At a gala occasion dedicated to the exaltation of success and achievement, Trinidad and Tobago business leaders were bluntly challenged to turn the page on the past and to "reinvent" themselves for the future. The message was delivered not by any academic expert or State official but by homegrown entrepreneur Aleem Mohammed, chairman of the Otaheite-based SM Jaleel Group of Companies.
It's thus by one of their own that the cream of T&T business and industry were on Saturday lectured at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce's eighth annual Business Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The Hall of Fame received as its newest members highly accomplished business performers in banker Ronald Harford, CCN chairman Joe Esau and, posthumously, Geoffrey Inglefield, for all of whom warmest congratulations are in order.
Dr Mohammed told his audience of award recipients and others that they had done well for themselves. He pointed, however, to the illusory nature of the laurels on which they might have thought themselves deserving to rest.
"Our heritage is no longer our destiny… Success in the past is no guarantee for success in the future," he argued.
The SM Jaleel chairman characterised past achievements as having been based on 20th century ways. Move with the times, he urged his business colleagues: "We must move away from 20th century leadership to 21st century leadership." He called for the creation of an environment conducive to unleashing "the hidden potential of our people, and then we must empower them''.
Dr Mohammed's remarks in the radicalised language he used were capable of jolting and stirring the imaginations of business people. "We must be different; we must be revolutionary," he said.
Specifically, Dr Mohammed appeared to be exhorting business people to become more export-oriented. Rather than supplying just the T&T market, and the Caricom market, he pressed his colleagues to recognise that "the world is our marketplace''.
As a manufacturer whose soft drinks have found buyers in North America, South Africa and other distant places, SM Jaleel is by way of being a model performer in the building of what former Central Bank governor Ewart Williams has called an "internationally competitive" T&T economy.
In remarks last month surveying economic performance since Independence in 1962, Mr Williams lamented the missing of opportunities presented over the glory days of the energy boom that ended in 2008. Outside the energy sector, he recalled no "major investment in the export sector, and particularly in manufacturing". Instead, he said, "we have seen lots of malls", referring to what he called a preponderance of short-term, low-risk, investments targeting just the local market.
Mr Williams now appears to have found an ally in Dr Mohammed. For the sake of the future economic growth and development of the T&T economy, the joint force of their advocacy should succeed at least in starting to liberate the imaginations of local entrepreneurs and investors.