This week we hear from Nicholas Mouttet, CEO of ANSA McAL Barbados Ltd
1. From your personal view of economic issues and business conditions in Barbados; where do you see the country going in the next few months, whoever wins the government?
I think we’ll see a bit of a bounce in the short-term; the country voted for change and the Prime Minister understands that. As long as she does what she promised – and I believe she will – we will see an improvement in the domestic environment. So I’m cautiously optimistic in the short- to medium-term.
I would also like to note that I’m very proud of the Barbados electorate as it was able to look past all the traditional political, socioeconomical, religious, gender and other divides, look at the issues and vote accordingly. This shows that Barbados has a very mature electorate, and the rest of the region can learn from them . On the other hand, the landside result indicates that if the people don’t feel they are getting satisfaction from the new government, the same thing could happen to them. I think the new PM knows this, and hopefully this will drive her to deliver.
Where are we going? While I think generally things will improve, there will be some tough decisions to be made, so in the medium term it may get tough before we can reap any economic rewards., A lot depends on how quickly the new government can act. They need to bring back consumer and investor confidence, and that will be difficult, while dealing with the debt problem. So the list of thing the government can and must do is long, but we must take our medicine if we are to get better, strengthen our balance of payments, and take steps to reduce the national debt.
2. Which sector or sectors do you consider to be ripe for development in the next 5 years? And which ones are ripe for disruption?
For development, the first thing we need to do is to concentrate on Barbados’ competitive advantages in the world. The government cannot do everything at once – the resources just aren’t there. So we must select. I believe we must re-invest in tourism, that is where our strength lies and where we have a product that can compete throughout the word.; yes we have an expensive tourism product, but we have world-class beaches, bathing and a relatively safe and friendly environment. We should not try to compete with lower priced destinations, we are what we are, but instead always improve our product and add value so the market doesn’t mind spending the money. But we can’t do that with the state of the roads, the sewage system, and other infrastructural issues. These are basic requirements for a competitive product and country and are letting us down. There are also other areas that we can develop in this sector such as Medical and Sport Tourism.
Of course there are other areas; international business, Financial Services, the whole green/blue economy concept, but I believe the private sector should be allowed to drive these, while the government creates a welcoming and enabling environment for investment. The government can’t invest in everything otherwise it will dilute its resources and achieve little.
In the case of future industry-disruption, just look around the world at all the experiments taking place. Financial services are being disrupted right now; physical bank-branches are becoming a thing of the past, as people increasingly move online. Just look at mobile banking in Africa and the Crypto sector. The automotive sector also is changing is switching rapidly to electric and other clean forms of energy, such as natural gas.
Barbados could lead that movement, saving both our environment and foreign exchange at the same time. And if you think about it, it would also be a huge competitive position for us to develop in the Tourism Sector versus the rest of the world. Just imagine if we could re-position our tourism product that way, a completely green personal and public transport island. It would revolutionise the industry as there are large populations abroad that will travel here to both enjoy our product and support our commitment to the environment. But let me repeat that both the Financial Services and Automotive industries are areas where I think the private sector could lead the change, with government facilitation.
3. What must regional companies do, in your opinion, to grasp the potential of digital communications in future?
Most regional companies are still trying to embrace the digital revolution. Here in the Caribbean, we’re still learning, still trying to catch up, we are adopters not creators. We need to change quickly, to put new people on our boards with digital experience, and develop new leadership with a vision for opportunities in that space. Companies need to invest in experimentation, create in house laboratories to drive new ideas. It doesn’t have to be a big investment, but we must experiment. We really don’t have a choice. Consumer are demanding this, and we need the courage to run multiple business experiments for ourselves, testing which concepts work and which do not. It would almost be a lab for innovation. One way to do this is via joint-ventures, where we can partner with others in the Space, and ensure transfer of learning and knowledge to Barbados.. That way, risk is shared, reduced and both parties can learn. Most importantly, management needs to set real targets for digital growth within their organisations, and hold themselves to those targets, such as 10% of all growth must come from new Digital business every year. We need that commitment at an organisational level.