Quality’s a must

Following is an edited version of the speech delivered last Friday evening by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler at the annual awards ceremony of Courtesy Garage Limited.

Any organisation that is in the business of service delivery, in whatever iteration, will only survive and do well if the public it serves is ultimately satisfied with the service it delivers. And ultimately, such expected high qualities of service will only be forthcoming if the people who are delivering the service are not acutely and professional competent to do so, but also importantly as well are happy and comfortable in doing it.

In this regard therefore, it cannot escape even the most casual observer that at Courtesy staff turnover is extremely low by national standards with many staff members exceeding 10 years of service. It means that not only are the employees hard working and committed to the organisation and its success but they are happy to be associated with it and obviously the management must play an important role.

I make these points this afternoon because I sincerely believe that your model of service excellence at Courtesy, … is one to be admired and I say without fear of contradiction should be slavishly replicated across the Island. It needs to be embedded deeply that is our service standard in the business, political, social and yes psychological culture of Barbados and its citizens.

It is now an open secret that Barbados’ economy is by all measures a pre-dominantly services driven economy. Whether in tourism, international business and financial services, retail or wholesale trading, construction or personal social services, 80 per cent of what we do is in the services sector that is serving someone else or even ourselves.

And since it also a truism that as a small open and resource constrained economy, we cannot expect to compete in either mass or price we have to as a matter of absolute priority to focus our attention on quality of product and quality of service.

There is no question that over the past four years Barbados has encountered some of the most challenging times that we have had in the post-Independence period. And irrespective of what you might have heard this is directly linked to the most virulent and deep seated global recession the world has experienced in nearly 100 years.

In the ensuing period, several of our businesses and indeed our households have been negatively affected by a decline in the business cycle and forced to introduce by private management and Government alike defensive measures aimed at protecting what we have so successfully built up over the years.

In this process all of us have learned lessons that we should to remember. There are but three that I would like to leave with you this afternoon as far as Barbados is concerned.

Firstly, as a country highly dependent on an ever more sophisticated and demanding global market we cannot afford the luxury of not providing the highest quality of service the world would like to have. There are no second chances, we have to do it right the first time.

Secondly, we must not believe that Barbados and Barbadians live in an enclave untouched by the reality of the vicissitudes and vagaries of the global market place. Even the most seemingly insignificant event can cause severe disruptions in our economy, society and way of life.

Thirdly, Barbados cannot generate and sustain an economy and society on the basis only of the spending of Barbadian dollars among ourselves. Getting haircuts, hairdos, or even manicures, though good and desirable can’t pay the bills, service the debt, provide extensive social services such as education, health care, public transport and the like. We have to earn foreign exchange in order to generate the type of balance and sustainable economic growth we desire and need.

Fourthly, quick fixes and attention grabbing multi-point plans are not going to achieve what we want. These problems we face today were not created overnight. Indeed, in fact the crisis of 2008 was not a creation point it was an unveiling of deep seated structural issues in the Barbados economy that needed addressing for a long time.

Fifthly, given what we know now in terms of the expected prolongation of the global recessionary conditions we not only have to continue to work to keep our economy stable but we must engage the restructuring process now.

How do we do this? We do it by maintaining our fixed exchange rate regime — that’s the parity between the US dollar — by ensuring that we have adequate levels of foreign reserves to meet our annual needs. We must forge ahead with our agenda to further differentiate our tourism and international business services sectors and raise the quality of service and facilitation to their highest levels.

We must reduce and eliminate our over dependence on foreign oil not by granting subsidies for gas and diesel which is almost akin to telling an alcoholic he has to drink alcohol, but by forging ahead in the most aggressive manner with our alternative energy programme.

We must proceed post haste with our reform programme for Government, both in central administration and in the para-statal entities, to ensure the elimination of wastage, and duplication while creating greater efficiencies and guaranteeing value for money.

We must build a truly inclusive economy where investors, owners, managers, and workers are included in the process of building our economy and feeling a sense of ownership of the process.

Finally in this regard, the most important lesson of all, call it what you may, that we must learn from our current experience is that:

1) The world is a changed place and not the same as it was in 2007 or before and is unlikely to be;

2) As a result it cannot be business as usual. What worked for us five or even 10 years ago will not necessarily work automatically for us today. Different day, different rules, different approach.

In many ways when I make these points I feel as though I am preaching to the converted. Why? Because you who work in this particular sector perhaps know more about what I am referencing than most others. Your sector has not only taken a stiff blow from the very damaging global recession but you have equally seen before you very eyes the type of forced changes your industry as a whole have undergone these past four years and even before.

From automaker collapses, to bailouts, to tsunamis, to currency revaluations, to declines in individual purchasing powers, you have faced all of it at Courtesy Garage and the wider industry in Barbados.

And the impact has been such that in some of our local garages the fall has been as far as 40 per cent of normal business.

Unfortunately, unlike the auto people in the US, your resource-constrained government could not offer you bailout funds to keep you going. And so you have had to weather this storm by using your most innovative strategies to survive and to compete in this unstable environment.

The fact that we are here today is testimony not only to the fact that have indeed survived but that you have used the strength of your many years of solid business acumen and superior product and service to put up a stout defence of your market position in Barbados and beyond.

You didn’t cave in when times were at their toughest even when you had to make tough and unpopular decision. You certainly did not try to do rash and foolish things that would permanently undermine your business model and its viability. And certainly did not come up with any fanciful five-, 10-, 15- or 20-point plan. I am told you simply had one plan, that you offer the highest quality products and the most superior and complete service — as you have always done…

These factors are of particular importance to Courtesy Garage Limited as the automotive industry undergoes rapid change. Changes in the automobile industry especially changes in consumer need and preferences and demands have forced companies including yours to become more innovative and cost effective.

The landscape of the automotive market is transforming and I expect will continue to expand, but along with challenges it is also creating opportunities for business owners to capitalise on.

I am satisfied that you are seizing these opportunities and I would like to give you the assurance that your Government will continue work with you and other players in the automotive sector in Barbados to ensure that this very critical part of our economy continues to be viable and attractive business.

You no doubt have seen evidence of this in this year’s financial statement and budgetary proposals where on representation from sector players concessions were put in the Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals 2012 for an increase on the chargeable value on new vehicles and a decrease in the Excise tax. Concessions were also granted to certain categories of electric vehicles as well as for solar powered vehicles and it is my expectation that we are going to expand our base for electricity.

We are also moving to bring structure and order to the current situation that exists regarding the importation of knock-down vehicles for re-assembly in Barbados. This situation is quickly reaching a point where not only is it threatening to deny the Treasury of vital tax income, but could potentially put the lives of many Barbadians at risk if enforceable rules and standards are not put in place to govern how, where and when this process is going to be facilitated.

I give you the industry players a pledge that very shortly a comprehensive set of rules will be put in place to deal with this situation so that it does not create unfair business practices and expose persons to danger.

Our goal is not to prevent anyone from exercising their natural propensity of talent for enterprise, but to ensure that it does not create unfair business advantage and expose people to danger.

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