“Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you”, is the motto O.K. Melhado is guided by. The ease with which he accepts his fellowman is as though he is saying “I’m ok, and you’re ok until you go out of your way to prove otherwise”
OK is a descendant of the Sephardic Jews who fled Portugal’s inquisition in the 16th century. His grandfather, Abraham Melhado, was born in Jamaica and like many Jamaicans, migrated to Panama to work on the canal. There he fell in love with a Panamanian and so OK’s father Frank was born and raised there. He came to Jamaica, married Rosa Henriques and worked at Kingston Industrial Garage – the first Ford agency outside the USA.
OK was born on November 23, 1938. He has a sister, Rachael, who is a medical doctor. OK attended DeCarteret College then entered Munro in 1951 and was placed in upper third, which would now be second form, and Coke House, both of which he shared with Freddy Zenny, who became a lifelong friend. He took his licks in the traditional gauntlet in one of its illegal forms, played House cricket, but only one game for the school team as he left while in 5th form due to ill health. He didn’t sit the Senior Cambridge exam but got enough GCE subjects by private tutoring to get into McGill University. On his first summer vacation back in Jamaica in 1956, he made an excited call to Zenny to come and meet this wonderful girl he had met. Zenny, on his way to Cambridge University, met OK and his wonderful Angela Desnoes, was very impressed with her and in Zenny’s own words, “being of a Judeo-Christian inclination, I gave them my blessing and received, in return, the gift of Angela’s lifelong friendship.” At McGill, Melhado attained the Bachelor of Commerce Degree. While there, he had the company of Munronians Donald Parchment, and fellow inductees Jackie Minott and Laurie Sharp.
Back in Jamaica, his baptism of fire was at IBM, with his first assignment being the installation of the first commercial computer in Jamaica at Monymusk sugar estate. During his time at IBM, from 1961 to 1969, he moved from the position of salesman to General Manager, and was responsible for growing the business tenfold. In 1968, Danny Williams invited OK to invest in and join the Board of the newly formed Life of Jamaica (LOJ).
In 1969 he moved to Desnoes & Geddes (D&G), where, as Director of Marketing, he inspired us with Ernie Smith’s ‘Life is just for Living’ and fittingly resuscitated us with ‘Dragon puts it back’. He did multiple sports promotions, including corner league football. He negotiated with Heineken to bottle in Jamaica and did the marketing campaign for the conversion of Red Stripe from the common ‘tall’ to the distinctive ‘stubby’ bottle.
OK was campaign manager for Michael Manley in his Central Kingston constituency leading up to the 1972 election. He left D&G in 1973, to serve as Special Assistant to Prime Minister Michael Manley and served as Chairman of the Social Development Commission. He resigned from the LOJ board to avoid a conflict of interest. In 1977 OK was made Chairman of the State Trading Corporation (STC), an entity which purchased food, pharmaceuticals, and other items in bulk to reduce the cost of living for the poor. In the meantime, Zenny visited Jamaica and was introduced by OK to Minister Eric Bell and this led to the Food and Agriculture Organization loaning him to Jamaica for ten years.
The year 1980 was marked by a change of government. Surprisingly, the JLP administration kept the STC it had harshly criticized, retaining OK Melhado as Managing Director with Minister Douglas Vaz mandating him to expand the STC into the Jamaica Commodity Trading Company (JCTC). Among the many successes was the millions in US dollars saved as a result of bulk purchasing of generic drugs through competitive tender. In a desperate effort to save the Jamaica Hope dairy breed, Zenny proposed to OK that the JCTC levy a tax on imported milk powder and use the proceeds to resuscitate the local industry. And so, in Zenny’s words, “we prepared a joint cabinet submission, in which OK inserts graphs and mathematical formulae designed to delight Prime Minister Edward Seaga.” OK and Zenny attended a cabinet meeting and successfully presented the proposal. The result was a fivefold increase in annual milk production over the next ten years.
OK has said “I personally regard the period 1980 -1983 as my most significant in the public sector. I received the full support from the government and was able to work without the slightest hint of political interference or suspicion. I consider this experience as an example that there are many capable Jamaicans, of both political persuasions, who, given the opportunity, will always put Jamaica first”.
He returned to D&G in 1983 for the next ten years as Senior Vice President, Finance and Marketing. He negotiated the sponsorship of The Red Stripe Cup with the West Indies Cricket Board. In his last year at the company he played the lead role, with attorney Pat Rousseau, in the sale of the controlling interest of D&G to Guinness.
OK also served as Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board. With the privatization of Air Jamaica in the early 1990s, Butch Stewart invited him to join the Board of the airline. When ownership was returned to the Government in 2004, he continued with the transitional Board and subsequently served as Chairman of Air Jamaica until 2007.
In 1988, he and Cliff Cameron founded Manufacturers Merchant Bank. They negotiated a US$60 million loan for the Government of Jamaica on very favourable terms. They also negotiated a US$40 million line of credit for the purchase of oil. After a series of mergers MMB became part of Sagicor Bank.
In 1994, along with his fellow inductee Chris Bovell, he was conferred with the Order of Distinction, Commander Class; in his case for distinguished service in the fields of business, public service, and sports.
OK is a proud Munro ‘Old Boy’, who attributes not only his educational foundation but some of his closest friendships to his time at the school. He considers Munro a great “equalizer” where boys of many different ages and backgrounds learned, played and lived together. He describes his years there as a rewarding, if sometimes uncomfortable, experience.
He is an avid sports lover, with his greatest love being cricket. An aficionado of the game, his family and friends consider him as a walking encyclopaedia, claiming that Wisden has nothing on him! A ‘curry goat’ cricketer, he played for D&G in the Business House League in 1971/72. He also played golf for a number of years and represented Jamaica in 1961. OK became an enthusiastic runner and completed two marathons after the age of 40, with a best time of three hours and three minutes.
OK married Angela Desnoes in 1960 and over 60 years later will tell you that she is “the love of his life.” He has three children, Tracy, Peter and Diane, who he loves “more than words can describe” and of whom he is incredibly proud, not only for what they have achieved but for who they are. He considers Angela and his children and their families, including six grandchildren, his very best friends.
Today, for the above and other reasons, we proudly induct Mr. Owen Karl Melhado into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.