When Gassan Elias Azan was born in 1961 to Gassan Azan Senior, and Dawn Azan nee Lazarus, there was no gold spoon in his mouth. His industrious parents provided enough for more than survival but not enough to spoil Gassan and his brother Peter……. of blessed memory. Gassan’s boyhood was spent at Border Ave, Havendale. He attended Queen’s Prep School and the holidays witnessed his free spirit up and down Havendale with his brother, cousins and friends doing the things that boys do and getting into the trouble that boys get into.
His freedom was facilitated by both parents being absent during the days. His father trading in haberdashery and working in manufacturing at Tiny Town, Princess Street, working his fingers to the bone alongside his wife in their two clothing factories. When they got home, they “picked up the pieces” and admonished the guilty when necessary. Gassan would go to bed eagerly anticipating the next day’s mischief. This was the kind of boy you sent to Munro College, one hundred miles away, for his own good.
Munro, from 1971 to 1973, he underwent a sea of change in the landscape of discipline. Order became the mantra of the day….and night. Rising time, prep, breakfast, chapel, class periods, break, lunch, class, tea, games, dinner, prep and bedtime were all dictated by the BELL. Proper dress, clean shoes, combed hair, punctuality, quiet in prep and after lights out and general behaviour were all under the jurisdiction of the PREFECTS, backed up by the detention system and the “stick “of one’s housemaster, Second Master Steve “come-here-Sunny-boy” Harle and Headmaster Richard Roper. Gassan speaks highly of the staff and especially of the Ropers, Steve Harle and Hurga Reynolds.
The Budding Entrepreneur
While Gassan was at Munro, his mother, Dawn, discovered that the household meat bill was high. She investigated. Gassan had arranged with their housekeeper, Norma Barnes, to make “kibbehs”- a spicy Lebanese meatball and to send them by an Azan country delivery van, the driver making a diversion to Munro, where Gassan sold them to ever- hungry Munro boys.
One day Gassan, his cousin Mark Azan and Aggry Brown, broke bounds, entered a farmer’s field and stole two melons and ended up being pursued by the irate farmer, shine-sharp cutlass raised in decapitation mode. Gassan dropped his melon to increase his getaway speed. Mark held on to his as they entered Top Rock’s labyrinthine tracks and hid themselves. The farmer raced up to Mr. Roper and spat out his anger. Mr. Roper promptly extracted the recalcitrants from Top Rock, caned them and received his reward- a melon from a grateful farmer. Justice had been done. It was this adventurous spirit of a boy and the inculcated framework of discipline that propelled Gassan to live a life of daring ambition.
Indeed, his time at Munro left such an indelible mark that even though he spent such a relatively short time at the institution, he has remained passionate about the institution, and is always ready to lend support so it may continue to make a positive impact on the lives of the students.
So, where did Gassan go after his two years at Munro? At age 12, he was sent to St. Edmunds School in Canterbury, Kent, England a daunting prospect were it not for the presence of his cousin Elias Azan who lived in London at the time. Elias was his guide and his insurance against loneliness and minority “golliwog” status. By 1979, Gassan had amassed 15 “O” levels and 5 “A” levels. He was all set to become the lawyer he wanted to be. However, a senior Jamaican lawyer whose judgement Gassan trusted, sat him down and convinced him that there was no future for a lawyer in Jamaica at that time – the 1970s being at their worst.
He then attended Boston University in Massachusetts to study business between 1981 and 1983. Next, he moved on to Miami University from 1983 to 1985. There, believe it or not, Gassan failed Basic Accounts. When his disappointed professor pronounced the failure as one that would signal Gassan’s inevitable failure in business, Gassan informed the professor that he would not be needing to do accounts for he would be employing “people like you” i.e. people like the professor “who are competent to do that work”. Time would reveal whose prophecy would prevail.
While in Jamaica on one occasion, he noticed that vendors in the streets of Kingston had to leave their wares with dubious security arrangements (Rebecca give a eye pan dem something fi mi -mi soon come back) to go and buy cigarettes, whether to personally smoke or sell to patrons. Immediately Gassan saw an opportunity. He bought $30,000 worth of cigarettes from Carreras each time and went from vendor to vendor on the streets supplying the cigarettes. The vendors were happy, and he made money. He also discovered that he could, like some higglers, go to Panama, buy assorted goods, return and make a profit. Between 1985 and 1990 he established Azbros Inc., a trading company headquartered in Miami. He served as president and the company was a success. In 1990, at the age of 29, he returned to Jamaica and established Bashco Trading Company Limited, which now runs 12 stores in 9 parishes. He is Director and CEO.
His next accomplishment – marrying Rosanna Jureidini in 1991 and raising three daughters: Maya, Laina and Tyla.
Never one to sit on his laurels, Gassan went on to establish Cost Club Limited in 1999. The entity trades as MegaMart Wholesale Club, Jamaica’s first wholesale membership club offering one-stop shopping, now with operations in four locations: Portmore, St. Catherine; Waterloo Road, St Andrew; Catherine Hall, Montego Bay; and Bloomfield, Mandeville.
In 2005, Gassan became a director on the board of the Jamaica Observer and still serves there. In 2010, he made his foray into the restaurant / entertainment / gaming sector with the establishment of Vault at 100 Hope Road, Kingston and Mosino in Montego Bay. By 2014 his 3 daughters were near to or in their early twenties, so he created MLTGA (Maya, Laina, Tyla, Gassan Azan), a holding company which operates a Rubis Station on Waterloo Road. Maya now operates online website shopping – Amazon watch out!! In 2016 Gassan was a founding investor in Sygnus Capital Ltd. which provides independent Investment Banking and Financial Advisory Service. Another Gassan creation, Alfabet Holdings, acquired the Van den Tweel Supermarket Group in 2017 and runs 5 supermarkets in the Netherlands Antilles: one in Aruba, two in Bonaire and two in Curacao.
It could well be asked how he manages with so many diverse and far-flung entities. The simple answer comes from him. He says that previous generations rolled up the shutters each morning, kept an eye on everything, and rolled down the shutters each evening. He has modified this just a bit by placing focus instead on knowing his managers, delegating authority to them and conducting regular spot checks on all his operations. He omits to say that he is a tremendous organizer with an innate understanding of people from all walks of life, and a strong believer in enabling them to consistently deliver their best.
His empire-like operation would tend to make one’s imagination run wild with thoughts that he works in a high-rise office overlooking the city with his helicopter to take him from the roof of his building to lunch, and his private jet to take him to Miami for dinner in a Trump resort, etc. But no… He is a grounded Jamaican. His headquarters, 21 Orange Street. His lunch assured by Norma Barnes, his “kibbehs venture” accomplice. His faith, Christian – a family man who enjoys his family and makes time for them. A gunman in the best sense of the word his victims being baldpates and white wings! Plus, tennis, cricket and a sense of humour. His philanthropy is for public benefit but not for public knowledge.
He was made a Justice of the Peace for Kingston, Jamaica in 1997 and on the 3rd of August 2013, he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for his leadership in business. For the above and other reasons, Mr. Gassan Elias Azan has proudly been inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.