While on my morning walk, I frequently listen to an audio book. Last week I heard the story of a young man who later went onto become a successful businessman. He got his start at a beverage company in the US, where his father was a delivery driver, but through his own efforts he progressed. However, he believe he would not be able to reach his full potential, because he thought he would always be considered the driver’s son.
He left, to join another food and beverage company and set his sights on becoming a vice-president at forty years of age. He managed to attain his goal at the age of 36. Having evaluated his position, he realised that despite his accomplishment, he was not likely to be a key decision maker or be responsible for the financial performance of the company. Having discussed the situation with his COO, he was offered an opportunity at a subsidiary, but you guessed it, he would have to give up his corner office and all the perks that went with his VP position and start all over again and join the graduate management trainee programme with college graduates from a different generation!
He did so and again begun his ascent to the top, despite the challenges and no doubt pressure from others who would rather see him fail. Having again reached the C-Suite he realised that the number one slot wouldn’t open up any time soon. So he began to look around when he was offered the opportunity to take the helm of a struggling pizza company that his employer had bought. In keeping with his previous form, Republican Presidential nominee Herman Cain was a success there too!
An incredible story, but what does this have to do with the Caribbean? The story speaks not only to the incredible determination and ability of Herman Cain, but also to the environment of the United States. Imagine, he achieve what is often described as the American dream not once but twice! Sure he got a start through a familiar means, someone on the inside, but he had to perform to keep his job and to progress. He advanced by his own efforts and was promoted on his merits!
It’s that meritocracy, which is all too often missing in much of the Caribbean. He was able to discuss his ambitions and observations with his “leaders” or “bosses” who offered practical and supportive advice. He wasn’t seen as a “threat” an “upstart” or with the “who he think he be? He father don’t deliver the Bryson?” attitude.
I was speaking to a regional consultant a few weeks ago and he recounted an exchange he had with someone from the World Bank more than a decade ago. The consultant was explaining how and why the region needed help in capacity building, as we lacked expertise and sufficient numbers of skilled people. The World Bank consultant dismissed his position as folly, “look he said, your little islands have more Nobel laureates per capita than anywhere else in the world. Look around the world and nationals from the region are running businesses, government departments and fill key roles in NGOs and international agencies around the globe! The problem is that in your own countries, your governments practice policies of exclusion.
Having lived in St. Kitts and Nevis for fourteen years and having had the opportunity to work on some projects in the OECS I can say the man from the World Bank has a point. The insular and incestuous way in which a lot of business is done and appointments are made is keeping us back. The result, is that the best people do the rational thing and leave! Check it out for yourself, how many of the best minds and talented people that you went to school with or know are still in your respective islands?
Our best talent and minds are building the economies of advanced or developed nations, while we might get a barrel or two at Christmas! To my mind, we would be truly developing if we could learn to create a collaborative environment, one where all our people would be motivated to excel and believe that no matter how astronomic their sights were, if they were prepared to work hard there would be people who would support them rather than tear them down or just block their progress because “they’re not one of us” or “he grew up in the alley”.
In the Caribbean, we really tend to focus on the smallness of things, we have small populations, we have small markets, with the exception of Guyana, we typically have small land mass. But the critical point is we are obsessed by the minutia of things, the important thing is that our thinking and our minds must not be small! There is no limit to human potential, yet we regularly marginalise half our working population based on political tribes! Or we have some hang up, perhaps jealousy or some other “good reason” why Jimmy shouldn’t get a chance.
If you are still in any doubt as to the validity of my position or that our islands possess the talent, here’s a simple test. When the highly paid consultants visit your countries seeking answers to our problems, where do they go to get the information or solutions to put in their reports? I know I’m not the only one to have been told “Mary in Sustainable Development, or John in Education or Peter from whatever ministry, said you have some ideas on…..”. So why not give Jack his jacket and the opportunity and motivation to excel?
When we begin to create an environment where the Herman Cain’s of the region,are willing to try, and can be supported, and can succeed, then I would say we are well on our way to being truly developing countries.
An IT Professional for more than 20 years and an entrepreneur for more than a decade, Russell Williams has extensive experience as an IT Trainer and facilitator and is happy to answer your questions. E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @RwilliamsKN, G+ google.com/+RussellWilliamsKN