Business

In the court of King Richard

Friday, March 14, 2014    

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PRESIDENT and CEO of Sagicor Life Jamaica Richard Byles is on a purple patch, which just keeps on getting better.

This month marks his tenth year at the helm of the life insurance giant and under his tenure he has transformed it into one of Jamaica's leading integrated financial services players.

Despite a contracting economy, the strictures of the IMF, debt exchanges (JDX and NDX) and a constantly devaluing Jamaican dollar, Sagicor has turned in stellar profits year in year out, under the astute management of its CEO.

His vision has seen Sagicor take positions in property management as well as hotel operations with the Jewel brand, thus adding new revenue streams.

He has boldly gone after acquiring RBC's operations in Jamaica which will significantly extend Sagicor's commercial banking foot-print and better make it able to compete with the likes of Scotiabank, NCB and FirstCaribbean.

For the year ended 2013, Sagicor Group Jamaica reported revenues of $42 billion a 19 per cent increase on the prior year. This generated a net profit of $6.2 billion. Individual Life brought in $2.58 billion in new business and contributed $2.4 billion to Group profits. Treasury & Asset Management contributed $572 million to Group profits and outperformed the investment income target by 12.4 per cent.

Last year saw the Group launch the Sagicor X Fund, the largest IPO coming in at $1.5 billion.

Richard did a great job running Pan Jam between 1991 and 2004, but has enhanced and cemented his reputation at Sagicor. It's all very well singing when the good times roll, but it takes acumen, strategic thinking and guts to grow yourself out of an anaemic economy.

There are entities that would buckle after losing $1 billion in one day after the imposition of the NDX and therefore bond trading is no longer an option. So what does Sagicor do? It adds 5,095 new commercial bank accounts, disburses $1.38 billion in new retail credit, generating revenues of $1.2 billion, which produced a profit contribution of $711 million.

Richard Byles is not a man given to verbosity. He speaks softly but firmly and will use five words when most would use 10. He is courteous and his civility and leadership style has galvanised the entire Sagicor staff, making it a formidable force.

Under his watch, Sagicor now has a brand awareness of 93 per cent and is one of the country's leading corporate citizens as evidenced by the Sigma Corporate Run, which increased by 37 per cent in overall public relations value from 2012 to 2013. Its participants continue to increase year over a year. The brand has positive recognition.

Turning his attention to nation building and the financial welfare of the country, Richard acts as the Chairman of the public sector appointed Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) and is mandated to see to it that the Government adheres to the fiscal and structural reforms imposed by the IMF.

He has said that the Government is doing its part but that the private sector must boldly invest in the country and become the engine of growth. This has rubbed some business leaders the wrong way but Richard is dead right! The onus is on the country's private sector with the Government acting as a facilitator. The days of relying on government paper are over. Richard has demonstrated that growth can be achieved other than sucking on the tit of the Government. It's time to ingest some solids!

When you are a winner the rub of the green seems to go your way.

As chairman of Red Stripe, he has once again excelled. Red Stripe's profit after tax for the half year ended December 31, 2013 came to $1.94 billion, an increase of 141 per cent on the $808 million posted for the same period in the prior year.

Net Sales Value for the half-year came in at $5.94 billion representing a 12% increase on the previous year. The domestic portfolio performance continued to grow, increasing by 23 per cent due to growth in Red Stripe's brewed portfolio.

Going one step further, Red Stripe seems set to replace imported American corn with locally produced cassava which will give the Jamaican agriculture sector a boost and another market. Red Stripe will lease 36 acres of land at Bernard Lodge in St Catherine for that specific purpose.

Corn currently makes up 40 per cent of the brewery's imported raw material input, with European hops making up the remaining 10 per cent. Red Stripe aims to replace 20 per cent of imported brewing raw material by 2016 with local cassava.

Is there a better CEO or corporate leader operating in Jamaica today? You would be hard pressed to find one better than Richard Byles. He has seen to it that Jamaica is the brightest star in Sagicor's firmament.

Imani Duncan-Price may well have a point

Senator Imani Duncan-Price's call for a more equitable representation of women in parliament and on boards has been met in some quarters with derision, but she makes a good argument.

Furthermore, if Jamaica is to climb out of the hole it currently finds itself in, it cannot continue to do so with the "bad man" culture that currently prevails. Like the lions of the Serengeti, males tend to just mate and leave offspring unattended. They leave the lionesses to hunt and bring in the meat. Some blame this mindset on slavery and the peripatetic nature of the trade but after two hundred years that surely can't be the case.

Women in Jamaica outperform men at school, at the tertiary level, and in professions. They are also less likely to be delinquent on loans. Adopting a more caring matriarchal approach to governance and setting the country on a better footing may well have merit. Women are the backbone of this country and it is a travesty that they form less than 10 per cent of the make-up of Parliament.

Taking care of your family, teaching children respect, educating them, being a worthwhile contributor to your community -- this has been led and championed by Jamaican women. If this thinking can become part of the national mindset, it can only inure to the benefit of the nation.

Imani is too astute and gracious to venture there, but this thinking is the undergirding of why this country needs more female representation in parliament and on private and public sector boards.

Better attention should be paid to Imani's assertion that gender equality means equality for both genders, so it is better not to go too far in either direction, hence she is advocating a 60-40 quota (voluntary) for private boards.

"You need talents from men and women to get the results that would work in the interests of all," she has said. This is a measured and intelligent approach and is not in keeping with some Naomi Wolf feminist rant. Imani's call warrants further discussion particularly in light of the predicament we find ourselves in.

Gotcha Journalism!

The practice of Gotcha journalism is lazy and thoroughly reprehensible when practised by media houses purporting to be credible.

Supreme Ventures was reportedly the victim of unscrupulous persons dressing minors to look like adults and sending them to agents to place bets.

Then a certain media house broadcasts that the largest gaming establishment in the country encourages an egregious practice of under-aged betting.

This kind of sophistry will not broaden viewership and does not inspire confidence in advertisers. In fact, it is a desperate measure by a media company clinging to a lifeline as its programming and revenue earners diminishes.

Supreme Ventures has been vigilant in ensuring that minors do not engage in betting at its operations. To have its reputation sullied in this way in most unseemly.

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