Frank Schilling: A man who knows his domains

The narrative of Frank Schilling is a success story, punctuated with a cautionary tale for Cayman.

To our readers who missed Wednesday’s edition of the Cayman Compass, or who like to extract The Cayman Islands Journal from the newspaper and tuck it away for a leisurely weekend perusal — we draw special attention to the front page of our monthly business broadsheet, particularly the lead article on Mr. Schilling, a Canadian transplant to Cayman who just so happens to be one of the world’s earliest, and most prosperous, Internet entrepreneurs.

Since late 2001, Grand Cayman has been home to Mr. Schilling and wife Michelle, and headquarters for his companies DomainNameSales and Uniregistry. In less than four years, Mr. Schilling’s complement of Cayman-based staff has grown from three to 47 (plus a couple dozen out in California). The rapid growth has necessitated five separate office expansions, with Uniregistry now sprawling across several suites in Governors Square.

The Journal article delves into details about Mr. Schilling’s work habits (seven days a week, 52 weeks a year), Uniregistry’s office environment (very “Silicon Valley”) and his companies’ market niche (online domain names and services). All of this makes for worthwhile reading.

For the purposes of this editorial, however, our interest is quite narrow, and involves the answers to two basic questions.

First, Mr. Schilling could have moved his family and his business almost anywhere in the world. Why did he choose Cayman?

His response: “I like it here, that’s why.”

It couldn’t be any simpler. After experiencing Cayman, and weighing various factors such as costs of doing business, the island lifestyle, the quality of everyday human interactions — Mr. Schilling just plain “likes it here.” And his wife likes it even more. They like Cayman so much, in fact, that they don’t want to leave.

In our opening sentence, we mentioned a “success story.” We weren’t referring to Mr. Schilling’s commercial success, but rather to our country’s success in creating an environment where people such as Mr. Schilling wish to live, work and stay, well, perhaps forever.

The things that we, and our readers, love about Cayman — its intimacy, beauty, relaxed pace, peerless weather and friendly population — are things that other people love, too. And because these characteristics are genuine, they cannot be faked or copied by Cayman’s competitors. The qualities, in effect, comprise Cayman’s cache of “natural resources.”

Our second question: Mr. Schilling likes Cayman, and he doesn’t see himself leaving. He has land and money. Why, then, hasn’t he taken the gold-shoveled plunge and built his own building for his companies?

Mr. Schilling’s answer boils down to uncertainty … not on his part (“We’ll prosper either way. Uniregistry will become a big company.”) but in regard to Cayman’s government. (“The big problem we face is that you have a government here that is structured, predicated around legacy industries where you extract your pound of flesh.”)

Mr. Schilling hedges his observations by saying today’s government “has been very supportive,” but until he feels assured that the governments of tomorrow won’t make capricious, myopic and politically motivated about-faces, he will remain a “renter” and not an “owner.”

The same could be said of many of Cayman’s business owners, entrepreneurs and investors.

And that is our “cautionary tale” — one we direct squarely at our country’s leaders.

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