Todd is asked to stay on for third year as Chamber boss
Stephen Todd has admitted he has some ‘unfinished business' to attend to as he approachs the end of his term as Bermuda Chamber of Commerce president.
Mr Todd, who took over the role from Philip Barnett in April 2009 and is the first black Chamber boss, said the organisation had asked him to consider staying on for another year and he was contemplating doing so.
During his time at the helm he has overseen a growth in members, boosted by the addition of 200 Bermuda's Emerging Professionals (BEPRO), and an increased awareness of the benefits of membership, including lobbying and being the voice of the business community while working with other associations to raise their issues and concerns with Government.
“I think our membership has recognised the value of being a member of the Chamber in giving them a voice or a collective standpoint rather than trying to speak individually for themselves,” he said.
Mr Todd said that the Chamber had built a good working relationship with Premier Paula Cox and her new administration as a platform to air their members' views. Over the past two years Bermuda and indeed the world have endured one of the worst recessions in recent history which has hit almost every industry with no exception, not least the retail sector.
As Chamber president, Mr Todd has been key in driving the changes to the retail division's business model in the way it delivers products and services in order to be more effective and competitive.
But he said that its future success required the continued support of the local community and across all industries, particularly in retaining jobs.
Admitting that while the advent of the internet and online shopping had had a big impact on the local retailers, Mr Todd said the savings on bringing in goods from overseas were not much greater than buying in Bermuda in many cases and there was often no direct after-sales service available to them on Island.
Looking ahead, he forecast a slow economic recovery with the possibility of some improvement in the last quarter of this year.
However, on the flip side, Mr Todd said that the economic downturn had provided a number of opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to get into the market while enabling existing enterprises to refocus or reinvent themselves with the increased competition resulting in an improved level of service and providing a ‘win-win' situation for the consumer through a bigger and better choice available to them.
He added that it was important for those starting out to have the necessary skills and experience to do the job properly to ensure there was no risk to the customer or their employees.
Acknowledging that Bermuda's foreign exchange earnings were dependent on maintaining a consistent amount of work permit holders and the job they occupied while giving them the chance to make a good income and in turn benefiting the local economy through renting apartments, buying or hiring vehicles, dining in restaurants and spending more in stores, as well as contributing to health insurance and payroll tax, Mr Todd said it was critical to ensure that the Island remained the domicile of choice and to maintain the growth of international business in order to keep the economy strong and vibrant.
Equally, he stressed it was crucial to afford opportunities to Bermudians to enter the hospitality and international business, as was the need to develop a sustainable tourism model in the future, particularly in terms of increasing hotel occupancy rates.
Top of the agenda for the Chamber's membership currently are the economy and the role public private partnerships (PPPs) will play in developing the economy going forward, according to Mr Todd.
He said that the reversal of the payroll tax rise from 2010 as announced in last month's Budget Statement had been well received by members, having been one of the key issues it had been pushing for over the past year, as had the deferral of customs duty for retailers for the first three months of the year.
Despite conceding that Government had recognised that some of the decisions made in the past were not always in the best interests of the country, Mr Todd said there was no point in dwelling on mistakes that had been made but rather to ensure that they got it right in the future.
And while the steadily growing size of the civil service has been a matter of some concern over the past few years, he believes there may be opportunities for Government to move a number of its functions into the private sector in order to improve efficiencies and to model themselves after other jurisdictions which had successfully achieved PPPs.
Mr Todd said that crime had also been at the forefront of a lot of business people's minds and the Chamber had met with the former Police Commissioner and Minister of National Security David Burch to discuss its concerns, particularly those of reputational risk globally in light of the recent spate of incidents which have hit the headlines.
While he commended the efforts of the Police, he said it was up to the whole community to help tackle the problem.
Another big issue has been trying to boost trade in the East End, and Mr Todd said the Chamber had been working closely with the Corporation of St. George and the business community there in an attempt to fill the empty store fronts and create a buzz again.
The Chamber will be running another series of economic forums starting next month following the success of last year's offering to provide members with information to help them draw up business plans and strategies.
For more information visit the Chamber of Commerce's updated website at www.bermudacommerce.com