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2005-05-28 06:08:25

U.S. Ambassador Addresses CEO Conference

Without effective leadership, organisations stagnate or see their energies go off in many different directions instead of focusing on the most important strategic objectives.

U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas, John Rood said both governments and businesses must have strong leadership in order to operate effectively.

Mr Rood was addressing delegates at the ninth annual CEO Network Conference at the British Colonial Hilton Wednesday.

The theme of the three-day conference, staged in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, is "Global Networking Strategies." Mr Rood spoke on the topic "Government and Business."

Apart from strong leadership, he listed four other tenets, which he said governments and businesses must be committed to in order to be successful. These include fiscal responsibility, customer service, constant organisational improvement and listening and learning.

Mr Rood has been the U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas for eight months but was a businessman for 30 years prior to his appointment. With his growing experience as Ambassador he said he is now noticing similarities between business and government.

Strong leadership

In further explaining 'strong leadership' skills, the Ambassador said in any organisation, there is never any substitute for it, adding that every organisation needs someone to set its direction, make the tough decisions, and be accountable for achieving its goals.

"Without effective leadership, organisations stagnate or see their energies go off in many different directions instead of focusing on the most important strategic objectives," he said.

Fiscal responsibility

"Secondly, both business and government must demonstrate fiscal responsibility. You must know what you're spending and how your expenditures advance the pursuit of your goals."

He then told delegates that although the U.S. Embassy does not focus on profits and losses, it must still compete for scarce resources within the government and then decide how to allocate those resources most efficiently among its many programmes and activities.

He added that irresponsible or inefficient spending only serves to limit what the Embassy is able to accomplish, however, fiscal responsibility allows it to accomplish more of its goals.

Customer service

Regarding customer service, the Ambassador said both businesses and governments have clients who expect to be treated with courtesy and respect.

"I was on a radio call-in programme recently, prepared to discuss counter-narcotics, hurricane relief or U.S. policy toward Cuba. But almost every call was about visas! We sometimes forget that most of the people who interact with the Embassy are not foreign ministers or diplomats; they are Bahamians who want to travel or Americans who are renewing a passport. Those basic interactions are the starting point for the Embassy's success or failure as a public institution," he explained.

He also pointed out that Embassy staff members work every day to improve customer service. One of those improvements was the recent expansion of the Embassy's visa section to provide more seating in the waiting room, so that applicants would not have to stand outside in the rain or hot sun as in the past.

"We added more interviewing windows so the lines will move faster. If there is a line outside, I can see it from my office, so I know how well we are doing. We are also exploring a reservation system and, as a long-term project, we are exploring the possibility of a mobile data collection site in Freeport."

Constant organisational improvement

Focusing on the importance of constantly making organisational improvements, Mr Rood said both businesses and governments must be committed to this kind of positive change on all levels.

He said if a person stood still, someone else would soon figure out a way to surpass him or her.

"Your competitiveness will suffer. The goal may differ (profitability in business vs. effectiveness in government), but the need for organisational improvement is the same. To be successful you simply cannot conduct business or run government the same way it was done in the past."

Listen and learn

Touching on listening and learning, the Ambassador, a fan of Stephen Covey (author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People"), said his favourite habit is to seek first to understand and then to be understood.

"Those of us in business know how important this is. If we don't know what the customer wants it is hard to sell it. Government on the other hand is often not as receptive. But governments that listen build successful partnerships," he explained.

He further noted that governments that listen respect their neighbours and are able to build strong relationships with them.

"As you can see, business and government have much more in common than most people think. I am confident that my business background will help me to lead the embassy, build long-term relationships and achieve our mission objectives here in The Bahamas."

By MINDELL SMALL, Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter

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