Barbadian businessman Ralph “Bizzy” Williams is convinced that too much has been made of the COVID-19 pandemic, insisting it was no “doomsday” occurrence and it can be managed.
In fact, the Williams Industries executive chairman and investor is predicting that if “handled” correctly by the administration, Barbados could see a major economic turnaround next year.
Williams’ comments came yesterday as he joined a team of high-profile business leaders from around the region in a discussion titled: From the Frontline: Caribbean Corporate Leaders on the Impacts of COVID-19 hosted by the Republic Bank Group in Trinidad.
According to the leading businessman: “The crisis of 2019-2020 has been blown totally out of proportion compared to the pandemic of 1918. We have been told by the media, who I believe are very profit motivated, that this is going to change the whole world, that this is the end of civilization as we know it.”
He told the on-line audience that the media had contributed to the global panic about the disease.
“We have to take precautions, we have to wear our masks, practice good hygiene. We have to do all these things that we should be doing anyhow on a daily basis whether we got a pandemic or not. We have to practice social distancing and so on. But we cannot allow this thing to make us believe that this is doomsday. It is not doomsday. And in my opinion, if we handle it right, the economy is going to bounce back and we are going to be stronger than before.”
Peter George, a leading Trinidadian restaurateur who also owns the Buzo Italian eatery in Barbados, was not optimistic the restaurant sector as it currently exists would survive COVID-19. He shut down his restaurants in the twin-island republic even before the Government-led action there.
“In my industry it is very unstable right now. When I met with Republic Bank to discuss what was going on, I made it clear that the industry is facing extinction. Funny enough, for the first time ever, the bank was more confident than I was. They said I was being a bit pessimistic. I said I sincerely hope for the first time that you are right and I am wrong.
“The reality is we are facing extinction . . . . I have 325 employees in my core business. My concern is if my revenue is cut by 40 per cent, which it has been through no fault of my own, there is one of two things – either I cut those expenses which includes staff or I find that revenue somewhere else,” said George, who is also a major investor in Bitt Barbados.
Meanwhile, Derwin Howell, a senior Republic Bank Group executive and former managing director of Republic Bank Barbados, said the pandemic had also impacted the regional bank, causing it to rethink its operations and how it responded to clients’ needs.
“Remember banks are not a replacement for equity. We offered moratoriums to our various customers which gave them access to their cash flow to do the things they needed to do to keep their businesses running. Obviously, moving forward, it becomes a question of how do you reassess, remodel, and reinvent the business to be able to exist in this new phase going forward.
“What the pandemic has exposed for all of us businesses small and large . . . are the various issues we have, our challenges around withstanding a shock like this. So everybody has to go back to the drawing board and reassess their businesses.
“We have seen a lot of businesses think differently and take advantage of the situation to take a few opportunities and that is certainly something we want to support. We have had to go back and look at ourselves and see where the opportunities are for us moving forward.” (IMC1)