'Mama' made a manager
YOUR CHILDHOOD and background often have a lot to do with the person you become. Today, we take a look into the life of Paulette Miller-Folkes, store manager of Maxie Department Stores Portmore, wife to Anthony Folkes, and mother of Anthony Jr and Abigail Folkes.
Paulette’s almost six-foot stature, perfectly coiffed hair, manicured nails, sense of style and enchanting smile come together well, but her real beauty comes from within. It is her caring heart and sincerity which make her truly beautiful.
Miller-Folkes was just nine months old when her then 19-year-old mother Lynette Simpson made the difficult decision to send her to live with family members who could provide a more stable living environment for the infant.
Though she has 10 siblings altogether, MillerFolkes was raised as an only child by her grandaunt, Louise Williams, affectionately called ‘Mama’, and her husband Alphonso Vida. She shared with Outlook that the decision for her biological mother to send her to live with her grandaunt must have been difficult, but not a unique one, as the economic burden is one faced by many teenage mothers.
“Sometimes this is a hard sacrifice for young mothers to make; but no,w looking back, it was the best thing for me. I knew love, I was hugged and kissed regularly by Mama. I received positive reinforcement as I was raised in a loving Christian home where both mother and father were present, and that was a blessing. Today, my biological mother and I are very close as there is no resentment as I know she only wanted the best for me,” she said.
Miller-Folkes’ role as an effective store manager began years ago as a young girl when she watched her aunt pack the most beautiful fruits and vegetables on her stall located in front of the Dominion House supermarket in May Pen. It was there that she was introduced to visual merchandising as she helped to pack the fruits on the stall, and where she learnt the importance of engaging customers and building relationships through conversation.
“This taught me early on to treat everyone equally, as Mama’s stall had customers from all walks of life and I would watch her serve the rich and poor the same way with the same big smile. Mama was a go-getter, a hard-working woman who would make ends meet and do it in style. She rarely complained.”
She remembers that her Mama’s style of dressing stood out – always fashionable with bell-bottom pants and high, chunky shoes. “She gave me the best clothes. Sometimes we even wore matching dresses to church, and I was their little princess.” Little did she know that years later she would be working in the fashion industry. Her Mama’s sense of style helped give her an advantage, as today shoppers trust her judgement when they ask if something looks good or not.
Leadership came naturally to Miller-Folkes. In primary school she was made a monitor, and during her years at Lennon High School in Mocho, she was twice elected to be head girl, in both fourth and fifth form. During high school, she would be further influenced by another strong female, someone who also took charge – her sister, Stephanie Lindsay. “Stephanie was two years ahead of me in high school and she was my idol – she was very popular in school because of her jovial and outgoing personality. Stephanie has always been someone I looked up to, as she only aims for the top and achieves whatever she sets out for.” Today, Lindsay serves as a superintendent in the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
After graduating high school and attending business school, Miller-Folkes was employed by Baugh Hardware in May Pen as a sales representative. It was a fateful day when she met Marlene Williams, director of Maxie Department Stores, who would change her life forever. “Marlene came into the hardware as a shopper and while I was processing her order, we began talking and instantly liked each other. A few days later she offered me a job at her store. Now, 20 years later working with Marlene, I have noticed that she has always had a sense for picking winners.”
Miller-Folkes began her career at Maxie, working at the head office in May Pen with a variety of office duties, including but not limited to administration, inventory and sales. Now, as a store manager in Portmore, it gives her a unique advantage, as she understands all aspect of the business. “Marlene and Terrence Williams have always said that I am a born leader, and I remember their thoughtfulness to me when I was pregnant with my son Anthony Jr and how considerate they were to me. The simple gesture of allowing me to leave before my shifts ended, demonstrated significant compassion and that kind of consideration is what I pass on to my staff in Portmore.”
She told Outlook that Marlene and her husband Terrence make an excellent team leading their stores, and their business acumen has taught her that when she makes a decision, she should stick to it and trust herself that it will work. Their trust, respect and belief in her has made her into the manager she is today.
She told Outlook that though business books have their place in the workforce, more is needed. She believes in maintaining the human and social side of management, because, she said: “If I only followed the business books about management, I would not be the manager I am today. These books tend to forget the most important aspect of management — they forget the humane side. I look at managing my staff as a two-way street, where we respect each other, which allows them in return to be fair to me through honesty and transparency.
“Miller-Folkes is a strong proponent of giving back to her staff – in retreats and incentive programmes.
“We are a family, and as human beings we tend to produce more when we are validated and encouraged.”
When asked how she balances work and family life, she said: “‘It hard, enuh! And it would not be possible without the support of my husband Anthony, and the help I get at home, Marcia Sharpe, who fills the gaps.”
On top of everything she does, she is also an active member of her children’s school’s parent-teacher association. She ensures that her children are raised with the certainty that they are loved unconditionally, just like she was certain growing up.
Farah Thomas, assistant manager, Portmore branch:
Mrs Folkes is one that I look up to because of her strong leadership qualities. She is a ‘people person’ and once you get to know her, you want to be around her. No matter how hectic her day is, she is always pleasant. She is a motivator to her staff and is always encouraging us to go back to school. She allows the staff to weigh in on decisions, which tells us that she values our opinion. She is fair and firm and although she is the sweetest manager, she is not afraid to reprimand staff, without causing resentment.
Karen Smith-McGregor, store supervisor:
The respect and love Mrs Folkes has demonstrated towards the staff is genuine. She is a kind and caring manager who encourages her staff to higher heights.