“In order to receive what is meant for you, you first have to become you.” These powerful words are most fitting for the chief executive officer and major shareholder of Lifespan Company, Nayana Williams.
An attorney by training, Williams opted to pursue business over law. She gave Flair further details about her switch in career. “I have always been in a business environment but I also worked in the entertainment industry in the United States and did some marketing as well. I, therefore, knew how to create a product from start to finish”. Like many Jamaicans who have lived abroad, she longed for home. So, she returned to her roots with her husband, who is from Portland, and their two children.
Back at home, they immediately saw an opportunity to establish an industry where none existed. Careful evaluation of the natural resources revealed an abundance of water, so the decision was made to produce bottled water. After consultations with her husband, they created Lifespan and built the manufacturing plant exactly at the source of the water.
Located in Spring Garden, Buff Bay, Portland, the genesis of Lifespan began with three (husband and wife plus one). “There is a stream running from our property to the ocean, but we get our water from another spring above that one; which is where we collect the water. It is then sent to the filling station where all suspended solids are removed and ultraviolet rays are used to kill any remaining bacteria so that no microbes can survive in the water,” Williams explains. This makes Lifespan naturally alkaline.
The company has since grown to hiring more than 155 employees, distributing islandwide, and to several Caribbean islands, with plans afoot to seek more new markets. Her husband, who is an engineer, focuses on the building, construction and practical side of the business. “We recently put in a new line and are looking at increasing output so early next year we will focus more on exports,” she said.
Her decision has paid dividends, with Lifespan now grossing some $700 million in sales annually, and if all goes according to plan, the company will list on the Junior Stock Exchange (JSE) early in 2021. The company has set targets and in order to meet them, listing is a necessary rung up the ladder.
The brand has also been experiencing its share of panic-buying customers as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit Jamaica. “We have seen an uptake of orders as people realised they need to stock up on clean, alkaline water,” she said.
“One of the contributing factors is that persons are becoming more aware that consuming water is much healthier than sugary/artificially flavoured drinks,” she says, adding that water can be infused with fruits or lemongrass or lemon juice to make it easier to drink.
Williams says the company, which now supplies all 14 parishes, recently switched to distributors T. Geddes Grant and will now be expanding to more stores islandwide. They also have some accounts in the hospitality sector.
Lifespan is currently observing all the rules for social distancing, sanitisation and opening hours, geared at keeping the spread of COVID-19 under control. In order to maintain the recommended numbers at her 15-year-old company, at the height of the outbreak, Williams staggered lunch break hours for staff and has observed the rules of frequent handwashing.
“We also wear protective gear and have a keen monitoring system at the entrance to the building to ensure that no one is showing signs of illness. We do temperature checks, and since most of our workers ride motorcycles to work, they are spared the crowding in public transport,” the CEO says.
Those examples form part of Lifespan’s new normal way of maintaining its strength.
The company is a member of Portland Chamber of Commerce and diligently maintains their corporate social responsibility by sponsoring events and projects which help their community, such as health fairs, special Olympics and support for children with disabilities. She holds this initiative very dear to her heart, being a mother to a disabled child. “We are now putting together a plan to have a neurologist come and assess children with disabilities in the parish.” She continues, “Our other projects include building a house for a senior couple, annual beach clean-up, and we are now formalising our foundation which will be primarily focused on the disabled as well as elderly persons.”
Green energy conscious in preserving the environment, Lifespan has its own solar farm. Now in the process of installing a turbine generator, this will reduce their dependence on the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) by 100 per cent; giving them green energy all the way. “As a result of going totally green energy, we will reduce our carbon footprint by 60 per cent. We also already participate in a recycling initiative at Ardenne Road in Kingston, where customers are encouraged to take empty plastic bottles which are then crushed and recycled,” said the member of the International Bottled Water Association.
She is also a member of that organisation’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, which conducts research globally. Williams permits Lifespan to be used in some of their research. They also engage in best practices in the industry, including the use of recycled water for gardening. “In furtherance of our sustainability efforts we use old wooden palettes to make furniture for the lobby and other areas, and we use repurposed wood to make artwork for the walls,” Williams said.
For the foreseeable future, the focus is solely alkaline water as well as other products, but 20 years hence, Williams envisions Lifespan as a major international conglomerate, promoting life, happiness and health.