The R Word

The blogmaster read an article recently published by Harvard Business Review (HBR) – see link below and thought it a constructive exercise to share a few observations with the BU family.

The main idea of the paper is to need to prioritize the importance of companies of engineering businesses to be resilient. The challenge for many is that the majority of our captains of industry do not know how, it is not a subject matter many business schools train students. The consequence is that many companies we depend on to support the financial and mental well-being of households are unable to effectively design for, measure, and manage resilience. The ranging pandemic experience has for sure exposed Small Island Developing States (SIDs).

The authors of the HBR article defines resilience as – a company’s capacity to absorb stress, recover critical functionality, and strive in altered circumstances. This is interesting because it mirrors how historically humans both biologically and intuitively adapt to the environment in order to survive. The article stresses the need for companies to be resilience in order to efficiently navigate today’s dynamic and unpredictable environment. It is a no-brainer to surmise that the ongoing pandemic creates the ideal opportunity for a litmus test to assess resilience.

The majority of businesses operate the traditional business model with a focus on maximizing profit, how many times have we heard the phrase “maximizing shareholder value. However, in a global space that has become more interdependent; interconnected, uncertain and technology reliant building a resilient company must implement the best Colombo like approaches to anticipate and absorb unknown risks in order to withstand “environmental” and leverage the situation to create value- forgoing short term profit making!

The article should pique our interest because ‘business’ is an ecosystem defined by a cluster of companies which interact to achieve the best outcomes. However, the obvious reality is that the business ecosystem represents a microcosm of the global environment in which it has to operate. The blogmaster is suggesting the concept of managing the Barbados economy should be no different to the view posited by the HBR article. The global space has become more interdependent in a world of globalization, the use of advanced technology, specifically the rise of the Internet, expanded, integrated global supply chains, international laws that blur the sovereignty of nations, transitory movement of labour, you get the idea. 

Policymakers will be exposed if they persist to govern based on the traditional economic and social models that it must have been said served us well in the distant past.

Policymakers who operate from the seat of lazy asses, anchored to narrow political interest and more important- if citizens continue to cede responsibility conferred by our so-called democracy, we will continue on the current path to nowhere fast.

Barbados developed a reputation in the 70s and 80s as a good model of what a small developing state should look like. We rested on our laurels and the result is a country on the brink of ….

The jury is yet to return the verdict whether we have passed the point of reeling it back. Our only hope is to be inspired by the message- hope springs eternal. For those who still do not get it, R does not mean rasshole.

Source Link: A Guide to Building a More Resilient Business

Bajan Black Lives Then and Now

Submitted by Roslyn Stanherd

The fervent tone of most of the panellists supporting the removal of Lord Nelson’s statute on the Sunday July 12, 2020 programme, ‘The Peoples Business’ muted that of the sole panellist against its removal.  There was a lot of emotion, stated positions but no balance view on why the statute should be removed.  Research was necessary to determine fact from fiction and emotion from material evidence.

Lord Nelson shared via his writings, his ‘old-school’ views of a profitable British colonial system dependent on the slave trade, i.e., supporting money for the plantation owners and death for thousands of slaves.  Production was of prime importance to plantation owners who had mortgages to pay. The common practice therefore was for slave owners to deliberately work slaves to death via overwork, poor nutrition, poor work conditions, brutality, and disease simply because it was cheaper to replace slaves every 7 years than to feed them properly.  The high death rate among the Barbados slave population in the 1770s is evidenced by the annual importation of the 5,000 slaves necessary to increase the population by 700 per year. Therefore, slave owners by their actions bring into question the validity of the contention that Lord Nelson’s sinking of ships carrying food including bread fruit to the islands caused the death of thousands of slaves.  Sugar cane was a land intensive crop that required plantations used most of the arable land. With few exceptions, slaves were only allowed to cultivate food crops on rubble land but were granted limited time to do so. Owners did import costly foodstuff but they rationed these with a stingy hand. It was the Amelioration Act of 1798 which forced planters to improve conditions for slaves.

Yes, he spoke of his support for slave owners and the slave trade but was Lord Nelson overtly or privately racist.  Evidence suggests otherwise. He helped secure the release of slaves, hired ex slaves, paid them well and supported the idea that plantation slaves should be replaced by freed, paid industrious Chinese workers.

Finally, his success at the Battle of Trafalgar created the conditions that supported the British abolitionists.  Now in control of the seas, the British adhered to the abolition of slavery capturing 1600 slave ships and freeing around 150,000 slaves.

Whether we choose to learn our full history or err on the side of emotion is left to us.

The Sunday Nation of July 12, 2020 article ‘Black Lives in the Spotlight’ by Colville Mounsey addressed realities centred around the position “that elements of our historical starting points still shape the Barbadian economic power structure’.  This balanced article provided a contra position that was interesting, in that it might remind one of the American constitution which informs that all men are created equal, yet generations of blacks continue to be marginalized. The article is worth the read.

