A Vincy Fairytale – Molly Gillinda John: Diaspora Dynamics

Diaspora Dynamics, where we focus on keeping you abreast of the activities, achievements, and contributions of Vincentians all around the world. For this edition, we are pleased to feature Molly Gillinda John from Dickson, North Windward. Molly is a an Assurance Partner at Ernst & Young’s US corporate headquarters in New York City. She resides in Norwood, NJ with her husband and their two children.

 By Tricia Reddock

Once upon a time, over the hills and far away at Dickson, in the parish of Charlotte, there lived a brilliant little girl named Molly Gillinda John.

Molly, who is of African descent and also of Garifuna ancestry, lived with her mother, father and little brother, happily going to school and playing  in her rural, tight knit community.

In her own little world, there existed no concept of rich or poor, and the idea of town was part of the hazy peripheral of her sheltered existence.

“I never considered myself poor. Of course there was the town folks versus country people thing. The townspeople looked down on us, they felt they were better than us, because of where we lived and our dialect.”

This enthralling fairytale unfolds within the confines on Molly’s midtown Manhattan office at Ernst & Young, one of the world’s top accounting firms. She is currently a partner, a prestigious leadership position in corporate America. She tells the tale over a long, interesting lunch.

At Dickson Methodist School, Molly proved to be an academically gifted student, immediately recognizing the benefits of applying herself to her  school studies. It was her first experience reaping the rewards of hard work.

“By that time, my father left for St. Croix to find work as a skilled carpenter. Education was the most important priority for my mom. I didn’t give her too much trouble. Also, I quickly realized that doing well at school was the best excuse to get me out of chores.”

With children, Charles and Gillinda.File Photo

In the early 1980s her primary school had very few resources to prepare students for the national common entrance exams, now known as CPEA. This test determines placement in secondary schools in SVG.

The mentality in Kingstown at the time harbored no expectations for the success of students at a rural, or “country” school. Molly performed well enough to secure a spot at North Union Secondary School in neighboring North Union.

“My time at North Union were some of the best years of my life. There was a strong sense of community. I was at the top of my class and I hung out with all of the popular kids.”

For it was at North Union that Molly met her prince, so to speak. Her knight in shining armor turned out to be the principles that propelled her forward. Hard work, self-determination, ambition, focus, and discipline are some of the qualities that contribute to her success.

After Form 2, when it was time to choose between business and science, Molly was routed to the sciences, an area in which she excelled. However, business was calling her, and she fell in love.

“I didn’t have a passion for science. I also thought business was a more practical choice as far as my career options in St. Vincent. I just couldn’t see a future for me in the sciences because I didn’t think I would get the opportunity to study abroad.”

After speaking with her parents and explaining her vision, they took the initiative to prepare her for the business courses. Instead of the recommended science texts, they purchased a typewriter and business textbooks in preparation for business studies, focusing on accounting.

This proactive approach convinced  school administrators that business was indeed her passion, so they allowed her to switch. It proved to be a defining moment. Molly’s love for business and accounting flourished.

“I loved all my teachers. I loved the puzzle of accounting. I loved learning how to make numbers work.”

It was a magical time for her. She dove into her studies achieving amazing CXC results, earning eight subjects altogether. This was unheard of for a student at a rural school in those times, gaining them well earned national exposure.

Molly’s fairy godparent, an uncle in New York, USA, appeared during her A-Level studies at Grammar School. Her carriage presented in the form of papers he filed on her behalf for residency in America. Shortly after she moved with her mother and brother to Brooklyn, New York.

In the spring of 1993, her mother enrolled her at Baruch College of The City University of New York. She graduated magna cum laude in 1996 with her Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Accounting, with an award for the highest marks in mathematics.

Molly credits her mother’s hard work, personal sacrifices, and unwavering support as critical to her academic success.

At Dickson village 1982: File Photo

“My mother is my constant in life, and we are very close. She is a very nurturing, giving person. A natural caregiver. That is also her profession and how she financed my studies.”

About two years after graduating she got married. The couple now have two children, teenagers Gillinda and Charles, ages 17 and 14, respectively.

Molly started on her career path at Arthur Andersen, one of the top five accounting firms at the time. She quickly advanced on her journey to success.

In 2002, she transitioned over to Ernst & Young when Arthur Andersen was dissolved due to the Enron auditing scandal. Continuing onto her career path to gain admittance to Partnership at Ernst & Young by thirty four years old.

