Corporate leaders have been advised against rushing to job cuts as the first option in the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, renowned industrialist Ralph “Bizzy” Williams has urged.
Williams joined a group of high-profile Caribbean business leaders in a discussion titled: From the Frontline: Caribbean Corporate Leaders on the Impacts of COVID-19 hosted by the Republic Bank Group in Trinidad on Tuesday.
The Williams Industries executive chairman and an investor in several small businesses, said that during the near three months-long shutdown, his company kept its employees on the payroll, ensuring they received a “living wage” even though revenue in the group had come to a near virtual halt.
Responding to a scenario related by Trinidadian executive Peter George, Williams said he was quite concerned when people are suddenly forced into unemployment.
He said: “These things would worry me a lot. We tried to keep our staff all employed and every single one of our staff was paid a living wage while we were completely shut down. So I don’t subscribe to the view that you just close things and send home people. It can’t happen so because you are going to develop a society that is not going to be stable.”
Williams told the online session: “In Barbados for example, the economic output fell by 27 per cent in the second quarter. Williams Industries fell by 17 per cent and we are already bouncing back.
“I disagree that this is going to be a long-term impact. In two years’ time we are going to be looking back and saying wow. What really happened there because we will be back to normal already?”
He continued: “Maybe I’m a little bit too optimistic. But I’ll tell you that cash is super king. If you have your cash managed properly like we do. We have a good Uncle Scrooge here at the helm at Williams Industries. He won’t let me spend a cent that is not a productive cent.
“This is one of the most important things for success in this COVID environment. You have to manage your cash and you have to restrain yourself from spending foolish money on assets that are imported and put aside the cash for a rainy day.
“I’m not saying don’t develop new business and so on, by all means develop new assets, not new liabilities.”
The panel, which also included Cayman Islands businessman Clarence King Flowers, Republic Bank Group executive Derwin Howell, was moderated by Maria Daniel, a partner with Ernst & Young.
Howell, who was once managing director of Republic Bank Barbados, said the COVID-19 pandemic will require discipline and behavioural change on the part of businesses and individuals.
“I think there are some critical things needed to take us through this crisis. One is leadership and I mean leadership at all levels. Governmental leadership is critical but business leadership is also going to be critical for taking us through this thing,” he noted.
According to the Republic Bank senior executive: “A big part of the challenge that we are facing in this crisis is something that has been triggered by the failure by a lot of people to do – change their behaviour.”
Howell added: “We talk about collateral-based lending versus cash flow lending. We have to look at those things… because the value of collateral is going to dissipate given the things changing around us. We have to look at the business model and see how we change our own behavior as a business to react to the requirements of this new situation.” (IMC1)