Economic Outlook Forum 2022 - Featured Address by Anthony N. Sabga III, Group CEO ANSA McAL Group of Companies

Confidence to carry on in the face of challenge comes from an authentic commitment to one’s purpose and being grounded in profound principles


I speak best about the things that I know: from the perspective of a home-grown family business with a track record of growth and change over 140 years and a thirst for new opportunities – both regionally and globally.

The diverse nature of our business is deeply rooted in our purpose, which is to “inspire better choices for a better world”. Our business activities help people move around more easily, make beautiful homes, build financial security for their families, improve their health and well-being and celebrate memorable life events.

The well-being of society is an essential pre-condition to our success. As the pandemic has illustrated, we are all inter-dependent and the success of our business relies on our human connections. It is in our mutual interest that that we create benefits and wealth for a range of stakeholders, including governments and communities, in order to positively impact the social and environmental conditions of the countries in which we operate.

With this in mind, we run a responsible business committed to sustainability, based on sound corporate governance principles of accountability, fairness and transparency and adhering to global standards of business practice. Outside of the energy sector, we are one of the largest taxpayers in Trinidad and Tobago, giving our fair share to Government to benefit the wider society.

This is the context from which I speak – a businessman who believes that business success, national economic development, and societal well-being work in tandem. Simply put, one cannot happen without the other. This is where I see business and Governments seeking deep alignment in order to develop a strong and sustainable society. Business and Government have different roles to play in economic growth – and we fulfil those roles best when we work together in true partnership and take the time to appreciate each other's perspectives.

So what are these different roles?

For business, this means relentlessly seeking new opportunities and accepting that change is inevitable. ANSA McAL has survived well over 100 years by acknowledging this. We are a vastly different company today than we were a hundred years back – we will undoubtedly be very different in the next hundred. The last two years of the pandemic may have been forced reinvention for many companies. In 2022, it should be intentional reinvention. So how are we going about shaping that future?

Any business that ignores purpose and sustainability is unlikely to do well – this is a framing context for our present and future employees, governments, customers, and even shareholders. We must be responsible. We exist in society, and we must be mindful of the expectations on us - and inherently, our impact. Our actions should show that we are concerned about the well-being of our employees, our consumers and how our operations impact the physical environment. We are mindful that we are judged on generating sustainable prosperity for all stakeholders. Of course, sustainability is linked to resilience; we are constantly monitoring for external changes – we stay nimble, remain adaptable and in so doing survive for the long term.

  • The practical business implication is that we need to be willing to move into new and emerging business spaces and markets – particularly where we can offer business solutions that help address some pressing social and economic issues. I will give you two examples: our Group's investment in wind and solar energy acknowledges the energy transition business, which will inevitably grow as the world responds to the challenges of climate change. Similarly, our move into retail banking – ANSA Bank – has a strategic objective to address the needs of the unbanked via mobile banking. This brings more people into the formal financial system, eventually improving their circumstances.
  • To do the above well, we will be taking more risks to take advantage of changing external markets and consumer trends. To ensure that we take balanced and reasonable business risk, we need to constantly enhance our internal processes, governance and management systems to ensure that we can compete globally – including alignment to environmental, social and governance expectations.
  • Overall, we are driving to be a ‘Purposeful Business.’ I have challenged all our business leaders to find ways to deliver their business aligned with our Board endorsed Group Sustainability priorities. In the coming years, we intend to set measurable targets in the above areas and be fully transparent with our stakeholders, who hold us accountable for achieving those goals.
  • Our Group's Sustainability priorities are aligned with and in support of the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals:
    • People and Communities
    • Water preservation
    • Waste reduction
    • Climate Impact
    • Modern Energy
    • Corporate Governance

An organization is only as good as the people it employs. One of our fundamental principles is "Together we are family." As we see endemicity of this pandemic on the horizon, we continue to overcome remote working challenges to ensure people feel connected to the Group and each other. If there is one thing I can say for sure, the nature and organization of “work” will look infinitely different in 100 years – it will be smarter and further enabled by technology. The focus will be less on employees' jobs and more on the capabilities of people and what technology can offer to increase productivity.

I have outlined above how my business responds and changes to the new business realities.

But what about our government? They, too, will need to ensure that they are constantly evolving to create the enabling conditions to allow a business to employ more people, to grow their operations, and to increase their contributions to the state.

