By FELICITY DARVILLE
She climbed to the heights of her career in financial services and pioneered in her field, blazing a trail for women in The Bahamas. She has travelled the world representing her country, helping to secure the second pillar of the economy. She has led premier international companies with footprints in The Bahamas, always lobbying for this jurisdiction.
Through it all, Antoinette Russell has never lost the common touch. To meet her is to meet a woman who exudes an exquisite nature yet a humble character. She has mastered the fine art of being relatable to people from all walks of life. In a corporate setting, she combines her down-to-earth nature with an air of authority and know-how that has allowed her to successfully galvanize many teams to success.
But Antoinette says, it hasn’t come easy. As a woman in her field, she had to go well above and beyond to demonstrate and prove that she had what it took to be a leader. Her success and finesse led many to follow in her footsteps, and scores to become her mentees.
Antoinette grew up in a single parent home in Malcolm Road with her younger brother and sister. Their mother, Julita Humes, always wanted her children to have a better life..
“My mom always pushed us to be our best selves,” said Antoinette.
“She was a housekeeper and she worked long and hard. Before that, she was a receptionist at HG Christie Real Estate company. She always told us that she wanted us to be the best, and to get a good education and make a difference.”
When it was time for Antoinette to go to high school, she took the entrance exams for both St Augustine’s College (SAC) and St John’s College. Although they were Anglicans, it was decided Antoinette should attend St Augustine’s, as it was considered the ‘premier school’ at the time.
“SAC had an interesting cross section of students,” Antoinette recalled.
“I wasn’t popular there, just another student, but I made a few lifelong friends. I could have easily been considered one of the least likely to succeed. At the time, SAC went up to Form 5. A few of us were very young, I graduated from SAC at the age of 15.”
At such a young age, Antoinette found it nearly impossible to find a job. Businesses simply weren’t willing to hire someone they saw as still a child. Her father owned a business at King’s Court in down town, Nassau. So she worked there as a messenger, collected the mail, answered the phones and generally assisted her father in his business.
When Antoinette was 16, her mother helped in securing a summer student position at the Central Bank of The Bahamas. This is where Antoinette first got her feet wet in the banking arena. She worked in the Exchange Control section, doing what most summer students did, helping with general tasks where needed. These experiences helped to shape her goals and take on a business and finance track as she pursued higher education.
Antoinette decided to work and go to school at the same time. She began her tertiary education at the College of The Bahamas where she studied part time for her Associates Degree in Business.
She was able to find work at a law firm and then at a couple of offshore banks over the years, while continuing to educate herself. She was ambitious and wanted to achieve more, pursuing courses and certifications related to her field, continuously striving to grasp the world of financial services.
Remembering her mother’s words, always aiming to do better and not willing to settle, she went on to pursue a higher education. Antoinette enrolled and transferred to the College of St Benedict to continue her degree studies in the Bachelor’s programme, with classes held at St Mary’s Hall on SAC campus.
Working, attending school, as well as pursuing professional courses over a period of long years was no easy feat. But, Antoinette persisted, laughing at the fact that her friends said she was “always in school”.
As she worked, her certifications and degrees allowed her to climb the corporate ladder.
She moved all the way up to the role of administrative assistant for the managing director of a well known trust company. Her know-how and effectiveness did not go unnoticed.
Antoinette made her big break in the financial services sector in 1989 when she was recruited to launch The Bahamas branch of Mossack Fonseca and Company, an International Panamanian law firm (now defunct). The company offered corporate services in various jurisdictions. She literally went from being a personal assistant, to a boss. But Antoinette was up for the challenge. It’s what she had been preparing for all along.
“I was given the task of starting from scratch,” she recalls.
“I had to find office space, recruit staff and get all the necessary licences and approvals for us to operate. I got the keys to an empty office and had to go deep into the mechanics that made up an efficient and functioning services provider.”
Over a period of ten years, Antoinette built a top-class service for the firm. Due to the footprint of the company and being in the driver’s seat, she had to develop relationships at all levels, locally and internationally. She dealt with representatives at the various regulatory agencies and liaised with legislators, working closely with industry partners. These interactions over the years built excellent relations and she was well known and respected within the industry.
