Yearwood and Lott: Two ‘women in business’ climb to the top

The paths they took were diverse, but yielded similar outcomes: Two very different women have battled to the pinnacle of two very different fields – one in business and one in medicine. 

A cynic might observe that is little different than what any male counterpart might experience, pronouncing finally that, well, “so what? … It’s what anyone else would go through.” 

A cynic would be wrong. Those male counterparts probably never faced the domestic demands society – and, to some degree, biology – presumes for women: children, family and the ramifications therein: schools, doctors’ appointments, parental care and the daily activities defined under the broad rubric of “homemaking.” 

Harriet Lott, 62, born in George Town, longtime owner of Camania Duty Free, high-powered real estate agent at HGRealty, once married and with two sons; and Lizzette Yearwood, born in Cayman Brac, CEO of the Health Services Authority, of indeterminate age beyond “let’s just say in the 40s” and also once married – and with a daughter – tell different tales, but both repeatedly point to dynamic, unfailing, even dominant mothers. 

Ms. Lott is candid; Ms. Yearwood is a little more guarded in her top slot at the HSA. 

Born in 1953, Ms. Lott grew up at the corner of Hospital and Smith roads and remembers “when they installed the street light at the corner and paved the road.” She attended Cayman Prep, graduating in 1969. Like a laser, she was already focused on what she wanted and started work almost immediately. 

“I was determined to work. I wanted to make some money and be independent.” She even spent her senior year at Cayman Prep taking evening courses at George Town’s Sylvia Gill Secretarial College. 

“I’d leave the house every day for 18 months at 7:45 a.m. and get home at 8:30 p.m.,” Ms. Lott said. “I did not want to work for the family business. I felt it was important to gain experience in other professional environments if one day I would take over the business from my mother,” Billy Lee Wattson, who founded and ran Camania Duty Free for 33 years. 

Ms. Lott graduated as part of a distinguished Cayman Prep class that included MLA Ezzard Miller; former Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks; nurse Joy Bodden, now “Merren,” genetics coordinator at Cayman Islands Hospital; Cayman’s first physiotherapist Jackie Tomlinson; attorney Adrienne Webb; and surgeon Neely Panton. 

Initially dodging Camania Duty Free, Ms. Lott “went to work as a stenographer for the Royal Bank of Canada. My real desire, though,” she said, “was to be a flight attendant.” 

Having announced her intention, she quickly heard from Cayman Airways co-founder Norman Bodden, who visited her home, wondering if she were serious. 

“He was getting ready to do CAL and hired me. I left the bank in January 1972 and started training in Costa Rica with LACSA,” San Jose’s national airline, Ms. Lott said. 

About the time the training started, Ms. Yearwood was busy being born. 

“I grew up in a largely matriarchal family with most of the men, including my father, serving as seamen,” Ms. Yearwood said. “I am a lot like my mother. My mother taught my siblings and [me] the importance of education and how to dream big and never to let our circumstances limit our goals.” 

She had several siblings. She attended Cayman Brac High School, graduating in 1984, but did not immediately pursue tertiary schooling. 

“Higher-level education was never an option,” she said, but “I was blessed to have some of the best teachers in the world. For example, Mrs. Downer and Mrs. Williams … mentored and encouraged me to stay focused. They also provided leadership opportunities to allow for my personal growth.” 

She resumed formal education two years after high school when she entered United World College of the Atlantic in Llantwit Major on the coast of south Wales. 

The exposure marked a turning point for Ms. Yearwood. The school, founded in 1962, famous for its progressive education, was among the first to offer an international baccalaureate program, drawing 350 students from more than 90 countries. Still today it specializes in community service and, coincidentally, boat-building, perfect for a young lady from a seafaring family in the Cayman Islands. 

“That experience opened my eyes to how education was more than a means to a career,” Ms. Yearwood said. “Education breaks down walls created by lack of understanding and unites individuals. Those were the pre-Internet days; it was tough being a little island girl so far from home, but my amazingly supportive mother wrote me a letter every single day for the entire two years, encouraging me and keeping me abreast of family matters.” 

Her mother helped, but, she said, so did her new faith: “It was during that time that my relationship with God grew, as I trusted Him to guide my next steps.” 

Meanwhile, Ms. Lott had moved forward with an unassailable determination and an equal faith in herself. In fact, that “d” word figures heavily in her vocabulary: “You’ll have to look long and hard to find someone as determined as I am,” she said. “My mother said my middle name should have been ‘determination.’” 

Frankly speaking, it was: “Everyone says ‘hey, it’s a man’s world’, but the days are gone when a woman was barefoot and pregnant. I never accepted a woman was to be at home to raise children. I never thought twice about it and fought it tooth and nail.” 

In 1972, Ms. Lott was named Miss Cayman Islands, an experience she describes as “invaluable. It was an interesting year and the exposure was such a confidence builder,” and in 1973 realized she could do better. 

