Friday, July 31, 2009

Jamaica needs a new hero

What are your views on this article by Ken Hynes
Published in The Observer on Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jamaica may be small in size and young in nationhood, but few countries boast such a rich history of extraordinary individuals. The leadership of Paul Bogle, Marcus Garvey and Samuel Sharpe helped bring about the country's independence. The nation-building work of Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley still holds valuable lessons for countries where labour and political rights are limited.

Bob Marley's legend only grows with each passing year. More recently, the electrifying performances of Veronica Campbell and Usain Bolt brought the entire world to its feet. In fact, Jamaica has more track and field gold medallists per capita than any other country in the world.

Most countries would consider themselves blessed to have even one of the above individuals as part of their national heritage; however, if you take a closer look at Jamaica's "hall of fame" there's something - or someone - missing. The fields of politics and academia are well represented. Culture and sport are replete with national icons. But what about the world of business?

Can it really be true that in its 46 years of nationhood Jamaica has produced not one single businessman or businesswoman worthy of admission to the ranks of national hero? Is it a dearth of talent or is it the world of business itself that leaves people indifferent?

Many would argue that not only has the business community in Jamaica been neglected, there is an active bias against it. Commercial success in Jamaica is often met with suspicions and whispers of impropriety. Contrast the weary eye Jamaicans cast upon business leaders with that of Americans.

American schoolchildren come to learn and admire the likes of Bill Gates, Donald Trump and Warren Buffet. It's not simply their wealth that inspires people. It's their ideas, perseverance and focus. Bill Gates developed much of the know-how that went into Windows in his high school computer lab. The computer was only available from 2:00 am to 5:00 am, so that's when he would go to the lab.

Donald Trump built an empire, lost it all, and then built it back up again. Warren Buffett is a multi-billionaire but he still lives in the same modest home in Omaha, Nebraska, and packs a lunch each day. Even amidst the current financial crisis, Americans look to their business heroes for guidance and leadership.The challenges facing Jamaica are even more daunting than those confronting the United States. We all know the facts: growth is stagnant, unemployment is rising, and the purchasing power of the Jamaican dollar is under increasing pressure. So who's going to lead the country out of its economic troubles?

The Government and the donor community can both play constructive roles but they are not the answer. The hero Jamaica needs now will not emerge from the World Bank or the Department of Finance. Jamaica's long-term prosperity will instead come from the entrepreneurs whose ideas and energies create value for their customers, and wealth for themselves, their employees, and the country as a whole.

Jamaica's future will depend upon people like Audrey Marks of Paymaster Limited; people who have an idea and are able to build a team around them to offer the market a service or product that meets a need that was not previously being met. Audrey Marks is a true entrepreneur in every sense of the word. She is willing to risk her capital and her reputation in pursuit of an idea she believes in.

Jamaica's ability to compete and grow will depend upon the ideas and energies of its entrepreneurs and the small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) they lead.

Consider the following: microenterprises and SMEs account for 80 per cent of employment opportunities in Jamaica. That's not surprising since SMEs have been proven to innovate twice as fast as larger companies. All of the most dynamic economies in the world (United States, China, Canada, and Germany) are driven by the strength of their SMEs.

The good news is that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Jamaican firms that are successfully competing with some of the best companies in the world. These local firms have an idea and a sense of mission that drive their business. They're led by equally dynamic people who, in any other field, would be a national treasure.

If Jamaica is to strive for growth, it must recognise the importance of these individuals and celebrate their success. They are the Usain Bolts of the business world and their stories need to be told so that their ideas, passion, and success will inspire other Jamaicans in the same way Usain Bolt has spawned a thousand more track and field stars in the making.

In the weeks ahead, this column will profile extraordinary business people in Jamaica and the dynamic organisations they lead. You'll meet Milton Murdock, who has assembled a thriving farming co-operative in a country where the term co-op has long been a bad word. You'll meet Kizzy Ann Reynolds, who's proving that you need not sacrifice artistic creativity to be commercially successful.

We'll also talk with Lorna Greene. Her firm is making sure that Jamaica is very much a part of the technological revolution that continues to sweep the world. These people and others like them are the pioneers of a new and more prosperous Jamaica. It's time we saw them for what they are, heroes in the making and role models to anyone who values the power of an idea and the conviction required to bring it to life. That's the real world of business.

Let's aim to give these extraordinary people the respect they deserve. It's in all of our best interests to do so.

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