Business Outlook tackled complex times

The 2010 Cayman Business Outlook took place on Thursday 21 January this year addressing the theme of “Prospering in a Grave New World.”

Presented by Fidelity, the event’s aim was, in the words of Fidelity Group of Companies Chairman and CEO Anwer Sunderji, to examine today’s business, geopolitical and economic landscape.

“Toxic assets on bank balance sheets, high levels of credit card debt, collapsed home values and sharply eroded pension assets will shackle the US economy and much of the developed world for years to come,” he said, noting it will have particularly profound impact on smaller Caribbean based economies dependent on the US economic engine.

Close to 300 attendees took the opportunity to hear from a diverse range of speakers doing their best to take on the new challenges Cayman and the global business community face in the post-economic meltdown world.

In a speech that was well received by the local business community Premier McKeeva Bush put forward changes to the Immigration Law that would result in a shorter break from the islands for expatriates that have reached their term limit.

Mr Bush acknowledged his initial support of the rollover policy, but stated that it had not been implemented in the desired way and needed to be revamped.

In addition he announced two directions that had been issued by Cabinet to work permit and staffing plan boards as well as the chief the immigration officer, directing them to issue three to five year work permits to certain professional categories.

Mr Bush also gave an update on the state of government finances. Mr Bush said while revenue receipts were down, the Cayman Islands also spent substantially less in the first six months of the budget year.

A shortfall of $30.3 million in revenues was outweighed by a lower than predicted spending of $36.7 million.

As a former Chief Economist with the International Monetary Fund and now author of the blog BaselineScenario.com, Simon Johnson was a well-informed source to be presenting the keynote speech on the theme of ‘Prospering in a Grave New World’, at this year’s Cayman Business Outlook conference.

Johnson painted a grim picture for the US economy, blaming what he termed “the oligarchy” of the top banks in the US (including Goldman Sachs and Citibank) for becoming too powerful.

Their “too big to fail” mentality had permeated into the US subconscious as a whole and it was therefore up to informed individuals to change the entrenched mindset and force the US government to change its views on allowing banks to grow exponentially. 

Allowing the cycle of boom and bust would eventually force the US into taking on the characteristics of an emerging market, such as Mexico, Johnson informed, and it was up to individuals such as the attendees at the CBO conference to spread the word on the importance of the US government limiting the size of banks.

As it happened, Johnson advised the audience that US president Obama had that day unveiled plans to limit the size of banks in the US.

“Obviously Obama has been reading my blog,” he confirmed, but added that the US government still had a long way to go before effective change would be made.

According to Margaret Neale, Professor of Organizations and Dispute Resolution at Stanford University, getting more of what you want via wise negotiation would help you prosper in a grave new world.

Neale suggested that effective negotiation centred on give and take, as well as thorough preparation and research of the topic under negotiation.

“Many people don’t even bother to negotiate in a situation because they don’t believe negotiation is possible,” she said.

To illustrate this point Neale said that the first assignment she gave to new MBA students was to go to a regular store and negotiate down the price of a standard item for sale and prove to her that they had achieved this. Most students (85 percent) felt that this task would be impossible; however the result showed that 75 percent were actually successful.

“Often we are uncomfortable with negotiating,” she confirmed. “But with careful negotiation that involves thinking and planning you can achieve your goals. But you have to be strategic and you have to be disciplined.

Speaker Ann Lee, a former Wall Street investment banker now working as an adjunct professor of finance and economics at New York University, provided her insights on China’s continued importance in the global economic arena.

Ms Lee’s presentation was an eye-opening and definitely pro-China take on a rising powerhouse that not many people know much about.

Placing China’s political economy in context of its recent history in particular its attempt to deal with the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution, she argued that its political model offers an alternative to the liberal democratic one now espoused as the ideal by western cultures.

She said China’s top-down bottom up structure was in fact extremely accountable to its citizens, and organised in a way that closely resembles the enormously successful corporations now holding so much power in today’s world.

Countering criticisms of its human rights practices and level of media freedom, Ms Lee argued western media was also censored and the party’s harsh reaction to dissent was part of its well intentioned efforts to eliminate corruption.

Rounding off the day, an afternoon panel discussion on jobs, prosperity, politics and crime featuring lawyer focused again on immigration with lawyer and chairman of the Immigration Review Team Sherri Bodden outlining the proposed changes to the rollover policy. She criticised irresponsible politicians, who for years proclaimed that the purpose of the rollover is to kick people off the island.

Consultant and economist Paul Byles explained some companies have moved staff out of Cayman and identified immigration regulations as the main reason.

In another important issue for Caymanians Police Commissioner David Baines described his strategy to reduce crime in Cayman. He also urged the media not to create the false perception of a lack of safety as total crime figures were not higher in 2009 than in 2007.