Occasional Essays
May 25, 2007

Where have all the Managers gone?

General Managers or Chief Executive Officers as they are sometimes called, are critical to the functioning of any organisation. This is true whether the organisation is in the private or public sector. In recent years SVG has experienced considerable difficulty in finding competent general managers for the public sector.{{more}}

While a degree in Business Administration may be useful it is no guarantee that its holder will make a good general manager. A manager must know the business in which he is engaged and how best it can be organised. This knowledge can come from having worked one’s way up through the ranks of the business or of a similar enterprise. It may also come through formal training in the particular field or a related subject. The manager must be clear about the objectives of his firm and be able to work towards their attainment. Business plans, budgeting and monthly accounting can help in this respect. People skills are important, particularly in dealing with customers, suppliers, trade unions and of course, staff. A manager must be able to motivate the staff and get the best out of them. . He must be aware of his own weaknesses and ensure that the people around him can make up for these shortcomings..

Two of the persons whom I recall as having many of the attributes of good managers are Clinton Antrobus and Vivian Delecia. Antrobus managed the Marketing Corporation for several years in the late seventies when that organisation was at its zenith. A few years earlier Delecia managed the Land Settlement Estates during one of those rare occasions when they made money, some of which was devoted to improving the lot of the workers on those estates.

Antrobus had a sound grounding in accountancy and had worked at the Marketing Corporation and elsewhere before he became its manager. He was fortunate to have a staff which included competent accountants, able purchasing officers and very experienced supermarket supervisor. His wide range of acquaintances included farmers, trade unionists, mechanics and shippers all vital to operating a marketing business.

Delecia had been in the farm management business long before becoming general manager. He had attended the Glen School, probably the first vocational school in St. Vincent. It produced many people who made sterling contributions in the 50s and 60s. He too had good supporting staff, competent overseers, a redoubtable lady accountant, dependable vehicle operators and an energetic young mechanic.

I am not sufficiently into my dotage to believe that the Good Lord turned off the tap for good managers after my generation. Indeed the opposite is more likely. At the very least our education system has expanded enormously. Why then is it so difficult to recruit good managers?

Emigration has obviously taken a heavy toll on our personnel. A lot of the brighter students simply do not return from their training abroad. More scholarships enable even more to get away and stay away. People of some ability also find their way on to cruise ships as crew and into the British Armed Forces.

One suspects that the emigration has affected men more than women, since there are more women than men in the Civil Service and while the police get a surplus of female applicants they have a shortage of males. What this suggests is that perhaps we ought to be concentrating more heavily on women in our search for managers.

The impact of drugs should not be underestimated. It is not only that a lot of young men go into the hills and traffic in drugs rather than slog their way through the ranks. It is also that the taking of recreational drugs has lead to a proportion of our men folk becoming mental cases or vagrants and so are not able to exploit their potential to the full.

The emphasis on the private sector has not been without its impact. It is based on the assumption that all that motivates human beings is profit. In fact there have always been people who worked for the public good. The trouble is that if you do that now you run the risk of looking stupid and old fashioned. It is much easier to join the pack and see how much ripping off you yourself can do.

Over the years the work force in SVG seems to have become more intractable and it is inevitable that a manager, if he is to be effective, will have to discipline, perhaps even dismiss some persons. At the same time he will not want to antagonize the Union nor the Government. He must tread a fine line. Many of our more competent citizens simply do not think it is worth the candle and therefore do not wish to become managers of public enterprise. Moreover, our tendency to personalize issues and our proneness to remind people who their parents were does not help.