Whose responsibility is it? #7

Growth, growth, growth, the often repeated slogan/watchword/dream, is again on the lips of every political leader, business leader, and media practitioner and is the topic of the day. This should have been our continual focus for the last 50 years, but alas, it has been squandered as a nine day wonder, and more seriously as a nine night (a common prelude to a burial).

Well with the appointment of Hon. Michael Lee Chin to spearhead this growth agenda, the word has acquired new meaning, and in this iteration it is either “let Mike do it”, or perhaps “I wanna be like Mike” (that is let him do it for us). We will all be billionaires by sitting back, relaxing, and doing nothing to help ourselves.

Therefore Mr. Lee Chin’s statement on 5% growth is generating veranda debate as to whether it is 5% in one year and each succeeding year; 5% after 5 years; or 1.2% per annum for 5% after a period of 4 years. These is the latest grist for the mills, and believe me, Jamaica grinds slowly to a halt. It is the usual recipe for a convivial talk shop interspersed with intellectual and pseudo intellectual debate encouraged by theorists and non-participants. It is an extension to West Indies Cricket and a nice diversion.

Firstly, let me assure you that if I was an executive in one of Mr. Lee Chin’s companies and my team proposed a plan for a small business to grow at 1% when giants were growing at 5-8%, then I would have written my own resignation. By this I mean that in proportion to the global economy, Jamaica is like an ant to an From the Desk of James Moss-Solomon Executive in Residence, MSBM May 1, 2016 Executive Insights elephant; or a beggar to a billionaire. The room for growth is not limited by our “large” proportion of market share.

The much vaunted Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) that have been the envy for a decade are in either trouble of slowdown. Their failure to translate potential towards growing a larger middleclass in a changing world may be an indicator of a lack of sustainability. When this is taken in conjunction with a growth agenda stimulated by primary products and not value-added production, then the pitfall becomes obvious.

If we produced ten times the amount of pepper or jerk sauces then we would still not be taking over the market share of Tabasco. If we doubled tourism arrivals we would not threaten New York or London. If we doubled employment in ICT we would not be a threat to the Far East, or Central and South America.

In a less than global context, if we had a restaurant and did NOT greet customers with the words “chicken, curried goat, and oxtail done”, and “we no have no dessert”, then our sales would double. If our containers left on time then we could supply large chain stores without penalties. If we eliminated “horse dead and cow fat” from our language, and went to work when it rains then Sam Cooke would sing: “what a wonderful world that would be”.

Secondly, let me assure you that Mr. Lee Chin is not a negative thinker, and the very essence of the entrepreneur is to convert challenges into opportunities. It is the very nature of business that requires the contemplation of risk as a natural part of the enterprise rather than as a reason to do nothing. But solving problems is the reason for doing business. Yes, identifying problems is a precursor with little monetary value, while providing solutions leads to real revenue and profit.

Thirdly, the assumption that Mr. Lee Chin will do it for you is the furthest thing from the truth. He is not an enslaved person, nor is he an elected official who you can simply vote out. He is one of the best examples of persistence, application, and never saying surrender that I have ever known.

He is a man who has made it through hard work, rigor, and diligence, while still being the same person who has been one of my closest friends for 46 years. But he is not a person who suffers non-performers and grumblers gladly. So Jamaica, please get ready for some blunt, honest observations, calls to action, and urgent remedies.

“Those that have ears to hear; let them hear” is all I will say. There will be some measurements which will have to be considered that will be seen in different ways, by industries, sectors, firms, and individuals. Questions will arise:

  • How much do you sell and where to?
  • How much can you produce?
  • Do you have shortages of timely raw materials, and other inputs?
  • Do you have a sufficiently trained pool of employees?
  • Do you have adequate and relevant access to appropriate financing?
  • Can you abide by the transparency required to do legitimate business?
  • Do you have the consistency that will allow for sustainability?
  • Do you just want to “eat a food”?
  • Can your business operate at 2 or more shifts?
  • Can you and your employees come to work on time and perform efficiently?

These are just a few of the critical success factors that can inform the debate on what 5% means, or can mean to Jamaica. Few of our big businesses have focused their best “brains” on the global markets, and where their individual financial resources are inadequate, even fewer have formed alliances. In the meantime they do advanced degrees in Corporate Finance, Global Business, and Mergers and Acquisitions.

Many of these larger businesses, who still see local profits continuing by momentum only, will opt out of any dynamic improvement. They will simply continue to advocate for more government concessions that will reward them for the status quo rather than for measurable improved performance.

It is from the exceptional big businesses that we must expect leadership, and they will be rewarded by global growth and operational efficiencies that will soon eliminate the myopic locally focused who continue to resist change.

The medium and small enterprises are the ones with the potential to produce extraordinary growth, but only if they are willing to transform their thinking into building more robust frameworks and organizations that will benefit from global and international opportunities, and are willing to conform to the changes that will be required of them.

  • These are in many ways identical to those of the big category already mentioned, simply because no Jamaican companies are big by global standards. The opportunities that will offer themselves will be from: Continued access for goods into the USA, and Canada. The EU is less certain as the outcome of BREXIT could have several implications.

  • The re-opening of the expanded Panama Canal will bring opportunities for services to shipping and airlines, and the possibility of a great demand for technical skills such as welding, electrical, assembly; repairs to ships, aircraft, containers, and equipment; and the warehousing and distribution of spare parts. However these skills require internationally accepted accreditation and not just the usual “local knowledge”.

  • Conglomerates/partnerships/mergers will be a challenge to local businesspersons who have tended to be small-minded. The demands will be for 24/7/365 operations in the changing environment.

Therein lies the challenge for Mr. Lee Chin. It is not about physical change, but rather, a total paradigm shift that may or may not get the support of those elected officials who may themselves fear change. The prospect of appealing to a more affluent emerging middle class must be a challenge to the antics that appeal to the expanding poor, unemployed, and dependent.

But change is the way from poverty to prosperity. The growth agenda cannot be the sole responsibility of Michael Lee Chin. But if it is not him, whose responsibility is it?

The responsibility is ours, every woman, man, and those approaching adulthood in Jamaica. Good luck, resilience, sensible implementation, and success to us all. It is not a time for wimps, apologists or intellectual bystanders!

I vote for 5% per annum.