June 2016 Volume 13

Business Lessons from Political Nosedives

Ray Ford
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Nine days before the election, I was walking down Duke Street to pay a visit to my attorney. En route, and on the right hand side going south, I saw a rust-covered plaque adorning an entrance-column – the usual head-height spot where attorneys make themselves known. “Heavens,” I mused, “this attorney must be out of business.” With my nosiness, I got closer, only for the name on the plaque to jump-out at me. It belonged to one of the now out-going politicians.

Nobody appointed me the aesthetics police. And so I retired the unsightly sighting to the back of my mind. Then as I began reading the post-mortems to the election, the rustiness nagged at me. It was communicating something of which, I’m not quite sure. Could it have been that the attorney was saying, ‘I am so good, that if they want me, they will find me’? Or, ‘I needn’t `clear’ my name-plaque. Because come February 26th, I’ll still be a government minister’? One doesn’t know for sure. But things communicate, even when they are speechless.

That being said, the election was watched with keenness. And even now in its aftermath, the opinions of the scholars are still being studied. In every outcome, there are lessons. And, might there be business-lessons in this one? Many a modern-day state governments liken themselves to businesses and their citizens their customers. These `customers’ must be wowed and marketed to. If not, as they say in Jamaica, “dawg eat yu suppa.”

As a marketing student (MBA 1990), I therefore took an interest in this election, just as how I took an interest in the one in the U.S. in November 2008. Besides, for some reason, I’ve always held a morbid fascination with disasters – air disasters in particular, and why they occur. That’s why Stanley Stewart’s Air Disaster is still to me, a fascinating read. Not that the outcome of this election was `a disaster’. But, it certainly surprised some.

It’s now close to seven years now, that we had that airline accident at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA). And the report of that accident suggested, warnings were sent-out, or at least questions were raised, as to the direction of the airliner’s approach. Winds were `tail’, and not `head’. And the fact that they were, and were ignored, might well have been a major contributing factor in the accident. Put that down to overconfidence or laziness - because, to gain purchase from a headwind, AA 331 would have had to have gone some extra yards. Similarly, warnings of all sorts were sounded through social media and in-print to the incumbent. But whether through overconfidence or laziness to change approach, those warnings also went unheeded. Tailwinds can sometimes be mistaken by a `mus-mus’ as `cool breeze’. When in-fact, they are ill, blowing us headlong, and into the sea.

Besides the internal workings which deconstruction of an accident report something tells, I like to follow the forensics, as to how quickly one cause or the other, is either ruled-in, or, ruled-out. In reading the election post-mortems, I’ve yet to find one that has come-down hard on the Jamaica electorate - characterizing it as, ‘wicked, uncaring and ungrateful’. That to me suggests that there was no sabotage or `bad-mindedness’ on the electorate’s part. Murder or equipment failure can therefore be ruled-out. Suicide – more in the form of arrogance, and taking people for granted, can be ruled-in. If it were murder, at least by now, one witness who saw something suspicious would have come forward. To-date, none has.

In-addition, from the looks of it, when the body was discovered, if it had signs of life, no one seemed to have attempted to resuscitate it. “It’s too far gone,” the electorate seemed to have said. Let it die a natural death. Forget about putting it on life-support.

It’s been twenty-six (26) years since I had the need to maul over case studies in business school. But I can still remember the moral of most of those studies. And that was, that you never take the customer for granted. And if you do, then you’re doing so at your own peril. And if one reads all the socio-political commentaries in both the Jamaica Gleaner and in the Jamaica Observer, one of the common threads running through all of them, was that the incumbent might have taken the electorate for granted.

You can’t these days, tell your customer that your good, is good enough, and that there’s nothing he or she, can do about it. Customers are always on the prowl for another game. And there’s always another game going-on somewhere in-town.

Take for instance, the Outameni issue. The image of Mr. Easton Douglas telling us through clenched jaws, that the acquisition of that property was a good investment of public funds, was indigestible. That `good’, was not good enough. And customers never forget a bitter taste.

Then there was the whole business of communication – haughty at times when it was delivered, and non-existent most times, when it was warranted. In delivery, the Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Information and Gender Affairs often came across to some of us, as if we were hard-of-hearing, or as if we were a bother.

The case of the Prime Minister was a different kettle of fish. Every political commentator suggests that her skipping-out of the debate with Mr. Holness at the eleventh hour, and for which some spurious reasons were proffered, was the kiss of death. My ‘kiss’ came long before – when that female police officer assigned to the Denham Town Police Stations was killed. Days on-end went by, and the nation was never told by her to, be strong. That lack of communication suggested - wrongfully or rightfully - that either the prime minister was not articulate enough, or, that the incident did not resonate. And for whatever the real reason might have been, it did not reflect well. In this age in which several media platforms exist, there was no excuse. As U.S. Presidents Franklyn D. Roosevelt and then Woodrow Wilson before him, proved, one might not need legs to govern. But one surely must have a voice. I now in hindsight, see the wisdom in having been force-fed texts like Effective Technical Communication by Anne Eisenberg.

After the aforementioned visit to my attorney, I moseyed on down to Harbour Street and to quench my thirst, bought a Malta from a corner-vendor. And without prompting, that issue came-up. Similarly, days later when I was talking to a mason who resides in Parry Town, St. Ann, that very same thing, also came-up. “Mi general, when important tings a gwan, yu caa ‘ear nutten from ‘ar,” the street-wise young man said. That to me, was not a good sign emanating from both the south, and then from the north. Call my two subjects under-educated, and call my sample-size crude, miniscule, and not representative. And to be in politics for forty-odd years! This was ample enough time to - like George Headley – learn to play leg-spin. One can not be strong at every thing. But with hard work, one can overcome most things. In general in Jamaica, after one reaches a certain age, there’s a loathness to return to the classroom to either freshen-up old skills, to re-tool, or to acquire new ones. In marketing, the customer is always changing. He might have acquired new expectations. And, one must wander around, know what he’s thinking, and try and change along with him.

Let’s call this one, a free business lesson.

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