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Courage is a CEO’s greatest attribute

What is the biggest challenge facing your business or sector? What measures need to be taken in The Bahamas to solve it?

The biggest challenge facing the banking sector is the same facing all The Bahamas – the international economic climate. That chilly climate with its accompanying uncertainty affects every aspect of business. It impacts our number one industry, leisure travel. It also affects banking, real estate, capital expansion and the growth of business in general from construction to manufacturing, from agriculture to retail.

Are we able to “fix” it? Yes – if we look at it through a local lens, bearing in mind that broader reality, then I believe we can rise above much of what is happening outside our borders and be ready for an even better comeback as the global economy heals. First, we have to maintain confidence. Investors and practitioners understand that the very thing for which local banks were criticized – being too conservative – protected us from the financial freefall banks in the U.S. experienced as a result of the sub-prime lending debacle.

Given the reality that it is not so much the lack of ability to invest but the lack of desire or willingness to invest because of a fear of not knowing what lies ahead, what do we do to encourage investment? We look at innovation. We look at energy savings, at small resorts in appropriate destinations, at training programs, at higher speed telecommunications, at language and arts in education, at volunteer efforts, at park potential, at new farming methods.

We cannot continue riding the “train of same” when the transportation of the future must find a better way of taking us where we want to go. This is an opportunity to control our destiny through innovation, not merely thinking outside the box, but throwing the box away.

How would you describe the ease of doing business in The Bahamas?

Though well-meaning, it can be extremely cumbersome at times.

Can you describe a life experience that changed how you approach life today?

The death of my twin brother Peter. I was the younger twin and was always protected by Peter.  At the tender age of 18, an innocent bystander, he was in a terrible accident. Although he lived for many years thereafter his life spiraled downhill. He suffered significant mental and physical challenges. However, throughout his ordeal he never once questioned “why me?” The way in which Peter confronted his life taught me to be humble, fair and compassionate. Through this experience I became his protector. This gave me perhaps the greatest attribute that a CEO must have and that is courage. Courage to recognize and face the unexpected perils in life, courage to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, courage to shoulder the responsibility of developing and improving the standard of living of people, and safeguarding people’s most valued assets. Through his struggles and his unspoken needs, he taught me how to protect.

What should young businesses keep in mind?

Write a good business plan that provides enough capital to last beyond the first year. Consult with people you trust or who have had similar experiences. Take a long view of things. Despite all the stories we read of founders of dot.coms making a fortune by the time they are old enough to shave, the reality is that most good businesses grow over time and with incredible patience and nurturing. Pay attention to detail. Probably nothing is truer than the expression the devil is in the details. Stay humble, attuned, keep reading and keep track.

If you could change one thing concerning business in The Bahamas, what would it be?

There are actually three things I would change and it would be hard to choose one over the other.

First, the work ethic. A dramatic behavioral adjustment is required of the work force where pride in ourselves, our fellow workers, our employers and our country is paramount to success.

The second is a reduction in the reliance on government.

The third is the tax structure. Customs duties are regressive, penalizing the poorer among us and stifling business growth. An alternative system such as a consumption tax or tiered or even flat rate that people felt was fair would, I believe, encourage more compliance and business expansion.

What are you currently reading?

The Big Small by Michael Lewis.

Has the high cost of energy hurt your business? What solutions have you initiated or considered to combat it?

The high cost of energy not only hurts us, but it hurts the businesses we support through financing. With many of our customers, the cost of energy is their most challenging expense. As we remodel each branch, we are installing new, more efficient air conditioning and lighting systems and we are looking forward to receiving requests for lending facilities for businesses and residences that wish to upgrade accordingly. The real solution lies in accessing alternative energy systems that are eco-friendly.

What makes The Bahamas unique when it comes to business?

The quick answer is the tax structure, but I am not sure that is correct. I think in the long run, the real asset that sets The Bahamas apart is the geography and the people. We were dropped in the most perfect climate and in the most beautiful waters in the world, adjacent to what, at least for now, is the most powerful country in the world. And our people are a heterogeneous mix of every ethnicity with an amazing amount of talent and a natural sense of hospitality and warmth.

What excites you about business?

Knowing that what you accomplish has the ability to help shape the future and build a better Bahamas and world. Besides that, maintaining a healthy environment for my family and trying to figure out a way to circumnavigate questions 1-7.

Starting his career at Chase Manhattan, N.A., Paul McWeeney has nearly 30 years experience in the financial services industry internationally and in The Bahamas. Joining Bank of The Bahamas in 1993, he was appointed managing director in 2001.  McWeeney currently presides on the board of directors in an appointed capacity as managing director. He serves on several financial regulatory and civic boards.

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