National Awardee, former General Manager of the National Building Society of Cayman, former Managing Director of NCB Group Ltd. and Chief Executive Officer of National Commercial Bank, Dunbar McFarlane.
Photo: Yhomo Hutchinson

Dunbar McFarlane, who was recently conferred with the Order of Distinction in the class of Commander for his contribution to banking, spent all of his working life in the banking industry. Most of those years were spent at National Commercial Bank (NCB) and its predecessor, Barclays Bank Jamaica Ltd.

He would eventually become its Managing Director after approximately 29 years and is proud of his stellar achievements in the field.

Mr. McFarlane says he is grateful for the national award and accepts it with humility.

He describes himself as first and foremost ‘a Knox boy’. He explains that Knox College was founded in 1947 in Spaldings, the same year that he was born in the same town, “so there certainly was a nexus there.”

He points out that he began high school at Happy Grove High School in Hectors River, Portland, a decision his father had made based on how well his older sister, Daisy McFarlane-Coke, had done at that institution.

“When I got to Knox it was because I prevailed on my father to have me transferred from Happy Grove, because Knox was home and was within walking distance. I wanted to go to Knox, perhaps too, because of the homesickness that Happy Grove would have generated for this little 12-year-old boy,” he recalls.

He credits the diversity of Knox College, which was attended by many foreigners at that time, with his own understanding that he could be the best at whatever he chose to do.

Mr. McFarlane cherishes the lifelong friendships that were formed in high school and has remained loyal and faithful to the institution. He is the current Chairman of the Knox Community College Board and has also served on the high school Board.

He was also asked by the United Church, which owns the schools, to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, which impacts all four schools in the Knox complex, including the kindergarten, junior school, high school and community college.

Among Mr. McFarlane’s many firsts is the fact that, to date, he is the one person who has had the distinction of sitting on both sides of the negotiating table at NCB. He did so first as president of the staff union (the NCB Staff Association), then later as the managing director.

Mr. McFarlane’s foray into banking almost did not happen, because upon graduating from high school he did not immediately think of applying to the bank for a job, because he was of the view that bank jobs were not for people who looked like him.

“I graduated from high school in 1963 and was job hunting, but never applied to the bank because I did not think the bank would employ people like me,” he says.

Mr. McFarlane joined Barclays Bank, which was the forerunner to NCB, on April 14, 1965, in Christiana, while living in Spaldings.

This became a lengthy journey that would take him to the top job in Jamaica’s first indigenous bank.

“Back then, banks were predominantly staffed by caucasians, and Chinese to a lesser extent, so I never had the thought that there would have been any possibility of my landing a job there, were it not for the intervention of a childhood friend, Tony Chen,” he notes.

Mr. McFarlane discovered that Chen’s brother-in-law, who worked at Barclays Bank in Mandeville at the time, was being sent to a number of the surrounding branches every week, such as Santa Cruz and Christiana, and he deduced that there had to be a vacancy.

“It encouraged me to send in an application and it worked. I got an interview and I got the job,” he says.

Mr. McFarlane describes himself as being lucky in terms of the persons that he worked with, especially those persons who taught him everything they knew.

“I had a voracious appetite for work through the upbringing that my daddy would have given me, he being a farmer in the early days as well as a Pentecostal Minister. The upbringing I had meant that you weren’t afraid of hard work,” he says, adding that at Christiana, the Manager spent so much time on the road that he embraced the opportunities for learning on the job that were enhanced by his absence, “because somebody had to do the work within a particular time, so I was taught a lot”.

He says that by the time he got to the much larger Mandeville branch approximately 18 months later, “they thought I was bright because I knew how to do everything in the various departments”.

This he credits to a good start at the Christiana branch, especially the persons there who were extremely helpful and continued to help in his career development, even after he was transferred.

He attributes much of his success to learning the importance of the fact that two thirds of promotion is always motion.

“I used to demonstrate that by writing down the word ‘promotion’ which has nine letters. Six of those nine letters spell ‘motion’,” he points out. Mr. McFarlane made many movements through different branches of NCB, which took him all over the island.

“This gave me the opportunity to see Jamaica and to learn as I went along. I hardly worked at any one place for longer than 18 months,” he says.

He served at Christiana, Mandeville, 54 King Street, Industrial Estate (Montego Bay), Falmouth, Savanna-la-Mar, Lucea, Morant Bay and Spanish Town branches, and at the head office which was then located at 77 King Street.

Mr. McFarlane’s rise at NCB was meteoric as within 10 years of joining the bank, in 1975 he was appointed Managing Director of Barclays Financial Services Ltd., which was the mortgage arm of the bank.

This was a significant appointment in terms of its grade as he had only been in the bank for 10 years at that time.

In 1977 on August 14, when the bank was nationalised, he was transferred to the Montego Bay branch and remained there until 1984. Under his leadership, the branch became the most profitable in the island after years of not doing well.

He was then transferred to Kingston and appointed General Manager in charge of personnel, followed by other head office jobs. In 1991, he was sent to London to set up the UK Representative Office and spent more than a year.

This gave way to his appointment as Co-Deputy Managing Director of the bank upon his return home in 1992.

In 1994, some 29 years after joining the bank, he was appointed Managing Director of NCB Group Ltd. and Chief Executive Officer of NCB Jamaica Ltd., a position he would hold until his retirement in 2002.

Sometime after retiring from NCB, Mr. McFarlane became a consultant to the Jamaica National Group in 2004 and went on to be Head of their Cayman subsidiary, the National Building Society of Cayman, where he stayed for nine years until he returned home in 2013.

He served as Chairman of the Board of the then newly formed National Insurance Fund (NIF) from 1989 to 2002 and oversaw significant investments.

These included the acquisition of the Braco Resort in Trelawny, after buying out the minority shareholder; 100 per cent of El Greco resort, and a 51 per cent stake in the then Breezes Montego Bay hotel.

Mr. McFarlane looks back at his banking career with pride and thanks the many persons along the way who supported him.

The retired banker was among 126 outstanding Jamaicans, excluding members of the uniformed groups, who were honoured on October 19, National Heroes’ Day.

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