3 Questions for the CEO: Dereck Foster

This week we hear from Dereck Foster, Executive Chairman of Art Holdings Inc., parent company of Automotive Art.

1. Many forecasters point to the reduction in popularity of cars and driving, as Uber and autonomous vehicles gain popularity. Your entire company is currently dedicated to servicing cars. What would be Automotive Art’s strategic response to that?

This is a great question because we (along with many experts) predict that the transportation industry is going to go through tremendous disruption over the next decade or two​ – driven by the incredible technological advances taking place with self-driving vehicles.

Through various radars, lidars and sensors, these cars will be able to see 360 degrees around them and importantly predict (before a human could) when an accident may occur and take steps to avoid it, or certainly minimize the effect. These cars will significantly reduce crashes and in turn, collision repair shops will lose a huge portion of their business. Since a massive part of our business is car paint we must plan for this disruption.

In addition, we see car industry moving away from fossil fuel powered vehicles to electric power, driven by both consumers and government legislation. Electric vehicles will require much less maintenance and will easily do over a million miles with little need for maintenance or repairs.

At Automotive Art we are always thinking about how to stay ahead and respond to these changes – looking at the opportunities they will create so we can adapt our business to take advantage of the changes. For example, while these cars won’t need drivers they will still need to cleaned, charged, and maintained etc. Additionally, companies like us could own the fleets of driverless vehicles, that will provide a multiplicity of transportation services, from people, to cargo/packages etc.

2. How is Automotive Art dealing with the increasing move to “everything digital”? What has it made easier, and what harder?

Over the past few years, our shift to digital has been hugely rewarding for our brand. We’ve invested heavily in creating our own content, both static and dynamic which allows us to create a much more personalized experience with our key targets. We sometimes even go one step further and differentiate the content between target groups to boost relevance. The truth is, I can’t really say that the shift has been difficult – as a company we deeply value innovation and believe in communicating to our customers where they want to be reached rather than what’s convenient or easy for us.

3. You’re an angel investor/VC of some renown. What opportunities do you see which are yet to be tapped in the Caribbean?

Clearly the biggest opportunity I see for the Caribbean is the legalization of cannabis in the developed world. The Caribbean has a well-known brand for example, Jamaica and reggae music – these have always had an association with cannabis and all other Caribbean countries could benefit from this in their own way.

This is a perfect opportunity for the Caribbean to move away from the sugar industry which is very much dead (as we cannot compete profitably with other global producers) and produce crops that are highly profitable. And, of course, growing is only a small part of the industry – opportunity also lies in harvesting, extractions, research etc.

The islands that move quickly on this opportunity will be the winners.

Extra time: what have you learned from doing business in the EU, that other business leaders could learn here?

It is easier to do business in developed countries than it is in the third world.

They are more efficient and corruption plays no part in daily activities. Process and procedures are clearly defined so you do not need to seek the permission of ministries, ministers or central bankers to start or run business; all that is required is to comply with stated rules. Because of this their economies are more competitive and we all play on a level playing field – naturally, that makes a huge difference!

I love living Barbados but we need to change how things are done! We must become more reliant on clearly defined processes/procedures rather than on technocrats or elected officials approvals who can be subjective or politically influenced.

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