From my Barbados experience, though black business people had limited experience running businesses, they all had good ideas.  Unfortunately, they were naive always expecting business to be good and never planning for worst case scenarios.  Their mindsets prevented them from being responsive to situations which hampered businesses growth and development. In addition, money to cover business lags was not every easily accessible and most of them failed.

Retail banks and credit unions are usually wary of startups. Most of the local companies once providing funding to businesses as well as offering much needed advice and guidance are no longer in operation. A business plan along with collateral security are prerequisites for obtaining loans but whites and Indians have the option of obtaining financial handouts and other material support from family and friends something that is a rarity for blacks. In addition, the long preparatory process inclusive of financial assessment  can open doors for ideas to be subtly and overtly sabotaged.

Even at the end of a successful black businessman life cycle there is generally no succession plan for the handover of the business to a competent offspring. A failed black business most often means a loss of property/ies with black people poorer for it. Successful black businessmen also fail on a macro level in that they do not transfer key business information and knowledge via offers of support and guidance to start ups.

Then there’s this; the A students work for private enterprise, the B students for Government and the C for themselves, with the later typically starting at an early age.  There is no need to guess the categories preferred by black people.

My response is not analytical because there’s little evidence to support the perceptions and questions raised by those who doubt that black businesses are disadvantaged.  It is an area that should be investigated/researched.  Meanwhile, successful black businessmen should develop strategies to offer support to startup businesses.

The Grenville Phillips Column – The End Game, Part 2 – Choking on Worms

Industries in developed countries normally mature until they are internationally competitive.  When they are ready to expand beyond their national borders, they ask their Governments to negotiate trade agreements to legally exploit the less developed markets of other nations.

Barbados was consistently given the same strategic economic advice from the Inter-American Development Bank and others since at least 1989 (30 years ago).  It was for the Government to improve the management of public services, and to facilitate the international competitiveness of the private sector.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trade agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico.  In 2001, it was being expanded to include Central and South America, and the Caribbean.  This expanded agreement was called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

In March 2002, The Ministry of Economic Development invited private sector leaders, who were already internationally competitive, to participate in a Strategic Planning Working Group.  We were to help prepare Barbados’ service industries to successfully compete in an FTAA market.  It is critically important to understand that trade agreements are negotiated to give a country’s industries a competitive trade advantage.

My assigned responsibility was to develop an action plan to prepare the professional services sector to be internationally competitive.  I chaired a committee comprising leaders of 25 professional associations in Barbados.  These included: accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, doctors, podiatrists, therapists, dentists, nurses, veterinarians, pharmacists, engineers, architects, surveyors, estate agents, valuers, planners, journalists, musicians, composers and publishers, shippers, human resource practitioners, and office professionals.

The Committee tried to offer services in the USA, Canada and Mexico, to identify the barriers that our professionals would likely face.  Since each state of the US and each province of Canada had different regulations, we tried to offer our services in the US states of New York and California, and in the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Vancouver.

We collectively donated approximately $0.5M of our time and prepared a comprehensive report.  That report contained detailed strategies and actions that individuals and associations should pursue to allow Barbadian businesses to become internationally competitive.  It also included the critical actions that the Government needed to complete to facilitate economic growth in the services sector.

The plan worked exactly as designed for those who chose to implement it.  I led from the front by becoming the first person to qualify as a Chartered Structural Engineer in 15 years in Barbados.  I then trained others to successfully achieve the same international qualification.

Our firm became the first service company in the Caribbean to attain the ISO 9001 quality management standard, and won the BIDC’s Exceptional Quality award.  I subsequently worked on projects worth over $500,000,000 over the next 5 years, and earned foreign currency in 10 Caribbean countries.

The plan has been continuously improved to the point where if it is followed, it is difficult to lose even if one tried.  For several years, over 80% of my earnings were in foreign currency.  It was principally due to that plan that I was the 2014 winner of the National Innovation Competition, and president of Walbrent College.

Later in 2002, the FTAA negotiations started to brake-down, due mainly to the US’ unwillingness to stop subsiding their agricultural industry.  The election of several anti-US leaders in Central and South America would later make negotiations challenging.

With the FTAA off the ‘front burner’, the Government prioritised the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which is a trade agreement between developing markets in the Caribbean.  However, for whatever reason, neither the BLP nor DLP administrations would implement the critical actions to facilitate the economic growth of the sector.

In September 2002, European businesses wanted to exploit developing Caribbean markets.  Caribbean countries were encouraged to participate in the Economic Partnership Agreement.  Knowing our politicians, the Europeans dangled ‘Aid for Trade’ hook-worms to guarantee our participation.

Unfortunately for us, their eyes opened wide – too wide to see the concealed hooks.  With indebted economies, they could not resist the worms, and they locked our unprepared children into the End Game.  It is, in my opinion, the worst trade agreement since our fore-parents were sold for trinkets over one century ago.  To be continued next week.

Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados.  He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com