Language no barrier for BDA’s Ramsay
Things are busy for Jereme Ramsay, and they’re going to stay that way for the next few months as he travels to the US, Canada and Mexico to promote the Island as a desirable place to do business.
As a business development manager with the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA), he is at the forefront of efforts to boost the Island’s business prospects.
This month he will be part of the BDA team at the RIMS conference, in New Orleans. After that it is on to Canada for forums in Calgary and Toronto, followed by a journey to Mexico where BDA colleagues will meet some “major individuals” in the business environment.
It’s a packed schedule, but one that he welcomes. “We are busy and many of us live out of a suitcase, but it’s ultimately to generate new business for Bermuda, to create new jobs for Bermudians and also to retain business in Bermuda,” he said.
The Hamilton-based BDA works to encourage direct investment and bring business to the Island by promoting the jurisdiction overseas and acting as a hub to connect potential new clients with professionals, regulatory officials and key contacts in Government.
Within the BDA Mr Ramsay manages the risk “pillar” of insurance, reinsurance, captives and insurance linked securities, and also Latin America initiatives. And as the agency works to drum up interest in Latin America, which is viewed as one of the most world’s most significant emerging economic regions, his personal attributes are proving invaluable.
He is well versed in the culture of Brazil, speaks fluent Brazilian Portuguese, and can also converse in the other most-spoken Latin American language, Spanish.
“I’m fluent in Portuguese. That’s an added value in South America,” he said. It will come in useful this year when Brazil hosts a set of conferences that the BDA is looking to attend. And because of the similarity between Portuguese and Spanish, Mr Ramsay has found it easier to have conversations with people from the Spanish-speaking countries of the continent. “I wouldn’t say I was fluent in Spanish, but my proficiency to get my point across is extremely high.”
His familiarity with Latin America culture, and his abilities in both the major languages of the region, have proved useful in creating affinity with potential clients for Bermuda. He said lawyers and brokers he has met in Brazil have been impressed.
“It opens opportunities and you are top of their mind when you come to do business. If you have learned a bit about the language and culture they are open to having that conversation with you,” he said.
Mr Ramsay’s familiarity with Portuguese and South America came about by accident.
He studied at Warwick Secondary and CedarBridge Academy before taking a gap year to go on a Rotary exchange with the assistance of Sandys Rotary Club. He applied to go a French-speaking country, such as France or Belgium. “My proficiency in French was extremely high at that time,” he explained. However, the only exchange option available was South America.
“By default I went to Brazil. I spent a year there and enjoyed it. I studied with local children. It was full immersion, with three different host families. I learned the language and the culture,” he said.
Going to Brazil, rather than his first choice of a French-speaking country, has proven to be a fortuitous redirection. Mr Ramsay believes his life has been enriched in many ways through his connection with Brazil, as well as putting him in a position to put his language and regional knowledge to use in his current role spearheading the BDA’s efforts in Latin America.
Next year Bermuda will host the ALARYS Congress, the biennial conference for risk managers from countries across Latin America. The Island is the only non-Latin jurisdiction to host ALARYS. Eduardo Fox, the BDA’s Latin America Committee head, described the news as “a notable coup for Bermuda” after the announcement was made in Rio de Janeiro in November.
At the Rio event, it was Mr Ramsay who made the announcement that Bermuda had won the bid to host the 2016 event. He said: “We are looking at between 250 and 300 delegates coming from Latin America. It allows Bermuda to showcase its infrastructure, its regulatory system, as well as its intellectual capital.”
He and his colleagues are in no doubt about the importance of Latin America as a source of potential new business for Bermuda.
“There is huge potential,” he said. Late last year the BDA held strategy sessions looking at the risk “pillar” and the way forward for Bermuda in those areas in 2015. “What we discussed at strategy level, we are now in execution mode for this year.
“Latin America was a key topic area of focus. Based on a number of recent TIEAs (tax information exchange agreements) that Bermuda has established with some of the countries, such as Mexico and Columbia, it makes it a lot easier for those countries to consider Bermuda as a jurisdiction for business.”
