BDA boss sees waymarks pointing to success
The spirit of collaboration is paying dividends for Bermuda in terms of protecting and growing the Island’s international business sector.
That is the view of Ross Webber, who has completed his first year at the helm of the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA).
“It has been an incredibly busy, but very productive year,” he said.
Mr Webber has been involved with the BDA since its embryonic days, some three years ago. He was a board member before being appointed chief executive officer in August 2014.
Taking stock a year into the job, he identified a number of waymarks that point to successes achieved and successes yet to come.
Among the highlights are the aforementioned spirit of collaboration, financial backing for the BDA from the private sector, and companies bringing new business Bermuda’s way.
One of the things he is most pleased about is the broader collaboration between agencies, organisations and businesses.
Groups such as Association of Bermuda International Companies, and the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers have been embraced by the BDA, along with the Bermuda Government, the Bermuda Monetary Authority and the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
Beyond these exists a virtual alphabet soup of organisations, widely known by their acronyms, who also have a vested interest in protecting and enhancing the Island’s business environment.
Previously, many of these organisations and entities were stuck in their own niche “silo”, sometimes barely communicating with other sections of the business community, according to Mr Webber.
He knew there were synergies to be tapped into, and benefits to be gained from taking a more inclusive approach.
“I knew that open lines of communications were not happening. Before, we did not have the cross-collaboration that we have now,” he said. “We can achieve much more collaborating rather than working in silos.”
With a background in the insurance sector, and a number of years as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education and Economic Development, he has drawn on his broad experience to find better ways of doing business and having stakeholders working together.
“I know how things work in the government ecosystem. My work as permanent secretary gave me the understanding about how to ask the question, when to ask the question and to whom,” he said.
In the past 18 months the power of collaboration has produced results for the BMA. Mr Webber gives some firm figures to illustrate this.
During the past year, in the risk solutions sector alone, the Island has seen the formation of 19 new captives. There is a Class 3B prospect in Latin America looking to redomicile to Bermuda, and a further five prospects from the region considering similar moves.
Meanwhile, discussions with a private equity company in London resulted in an unexpected business spin-off when the firm also inquired about where it could place an insurance interest.
Networking and joined-up thinking have proven to be powerful tools for the agency.
An investment bank is “75 per cent” along the path to setting up an offshore branch in Bermuda, again this is down to a member of the BDA team staying in contact with the institute.
But perhaps the most striking example of a success story for the agency was the decision by an investment management company to redomicile from Singapore.
It all began with a BDA press release in 2013, which eventually reached a contact in San Francisco who in turn flagged up the Singapore prospect. With interest expressed, the BDA set the wheels in motion, bringing the company’s decision makers to the Island and introducing them to key industry stakeholders. Two years later, the company has incorporated on the Island and advertised for local staff.
“This is a great example of the power of following up,” said Mr Webber, adding that it is also important that residents understand there is normally a lengthy lead-in time for bringing new businesses to the Island.
Reflecting on his first year as CEO, Mr Webber said: “This year has not just been about foundation and platform building. We did not have he luxury of just doing that. We needed to get on and start doing something.”
Sean Moran and Jereme Ramsay were early appointments. The business development managers look after two of the four ‘pillars’ of the BDA. Mr Moran is in charge of asset management and trust and private clients, while Mr Ramsay handles the risk solution sector, encompassing insurance, reinsurance, captives and insurance linked securities.
Recently recruited Kevin Richards is the third business development manager, with responsibility for shipping, aviation and commercial banking sectors.
The BDA’s fourth “pillar” of business is international commerce, and that is overseen by Mr Webber.
Other appointments have included Rosemary Jones as communications manager, and Yvonne DeCosta as marketing manager. There is now a full-time staff of 13, and one consultant. Other consultants are brought on board on a case-by-case basis.
Mr Webber said that to begin with, industry stakeholders were somewhat standoffish towards the new agency, but there has since been a rapid buy-in from the private sector as the work of the BDA has taken shape and confidence in its abilities has risen.
From stakeholder focus groups to strategy sessions involving business representatives and, where appropriate, Government officials, the spirit of collaboration is evident.
Mr Webber is particularly impressed by the increasing number of stakeholders asking to be involved with the various focus groups and strategy meetings.
And it is not only intellectual input, or “sweat equity”, that the private sector is bringing to the BDA, it is dollar equity too.
The agency is majority funded by Government. However, that backing has reduced from $4.5 million to $4.25 million in the current fiscal year as the supplemental funding generated from the private sector has increased. Last year financial support from the private sector was up 100 per cent, and this year it has increased a further 50 per cent.
Mr Webber views that as a ringing endorsement of the BDA’s work. “Does the business community think that the agency is effective? The answer is yes.”
He has given The Royal Gazette an update on the progress the BDA’s work in the “four pillars” of its business [see separate story] and pointed the way to possible future avenues where the Island’s international business sector might expand.
Pleased with the agency’s “incredibly busy, but very productive” year under his watch, he is optimistic that more successes will follow, all in good time.
He said: “We have seen several companies come off the pipeline, and we have more joining the pipeline. But it is important that people understand we have a long conveyor belt.”
And he is proud of the BDA team and the enegry and desire thay have shown to produce positive results for the agency and Bermuda’s economy.
“The team is working very hard,” he said.
The BDA website is at: www.bda.bm
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