I will outline a few ways I feel that they can do this:

  • Ensuring that there is a high level of ease in doing business. The government should ensure that the environment is enabling so that business can do what it does best. Currently, the World Bank ranks Trinidad and Tobago as 105 out of 190 countries regarding ease of doing business. Some of the well-known areas for improvement are the procedures for import and export, access to foreign exchange and the implementation of progressive and enabling employment laws.
  • Ensuring that regulations and laws are fit for purpose and constantly upgraded to stay relevant. These would include regulations to embed digital transactions, data privacy and protection, and measures to ensure an integrated response to environmental protection. For the last 30 years, several versions of draft legislation to establish a deposit refund system to recycle beverage containers have been in circulation with the collective support and input from the private sector. Such legislation, which has become informally referred to over the years as "the Bottle Bill," will not only have the impact of protecting our environment but also create a whole new recycling industry which will result in the creation of new jobs and businesses. Models for this have successfully existed amongst our neighbors and yet still, there would seem to be an absence of the political will to implement.
  • Ensuring that in implementing public health measures that ensure the health and safety of the population, Government must keep up with the rapid changes in COVID-19 protocols. As the virus moves from being a pandemic and into an endemic, the world will start to move towards shorter quarantine periods and removal of travel restrictions and requirements. Longer quarantine periods decrease productivity on a national level and threaten business continuity. We need a risk-based approach to managing our public health response to COVID-19 – one which balances the need for protection of the citizens, with the need to keep people employed, and working effectively.
  • Ensuring that the balance is found in fiscal measures, is such that it is neither punitive to business growth nor inadequate to allow the Government to provide the needed social services required by the population.
  • Government should be a self-proclaimed reluctant shareholder and pledge to manage their ownership commercially. They should also insist that they seek to sell their holdings as soon as possible to capable private investors, for a competitive market value, at a profit or at a minimal loss to the public purse. Proficient ownership should result in value creation and taxable rewards. As the first step to success, Government must establish a baseline for evaluating their performance as owners. They should clearly state the objectives for their holdings – to maximize sustainable value for the taxpayer, maintain financial stability, and promote competition. Industries such as Banking, Rum manufacture and Port Management etc., are not the natural domain of Government. The ongoing ownership of these businesses is a considerable distraction from the Government's material work to ensure the safety, security, and health of our beloved nation. Where they have controlling interest, I think a formal timetable of divestment should be developed. After that, publish regular updates on their progress at least twice a year.
  • Governance is just as important in the public sector as in the private sector. Trinidad and Tobago has scored a low 41 out of 100 on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. It has been ranked 82nd out of 180 countries. It is well accepted that corruption discourages investment, limits economic growth, and alters the composition of government spending, often to the detriment of future economic growth. Our antiquated governance systems need to be upgraded to ensure our sustainability as a country.
  • Just as a business must place greater emphasis on stakeholder engagement to ensure that it understands its impact, the government must also genuinely seek fresh perspectives of others, including business when making its decisions. It seems obvious that Business and Government depend on each other to get the system working in the best interest of all. This does not mean that we will agree all the time, and healthy tension is helpful to ensure that we work to achieve optimal solutions. It is not in anyone’s interest to have antagonistic relationship between Government and business.

Omicron's extraordinary contagiousness combined with hopefully rising vaccination and booster rates could mean that in the coming months, nearly all of us will have some level of immunity to this virus. Repeat infections and breakthrough cases will still occur, but as our individual and collective immunity broadens, these will likely become milder and less disruptive. The influenza pandemics of the twentieth century each lasted around two years. Now, twenty-one months into our battle with the coronavirus, Omicron is accelerating to what we hope to be this pandemic's final chapter. We should be asking ourselves: where will we end up in our attitudes to one another? What lessons are we going to take from this time? Who will we be as a nation and a region after this?

As we wrestle with sensitive issues of the day, such as vaccination policies and reopening of schools among other things, we must not allow ourselves to be manipulated by social media’s prioritization of the need to be "right" over the need to allow voices to be heard. We must also be careful about the level of frustration we direct at others who might hold a diametrically opposed position. We must recognize that truth may be the first step to healing and renewing necessary social contracts.

Throughout this time, we must remember the fundamentals of who we are as Trinibagonians: our diversity as a people, our creativity that we bring and the way we have coexisted peacefully in our small twin-island state. These attributes should all be leveraged as we seek to find common ground on thorny issues. We must not forget our humanity and our social responsibility to preserve the essence of our "Rainbow Country" for our children’s children. Let’s not forget who first called us a “Rainbow Nation” when he visited us in 1987 - years before he could apply the same epithet to his own country - the recently passed & Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is a hefty superlative to bestow upon our nation & as the giver was such a great man who died exactly a month ago (Boxing Day) as at today

I have a deep optimism and hardy resolve for the future of our nation, our people and our economy. ANSA McAL's success over the last 140 years and the measures we are putting in place today make me confident that we will be stronger than ever in the unforeseeable future. The uncertainty of the last two years has underscored the crucial interrelation between businesses, governments, and our people's well-being.

Let us not lose the lesson as we move forward.

WLC 2022 - Sponsor Remarks by FedEx