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Thinking big

ID: INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE

David Mullings

Sunday, June 24, 2012    

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TWO weeks ago, I was in Miami to attend the Trade Americas Expo which focused on "creating an environment for business opportunities in the hemisphere". I was looking forward to meeting representatives from Latin American and Caribbean countries, along with learning about the investment opportunities, especially seeing how Jamaica was represented by JAMPRO and a keynote address by Douglas Orane, chairman of GraceKennedy.

It was a two-day event mainly made up of panels around countries and topics that are particularly relevant to Jamaica because of the many similarities and the growth the rest of the region has experienced while we have been left behind. I will report more on those lessons in future columns, but this one is focused on Jamaica and the keynote by Mr Orane.

I must admit to swelling with pride when I was able to stop by the Grace booth to drink some Tropical Rhythms fruit punch in-between sessions and see the reactions of the attendees. I finally must also admit my disappointment at not seeing JAMPRO or a Jamaica booth, whilst Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and others were represented well.

Thankfully, GraceKennedy stepped in and filled the Jamaica table in the business networking room, fielding questions about doing business in Jamaica, providing insightful advice and exchanging business cards with a view to passing on prospective investors and companies to the right agency or potential partner in Jamaica (if you are a First Global business customer then I can say that they definitely are looking out for you). They even invited me to sit in on discussions and present my own perspectives and open relationships.

When we speak of 'Brand Jamaica' we tend to not know what exactly we are describing.

When Douglas Orane spoke to the expo, he was the only person representing the entire English-speaking Caribbean, alongside ambassadors from countries like Panama. He was also the only person to receive a standing ovation for the entire two days.

That is 'Brand Jamaica', showcasing our positive qualities in a manner that makes people stand up and take notice. Not only did Mr Orane provide insightful tips to businesses on "the ability to grasp, discover and apply new ways of production and marketing to take your company global", but he also ably entertained the audience and fielded questions at the end of his address, instead of departing the stage like other keynote speakers.

He was there to share knowledge with the simple hope of helping others. In his speech, he highlighted some key points that I wish to share with my readers (the full speech will be made available online and I will post a link to it on the Facebook page of this column.

The first thing is being an eternal optimist — the glass is never half-empty, it is half-full. The second is to have a long-term mission or goal — GraceKennedy has a 2020 vision. The third is to think big — they aim to get 50 per cent of their profits from economies outside of Jamaica by 2020.

Fourth, think of "Jamaica" differently — no longer an island of 2.5+ million people, but as a state of mind, Jamaicans are all over the world and still remain deeply connected to the country. Fifth, do not be afraid to make tough decisions for your company (or country, or life for that matter). You must focus on core competencies and eliminate the parts that do not fit together well, or are taking up too much of your time but not providing enough reward.

Finally, he pointed out during the question and answer session that how you treat your employees was paramount to success. I have heard about GraceKennedy's approach to their employees from many sources, but especially from my father-in-law, Errol Alliman, who worked there in senior positions in the past, and I have always been impressed while wondering why more companies in Jamaica did not seem to learn from and apply the same lessons.

Naturally, Mr Orane did not only focus on the GraceKennedy story, but also went on to promote Jamaica as a critical destination for the investors and businesses in the room. He pointed out our proximity to the USA and Panama Canal, our infrastructure such as two international airports, four aerodromes and nine active seaports (I did not realise it was nine), Caricom relationship, BPO opportunities, excellent telecommunications infrastructure, and our diverse manufacturing sector.

I took the opportunity in the session to ask about Don Wehby being allowed to go and work for the Jamaican Government and assist in the Ministry of Finance a few years ago because public-private partnership was covered in a panel earlier.

His response was to quote Carlton Alexander by saying that "if it is good for Jamaica then we must find a way to make it good for GraceKennedy", an approach reminiscent of the famous US line about General Motors — "What is good for GM is good for America", but instead putting country first.

I admit a little bias in that I have known Mr Orane since around 2003 when I met him at a Florida Caribbean Students Association Conference in Miami at my alma mater, University of Miami. He had attended the conference because Grace and Western Union were sponsoring. I had also studied him for much longer than that as a role model.

I distinctly remember the headache I faced trying to convince some other Jamaican companies and executives how important this conference could be for them and standing in awe when I saw the CEO of GraceKennedy, at the time not only there in person but sitting like a normal person in every session and then inviting me to lunch with him.

After witnessing a room of 200 people giving him the only standing ovation of the expo, led by the ambassador of Panama to the USA, who was sitting beside me, I can only hope that my generation truly takes the time to learn from Douglas Orane what it takes to properly represent Brand Jamaica on the world stage. A few companies could do well to get some advice as well.

I am always proud to be Jamaican, but his speech made me especially proud last week, and every Jamaican would be equally proud.

David Mullings was the first Future Leaders Representative for the USA on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/davidmullings and Facebook at facebook.com/InteractiveDialogue

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