Antoinette became an asset in the field because she was a leader in a world where most of the companies in the sector were headed locally by international representatives. As a Bahamian professional at the forefront, her perspective and input were vital for a growing sector, the nation’s second most lucrative industry. Her achievement showcased the talent pool of highly skilled and educated Bahamian professionals in the sector.
The never-ending learner earned her Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from Miami University in 1998 (classes were held locally). She also achieved the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (TEP) designation. Over a period of ten years while running the firm, Antoinette established a stronghold, with a staff complement of 14.
In 2000, Antoinette moved on to become the head of Trust Services in the Bahamas for the Credit Suisse Group, the second largest bank in Switzerland. She worked closely with the Managing Director, who relied on her to manage the entire team and keep the office operating during his frequent travels. During this time, as the regulatory landscape continued to evolve, Antoinette pursued the qualification as a Compliance Professional and in 2003, she completed the International Diploma offered by the University of Manchester.
In 2009, Antoinette got another well-deserved big break. Credit Suisse offered her the position of Managing Director and Antoinette rose to the occasion.
In a male dominated sector, the position did not come without its common and unique set of challenges. It was the first time a Bahamian woman sat in this position within the Trust Division of the Credit Suisse Group.
“I had to gain the trust and the respect of the entire staff. It was hard won, but it came because I was always honest, transparent, and all-inclusive. I took everyone’s point of view into consideration. It all came together, but it wasn’t easy.”
Antoinette successfully led Credit Suisse Trust Limited, Bahamas and built a strong brand before retiring on July 31, 2020, having spent 20 years of her working life with the organization.
During this time, she served on the Board of Directors of the Association of International Banks & Trust Companies (AIBT), the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) and The Association of Compliance Officers (BACO). She made history as the first Bahamian woman to chair the AIBT.
Antoinette made history once again as the first woman to serve as Chair of Bahamas Financial Services Board (BSFB). Her role included reviewing the jurisdiction’s international obligations, participating in the consultative process, and addressing issues of jurisdictional branding.
She is the recipient of several awards, including the prestigious 2013 Ministers’ Award for Financial Services and the coveted Cheryl Bazard Founding President’s Award (2014) for outstanding performance and contribution to the growth and development of the financial services industry in The Bahamas and The Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers.
She is also a former Council Member of the Bahamas Institute of Financial Services (BIFS) working mainly on the Education Committee. She is a Fellow of the International Compliance Association (FICA), member of Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (TEP) and the Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers (BACO). She holds memberships in the Society of Corporate Governance, Caribbean Governance Institute and the International Tax Planning Association.
Antoinette has taken a steady rise from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of her career. All along the way, she took many under her wing who sought professional and personal development advice. She took joy in seeing others succeed, knowing that hard work and dedication paid off for her.
Most recently, she has launched her own company - Maran Global Solutions Limited and the website, maranglobal.com. Her company specializes in professional and personalized consulting services that are aligned to business strategy. It covers areas including governance and risk compliance, company formation and administration, human resource management solutions, and more. She was licensed by the Securities Commission in March of this year.
But there are a few things even closer to her heart. A widow, Antoinette is a loving and supportive mother to two adult sons, Jonathan and Theo. She is also a devout Anglican, a member of St Christopher’s in Lyford Cay and a former Vestry member.
She also takes pride in being a member of the board of the Bahamas AIDS Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Red Ribbon Ball. Over the years, she has enjoyed devoting her time and effort into advocacy and education in the fight against AIDS. The Bahamas enjoys one of the lowest ‘mother to baby’ transmission rates at just 2 percent, something the foundation is proud to have contributed to.
Most recently, she has joined the newly chartered Rotary Club of South Ocean and is excited to find new ways to be of service to her community. She also served as a member of the recent University of the Bahamas Presidential Search Committee.
Never one to shy away from learning, Antoinette became certified as a Charter Director through the Caribbean Governance Training Institute after her retirement. This week, Antoinette will become a John Maxwell certified coach as she completes the IMC - International Maxwell Certification course virtually.
It’s all in keeping with her commitment to personal self-development while motivating and inspiring others to be their best - a lifetime commitment.
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