Richard Lindsay Downer was born on September 9, 1944 in St. Andrew, Jamaica. His father, George Downer, was an accountant whose family dated their Jamaican domicile back to the eighteenth century, and whose main activities were in agriculture and engineering. His mother was Audrey Downer nee Melville, a family of antiquity – one of her relations was the inventor of the stapling machine. He has one sister, Jean, who lives in the United States. He is married to Leora and has children Stephen, Natalie, Edward and Flynn and stepchildren Bobby and Jonathan. His hobbies are boating, snorkelling, and fishing.
He attended deCarteret when it was a preparatory school and then Munro College from 1958 to 1960. A better than average student, he got a grade two in Senior Cambridge. His only sporting interest was track, at the house level, specializing in the 100 and 220 yards. His first career love was engineering, but for some reason at the time the path to it required a foreign language and he just could not make it in French. This led to his fateful drift into accounting.
At Munro he was greatly influenced by Second Master David Whitmarsh-Knight, a disciplinarian by example, who used the cane not lavishly but effectively. Three strokes from him usually restored one to the straight and narrow. Richard was influenced too by another Richard – Roper the Headmaster in who he saw practical Christian love coming out in his hard- working care of the school and all its population.
Higher Learning and Career Moves
Leaving Munro, he attended Eastbourne College in the U.K. for two years and then went to Canada where he worked for Price Waterhouse in Montreal and simultaneously did five years of night school at McGill University, which by 1967 earned him the qualification of Chartered Accountant in the Province of Quebec, Canada as well as Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica. For two more years, he worked with Price Waterhouse in Canada, rising to the position of Audit Senior. In 1969 he returned to Jamaica and worked for Price Waterhouse, Jamaica, and became a partner in 1973.
Richard Downer perhaps first made local headlines when he was announced as Temporary Manager of Century Financial Enterprises in the heat of Jamaica’s 1990’s financial crisis, but he had been a sought-after soldier in the accounting trenches long before that.
In 1983, he was seconded to Prime Minister Edward Seaga’s office for two years. During that time, his activities moved from the technicalities of accounting to the creativity of mergers and privatization at the national level. His large-scale privatization programme by public offers on the stock exchange of National Commercial Bank, the cement company, and the telephone company, put him on the international radar of multilateral funding agencies and governments. Consequently, the next ten years saw him travelling the world, advising other governments on their privatization transactions. While all this was going on he was still employed at Price Waterhouse, where by 1995 he became Senior Partner following the merger with Coopers and Lybrand.
A small sampling of his international activity reveals the breadth and depth of these privatization transactions. A few of the countries he has advised are:
- Thailand re Krung Thai bank shares and telecommunications shares
- Bolivia re international airline Lloydair Boliviano
- 1991, Hungary re International Finance Corporation
- Trinidad & Tobago re Commercialization of State enterprises
- Dominican Republic re Electric Utility
- Pakistan re Telecommunications
- 1992, Philippines re Power Sector
- Pakistan re Area Electrically Board of Faisalabad
- Russia re attraction of strategic investors as well as Municipal privatization
- 1993- Haiti (deposed Aristide administration) re privatization
- 1995- Sri Lanka Financial institutions, Air Lanka and telecom re Jordon privatization
In addition to other projects, he has also advised Egypt re investment by Saudi Arabia in Telecommunications, and also advised the combination of San Francisco Airport, Raytheon and Sunburst Holidays, in their acquisition of Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The international experience was diverse in culture. In Saudi Arabia, the major functionaries had huge offices in huge buildings and nothing much on their pristine desks, but there was an interconnection between these men and ultimately to the King. In Pakistan he needed to visit a medical doctor and on entering the waiting room sat on a chair that was beside a woman. A magisterial glare of censorship from a man in that room sent Richard scurrying to a seat among his gender.
How did he adjust to working in these diverse cultures? The answer lies in the universality and best practices of money. Even religious objection to usury is smoothly papered over by calling interest “profit.” And so, Richard Downer – the consummate professional, survived the diversity and delivered left, right and centre of the equator.
Locally, he has been an advisor in demand for changes and adjustments in choppy waters at both perilous and peaceful times.
A few examples are:
- Advisor to the traditional building societies in adjustment to a new legal framework for operations (1995)
- Advisor to National Investment Bank of Jamaica (1988-1995)
- Advisor to The Port Authority on raising finance for expansion (1994)
- Advisor on various mergers, take overs and public offers. Examples are Salada (1983) Guinness (1993) NCB Group (1993) Kingston Wharves (1994) Cumbria (1995) Reckitt & Coleman (1995).
He is without doubt the foremost expert and practitioner in liquidation exercises in Jamaica and probably the Caribbean.
In 1988 Richard Downer was awarded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) by the Government of Jamaica for privatization work and services to accountancy, and in 2011 the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica made him a Distinguished Member. His Directorships in many Jamaican companies, past and present, are too numerous to mention.
For these and other reasons, Richard Downer has been inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.