3 Questions for the CEO: Eddy Abed

This week we hear from Eddy Abed, a force of nature: Businessman, entrepreneur, visionary and past president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce.

1. What is the future of Bridgetown? Can it be saved?

As a commercial capital it must definitely be saved. But we need more foot traffic so as to attract more retailers to set up shop in the City. We must find a way to get one-day cruise visitors from the Port to town. And then there are the locals. Currently, the demographic of Bridgetown shoppers is not reflective of a cross section of Barbadian shoppers as 2,000-plus Government jobs were relocated outside of Bridgetown. Now, the typical shopper is without private transportation and comes to town via public buses. They tend to be lower-income shoppers, the higher-income ones avoid the city and go to the malls. The City needs to live outside of 9-5 and so it is imperative that we encourage and facilitate more residences in Bridgetown so that people can work, reside, shop and be entertained in our capital.

What will that take? Plenty. We need cleaner streets, better lighting at night, more policing, longer store and café hours and on-street parking, just to name some. It’s a long list, but I like to say, “inch by inch, it’s a cinch.”

Currently I’m chairing a committee at the Chamber which hopefully will assist in drilling down to identify the short, medium and long term solutions required and most importantly the revenue sources to finance it. We cannot afford to fail with this task, otherwise our heritage city and capital Bridgetown, will die a slow death.

2. Are all Caribbean businesses just copycats? Have we ever invented anything ourselves?

There’s a lot of truth in that; we are copyists. And there are two issues here: one is attracting the next generation of young Barbadians back to the Caribbean. They’ve all studied and gone to live abroad, and we need their ideas and their energy back here. However to do this we must be able to assist them with venture capital financing through the private sector and facilitated by tax allowances from Government.

The other is implied in your question. We’ve only ever innovated on the margins here, building on what others have done – we’ve never really innovated. To take one example, where is our Sandals? What else can we do?

Where is our innovation centre? We must incentivize young entrepreneurs to think and act differently in a regional way so as to enjoy economies of scale. If we cannot sell them the bigger picture we will keep losing our best brains.

3. What keeps you awake at night?

I worry a lot about where our unskilled workers will be in 20 years – how they will be affected by automation worldwide. In the next 10 years and onwards, I feel that most taxi cars, delivery trucks, basic manufacturing and even fast food outlets will be automated, and that will remove many lower skilled jobs from the marketplace.

We must plan from now, and help the next generation by giving our kids more tools to put in their personal toolbox; we need more critical thinkers, but our school system doesn’t promote that. We’re too risk-aware – failure is a scarlet letter which follows you around a small country, whereas in big countries people fail all the time and bounce back without personal damage.

Additionally, if we are to promote self-employment we must ensure that the necessary info is shared at school…how to write a business plan and identify what investors want to see and most importantly that they find mentors or shepherds to assist them.

That’s why I keep wanting an innovation centre of some kind, where we can incubate business ideas, where successful people can mentor younger inexperienced ones.

Extra time: are you optimistic or pessimistic?

I’m optimistic, under this new government. I feel that in Mia Mottley, we finally have a robust and driven leader who listens to her constituents and this will bode well for the country.

We must be patient as it will take a few years to turn the situation around. After all, there cannot be an option to fail as this is our home and there can be nothing greater to fight for than home!

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