“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence” – Galatians 5:13

In Trinidad, early last week, I was viewing and listening to a post budget panel discussion. It was clear that the country has suffered a significant reduction in export earnings due to a drop in oil revenues. This was due to a downward trend in West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the global benchmark in oil pricing, prices from over US $100 in May 2014 to less than US $50 per barrel today with no sound prediction as to how long they will remain at this level or whether they will drop even further let alone increase.

The discussion moved quite swiftly to the need to diversify the Trinidad and Tobago economy away from the heavy dependence on oil and gas towards the objective of increasing net foreign exchange earnings.

Diversification suggestions were made which included the tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, financial services, renewable energy and cultural industry sectors. It should have been pointed out that for these sectors to grow they would need to be strengthened by a sound entrepreneurship policy and an integrated supportive enabling environment by government and dynamic innovation action from the private sector.

Even though much has been said about entrepreneurship in recent years, a survey showed, in February 2014, that there were at least 16 government initiatives over six different ministries of government which relate to different aspects of entrepreneurship as part of the enabling environment. These initiatives included access to working capital and equipment funding, availability of factory or office space, business mentoring and formal training. Specific, marketing and sales assistance, which is integral to the life of the business, was inexplicably omitted. Overall, these offerings were fragmented and there is an opportunity for consolidation as the new Government of Trinidad and Tobago refines its entrepreneurship policy to offer a strong and engaging service for the nation.

One of the panelists, a former senior government minister, appeared to have implied that there was little point focusing on other sectors since their expected contribution was expected to be insignificant when compared with the oil and gas sector even at the present low world market prices. I was surprised because in today’s unpredictable environment we must innovate and grow.

Our leaders must have visions and encourage the populace to pursue these visions with relentless action. We all must believe in the adage “start small, do it right, make a profit and then expand”. The vision must be focused on the global market because we cannot expand the economies of the individual or collective Commonwealth Caribbean states on the population footprint of tens of thousands or even collectively on a footprint of 6.5 million people. There is no room for traditional or negative thinking. A positive realistic approach is what is needed.

Over in Barbados last Friday, Professor Sean Carrington and I, representing the Trustees of the Graham Gooding Trust, were promoting “Eat Bajan” day on the live Morning Barbados TV8 show. The hosts Cassandra and Doug very quickly got around to the history behind the “Eat Bajan” concept and to its importance in the national development process, particularly its role in the diversification of the economy of Barbados. As observed in the Trinidad and Tobago discussion above, we inevitably and quite swiftly moved to the diversification of the Barbados economy with the specific focus on expanding the agricultural sector.

Now about the action! I reintroduce an important topic for entrepreneurs at this time – “Start your Business with a Board meeting” – which I first mentioned 18 months ago. My experience shepherding clients since then strengthens my resolve.

It is absolutely essential to adopt a Board meeting culture to facilitate sustainable business success. If you are planning a Start-Up business, which has the “DNA of an elephant” (i.e. the potential to grow big) and even if you are the sole resource, you should start your business with a Board meeting. If you already have an established growing business and you have not adopted a Board meeting culture, then you should adopt it now and have your first Board meeting as soon as possible.

The board meeting culture gives you a good governance foundation and forces you to develop good governance practices which will stand your business in good stead as it expands. Even if your business has been deemed to be successful to date, then having regular board meetings will enhance the business’ performance. It is also invaluable when the time is ripe for succession planning.

The primary purposes of a Board are to: (1) interpret shareholder policy; (2) approve the annual Action plan for the business; and (3) monitor the monthly performance of the business against the monthly objectives of the plan.

The Board members are selected by the owners (shareholders) and an effort should be made to ensure that there is sufficient expertise on the Board to give advice on the management of business systems (corporate governance, marketing, operations, people development and investment finance). The minimum number of board members should be yourself plus an adviser (by invitation). This number may be expanded with time.

Sustaining a Board meeting culture is not a trivial matter and we advise that you should invest in getting its structure right from the first Board meeting. You need to structure your Agenda and the Minutes of a Board meeting so as to obtain maximum benefit from a comprehensive management perspective. This investment will yield untold dividends as your business grows from strength to strength.

Let us all take the opportunities available to us in every moment. Let each of us innovate and grow based on our individual and collective resources.

Have a blessed week!

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. His columns may be found at www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.)