Molly’s presence is soothing and unassuming as she reflects on her journey.

In response to my query on what drives her, she makes it clear that she likes the technically challenging aspect of her work. The very act of serving her clients.

“I am self-driven and very ambitious. I am driven because of my parent’s expectations and I don’t want to let them down. So, to that end, I give my clients my best effort. I have the Vincentian qualities of a strong work ethic. I love providing superior service to my clients.”

At work, a colleague describes her as, “… a leader in the organization and a diverse professional, she is an exceptional role model to her colleagues and team members. Molly’s ambition, dedication to quality and commitment to the industry have enabled her to hold various roles throughout the years.

Caring deeply about her clients with a focus on development of future generations, Molly is a respected and admired leader.”

Asking about her life challenges, Molly’s dragon proved to be transitions and making adjustments along the way. This was particularly difficult for a self-proclaimed introvert.
“Being thrown into the spotlight was not an easy or natural thing for me – and it still isn’t.”

Starting at Dickson, a tiny corner on the dot of SVG, and traveling all the way to the metropolitan New York City’s corporate US headquarters of  global accounting firm.

“Although my story reads as a fairy tale, it is really about transitioning, and oftentimes, on my own. I started out at Dickson Methodist, then I went on to North Union, on to Grammar School in Kingstown, so I had to make adjustments along that path. Then I transitioned from SVG to Brooklyn and subsequently to Norwood, New Jersey where I now reside.

Both of those moves were major changes. Also, transitioning from Arthur Andersen to Ernst & Young. There was so much uncertainty, I was young at the time and didn’t know what to expect.

These experiences helped me to develop into a stronger, more confident person.”

Currently, Molly is involved in Ernst & Young’s diversity and inclusion initiative for the northeast region of the US. Her goal is to develop minority staff for leadership positions at the firm. Sitting on the Diversity and Inclusion Council lets her draw on her own experiences entering a career where black women tend to be underrepresented.

“Sometimes I ask myself, am I really here? Do I belong? I remember my first day at Arthur Andersen’s orientation. I felt so self conscious, I was the only black woman, or so it seemed. I felt like I had to prove myself and show them that I really belonged.”

Molly also serves as a board member for the United States Tennis Association Foundation which is dedicated to providing resources to underserved children.

She travels extensively, for vacations, as well as frequent business trips.

At stonehenge, UK: File Photo

“I love traveling to new places. My position at work affords me the ability to do just that. People ask how can you fly for so long? Well it’s easy when it’s first class and you get to sleep on lay flat beds. You wake up and the hours just flew by. I love experiencing different cultures and food. My work colleagues around the world are very open to providing these experiences.

Singapore is my favorite because it’s western yet tropical and people are friendly. Reminds me of a modern Caribbean.

I have travelled throughout Europe – including: France, Germany and Belgium. in Asia, I have been to China, Japan and India. I have been to Australia, and loved the cuisine. Also, throughout South and Central America and most of the United States.”

As our lunch and tete a tete winds down, I ask about her personal philosophy. “What drives you?”

Molly pauses, carefully mulling over the question in her mind.

“My life philosophy?” She repeats questioningly.

“Well, this has evolved over the years. I always cared about being perfect. I’m in a stage where I’m trying to be the best me that I can be. That makes me realize that perfection is not achievable and that’s okay. I have learned to accept this as I get older.”

As far as her ties to SVG are concerned, Molly remains close to her roots through her relationships with her family and friends. Her family tries to get together annually, and she has travelled home with her children as her schedule allows.

“Various things remind me of home. I still refer to SVG as home. When not at work I’m surrounded by mainly Caribbean family and friends. In some regards certain things remain the same, like the food, music and accents.

There is no singular thought or item that reminds me of home. I also have a photo of the house I lived in prior to migrating to NY that I see everyday on my way up and down the stairs.”

She remains close to the Caribbean friends she made at Baruch, including Wendy Diamond, a fellow Vincentian.

“We met at Baruch and became instant friends for the obvious reason – we’re Vincy. I have always been proud of how quickly Molly rose up the ranks in her field, especially since she was always so quiet and humble.”

Molly’s journey of transitions unfold as a fairy tale, full of magic, wonder and impeccable timing.

Her innate qualities of self determination, hard work, ambition and focus are the theme of her unusual and inspiring story. Molly is the fairytale princess who rescued herself.

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