“I got involved with the organizing committee, and with Ella-Kay Hislop-Lockwood and Dianna Uzzell, we secured the franchise for Miss World, took over organizing for the Miss Cayman Pageant and in 1977, we sent our first contestant to Miss World. 

“I personally secured the franchise for Miss Universe for the Cayman Islands and chaperoned the first contestant, Devon Watler-Manal, to the pageant in 1980” in South Korea, Ms. Lott said. 

Her business career was under way and she joined her mother in 1977 as manager of Camania Duty Free. She bought the Fort Street operation, the chain’s third, in 1983. Her sister bought the airport location and the family closed the money-losing branch in West Bay Road’s Coconut Plaza. 

Ms. Lott opened an Anderson Square Branch the next year, moving it to Cardinall Avenue, and, finally, to Main Street’s old Butterfield Bank building. 

Business challenges forced closure of the Main Street branch after four years, but, Ms. Lott revealed, she plans to reopen in mid-November. 

Ms. Yearwood, meanwhile, was moving through the local healthcare industry, spending five years as pediatric nurse. 

“I developed a passion for nursing at a very early age and I never wavered,” she said, citing her family as inspiration. “When I was a young child, my Aunt Jewell was considered the ‘nurse’ in the family. 

“She was the one to go to if you weren’t well; I recall watching her as she removed splinters and sea eggs and bandaged skinned knees. I think somehow I experienced the satisfaction she felt when she made the ill better. I wanted to be just like her. She nurtured that desire in me until it became a dream by telling me how she had always wanted to train to be a nurse.” 

Ms. Yearwood waxes eloquent as she recalls her training, early days and influences: “Some of my best memories and biggest life lessons came from children and families that I cared for during my years of nursing. 

“Mrs. Eloise Reid was one of my early nurse role models and she mentored me in nursing as well as in my administration roles. I quickly learnt that every person in healthcare is there for the patient and their family. I still find it an honor to work in healthcare.” 

Although treading a fine line between cliché and passion, Ms. Yearwood sought to explain why her business is exceptional: “Any career in healthcare is not just a profession, it is a calling. 

“To touch the lives of … people when they are so vulnerable, is a privilege and something never to be taken for granted.” 

After nursing, Ms. Yearwood turned to administration, not a typical choice, but, she said, for her an attractive one: “I had the opportunity to study quality and risk management. This gave me the opportunity to develop policies and processes for improvement in almost every area of the [Cayman Islands] Hospital so, when given the opportunity to become CEO, I had some insight into the various pieces of the big puzzle.” 

Her “opportunity to become CEO” arose from a 2006 confrontation between the Ministry of Health, allied with the HSA board, and new CEO Craig Brown. Toward the end of the contretemps, Minister of Health Anthony Eden tapped Ms. Yearwood as a replacement. 

She admitted to being nervous, but, like Ms. Lott, was determined: “I had just started a master’s [degree] in healthcare administration when asked to act as CEO so it was a steep learning curve,” she said about assuming control of an enormous bureaucracy with a budget pushing $80 million and a staff complement of nearly 1,000. 

Again, she thanks her mother, her faith and even her patients: “My mother and her Christian values had a remarkable influence on my life whether she was near me or not,” Ms. Yearwood said. 

“Whenever in doubt, I’d always find myself thinking: ‘What would mommy say?’ That was usually all the motivation I needed to do the right thing. 

“I owe much gratitude to God for His grace, to my patients for their encouragement and my staff for their unwavering support.” 

She is far less outspoken than Ms. Lott about confounding expectations and facing gender discrimination, preferring to speak of “balance” as the key. 

“The cliché ‘life is all about balance’ is very true, but easier said than done. It’s important to take time out to spend with family, to exercise and look after one’s self whilst being spiritually nurtured,” Ms. Yearwood said. 

“I don’t think the perfect balance exists … The most important thing is to keep trying to achieve it and to keep things in perspective … No matter the age or level of education, there is always more to learn. 

“In healthcare, as in any other emergency service, you can’t always leave as the clock strikes 5 p.m. That is why balance is so important; there are sacrifices along the way. Having said that [however], the rewards are tremendous,” she said. 

“I am blessed with the most loving and understanding daughter. Kelsey motivates me to always strive to be a better person. She is my inspiration in every dimension of my life.” 

Ms. Lott, in the meantime, as she works on her Main Street opening, sells real estate for HG Realty, having gained her license from the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers Association in 2014. 

“I love people and I love customer service, I know the island – having watched it grow from 10,000 people,” she said. 

For her, the key has been “persistence, education and determination,” she said, “and as time goes by, men will realize that women will not take a back seat. My mother was a pioneer of business in the Cayman Islands, and no matter how you feel, it is important that your children, that everyone, be educated. 

“My mother taught me at the age of 13 that there is nothing you will want that you cannot achieve if you work hard for it.” 

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Lizzette Yearwood

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Harriet Lott

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