Director of Finance for Greylock Capital Management
Executive Lounge: I understand you grew up in Jamaica. Can you tell us about your childhood?
Alsion: I was raised just outside of a little town called Linstead in St. Catherine in Jamaica. I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather passed away when I was 12 or so and so basically my grandmother was left with the task of raising about 8 or 9 grandchildren. I have three brothers and five sisters. Looking back I think that in the community that I grew up in we were considered one of the wealthiest families in the community although at the time I was unaware. I grew up without a television. We had to go about a mile away to get proper drinking water. We had to use an outhouse. To me, the wealthier folks were in Kingston and had shoes to wear every day, they had television and took the bus to school. I had to walk miles to school. With that said, I don’t think if given the chance I would have given it up for anything because it turned me into the woman that I am today.
Executive Lounge: Where were you’re parents during this period of your life?
Alsion: My mom was in London at the time attending nursing school and my father was separated from my mom shortly before I was born.
Executive Lounge: Did you know your father well?
Alsion: Yes, I knew him but we didn’t really have a relationship because of the shaky relationship between him, my mom and my grandparents. So, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him except for maybe during holidays. I pushed to have a relationship with him once I became an adult and realized that wanted to know more about this man. I’m glad that I did that because it made me realize where my love for cooking originated. He owned a restaurant in Jamaica and was a very good cook.
Executive Lounge: So, cooking is in your nature?
Alsion: Oh, yeah.
Executive Lounge: Was your mother the first person in your family to get an advanced education?
Alsion: That’s a good question. My grandmother was not book smart by any means. But she was a businesswoman to the core. At an early age she had to leave school in order to help her mother to support her brothers and sisters. In doing so, that pushed my grandmother to ensure that her children had a good education. All of her children are doing really well. For example, I have an uncle who lives in Canada and is an engineer. My grandmother had three daughters, and all three daughters were sent off to England to nursing school and so all three daughters became nurses.
Executive Lounge: How did the family find the means to do that?
Alsion: Looking back I realize that in my community this is one of the reasons we were considered wealthy. My grandmother had a farm. She turned out to be a great businesswoman and she managed to employ a few people in the community to work for her. She had lots of fruits; she grew oranges. She had a sugar cane plantation and she had animals that she would raise and sell. She was able to earn a living that way. She just ensured that she put enough money aside for her children to get a good education. When she had enough money she would get a plane ticket for one of her children to go to England. In those days it was easy to go from Jamaica to England. My grandmother had two sisters that had migrated to England in the 1950′s. So my mom and two aunts were sent to live there.
Executive Lounge: So, you learned early on the value of hard work and the importance of a good education?
Alsion: Yes, my grandmother was a very good businessperson who knew the value of education.
Executive Lounge: What motivates you?
Alsion: I am motivated when I achieve something different; especially something others have failed to achieve. There’s something on the inside of me that pushes me to expand myself by working harder, stronger, smarter and more efficiently. I have the strength inside of me to go that extra mile.
Executive Lounge: At this point in your life, do you consider yourself successful?
Alsion: Yes, of course. I feel that my career has been successful to date and I have been more than happy with my career progressions. I’m enjoying the job that I do and not how much it pays or benefits I can gain from it and have found that so far this strategy has worked well for me.
Executive Lounge: What do you think are the three major reasons are for your success?
Alsion: I am very fortunate to have worked with great people who were willing to help me learn and who have served as mentors. But the three major characteristics that I think have helped me are loyalty, love and the strength that I gain from my family and friends.
Executive Lounge: What is the geography where you do most of your work?
Alsion: Jamaica mainly and Trinidad. I am very connected to the corporate world in Jamaica.
Executive Lounge: Do you recall your first key business transaction?
Alsion: That would be a $150 million bond deal that I assisted with for Air Jamaica. That was about 7 years ago.
Executive Lounge: What do you consider to be your most significant business or personal accomplishment?
Alsion: In my personal life, I consider my children to be an absolute blessing. My success and the happiness I get from my children bring me great joy. From a business perspective, in the wake of the collapse of my previous employer (Bear Stearns), I decided to turn lemons into lemonade. I decided to turn the loss into a gain and start my own advisory firm. I don’t look at my time at Bear Stearns as a negative. Looking back, if you had asked me four years ago whether I liked working at Bear Stearns I would have said “Yes”. It was a joy to be there. I was certainly challenged a lot while I was there and I enjoy challenges. However, in March of 2008 when the market turned I realized that this was going to be the end and it was a really difficult time for me. I became very depressed; very agitated. I wasn’t able to focus. I found that I couldn’t get up out of bed for several weeks to get to work. I took a beating. I lost my entire 401k and the stocks that I owned in the company – I lost everything. So, I had to bring myself to a point to figure out what was next. I just didn’t anticipate being at that juncture. I thought that I would have retired as an employee at Bear Stearns. So, it was a real depressing time for me. Luckily, my boyfriend, Mark was really inspiring and would make sure that I would get out of bed each morning and focus on what my next move was going to be.
