Sunday, April 11, 2021

An Outcry for Leadership: In Search of an Economic Vision

By on March 23, 2020

La Fortaleza, the governor’s official residence and office in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (roger4336 on VisualHunt.com)

By Felix E. De Jesus, Adjunct Professor of Global Management, Leon Hess Business School, Monmouth University, New Jersey

In this critical moment in history the people of Puerto Rico must make an important decision: select a leader to govern the island. Since the reins of government rest primarily on the shoulders of elected officials, voters must consider a person with strong proven leadership skills and a vision of prosperity for Puerto Rico.

Irrational politics and obstinacy have brought nothing but pain and suffering to the people of Puerto Rico for several years now. Therefore, it is imperative that the new governor bring a compelling vision and a clear picture of the path to sustainable economic growth, regardless of political affiliation or status preference.

No leader will succeed without competent people behind them. So, the quality of the people appointed to lead economic institutions is critical to the successful implementation of policies and strategies. They must be well-educated, talented, experienced and visionaries as well to connect to the common goal. In November 2016 Caribbean Business published my first article Planning the Economic Future of Puerto Rico. In the section – Restoring Confidence and Credibility – I laid-out anticipated concerns and possible risks that the then governor elect could face regarding professional staffing. These anticipated concerns materialized years later with dire consequences.

Local talent is rich and abundant in Puerto Rico, without a doubt. Puerto Rican professionals of high caliber and knowledge are willing to serve, but unfortunately, discouraged to do so by a hostile political environment. I had the privilege of teaching a global management course at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico – Metro Campus in November 2019 to top students from their Doctorate and Master programs, and was impressed by their enthusiasm and interest when we analyzed the current business environment in Puerto Rico. They are also willing and ready to serve – I can personally attest of it!

But having a vision is paramount to guide the effort of creating a sustainable economic future for Puerto Rico. Ken Blanchard, a guru on creating high performing organizations, mentioned in his famous book Leading at a Higher Level that “The vision provides guidance for daily decisions so that people are aiming at the right target, not working at cross-purposes.”

Businesses do not operate in a vacuum but rather in a dynamic environment that has a direct influence on how they operate and whether they will achieve their objectives. However, the unique role of governments in democracies with market economies is primarily to create and maintain an environment fertile for business to prosper, expand and therefore support future economic growth. As the late management authority Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” It is time for the government to create the economic future of Puerto Rico!

Vision of the Past and the Future

Looking back in history, Puerto Rico did just that in the 1950s, and benefited greatly from the economic vision of a dominant figure back then – Teodoro Moscoso. Alex W. Maldonado, author of – Teodoro Moscoso: Puerto Rico’s Operation Bootstrap, said in his book that “Moscoso was the architect of the ‘economic miracle’ that economists and presidents believed, at the time, could not happen in Puerto Rico.” Moreover, Maldonado also mentioned that although much of the credit went to then Puerto Rico’s governor, Luis Muños Marin, “Teodoro conceived, promoted, and implemented the plan therefore was responsible for Puerto Rico’s extraordinary climb from poverty to economic success for two decades”. According to an article by Maria Elena Carrion published in enciclopediapr.org, “Puerto Rico entered into a period of rapid industrialization, strong economic growth and prosperity, and since then Puerto Rico has not been able to return to the level of economic performance it experienced during that period.” It is clear that that was the aftermath of the clear vision and strong leadership of Teodoro Moscoso.

Although these are different times, success stories similar to Operation Bootstrap are achievable. Although the 1947 industrial program was based on external capital and existing federal and local tax incentives, local political leadership should not expect much help from the federal government this time around, considering the present toxic political environment in Washington.

Local political leaders must also understand that from an economic perspective, a new paradigm might be needed this time around, along with the understanding and acceptance that sustainability is imperative to the successful implementation of a similar economic plan. The responsibility rests on the shoulder of the new governor and action will be needed urgently. But as Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said in a recent interview with Fortune Magazine, “It’s a mistake to think that what led to success will lead to new success.”

Successful Vision Implementations

The vision and tenacity of political leaders from Israel, Dubai and Singapore resulted in great global success stories similar to Operation Bootstrap, resulting in tremendous economic growth and prosperity for their countries as well. These countries developed proactive economic-development plans and policies to build or strengthen selected industries and dominate global selected sectors. Israel, now dominates the global cybersecurity industry; Dubai, an international commercial center in the information and communications technology sector; and Singapore is now a world-class center for excellence in such areas as nuclear technology.

Global leaders know that in a global economy where we are competing with everyone, from everywhere and for everything – you better have a strong economic plan to survive.

An Outcry for Leadership

The outcry for strong leadership in Puerto Rico is now! A leader that will rise to the occasion and the enormous challenges ahead. But whoever becomes the next governor must have a clear vision of the economic future of the country and above all, must make it a reality for the benefit of the people living in Puerto Rico now, and for generations to come.

De Jesus’ research revolves around the dynamics and challenges of leading global corporations, and includes extensive experience in international manufacturing.

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