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

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, 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%) felt that this task would be
impossible; however the result showed that 75% 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 organized 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.


Anwer Sunderji