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JM | Oct 14, 2020

Missing the one and only Colm Delves

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

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Reading Time: 4 minutes
Colm Delves, former CEO of telecommunications firm, Digicel Group. (Photo: Fortune.com)

In April of this year, I received the gut-wrenching news that my dear friend, the former Group CEO of Digicel, Colm Delves had succumbed to cancer.

The world has been deprived of a noble soul and I have been placed for some time in reflective mode.

One is truly fortunate to have an enduring friendship with someone who is honourable, humane, compassionate, wise, smart, supportive and steadfastly in your corner -that was Colm.

I have spent many years as a journalist and media professional and Colm Delves was perhaps the best editor I ever came across. He was an accountant by profession but his brevity, pinpoint diction, clarity of thought, and sheer succinctness left one clear just what he was conveying. His measured declarations were thought-provoking and allowed you to get to the kernel without having to separate the wheat from the chaff- all the hallmarks of a good editor.

If you needed Colm’s attention, he would make the time if only briefly to give it undividedly.  There are not too many people I can say that about.

During this time of COVID-19 and self-isolation, I have been whiling away the hours reading and watching television. I am particularly fond of episodes of Star Trek with William Shatner playing Captain James T. Kirk.

In one particular episode, Captain Kirk says: “You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there is no such thing as the unknown – only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”

Now that could have come straight out of the mouth of Colm.

In another episode, Spock declares, “Insufficient facts always invite danger.” Again I hear Colm Delves and what he always brought to assessment and the decision-making process.

“I will miss our conversations and reminiscences. I shall also miss discussions about your eclectic musical tastes and the many books that captivated you and those you promised to leaf through given the chance.”

—Al Edwards, on Colm Delves.

Captain James T. Kirk and Spock are two diametrically opposed personalities -one intuitive,  daring and courageous, the other absolutely logical at all times, yet the sum of their parts forged  a dynamic leadership force underpinned by friendship. I’d like to think of Colm as a  composite of both Kirk and Spock.

Colm too had an inexhaustible work ethic, formidable intelligence, a wry sense of humour, an unarguable ability to lead and an uncanny ability to quickly assess the field and plot a course of action – what Napoleon called the “coup d’oeil”.

He had the skill and confidence to get the best from those around him. Many can attest to his acts of kindness and generosity of which he insisted should never be heralded or announced. He was never given to verbosity or florid displays of his accomplishments and aptitudes. Many would say that he was a humble man and that he certainly was.

Colm Delves presided over the golden years of Digicel, serving as its Group CEO for 13 years. When he began his tenure, Digicel reported revenues of US$478 million. When he left, the company reported a revenue figure of US$2.5 billion with a presence in 32 countries.

Photo: The Irish Times

Over the years he galvanised a team that saw Digicel become a diversified telecommunications force in this hemisphere. Executives such as Mark Linehan, Pat Casey, Lesline Chisholm, Mike Hogan, Jim Hogan, Antonia Graham, Lisa Lewis, Heather Moyston, Mario Assaad, Lawrence Hickey, Donovan Betancourt, Frank O’Carroll, Charmaine Daniels, Stephen Curran, Brian Finn, Ken Mason, Harry Smith and Seamus Lynch under Colm’s stewardship created a corporation that had its beginnings in Jamaica and went on to straddle continents.

How was this accomplished? An article in Fortune entitled ‘Here’s How Your Boss Can Make Work More Fun’, authored by Colm in 2016 is instructive.

“Building trust in any relationship is no easy feat. For business leaders the responsibility of doing so throughout an entire organisation can be especially complex.

“Because trust is a two-way street, it’s also important to directly engage with your employees. Establishing a direct connection proves how much we value our people.”

Former Digicel CEO for the Caribbean and Central America, Vanessa Slowey said of Colm,  “He was cool and composed and you always felt that you could not disappoint him.”

True that!

I will miss our conversations and reminiscences. I shall also miss discussions about your eclectic musical tastes and the many books that captivated you and those you promised to leaf through given the chance. The last time I was with him, he gave me a book called ‘To Hell or Barbados’ by Sean O’Callaghan and bade both me and my family farewell. I will forever treasure it.

Much love to his wonderful wife, Paula, and his lovely daughter, Hannah. Colm was proud of you both.

Speaking of his friend Spock, Captain Kirk said at his funeral: “Of my friend I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”

Colm, you left us a fine example of what our better selves can be. May your soul be forever blessed.

I have been and always shall be your friend.

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