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Sir Hilary’s lessons in leadership

rhondathompson, [email protected]

Sir Hilary’s lessons in leadership

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PROFESSOR SIR HILARY BECKLES is a most remarkable man. It was clear from the moment he took up teaching duties at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) many years ago that he was on a mission. He is a change agent.

The recent announcement that he will be the new UWI vice chancellor from 2015 is a crowning glory for this activist academician who fought against the establishment before becoming part of the region’s power elites. His has not been a paradoxical ascent, but based on a clearly thought-out plan.

Sir Hilary knew what he wanted from early in his UWI life. Like the late legendary black American Malcolm X, he made some noise and got noticed when he took on the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Society and decried it in many ways. He was a purposeful shareholder activist. Today he serves on the board of directors of Sagicor, the successor to what is Barbados’ largest financial company which now has global reach.

Perhaps when he relocates to Jamaica he will be able to use his influence to get this regional corporate giant to do even more for the university than it has done at Cave Hill. We anticipate he will lean on Cable & Wireless and many of the leading Caribbean companies to enter strategic partnerships with the UWI. He understands how the boardroom functions and, given the challenges the regional university faces across territories, Sir Hilary will need to aptly apply his skills.

His radical posturing of yesteryear and his actions of today exemplify two different personalities. The former was damning of the economic power structure which spoke of too many being excluded. Now mellow and more experienced as the leader of a multimillion-dollar enterprise at Cave Hill, Sir Hilary has seen the wisdom of embracing those from the old establishment. The list of some conferred honorary doctorates under his leadership in itself tells a story. He would have gained much in recent times while working with a pragmatic campus chairman in business executive Mr Paul Altman.

There is a lesson from his actions which should inform other leaders in education as well as those at the helm in both the corporate and public sectors: be clear of your mission. It is about building bridges to achieve results. 

Sir Hilary will leave the Cave Hill campus knowing that there are those who will say critical things of him; equally, there are those who will speak highly of his accomplishments. The expansion at this campus has been tremendous – a much bigger physical plant, a wider academic range and a higher enrolment level. It all speaks to increased opportunities. He has made an indelible mark and must now focus on building a legacy across the entire UWI system.