A recent international award captured by the Ansa McAl Group of Companies has reinforced, and reaffirmed, its commitment to good corporate governance, said chief of legal and head of external affairs Frances Bain-Cumberbatch.
Ethical Boardroom, a London-based organisation, awarded Ansa McAl best corporate governance for a conglomerate in the Caribbean.
Other groups that also won the award in various sectors included Republic Financial Holdings Services in the financial sector, Sagicor Financial Corporation in the insurance sector and the GraceKennedy Group in the food and beverage sector.
Speaking with Business Day about Ansa McAl’s achievement, Bain-Cumberbatch said the group was surprised by the win because they did not throw their hat in the ring for it.
“It was tremendously gratifying, and a welcomed surprise to close off the year, and to go into a new year. It is good to be recognised by an international organisation for the work that we are doing as a group in the area of corporate governance.
“While the award said 2021, we haven’t really exposed everything from 2021 as yet. That is going to come at the start of this year. The award reflects a result of decisions that have been made over a period of time. It wasn’t magic that happened in 2021. The group is long-term thinking.”
Ansa McAl has subsidiaries in several sectors including automotive, beverage, construction, distribution, financial services, manufacturing, services, real estate, retail, and media. It operates in several other Caribbean and Latin American territories – Antigua, Belize, Barbados, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Montserrat, Panama, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent and Suriname.
Bain-Cumberbatch has been with the group for 15 years and holds several portfolios, such as audit and risk, corporate communications and corporate secretary.
She pointed out that a main objective of the group was engaging with stakeholders by being transparent and accountable in its operations.
By monitoring the group’s progress at every step, Bain-Cumberbatch explained several changes and restructuring took place over time, in order for maximum and efficient output at the level of the board, and independence of the board was critical to compete internationally.
“We did a third-party board evaluation which highlighted gaps and strengths, and then out of that we developed a plan for proper training programmes in areas such as enterprise risk management, and sustainability.
“The board has to be up to speed to current and emerging corporate governance trends. A lot of work has been going into that, and we have reorganised our subsidiary governance structure to create a more independent and efficient structure. We have created advisory councils where the group’s CEO will chair, but the membership of the councils is all independent of the group.”
Bain-Cumberbatch said the covid19 pandemic was also an encouragement to make the necessary changes in the group's operations in all of its territories, since the modus operandi of conducting business has changed drastically.
Luckily, she said, the group had the resources and the necessary information technology structure and expertise to move forward.
“Technology would have helped greatly, simple programmes like MS Teams and Zoom were used in the most part. It allowed everyone to connect, and we were able to run the relevant training programmes. We were able to execute and did not hold back. In fact, it (pandemic) motivated us and drove us to execute.”
Bain-Cumberbatch said unfortunately, like every other sector in the economy, globally there have been price shifts and Ansa McAl also had to reorganise and make changes.
On Monday, Carib Brewery, one of its companies, announced that beer prices would increase by TT$1 due to changing market prices.
Bain-Cumberbatch said there is anticipated prices changes coming in other areas operated by the group, but this was done as a last resort after having taken all the necessary steps to hold off.
“There may be adjustments in other companies, but I am not able to say which ones. I know that it will be done not as a first measure but only when absolutely necessary, as was the case with Carib. We know consumers are deeply affected by what has happened economically because of the pandemic.”
In the case of vaccinations, she said the group, which has about 6,000 employees, has a vaccination rate of 80 per cent, which was continuing to increase daily.
“We believe vaccination is the only way out of this and our drive is not just for the individual need but also for the community, country and regional need. We took steps to educate our employees, made sure they had the correct sources of information and held personal meetings with employees about vaccinations.
“Mandatory vaccination is not really for us because our employees understand what is at risk. Our thrust right now is to communicate getting the booster shot.”
Bain-Cumberbatch added that the group has new business opportunities on the horizon for 2022, including a fully digital Ansa Merchant Bank, acquiring several acquisitions such as Colfire, and a brewery in Antigua, expanding market operations in Jamaica and renewable energy projects in South America.
“When we say fully digital, we don’t mean having some things being done, we actually mean from start to finish. We are looking to have our customers being able to do their banking on a digital platform. Strategically we are building that bank and hopefully by third-quarter it should be launched.”
“In the area of sustainability, the thrust now is really ensuring there is a formal process in recognising and measuring our impact on all our stakeholders, the environment and the communities in which we operate.”
As a 50-year-old mother of a son, and married for 26 years, Bain-Cumberbatch said the pandemic has reinforced the importance of family, mental health care and having a good support team.
She said the struggles on every individual was different and people should make time to take care of their mental health and families.
“I love being a mother, and watching him every day brings a different kind of joy, seeing him develop into a person. Having a strong support system, and my partner’s support, has enabled me to achieve what I have so far.
“This pandemic has impacted the lives of people, how they cope with stress and drastic changes in lifestyles. It has been an eye-opener. Mental health is something that is crucial. We have found that there has been an increased use of EAP (employee assistance programme). There is a lot going on in people’s lives that may have been accentuated as result of covid19, and many do not have a coping mechanism.”
Bain-Cumberbatch encouraged people to take time for self-care, time to reconnect and relax, and use the services of employee assistance programmes at the workplace to access help.