Blaser: Bermudianisation a top priority
Looking west, down Hamilton Harbour, past Hinson’s Island and into the Great Sound, the view from Mitch Blaser’s corner office on a beautiful spring day was clear and bright.
Bermuda’s future is somewhat cloudier — but Mr Blaser, chief transformation officer and vice-chairman, Bermuda at Liberty Mutual Insurance, is hopeful that the business community and Government can create the conditions for a period of growth that will result in sunnier days ahead.
Mr Blaser’s firm, and Sompo International, have been invited by the Bermuda Government to take part in a fast-track work permit pilot programme designed to tackle delays in application turnaround times.
Wayne Caines, the immigration minister, told the House of Assembly that Liberty Mutual was selected because it has a “firm and deep commitment to Bermuda” with a track record of progressing Bermudians through the company and a leadership team that understood the “tapestry” of the island.
Mr Caines said “key performance matrices” in each company would be considered to decide if they were suitable for the accelerated permit programme. Factors such as training and development for Bermudians and the annual revenue the firms brought to the island would be taken into account, he said.
The minister said the work permit process, currently considered cumbersome, had to move towards a more “risk-based approach”.
Now, the parties must determine what a fast-track process should look like.
Mr Blaser said: “We’ve got to do some research and development, some fact-gathering around criteria. We talk about track record — well, how do you measure track record? We have an intention to do it — but now we have to ask ‘what is it?’.
“We know it’s important so we need to determine how to execute it in a way that makes sense to all stakeholders. Engaging in dialogue is a critical way of partnering, of understanding and aligning the interests of the community with the interests of the business world.
“We won’t hire anyone who we don’t think is a great corporate citizen as well as being hugely qualified for the job. We think of it in context of the value they bring and contribute to the business, and how they fit into the community. The question is how much does that count towards efficiency and efficacy when we are dealing with the employment aspects.
“There is a lot to do to understand those dynamics. What is the process? Is it doing the same thing we did 30 years ago? Or what are the pain points that can be eliminated? How can we streamline the process?”
Liberty’s record of charitable contributions includes support for the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser, Scars, and Western Counties and youth cricket.
“Personally, and in our corporate approach, we have a citizenship of a different kind, a social citizenship,” Mr Blaser says. “If you are going to be here, participate, add some value, and help people out. That’s your legacy.”
The company’s record of progressing Bermudian staff through the ranks is a result of preparing employees to take on leadership and more technical roles, he says.
“We consider Bermudianisation one of our top priorities,” Mr Blaser says. “A whole bunch of Bermudians have come through the ranks into the underwriting world.
“You can only do that by making sure that you open up pathways. Being more of a growth company helps create opportunities so that people don’t have to wait until someone is run over by a bus or leaves the island.
“We are very open to sending people overseas for training and development — and I mean for actual assignments to New York and London to spend time in real jobs, not just hanging out.
“The way people develop is by working together, and understanding what each other does. That’s how you go from being an underwriting assistant to a junior underwriter, by not just doing clerical tasks, but by being involved in the underwriting process and being involved in value-added tasks and work.
“If you are a senior underwriter, you can allow other people to do things for you if you trust them, train them and develop them. That’s what we do here.
“That sounds easy but it’s not because people don’t like to let go of things. You have to have openness, you have to create a culture and you have to hold people accountable for getting these things executed.”
Ultimately, Mr Blaser said, business and Government must work together if Bermuda is to recover from the 2009 to 2018 exodus that saw an estimated 6,000 people leave, many of them executives.
“Someone here did the figures and reckons that constituted $500 million to $600 million of economic activity,” he says. “For 10 per cent of our GDP to walk out of the door is not good for anybody.
“For us, it’s about building something — you have to have that growth mindset, as the island must, to make it a win-win for everybody.
“We want to work in partnership to make this process faster, better, smarter. Data is omnipotent. We need to understand how to leverage that to create an efficient and modern process that helps facilitate business, which supports the economy, which supports everyone who lives here.”
Being on a work permit fast-track, Mr Blaser said, would be advantageous.
“Time is money,” he said. “We have usually gone through a lengthy internal process to identify somebody to hire, or to agree relocation. The more senior the person, the longer that conversation takes.
“Then we have to go through a somewhat repetitive process to try and get the work permit.
“It will create a great deal of benefit if we are able to make the process more efficient.”
A spokesperson for Sompo International said: “Sompo International is pleased to have been selected to be part of this programme and we look forward to being an active participant.”