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Connie: advocate for business change

Captain of Industries-02As Barbados celebrates 50 years of political Independence, Barbados TODAY will be featuring a number of individuals considered to be leaders in a number of sectors and industries over the past five decades. This will be done each month over the next 12.

Almost 30 years ago, an opportunity presented itself, and she grabbed it without asking questions or thinking twice.

And after realizing her prowess, tinged with excitement and eagerness to learn, her superiors offered her a permanent position in 1986, which she also gladly accepted.

Connie Smith, 49, has since been a driving force behind the development of the international business sector, being an advocate for change, enhancement and advancement of the business climate in Barbados.

When the mother of two girls started to work at then Pannell Kerr Forster, little did she know she would one day become managing director of what is now Tricor
Caribbean Limited.

“I kind of fell into the opportunity,” she told Barbados TODAY.

Smith’s journey all started after she had graduated from the Christ Church Foundation School, and, with some prodding from her parents, had enrolled in a two-year secretarial certificate programme at the Barbados Community College (BCC).

Connie Smith

Connie Smith

One of the requirements of the course was that she did a job attachment at a firm. Smith did her six-week stint at Pannell Kerr Forster, a global network of accountancy firms.

“It was busy; it was tax time and they asked me to stay on for a little while longer; and then right after that stint was finished, they asked me to come back because somebody was going to be going on maternity leave, and I said, ‘Well, I will finish my exams and I will be free’.

“So I did that, and I worked in the secretarial pool for a few months and worked in other roles in other administrative roles at the firm,” Smith recalled.

At the time, prominent businessman Richard Boos was her boss. She asked him if she could fill in for one of her colleagues who was leaving the team to work “on the account side”.

“He said, ‘Sure, we will try you’, and that was it,” said Smith.

The company then experienced some major changes, including that of the name, which became Ernst & Young around 1989.

Up until seven years ago, Smith was with the company before “the rules around auditor independence changed globally” when all of the Big Four corporations had to separate some
of their business lines.

“The practice that I was with, the corporate services practice, which is heavily focused on international business, separated and was acquired by Tricor. Tricor was set up by the Bank of East Asia in Hong Kong, specifically to buy as much of the Big Four businesses that had to separate globally. So it means this year, in August, I would have been with the firm for 30 years,” she explained.

And all that time, although she did not set about with any sort of determined path to get into the international business sector, Smith had been a major driving force behind its development.

Describing her early days with the firm as interesting and dynamic, Smith said “a lot of time was spent literally pounding the pavements and getting people familiar with what Barbados had to offer and what Barbados represented, and the range of products and services that were available here”.

“So that is the kind of environment I grew up in; always trying to find where there is a niche and making sure that we flex and respond to those opportunities,” she said.

She also spent 11 years of her career in the British Virgin Islands, where she was responsible for getting business from around the world.

Smith told Barbados TODAY she believed Barbados had made significant strides in the international business sector, following the introduction of the first piece of legislation about 50 years ago, and subsequent amendments.

And while she is not one to readily admit that her constant cry for improvement in the sector over the years has resulted in a number of developments, Smith offered: “I like that I am involved in being able to structure and develop and to build out what Barbados is, and to enhance the brand Barbados that we sell.

“So I like to be very involved, and I like to have that dynamic –– rather than just sort of sitting at my desk and responding to my 200 or 300 emails a day,” she added unflappably.

The international business official also enjoys the interaction she has with people from all walks of life, given her wide and diverse client base. For her, every day is an opportunity to learn “a bit more” while working with a team of very experienced and qualified professionals, who she said “get on and do what is necessary” to meet clients’ needs.

Smith currently works with 16 other staff members, three of whom are males.

A typical day for Smith is to expect uncertainty and be able to work with it.

“And also expect it to be dynamic,” she added.

Smith is the immediate past president of the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA), a position she also used, for two terms, to help propel developments within the sector.

She is the chairperson of the Barbados branch of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators. She is also a volunteer and champion leader for the governance pillar of the newly formed charity Aspire that helps
other charities.

“So I wear a lot of different hats,” she quipped.

Most of the changes she has been able to influence have to do with legislation, as well as some process that would enhance and improve the island’s competitiveness.

