Karen Fitz Ritson - Instructor to the Financial Sector

Article from the Jamaica Gleaner published on Wednesday December 15th, 2004.

The following is the text of an article first published in the Jamaica Gleaner on Wednesday December 15th, 2004.

by Dennise Williams
Year in review coordinator

Picture of Gleaner Article

Original Jamaica Gleaner Article


Born into a family of lawyers, Karen Fitz Ritson entered the world of finance to answer one question:  How do companies become and remain successful?

The search for that answer would take Ms. Fitz Ritson through the halls of many noted Jamaican companies and into her true calling – teaching. That is, teaching others the answer to the question that drives her.

In her lectures, individuals learn how to take the concepts of finance and turn them into a corporate strategy that enables their organization to become and remain successful.

Miss Fitz Ritson’s career in finance began when she had to manage her mother's garment factory in the 1980’s. While guided by her mother through the rigors of small business ownership, she was driven to find a deeper understanding of what makes a business work. 

The only problem was that the University of the West Indies (UWI) did not teach finance in those days.  So an exemption from the Ministry of Education was granted for Ms. Fitz Ritson to study abroad.  As many local students do, she chose a university in Florida – Florida International University (FIU) – that would enable her to study finance & international business while remaining close to home. 

She tells the tale: “While in FIU, I did an internship with Coldwell Commercial Bankers in the real estate division.  It was an exciting period in the U.S because the Florida market was opening up to the Latin American market.  Venezuelan and Brazilians were coming to the U.S. to purchase real estate.  And this was my first taste in looking at an emerging market.  My responsibility was to assist the management team to put together a package to their elite clientele for the prospects of the real estate market for the 1986 to 1991 period. 

While describing her experiences in Florida as ‘exhilarating’.  Jamaica beckoned and Ms. Fitzritson returned home at the end of 1991.  “When I came home, I wanted to work with a company that focused on international business.  I saw that Grace, Kennedy & Company was one of those companies” she said.

Ms. Fitz Ritson was offered a position in the office of the finance director.

However, her boss Peter Moss Solomon put her in charge of analyzing corporate funds within the group and how best to utilize them.  Additional responsibilities included “working in Grace’s internal audit section where I gained a wide knowledge base of how different industries operated.”  To explain just how wide her experience in Grace was, she tells us, “One of the most exciting experiences was when I went to the meat division and saw a pig delivered.  Mr. Moss-Solomon asked why they didn’t show me how a pig was butchered”

Looking back, Ms. Fitz Ritson said “I thought my three year experience at Grace was well spent.  Their management structure is one of the best-managed in Jamaica.  I have always admired and respected Rafael Diaz who was chairman of Grace at that time.  He had a quiet strength and an open door management policy.”

However, during her last year at Grace, she tells, “In the 1990s a new wind blew into town with the financial sector.  The Jamaican dollar had become liberalized and people started to take notice of the stock market.  Companies had become more competitive.”

And against this backdrop, Ms. Fitz Ritson could not resist “wanting to be a part of the excitement.  I thought that I could use the skills taught into the financial services market.” Her first foray into Jamaica finance was with Paul Chen Young and Company. “I worked with Oliver Chen and Brian Pond, both seasoned stock brokers and I felt very privileged that the best taught me” it was a very interesting time in the Jamaican financial sector.  She described it this way, “Inflation was around 80 per cent, interest rates were high and the stock market was breaking record grounds.  It was very exhilarating.  Paper millionaires were born everyday”

But even greater challenges lay ahead.  During this exciting period, the Matalon family decided to launch a unit trust company.  “I heard that Joseph M. Matalon, president of ICD was forming Sigma Unit Trust (now Pan Caribbean Asset Management)  and I was excited by the prospects of the new financial company”.

Hence, in 1994, Ms. Fitz Ritson became the first account executive at Sigma.  There she worked with a team of people including her boss Sandra Shirley.  Of Ms. Shirley she states, “As managing director, Sandra is to be credited with her skills of hiring a very skilled and dynamic team.”

Interestingly, Sigma was started right as the stock market crashed, taking investor confidence along with it.  “This made Sigma exciting because the team had to go to the Jamaican public and convince them that they would be investing in a product that offered a difference.  Sigma offered investors, for the first time products that allowed to choose their own risk tolerance.  It was a very customer-centric firm.”

Ms. Fitz Ritson eventually became equity and research manager of Sigma and “ this was a thrilling experience because I was managing the largest equity fund in Jamaica”.  During one period of her five years at Sigma, the fund ranked 24th out of 27 funds, but when she left the company in 1999, it was the number one equity portfolio in Jamaica.

But why leave at the top?  “I felt that I had achieved what I wanted during that period.  I had come full circle in my life and I wanted to concentrate on my graduates studies and complete further research in the Jamaican financial landscape.”

And while many thought Ms. Fitz Ritson would go back into equity management upon her completion of her master’s she says.  “My interest was not in that direction” One could almost say she went into a period of soul searching.  However, her good friend, Errol Greene, of KSAC fame, opened her eyes to her true calling – teaching others the concepts she had learned.

“In May of 2001, my dear friend and colleague Mr. Green, had dinner with me one
Sunday and asked point blank, “Karen, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?  Why don’t you start a training programme utilizing all your skills and experience”?

Fitz-Ritson and Associates was born.

And it appears that it was right on time because the Jamaican financial services sector had entered into what one could term, a second renaissance period after the financial meltdown of 1996-1997.  Skilled employees were in demand.  “There is a thrust cutting across the financial sector for staff to be savvy in wealth management for their company and clients; and our programmes teach these strategies.”

Said Ms. Fitz Ritson, “By July 2001 when the company was formulated, many financial organizations embraced the concept and sent their staff to be trained”.  In addition to many of her former colleagues sending their staff for training, the University of Technology, Jamaica certified her courses – portfolio management and strategic financial management.


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