Born to Black and Chinese biracial parents in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Michael Lee Chin, always knew the value of hard work. When he was 7-yrs old, his mother married local grocery store clerk Vincent Chin. A true Brady bunch clan, together the couple had nine children. His mother sold Avon products and performed bookkeeping duties to help support the large family. Chin had various jobs as a teenager including landscaping and working on the Jamaica Queen cruise ship cleaning the engine room. Michael saved enough money to attend one year at Canada’s McMaster University. Using ingenuity, Lee-Chin wrote the prime minister of Jamaica requesting financial support to complete his education abroad and was granted a three-year scholarship to complete civil engineering studies at Canada’s McMaster University.
Starting out as an investment advisor, Lee-Chin worked his way up to management for Investors Group of Canadian. “The highest form of leadership is to lead by example,” explained Lee-Chin. For this reason, he wanted to be a great investor, not just an adviser. In 1983, he borrowed $500k to purchase a stake in Mackenzie Financial Group. He also created Kick Athletics with Andrew Gayle. After four years, both investments were worth 3.5 million. When asked what makes a good leader, Lee-Chin elucidated “the comfort of being different, to be bold enough to execute on your decision.”
Following that success, Lee-Chin took the profits from his MacKenzie investment and purchased Advantage Investment Council for $200K. At the time, the company was worth $800K. He renamed the company AIC, and established it into a fund that’s worth around $6 billion.
Never one for complacency, Lee-Chin created an additional financial firm, Berkshire, which comprises an investment planning arm, a securities dealership and an insurance operation. The company grew to manage over $12 billion Canadian dollars in assets. In 2007, Manulife acquired Berkshire from Portland Holdings in exchange for shares, making Portland the largest shareholders of Manulife Canada’s largest insurance company. In 2009, Lee-Chin sold AIC Limited to Manulife for an unknown amount.
“I take a duty to Jamaica…it is the reason why I am here,” says Lee-Chin. In 2002, he expanded his investments by acquiring 75% of the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica from the Jamaican Government for $127 million. After acquiring NCB of Jamaica, Lee-Chin deployed a transformation team to not only improve the business operation of the bank but to increase the morale. Today NCB is the largest bank in Jamaica and has a reputation for having excellent corporate citizenship with the mantra “Building a Better Jamaica.”
The new millennium was a very busy decade for Michael Lee-Chin. In 2003, he created Senvia Money Services, a global money transfer company. Following that creation, Lee-Chin purchased AIC Financial Group Limited, located in Trinidad. In 2006, he acquired 85% stake in the United General Insurance Company, the largest auto insurer in Jamaica. Around the same time, he co-founded Columbus International Inc, a telecommunications company comprised of radio and television stations and newspapers. Today Michael is the chairman and CEO of AIC Group, president of Berkshire, chairman of the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica and the chairman of AIC Finance in Trinidad.
“It’s not easy to be successful because it’s not easy to be focused over the long run. It’s not easy to be commented over the long run. It’s not easy to think long-term. It’s not easy to stick to principles…to be courageous over the long term…but all of these ingredients are necessary to be successful in every aspect of life,” he says.
His philanthropic activities include a $30 million donation to the Royal Ontario Museum, a $10 million gift to the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and over $3.7 million to the nursing school at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica.
In 2008, Lee-Chin received one of Jamaica’s highest national honors – The Order of Jamaica – for his significant contributions to business and philanthropy.
Lee-Chin is an inspiration to anyone. Though he started out through a humble beginning growing up in a small country on a small island in the Caribbean, he changed his life expectancy through hard work, courage and perseverance. Lee-Chin was ranked by Forbes Magazine as the 937th (2010) richest person in the world with a net worth of $1 billion; at one point, his net worth was $2.5 billion.
“Our behavior today is our history tomorrow. We have control over the history we are writing for ourselves. The only question is what do I want my legacy to be. Once you define that, you let your behavior give way to your goal,” he says.