“So there are lots of meetings to be had, not only with the public sector, but other stakeholders within the infrastructure here in Barbados to make recommendations, and to hopefully see them through to implementation,” Smith said.

But the St George resident revealed that some days she felt like “a stuck record”, asking for some processes
to go faster.

“I dislike the amount of time it takes to get things done, and the wasted time. For me, time is very precious; and I think that we lose time, lose track and lose too many opportunities –– and not only in international business. So, for me, that is my biggest bugbear,” she lamented.

Her hope is that Barbados will “take its rightful place on the international stage as it relates to international business”.

And while she described the progress of the sector as a mixed one so far, with some successes and some challenges, Smith said “we need to build on every low-hanging fruit that we have capitalized on and made better, and do it with haste”.

“Barbados is one of perhaps 183 other countries around the world offering a similar product. So we have to make it cheaper, we have to be able to produce it faster, we have to be able to do it better, and we have to be able to offer them value for what it is that they are doing.

“That is the business proposition that we are up against; that is what our task is; and that is what we need to be able to excel at,” said Smith.

“A lot of the frustration that we speak about is because we want things to work better in Barbados; we want to see Barbados excel on the international stage. And that means doing
things differently.

“So we need to be engaging a lot more; we need to be working more collectively; we need to be implementing the recommendations that are or may come out of policy workshop initiatives or brainstorm sessions; and we need to be doing that with haste,” she added.

And while she does not live by a philosophy, all Smith wants is for policymakers and those in authority to “just freaking do” what needs to be done.

“We also need to be reviewing how we do business and absolutely make it easier to do business in Barbados, not only from an international business perspective, but just general perspective. It just takes too long to achieve what is necessary to be achieved in Barbados, too much bureaucracy, too much red tape, processes [and] too
much uncertainty.

“We need to be able to offer certainty of process, and in some instances certainty of outcome if all the circumstances are met. And I strongly believe that that needs to be Barbados’ focus,” she said.

She said the fact that the island was 50 years Independent meant “we are saying we are mature enough to look after ourselves, and that means we must be able to do lots of these things to make ourselves better than we were 50 years ago –– not necessarily using the same process, the same infrastructure, the same plans, the same ideas, the same people. That is not what maturity or progress is about”.

Over the past five years Barbados has been heavily focusing on the Latin America market as it seeks to grow the international business sector. Smith said she was now seeing some returns on the investments made in those business development opportunities, but there were other significant opportunities to be had.

She said while there was some work being done with Colombia and Chile, among others, there were also a lot of opportunities in the African market, and Barbados was certainly going after them.

“So there is a very deliberate build out of our treaty network, which at the moment is very focused on Latin America and Africa. And that helps in diversifying our reliance on the Canadian market as well,” she said.

Smith, a humble, solutions-oriented and solutions-driven person, considers herself “West Indian and Barbadian”.

“I think we all have something to offer to Barbados’ development, and that should not be snubbed at in any way,” she added.

And what drives her to succeed?

“Seeing the pleasure that we are able to actually deliver and to make a difference. Making a difference is important and we can make differences in the smallest of ways,”
she said.

Her advice to anyone is to “live your life with integrity, focus on your core values and have the support of the right people with you along the journey”.

Smith, who does not use her marriage name professionally, also has a young family to help manage.

“Many people don’t appreciate that I am married; or, they assume that Smith is my married name,” she disclosed.

“My husband is Mark Young. He is a career banker. He is English, but he wanted to live in Barbados. We met in the British Virgin Islands and we have two young daughters. Our older daughter is ten, and the younger one is seven. They are very gregarious, bright, clever and beautiful girls that we both adore,” said Smith, who has four brothers.

Smith told Barbados TODAY she enjoyed working closely with the Minister of International Business, Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss, adding that his challenge was that he had a lot
of responsibilities.

“You have different people with different agendas, and there is little accountability in the Civil Service unfortunately. So we meet with Donville every four to six weeks and there is an agenda and there are things that are [distributed] to people and deliverables that unfortunately no one is in any hurry to meet, and therein lies his frustration and my frustration. And I just wish that we could do things differently,” Smith said.

“But I am pleased to work with him as the Minister of International Business. We have a very good relationship, and I value the relationship and the interaction that I have with him,” the advocate for change added.

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