While everyone these days knows Richard Byles as the governor of Jamaica's central bank and former head of the second-largest company listed on the country's stock exchange, few would have imagined that his formal entry into the private and public sectors was almost by accident.
Coming full circle, with his appointment as governor of the Bank of Jamaica in August 2019, Byles began his career in Government before working with some of the country's most-well known titans in the financial industry; first, Rita Humphries at Barita, then the late Maurice Facey at the Pan Jamaican Investment Trust — an entity of which he was to become CEO after only three years. Byles' career was taking root and he was positioning himself for many fantastic shots, sinking them all with aplomb, like his golfing idol Tiger Woods.
Governor Byles reflects with pride on the many significant acquisitions he made during his 13 years as president and CEO of Sagicor Group Jamaica, including Blue Cross, which was the second-largest health insurer in Jamaica and the Jamaican subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada, which was the third-largest bank in Jamaica at the time, and which was merged to become what is now Sagicor Bank.
One might say, in golfing terminology, that Byles was winning all the major championships on his way to completing a Grand Slam. However, he doesn't believe his success should only be seen as being of his doing, but also that “I was able to work with a set of people who I thought were very talented.
“Over the years, from 2004 to when I left in 2017, very few of those leadership people changed, and only one or two retired. But that team, I was able to work with them, and we were able to achieve together,” Byles said.
Teamwork has come to be a leitmotif defining Byles' career and he emphasises the need to allow the experts on your team to do what they do best: “I think that's really important to respect people's talent. By that I mean don't try to do what they can do better for you. You hire someone who is an expert, you leave them and let them contribute that expertise.”
As such, he sees his role mainly as a communicator and a facilitator of the advancement of others, while encouraging and enticing them to want to achieve something greater for the entity and themselves.
Byles describes the art of leadership as being able to get the buy-in of various stakeholders for certain objectives, and inspiring people to achieve them. Once accomplished, he says that people will be more motivated and energised to want to achieve even more — a case of success breeding success. He notes that this was a daily occurrence at Sagicor, and he continues to see evidence of this at the BOJ.
Governor Byles puts his own leadership education into perspective, noting that, “Even when I didn't have spectacular acquisitions, there were events and experiences which were very worthwhile, and which contributed to my development.” Among these he lists the many interactions he had with Maurice Facey, who he says gave him his big break.
Of Facey, he speaks in glowing terms, “He saw in me more than I thought I could be. He had that ability to size up people and, luckily for me, he saw that I had greater potential and gave me the opportunity to express that.”
While during their relationship they would often disagree on many things, including the future and profitability of various companies under their purview, “eventually, just by working together, he saw that I was applying myself and that we were having some results, and that I was authentic. It turned out wonderfully for Pan Jam and for us.”
An avid investor during his downtime, Byles is also a philanthropist and has made contributions to his alma mater, Jamaica College (JC), along with another highly respected JC old boy sharing Sagicor credentials, Danny Williams. Byles' benevolence has also extended to The University of the West Indies (UWI), and he notes that, “Generally I like to help young Jamaicans who don't have the kind of advantages that I or my family have. I have two sons, and when I see talented young men or women who don't have the circumstances they have, I'm very sympathetic and willing to assist in whatever way I can. Getting a good education is crucial to bettering yourself. I like contributing in that way.”
While Governor Byles espouses the importance of hard work, the need for adequate recognition is not lost on him. “The material benefits that people look forward to when they achieve are important. The institutions I work with are very big on rewarding achievement of goals, not just for leaders but for the team. And I think that can be quite inspiring and important in making people go that extra mile. Even when you're not able to offer great material benefits, recognising, in a genuine, authentic way, that people are putting out goes a long way.”
For the future, Governor Byles hopes specifically that the financial sector will continue in its quest to being fully digital and, generally, that leadership in Jamaica will become more modern and embracing by eliciting the thoughts and the ideas of the people with whom they're going to work.
He hopes his legacy as central bank governor will be the same as that at Sagicor, that “I contributed something... Anywhere I am, that is what I would like to be known for. That I did something of value. That drives me a lot. When I'm walking on the road I want people to see me in a positive way. To me, that's everything; my pride and image as someone who is clean, hard-working, committed, is vitally important to me.”
Jacqueline Coke Lloyd is founder and managing director of Make Your Mark Consultants. She is a transformational leader, coach, organisation and people development specialist, and national productivity ambassador. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.