Another country the BDA is focusing on is Canada — building on the success of previous seminars in the country,
“We are having forums in Calgary and Toronto that are targeting CFOs or C-suite executives to consider having a captive solution. We’re going up with industry professionals, experts, the Bermuda Monetary Authority, and the Bermuda Government to talk about the captive solution and about the Bermuda risk proposition in general and why it makes sense to do business in Bermuda,” said Mr Ramsay.
“There is a good delegation going. We will also be at one of the conferences in Toronto at the end of May, targeting the risk sector,” he said, explaining that a recent BDA webinar for a Canadian audience attracted more than 80 individuals as it promoted news that the agency would soon be in the country to answer enquiries about doing business in Bermuda.
“Those are two regions, Latin America and Canada, we are specifically targeting in the captive space. We are starting to see an uptick in interest as well as new insurers on the Island. In the first two months of this year we have seen 11, and in the latter part of 2014 we saw a significant growth. It’s moving slowly but we are starting to see more interest and growth and more enquiries.”
The BDA is primarily funded by Government, which it works closely with, particularly the Ministry of Economic Development. It also has its own focus groups made up of practitioners in the relevant industries who volunteer their time to share ideas. All those efforts are aimed at stimulating growth in the international business sector.
At conferences and overseas meetings, Mr Ramsay and the BDA team “put interested parties in contact with key individuals, whether it’s the BDA, or Government or service providers”.
“On business development trips we target service providers, such as law firms, brokers, and accountancy firms to talk about the Bermuda proposition, to talk about the risk solutions and why Bermuda is the world’s risk capital,” he said.
Mr Ramsay is a Bermudian. He studied at Mount St Vincent University, in Canada, before returning to Bermuda to work for two years with HSBC Global Asset Management as a marketing communications co-ordinator. The role gave him exposure to mutual funds, fund managers and promoting products to the retail market. He then returned to studying and gained an MBA in Marketing Management at the University of Liverpool, in England. Coming back to Bermuda he worked for Rubis in a sales and marketing role.
After 18 months, while looking for his next career move, he crossed paths with Ross Webber. Mr Webber, who became the BDA’s chief executive officer last August, was at the time the head of global marketing at international law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman. The two men had conversations about some roles, but in the end Mr Ramsay was enticed back to HSBC where he became involved in its digital department, taking care of its personal internet banking platform and digital marketing components within the retail banking and wealth management division. He was promoted to strategic planning and marketing governance.
He said: “I worked closely with a talented team. HSBC was a great foundation, I learned a lot about what I’m promoting now.”
Last August he joined the BDA team after Mr Webber sought him out.
“I believe Ross kept a close check on my progression,” said Mr Ramsay. “He was looking to build his team and it was of great interest to me. It was a difficult decision to leave HSBC. There were great people there. But joining the BDA was a good decision for my career progression — to come to the forefront and add value on a national scale.”
He added: “My previous roles have been mainly back office support. Embracing this role allowed me to truly shine on the forefront. I enjoy working with people, so now I’m able to add value on a national scale.”
Looking back, he is thankful for his unexpected opportunity to spend a year in Brazil with the Rotary programme, rather than his intended choice of a French-speaking country.
“It was the best fit. Six weeks prior to going I did not know anything about the language or culture, so I went deep and learned how to swim in the culture when I was there,” he said.
Mr Ramsay is a big advocate for the Rotary programme. “If we could send every student on a Rotary exchange, whether its six months to a year, I think it would generate huge results for our community.”
He is also certain the BDA’s mission is producing results, although he emphasises that attracting new business can take time.
“Business development is not immediate. It’s nurturing the relationship. We are seeing an uptick in interest and business is coming, but it takes time. Business development is different from sales, which are immediate. Business development takes time, but we are definitely seeing a return on previous meetings and trips and we are hoping to see great results in 2015,” he said.
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