NCB’s Nadeen Matthews: Learning from Disappointment
At just 37, Nadeen Matthews’ resume reads like an international bestseller. A young Jamaican girl moves to New York, defies the odds to attend one of the city’s most prestigious high schools, and eventually graduates with an MBA from an Ivy League university. Following her much anticipated return to her homeland, Jamaica, she goes on to become the youngest female head of a division at the country’s largest financial institution, the National Commercial Bank (NCB). Recently, she added yet another impressive accomplishment: becoming the only Caribbean representative for the World Economic Forum’s 2017 cohort of Young Global Leaders, an exceptional network of innovative thinkers and fearless pioneers.
And yet, Nadeen’s story isn’t simply one about success, but in fact, is a lesson in overcoming disappointment.
“It’s a core part of my philosophy today that disappointments always turn out to be opportunities,” shares Nadeen. “When my dream didn’t work out in a particular way, I refused to be discouraged as there are always lessons in every failure,” she explains.
Growing up in Portmore – a popular town in the parish St. Catherine, about 35 minutes outside the capital Kingston – Nadeen enjoyed a happy and simple childhood. Back then, playtime was dominated by outdoor activities: playing hide and seek, running carefree through the streets, and climbing mango laden trees. After sitting her Common Entrance exams (then, Jamaica’s national high school entrance test), Nadeen was eager to start her high school journey in Jamaica but those plans were quickly thwarted by an imminent move to the United States. Devastated by the prospect of leaving her friends, relocating to the Bronx became a sombre reality.
Although the adjustment was initially tough, Nadeen focused on her studies and excelled academically. She aced the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and became the first student from John Peter Tetard Junior High School to attend Stuyvesant High School – New York City’s top public high school with a focus on science and mathematics. Bolstered by her academic performance at Stuyvesant, Nadeen confidently submitted applications to top ranking universities: Brown, NYU,
Bolstered by her academic performance at Stuyvesant, Nadeen confidently submitted applications to top ranking universities: Brown, NYU, Emory and Duke. And though she was accepted to all, her parents simply could not afford to send her.
“It was a bit crushing,” recalls Nadeen. “I had worked so hard, got good grades, and had been admitted into my dream schools but I didn’t get to go,” she reveals.
Despite her disappointment, Nadeen was offered a full scholarship to Binghamton University, a top-ranked public college in southern New York State. There, Nadeen flourished in extra-curricular activities: performing with the Black Dance Repertoire (BDR), and reconnecting with her Jamaican roots through the Caribbean Student Association (CSA). As the CSA’s public relations chair, she played an active role in organizing Binghamton Carnival, an invaluable experience which honed her business development, marketing and relationship management skills. Ultimately, her time at Binghamton University proved to be an amazing experience.
Following graduation, Nadeen was chosen to participate in a management trainee programme by the financial juggernaut Chase, today known as JPMorgan Chase. After an initial stint at the company’s Westchester location, enrolees were sent to various offices. Missing out on the highly coveted Manhattan branch, Nadeen was assigned to what was then deemed as the less coveted Bronx office. Shrugging off what others would have perceived to be a let-down, Nadeen decided to make the most of an opportunity to interact with seasoned bankers who were truly vested in her development. The move, which turned out to be a tremendous boost for her burgeoning career, led to her appointment as an Assistant Vice President, the second in her class of 40 persons to be promoted.
After four years at JPMorgan Chase, Nadeen made the difficult decision to leave in order to pursue an MBA. Unlike her undergraduate application experience, this time she was able to attend her first choice school as she received a full tuition fellowship to the distinguished Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. A job at the global consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, followed graduation but the long hours and gruelling travel schedule began to take its toll after two and a half years.
Longing for more purpose in her work life and unable to kick a nagging desire to return to Jamaica, Nadeen decided to move back to the island in 2010. Since accepting her first post at NCB as Head of Strategy, Nadeen’s portfolio has been expanded to include marketing, corporate social responsibility (CSR), digitization and innovation. Today, she serves as the organisation’s Chief Digital and Marketing Officer, diligently working to transform banking in the Caribbean through cutting-edge digital product and service solutions. Additionally, in her role as CEO of the NCB Foundation, she leads the execution of various CSR initiatives undertaken by the NCB Group.
In spite of all her professional accomplishments, family is still Nadeen’s number one priority. Although her days are generally crammed with work activities, she still finds the time to read bedtime stories to her three-year-old daughter Nyla, and snuggle with 10 month old Lyan. Whenever she’s afforded a break from work, Nadeen is content to explore the island’s breath-taking countryside with her family.
Nadeen credits a strong support system for helping her to cope with all her responsibilities. Although her parents, and her sisters, Natalie and Nicaila, continue to reside overseas, they are still her biggest cheerleaders. Back in Jamaica, Nadeen’s brother, Maurice, and the girls’ grandmother readily assist with daily pickups, and her partner, Mark is incredibly helpful with the girls and very supportive of her career.
“Juggling motherhood and a demanding job can be very challenging,” says Nadeen. “It is important to strive for balance and be clear about your priorities. In addition, I always aim to give my very best and I believe everyone should try to do so irrespective of their circumstances. At the end of the day you still have to hold yourself accountable to you; you have to take responsibility for your own happiness and success,” she explains.