Did you know that the CEO and founder of one of the biggest public health companies in the USA is…you guessed it…a Haitian?
The man in question is none other than Jean-Guilmond Orelien (they call him Jean Orelien, but we don’t need to remind you that we like being culturally correct around here, so he shall be referred to as Jean-Guilmond Orelien. Or rather as Dr. Jean-Guilmond Orelien, as he holds a doctorate in Public Health from the University of North Carolina and a Master’s degree in Statistics from North Carolina State University).
Dr. Orelien left Haiti when he was ten years old to join his mother in Guadeloupe, another island in the Caribbean. From Guadeloupe, he left for New York to attend college, and from New York, he hopped to graduate school in North Carolina, and it is in that state that he founded his company SciMetrika in 2001.
Dr. Orelien, a married father of four, has expanded his business elsewhere and the company now has offices in Virginia and in the state of Georgia. One of the people he credits for his success is a teacher who took a special interest in him. He was gifted in the arts and letters as well as math and natural sciences and debated with himself regarding career direction. She advised him to pursue mathematics and the sciences instead. And then there is his mother, who instilled the notion of success in him.
After an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Dr. Orelien traveled to Haiti to survey the impact of the disaster, and to help officials there determine how to best help the victims. Dr. Orelien has big plans for Haiti. He has purchased vast amount of land tracks in an area in Haiti called Ganthier. “I’m working on a mixed residential project in the town of Ganthier. I plan to be involved as an executive developer in other real estate projects,” he confides to Kreyolicious.com.
Now, about SciMetrika…What exactly does it do? For one thing, it provides public health consultations to the biggest firms in the world (and even U.S. government agencies like the Center for Disease Control). For another, it conducts experiments and collects data regarding complex public health issues. Dr. Orelien’s company was named a Top 10 entrepreneur by Inc Magazine, and his company remains the contractor in the state of North Carolina.
Great achievements, indeed. But then there are those moments. He recalls going to a posh resort in Miami for a conference in the late 2000s, and having a female guest refuse to get into the same elevator with him, claiming she was going downwards. He later discovered that they were going to the same floor. At times, people can hardly hide their surprise at the fact, that he, Dr. Jean-Guilmond Orelien is the CEO of SciMetrika, and not an employee. He says he’s been in situations, where he’d show up to represent the company, only to have a client manifest incredulity at the fact that he is the owner. Yet, Dr. Orelien says he tends not to focus on things like that.
He’d rather direct his attention on more important things—like future developments in his industry. Dr. Orelien sees a public health future with more apps, multilingual translation aids, and robotic technology—not to mention public health reform-related changes. After SciMetrika grossed $18.6 million dollars last year, he’s looking forward to seeing his company gain additional ground. His long-term goal is to continue running SciMetrika, while playing key roles in business ventures in Haiti.
Q & A
How has your childhood has shaped you?
My childhood has shaped me in a very important way. I come from a very humble background. Economically my parents— like most Haitian families—did not have much. Most people would say that we were poor by Western standards. Early on, I aspired to a better future. It drove me fiercely to work hard to achieve success.
The project that you have in Haiti…in the Ganthier place that you had mentioned to me…How is that coming along?
It’s coming along rather slowly. So, we completed a suitability study, and based on the suitability study, we went back to the drawing board. And so, right now, we’re revising the plan that we had originally created for developing the land. So, we will do that first before we go back to the investment to bring forth the project.
It’s still going to be a resort luxury place?
Yes, it’s the same plan. [The luxury resort community is going to be] next to the Lake Azuei.
Okay. Alright. Are there any environmental concerns in that it’s next to a lake?
I think it’s possible that the lake will become an environmental disaster if not taken care of. I think having a consultant—like we plan to have—will immensely help. Because right now, there is no information to [prevent] people from polluting the lake. The lake is not well-taken care of. People are putting their garbage in the lake. I think we can do a better job of taking care of it environmentally.
You’ve been in public health for most of your life. What advice do you have for someone who is contemplating a career in public health?
Don’t do it—don’t just do it—for money, but because ultimately you want to be helping other people. So, that’s one consideration. And the other thing I would say—it would certainly be useful to get at least a Master’s in Public Health.
What about certifications? Say for example if someone has a degree in Nursing or in Health Administration, they’ll get a Certification in Public Health.
I think that this is a possibility. There are people who have a nursing degree and they take a certificate. To be more successful, I would advise someone to also get an MPH. In terms of the avenues that will open up to an individual like that with a Nursing and MPH…there’s no question that an individual with those credentials will have more opportunities than someone with a nursing degree and a just a certificate.
Now, you moved to Haiti from Guadeloupe when you were little.
