THE ISSUE: Companies have taken the plunge
SOME EYEBROWS MUST have been raised a week ago when The West India Biscuit Company Limited (WIBISCO) was named Caribbean Exporter Of The Year.
The award was presented at the second edition of the Caribbean Exporter Of The Year Awards, hosted by the Barbados-based Caribbean Export Development Agency at Hilton Barbados Resort.
The reason several individuals might have been surprised is not related to the company itself, but more to do with the perception – some would say reality – that many Barbadian companies have no appetite for doing business outside.
Barbados’ private sector has persistently faced the major criticism that it has not been adventurous enough to search for business opportunities overseas, and in so doing boost foreign exchange earnings potential.
But is the criticism warranted? Do Barbadian enterprises really lag behind their counterparts in places like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica?
Home-grown conglomerate Goddard Enterprises Limited (GEL) is one of the most prominent examples of a Barbadian enterprise finding success. In addition to its expansion into the Caribbean, GEL is a major player in the catering business in Latin America.
In a Christmas message to staff two years ago, GEL chairman Charles Herbert touted the “geographical diversification” policy and said it was working.
“Despite this, the Goddard group has remained steadfast as we have attempted to consolidate our position and remain focused on our goals of excellence, geographical diversification, the pursuit of new opportunities for growth and the improvement of operating efficiencies,” he said.
“Our group has built up a reputation for hard work, integrity and professionalism and we acknowledge the contributions of all of our stakeholders – past and present. With our diversity and resilience and with your dedication and commitment in the coming years, we can face any challenges ahead.”
Sagicor Financial Corporation has also focused on diversification, even after what president Dodridge Miller described as the “bloody nose” it received with losses at its British subsidiary, which was eventually sold.
Speaking during a media conference in May 2011, Miller said: “Just because you got a bloody nose stepping forward does not mean that you should turn around and run. You have to determine whether this is the right thing.”
“We sit here every day wondering how we are going to earn foreign exchange. We are 166 square miles and we are expected to sell all types of things to the rest of the world. We just don’t have the capacity to do it.”
Automotive Art is another Barbadian company that has been successful overseas and on Page 13 of this publication, one of its founders, Dereck Foster, offers advice on how others can also succeed.
There has also been success in the construction field. Innotech Services Limited chief executive officer Martin Da Silva explained that as the market tightened in Barbados, regional expansion was a focus of his company.
This small sample of firms and sectors suggests that Barbadian firms are indeed increasing their outward focus. Several professional service providers are also doing so.
Access to the latest technology means that more of this is likely in the future.