Executive Lounge: I think that speaks well of your character because many people did not land on their feet right away after that banking crisis.
Alsion: No, not at all. To this day there are still several of my co-workers who call me and are still looking for jobs.
Executive Lounge: How did you manage to persevere and come out on top when so many others didn’t?
Alsion: Believe it or not, five months prior to the collapse of Bear Stearns I was actually anticipating going on my own. It was something that I was toying around with in my head. I called one of my closest friends – Joy Henry Hinton – who is now my company attorney, one morning and I said to her, “I really think that it is time for me to move in a different direction”. There were several people in my network that had been telling me that maybe I should have my own business. They told me that I should look into starting up my own company and that they would support me if I did. At the time, Mike Conway – a very great friend of mine who is now the ex president of Air Jamaica – would check in on me every weekend or so. We had a conversation once while he was in New York and I said to him, “You know Mike, I really want to look into starting up my own business” and he said, “Why don’t you come back to Jamaica and help me run Air Jamaica?” I told him I knew nothing about running an airline and he said I would learn. I told him I would think about it but what I really wanted to do was start a company that could raise funds for investors. So he told me to get the ball rolling and that’s what I did. I actually called Joy and asked her to incorporate a company for me. On the day that Bear Stearns collapsed I was on my way to Las Vegas for a trip with Joy and another close friend so I was literally in the air when the market crashed and Bear Stearns went down. When I landed, I turned my cell phone on and I had maybe 50 missed calls. They were calling me from Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados because they were concerned. I didn’t know what was going on. I remember calling back one of my friends because I noticed she had called me about six times. She said, “Are you alright?” and I said, “Yes, why?” She said, “Oh my God I’m so sorry to hear about Bear Stearns”. That’s how I found out that I was out of a job. So the entire trip turned out to be a disaster because immediately after that phone call I just lost it. I knew what had happened and what life was going to be like for me. That was March, 2008.
Executive Lounge: Do you see any growth sectors in the immediate future in the Caribbean?
Alsion: I think in the energy sector. I think there is growth potential as we move towards clean energy and alternative energy sources.
Executive Lounge: Are you involved in any type of community activities right now?
Alsion: (laughs) I am forced to; whether I have time or not. There are too many to name actually. I am a part of what is called the Jamaican Diaspora in New York. There are always a number of activities taking place at any given time. I try my best to attend as many as I am invited to as well as being a financial sponsor to as many as possible. Sometimes the sponsorship list is just too long. I just do my best.
Executive Lounge: How successful have you been balancing work and home life?
Alsion: I wish that I were better at that balance, but like many people I spend a lot of time at work. It was difficult in the beginning of starting my business. In order to provide top notch service to ARG’s clients it requires an extreme understanding from my family. I try to balance it by doing special things with my children. For example my daughter comes over on Sundays so we can have a mother daughter time. We go to the spa together. My family and I have talked a lot about it. The bottom line is I’m a dark woman in a tough environment and I want to succeed not just for myself, but for my immediate and extended family and friends. There are several children in Jamaica whose expenses I cover so they can go to school. Of course, in order to be able to do that, I have to have the funds to cover those expenses. I am sure that my children understand.
Executive Lounge: When you first got into business for yourself, did you have some investors or a large client to start out with?
Alsion: I had two investors that came in with me and I used my entire savings. That was a risk that I was willing to take.
Executive Lounge: So, you had a Rolodex, skill, intelligence and courage and off you went?
Executive Lounge: What time you start work in the morning and when does you work day end?
Alsion: I usually start about 10am and I usually stop around 8pm or later if I have clients coming in.
Executive Lounge: Do you have a particular philosophy that you adhere to in business or life in general?
Alsion: Don’t waste time thinking about the past because you can’t change it. I don’t worry about the future either. That will be here soon enough. I live for here and now. Like the saying goes, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone.
Executive Lounge: What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Alsion: Exciting, challenging and hectic.
Executive Lounge: What is the biggest perk of your job?
Alsion: I love what I do. Because I believe that if you do something you love you never have to work a day in your life. I love working with companies seeking to expand their business so the biggest perk of my job is getting to be part of the excitement of when a project begins and succeeds because we were able to give good advice and service to a client.
Executive Lounge: What do you do for relaxation?
Alsion: I love to cook. People have told me that I am good at it. I also love to entertain friends and my family. When I want to relax in every sense of the word, I usually take a trip to Montego Bay. I usually get a suite at the Ritz Carlton there. I have very good friends at the Ritz and my suite is always right on the beach. Mind you, I cannot swim at all, but hearing the sound of the waves splashing late at night relaxes me. I do the spa when I’m there and just hang out with my friends.
Executive Lounge: Are there any books that have had a strong influence on you either personally or in your business?
