one day I would eventually like to own my farm.
I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But I had the courage to have a dream planted at the back of my mind and everything that I subsequently did with my life was to try to get into the position of actually buying that farm.”
The 51-year-old entrepreneur said he owes a great debt of gratitude to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) producer who opened a door for him after he dropped out of high school at age 16 and was kicked out of the British army two years later for indiscipline.
“After I dropped out of school, I wanted to get away from home because it was overcrowded and the only option for me then was to join the army,” he said. “That was the biggest mistake I made in my life…When I got a dishonourable discharge from the army because I could not cope with that lifestyle, my life was an absolute failure at age 18.
“One thing back in those days at your disposal that you could turn to was catering. I loved working in the kitchen so I went to college and upgraded my skills. However, while I enjoyed catering, I realized that if I was going to make some money to buy a farm, I had to do something else.”
With no media qualification or training, Emmanuel-Jones set out to secure employment in the TV industry, much to the consternation of his family and friends.
“I had what I called the immigrant drive and took what my father gave me, which was advice,” he said. “He told me that to succeed in anything, you need to have a focus and the right attitude. If you have those things, you could achieve anything.”
Emmanuel-Jones wrote to every producer at the Radio Times and called all of them. In each instance, he failed to get a response.
After sending resumes and making phone calls for 18 months, he received a call from the BBC’s Jock Gallagher, who took a chance on him. Starting as a runner, Emmanuel-Jones worked as a researcher and is largely responsible for the celebrity chef craze on TV, giving individuals such as culinary notable, Gordon Ramsay – the host of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” – his first big break on TV.
Realizing that his work with TV at the time was not going to provide him with the financial resources to purchase his farm, Emmanuel-Jones left the industry after 10 years and set up his own marketing agency for food brands. He bought his own farm in rural England and established The Black Farmer label.
“My next door neighbours on the farm used to refer to me as the Black farmer,” he said. “I decided that’s a good brand name because it had an edge to it and no one else could nick the idea.”
His Black Farmer product range, which includes sausage, bacon, ham and chicken, is in stores across England and Ireland and he intends to expand to the international market in the future.
As an individual who benefited from someone taking a chance on him, Emmanuel-Jones recognizes that he has a responsibility to give back. For each of the past four years, he has taken five weeks out of his busy schedule to mentor young people – many of whom have encountered hurdles in their lives – by exposing them to farming in a rural setting.
“I have been extremely lucky to have been on this journey and to have achieved the things I have done in life,” he said. “I feel a great sense of responsibility to be able to demonstrate and show to people from my community what is possible if you prepare to be focused.”
Emmanuel-Jones, who relishes challenges, joined Britain’s he Conservative Party five years ago and is its candidate for the newly minted market town of Chippenham – it’s about 96 miles west of London – in the next elections.
Husband and wife media practitioners, Hamlin Grange and Cynthia Reyes, co-founded the Innoversity Summit in 2000 to discuss the challenges and successes of creating a diverse workforce in the media.