I moved to Guadeloupe when I was ten years old. Guadeloupe is a French island, so they speak French. They also speak Creole too. I felt at home in Guadeloupe. It was different from Haiti because it was more developed. I sometimes go to Guadeloupe. I still have many friends and family members who live on the island.
Say someone is new to entrepreneurship…how do you suggest that they overcome obstacles, like funding, making the decision to actually become an entrepreneur? How do you suggest that they overcome discouragement.
The first thing I would say is that entrepreneurship is not a one-time event, it’s a journey. Since it is a journey, there are positives; there are failures. Somebody engaging in that journey, should not be afraid of failure. There are many people who say that entrepreneurs tend to be unrealistic. Or to use a popular word: crazy, insane—in that they’re not very good at evaluating the risks. They’re a kind of daredevils. They’re going into a risky endeavor, because starting a business is risky. Most businesses fail. I think entrepreneurs do realize that there’s a chance for failure, but they’re willing to take the chance, and they’re willing to face and deal with the consequences. I would say to someone who’s engaging into entrepreneurship to be willing to stick with it. If you should fail, get back up, and do it again. Eventually, you will get ahead. That’s the approach and mentality I would recommend that someone wanting to get into entrepreneurship have. It starts with that mentality. First and foremost, it is a mental game. You should take the time to think through the process in terms of the product you want to sell. Making sure you have a business plan. When I look at entrepreneurs, it’s an attitude, their intensity, and their willingness to take charge—I think those things are more important than anything.
What’s the origin of the name Scimetrika ?
SciMetrika…the “Sci” stands for science and “Metrika” for measurement. When I created SciMetrika, the idea is that we wanted to offer services that would help our clients make decisions based on sound science or methodology or in other words that there could be a way to quantify or assess that our recommendations were sound. This is still true today. The only thing not captured in our name is that we offer these services in the field of population health.
What’s the best advice that’s been given to you?
I have been given a lot of good advice in my life. It’s probably not fair to pick a single one; one such good advice came from my French teacher in high school. When I was undecided between a literary and a math and science track, she suggested that I go for the math and science track.
If you had gone the arts and letters path, as opposed to the math and science track, what do you think you would be doing now?
I would probably be a journalist. [Laughs] That was one of my earlier aspirations. To go travel the world. To be an intellectual type in the black diaspora. That was probably what I would do.
What’s your advice to anyone wishing to be a CEO?
My advice is to find a need in the marketplace and try to fill that need. Don’t focus on what you will get out of it. If you focus on the value you will bring to customers and employees and you can communicate that value to the marketplace, your success will only be limited by the size of the market. For existing CEOs, the main lesson that I have learned is that to grow your business, first start by growing yourself.
How do you manage balancing family life with the demands of being a C-level executive, Founder/Owner?
I’m still learning that. You have to remember that family comes first. I do attend every parent and teacher meeting. Also, what helps is that I observe the Sabbath. So, in general, I have one day out of seven that is spent entirely away from work. I also take time to travel with the family at least once a year. This is a special bonding time with the kids, and it’s a way to remind them why as parents—my wife and I—are working so hard for them. In general, I would say work on creating memorable moments with members of your family.
In terms of your life and your career—what are you most proud of?
By far, what I’m most proud of is graduating from college. When I graduated from college—when I got my Bachelor’s —it meant so much to me, and I put in so much effort. When I did that, I just knew that I could look forward to stability. It meant so much to me. I got my Master’s and when I got my doctorate, I didn’t even go to the ceremony. They didn’t mean as much to me compared to my Bachelor’s.
When you founded SciMetrika in the early 2000s, did you think it would be where it is today?
I had a plan for it to be a company focused on public health. And that it would be providing services that are anchored in science, methodology, and there were few companies that provided that kind of service. I knew there would be room for it to grow. I wasn’t sure that it would be where it is now. I made the decision to run the company. I think the company hasn’t reached its full potential yet. I think there is room to grow and that it will continue to grow.
Each year there are new arrivals from Haiti. It’s something that I hear a lot. They’re more job-driven than they are education-driven. What advice do you have for new immigrants on success, and stuff.
Focus on education. Education is the key to success. I went through the same thing. When I came to the U.S., I remember my friends were working. They could buy nice cars. I could not drive the nice cars they were driving. I could not wear the nice clothes, the suits, they were wearing. I would say to someone that in the long run, over your lifetime, you are going to be making more money, and you’re going to be better off than someone who has no college education or someone who drops out of college. And if you can, get a Bachelor’s degree. That would be my advice to any newcomer. Opportunities still exist in the U.S. but you have to put yourself in a position to succeed, and the best chance to success is to get an education.
Be sure to visit and get inspired by Dr. Orelien’s blog , and get a bigger picture of what is all about.
[Photo Credit: Inc; additional photo provided by subject]