Alsion: Yes, a book by Alan Greenspan called The Age of Turbulence. If you haven’t read that book you really should. It tells you a lot about the markets. It tells you a lot about the economy and gives you an insight as to how our treasury industry and markets run.
Executive Lounge: If you didn’t live in the U.S., where would your ideal place be to live and why?
Alsion: It would be Jamaica. Somehow I have managed to make a lot of friends in Jamaica. For the most part, they are all in the hospitality business and there is always a great party going on somewhere. To me, when I’m there, the network of friends that I have in Kingston seem very relaxed and it seems like they are enjoying life and that’s what I want at this stage in my life. So, it would definitely be Jamaica.
Executive Lounge: What are you currently reading?
Alsion: I don’t get much time to read but I like to read. A book that I am reading right now is by a close friend of mine; Steve Harvey. He’s an actor and comedian and he wrote a book called Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. I am reading the book before I go see the movie.
Executive Lounge: How would you like to be remembered as a businessperson?
Alsion: Honest and fair and that I was a woman of my word: That I acted like a lady but thought like a man.
Executive Lounge: Tell us something about yourself that most people might not know.
Alsion: I don’t want to get too much into detail about this because it might make me cry. But, something about me that a lot of people don’t know is that I was once homeless.
Executive Lounge: I’m sure they don’t. But, that makes your success story so much more powerful.
Alsion: Yes, well I lived at a shelter when I was still in high school here in New York. I was between the ages of 17 and 19. I lived at a shelter called “Under 21″. You had to be under the age of 21 to live there. It was run by a group of nuns called Catholic Charities. I grew up with my grandmother and my mom and I didn’t have a very close relationship so when I migrated to the U.S. to live with my mom it was just really hard. I came here with my three sisters and my mom had remarried and started a new family. My mom had moved to New York and had been here for several years and was working as a housekeeper to help get herself situated. My grandmother being who she was had insisted that we migrate to the U.S. to live with my mom so we could get a better education but it didn’t work out for me. I left home before I had graduated from high school and I was living in the shelter. While in high school my guidance counselor had taken notice that I had changed and become quieter. I had been very outspoken. One of my teachers – my history teacher who was a good friend – also noticed a change in me. So they kept prying until I told them what had happened. They gave me support. My main focus was to stay in school and graduate. But, at the time of graduation I wasn’t able to walk in the graduation ceremony because I couldn’t afford the cap and gown and all of that stuff.
Executive Lounge: So, how did you manage to get to college after moving into a homeless shelter?
Alsion: I graduated with a Regent Diploma which was the highest diploma you could graduate with so that helped me to get into college. I got a few scholarships along with taking out student loans and a grant.
Executive Lounge: Now let’s shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things. What would be your perfect day off?
Alsion: I don’t get many days off, but when I do I really love to have a quiet peaceful day, sleep in late, exercise of course and go to the spa and relax by the pool. I like to just enjoy some quiet moments without any meetings and have a good glass of red wine.
Executive Lounge: What is your favorite item of clothing?
Alsion: It’s hard to say because I love fashion. Anything that is sexy and fits just right. I also love accessories. If you accessorize your outfit you can go out looking really glam.
Executive Lounge: You mentioned that you like to cook. Can you describe your favorite meal?
Alsion: I like anything really spicy, and I have a lot of favorite meals. But, if I have to pick just one meal, it would be a really nice steamed fish with nice Scotchbonnet Peppers and vegetables. If you don’t know, Scotchbonnet peppers are hot Jamaican peppers that are very spicy.
Executive Lounge: Do you have a favorite automobile and do you drive one there in the city?
Alsion: I do. I love cars. Some people like different gadgets but I love cars. I have a BMW X6. But the automobile that I really love is a Bentley Continental GT. I’m a Bentley girl but now I drive a BMW.
Executive Lounge: What is your favorite music to drive to?
Alsion: That’ easy. Vintage reggae. I love Bob Marley. I like “One Love”.
Executive Lounge: What is your favorite place to entertain?
Alsion: That would be Montego Bay in Jamaica. You get everything all wrapped up in one.
Executive Lounge: Which famous person would you most like to have dinner with?
Alsion: That’s easy. That would be Nelson Mandela; except for the fact that I might just sit there and stare at him in awe all through dinner. His devotion to the causes of freedom and equality and his unstinting efforts to achieve them are incredible. The opportunity to share dinner with him and hear about his struggles and challenges and achievements would be priceless.
Airport: Norman Manley International in Kingston because it is very welcoming. It is warm, the colors are cheerful and there is nice art along the wall as you enter.
Travel Accessory: Louis Vuitton tote
iPhone or Blackberry? Blackberry
Favorite Hotel: Ritz-Carlton. I also love the Iberostar and Half Moon resorts in Montego Bay.
Shopping: The Americana Manhasset Mall in Long Island (my son works at the Burberry store there)
Cocktail: That would be a toss-up between a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a pomegranate martini
Decadent Indulgence: Martini