“Apply your heart to discipline and your ears to words of knowledge” – Proverbs 23:12:

Whether it is service through a life of public speaking or the regional air carrier LIAT, the key to success is discipline. A well disciplined individual exemplifies the best in character, pattern of behaviour, spiritual strength, moral development and mental fortitude. A collection of well disciplined individuals working together will imbue harmony and success and form a successful team. This disciplined environment becomes a fertile environment for the reception and nurturing of words of knowledge. On the other hand, no matter how much good advice and knowledge abounds, if the disciplined environment is weak we shall continue to fail.

Recently Charles Maynard, a long standing friend and Dominica’s Ambassador Plenipotentiary for CARICOM, called me to advise me of the imminent launch of his book “Pathways of Service – A Life in Public Speaking”. He advised me that he would send a copy of the book by Dr. Jean Holder, Chairman of LIAT and another long standing friend from secondary school days, who was recently in Dominica to speak at the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Awards Dinner on Caribbean Commitment to Regional Air Transportation. I duly went around to Jean’s house to collect the book and found him tidying up his Dominican speech for presentation to the press. After exchanging a few pleasantries, I told him that I was going to share a few views on LIAT in this column whereupon he promised to send me his paper by email so that I would not be disadvantaged by not having the current thinking on Caribbean air transportation from the Chair.

I took Charles’s book with me and browsed through the titles of his selected speeches on a wide range of topics when it was safe to do so in and out of traffic jams. Charles Maynard is an outstanding Dominican, a true son of the soil who has distinguished himself as a public officer, a government minister and a consultant and who has indelibly made his mark on Dominica’s economic political and social scene. Having known and worked with Charles off and on for more than 40 years I am confident that the material in this book which is the product of a disciplined mind, has contributed and will contribute, knowledge and understanding to the peoples of the Caribbean. I recommend it as a worthy addition to your library.

Before I received Jean Holder’s speech which he presented in Dominica I had jotted down several issues which, as an outsider, I think could contribute to the enhanced efficiency of LIAT’s operation. The primary issues as I see it are capitalization and profitability. LIAT serves 22 destinations but as far as I can gather, it is only owned by the governments of Antigua, Barbados and St Vincent & the Grenadines. Presumably all of these 22 destinations benefit from LIAT’s service and therefore all the governments should contribute to its capitalization according to some transparent and agreed upon formula. The government’s contribution to capital from each country should be seen as an investment on behalf of the people of the country. The return on the investment should be measured on economic terms and not in financial terms and hence the investment, unlike in a normal private sector company might have to increase annually in proportion to ongoing economic benefits which might continually accrue to any given country. A country that refuses to participate as an equity partner, in this manner, may run the risk of a reduced service by LIAT to that country. To my knowledge this model has not yet been tried, and appears on the surface to be the fairest model for capitalizing LIAT. The details, of course, would be the subject of a very careful analysis.

On the profitability side, there are only three ways to increase profits of an organization – increased revenue, increased productivity and reduced cost. Given the appropriate capitalization as suggested above, one should adopt a more dynamic and creative marketing and yield management programme to increase the average load factor and introduce a more user friendly “miles” programme. To increase productivity one should focus not only on human productivity but on process and technology productivity which may already be in place but perhaps greater attention needs to be paid to it. The third element is to reduce cost and a major component of this is to reduce staff and to allow headquarters location decisions to be dictated by technical rather than political considerations except of course political desires are going to be matched by greater capital investment, all other things being equal.

Politicians’ voices should only be heard at shareholders’ meetings. The Board should empower management to achieve specific objectives on a timely basis. Above all, one should stop bellyaching about competition and let natural market forces come into play.

Chairman Jean Holder who is in the thick and thin of it did advise that it is very easy to prescribe solutions from outside and another matter to deal with the many burgeoning forces from within. I however believe that if there is a heart of discipline throughout the organization and the ears of decision makers are tuned to words of knowledge that we may very well observe measures of unprecedented success in the regional air transportation arena.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – www.cbetmodel.org)

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