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Quo vadis

By Joseph Cervenak

‘Where are you going?’ A poignant question indeed. It is a question directed to President Obama on being elected to a second four-year term to lead the United States and to deliver on his 2008 and 2012 promises. 

It is a question of monumental import and a challenge to address the trials of debt, gross domestic product, the consumer price index, unemployment, environment, energy, terrorism and the social and moral issues of marriage and women’s rights. 


And there are many more questions. What of globalisation, the balance of payments, Afghanistan, the Middle East, the new conservative and authoritarian leadership in China, global economic stability and, of course, the US fiscal cliff, the slope however named, and a recalcitrant and Dostoyevskyian Congress? 

‘Yes we can’ and ‘hope and change’ were the President’s energising and mobilising chants that promised America, and much of the world, a recovery from the mismanagement and misdirection of the previous eight-year presidency of Bush and Cheney. 

‘Yes we can’ did have its accomplishments, notably, the historic, though controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (read Obamacare) and the Children’s Health Insurance Programme Reauthorisation Act. Add the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the killing of Osama bin Laden and Somali pirates and the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. And, of necessity to the world, he presented a friendlier American face that included diversity in the White House.

Was it this track record of ‘accomplishments’ that won for him the two-party US$ 6 billion-spend election contest? 

“The majority [of voters] seemed to be saying to Obama: ‘You didn’t get it all right the first time, but we’re going to give you a second chance.’ In a way, the electorate again voted for hope and change,” wrote Thomas Friedman in the New York Times Op-Ed column published 7 November 2012.

Fait accompli

So be it. Fait accompli. Yes indeed, time will tell.

This election speaks of the USA; yet I ask, how does his second term affect me and my place in the western hemisphere? What might we expect? A reach for the proverbial low-hanging fruit?

This President has been consistent with his positions on (1) immigration, (2) energy and (3) environment. This suggests reform, investment and legislation, respectively. 

(1) Immigration 

• Expect aggressive White House positioning to continue with the partial implementation of the unsanctioned Dream Act (which provides a citizenship opportunity to illegals born in the USA)

• Quite possibly fast-tracked processing of visas for student and highly skilled professionals, notably in science and math. 

(2) Energy

• Look for an expansion of alternative energy sourcing, with incentivised development of nuclear, hydro, wind and solar power. 

• Look for continued increased activity in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the 20 February 2012 Transboundary Agreement with Mexico. This Agreement removes uncertainties over the exploration and development of oil and natural gas reservoirs from the resource-rich Gulf.

(3) Environment

• Also due to the Transboundary Agreement, the way for expanded safety and environmental standards is likely to be advanced.

• Anticipate continued emphasis on energy conservation and improved efficiency.

• Following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, anticipate an aggressive regulation reform with increased oversight in safety measures.

• Anticipate increased attention to former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental studies, writings and entreaties.

It is too early to forecast local outcomes and the implications based on a US economy, tax reform and dollar exchange. Also, although a macro view of the US economy with its geo-political complexities strongly suggests that Caribbean/Latin American exports and imports, tourism, FDI and dollar exchange rates will be positive, there are no guarantees.

Does it matter?

Have we now answered the quo vadis question?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Before deciding, ask a brief question: was his first term a successfully led and managed presidency? 

Does it matter? Is deciding a meaningful exercise or a wasted effort? Is not the past simply the past? Past-presidential performance valuation, that is, beyond cocktail-talk or judgmental yeas or nays, is, in fact, moot. Regardless, Is it time to move on?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. What comes of value from past performance studies are lessons to be learned. The rest is for the archives and for history.

Not surprisingly, from the shadows enter now the all-too-familiar and frightening ‘but’ or a thoughtful ‘however’. 

But, are these not critical lessons for every business president, CEO, owner, leader, manager or supervisor? These lessons frame the answers to the not-so-new mantra of ‘what have you done for me today?’ These are the lessons that lead to a most critical review of where in our roles as leaders have we been. Where have we taken our companies and where do we need to go? This is not about rationalising a blown budget, a paltry performance or a spotty quarter or two. These no longer matter. These questions will, indeed distil to a simple ‘was it a job well done?’

Lessons learned

However, what are these lessons learned? What is our take-away? How do we capitalise on this chance to learn? How and where do we apply these lessons learned? This is not about politicians; not about President Obama; and not about the USA. 

Instead, this is about an opportunity for us to turn to the familiar, yet oft overlooked, deliberately ignored or ‘get to it one of these days’ management scorecard. It is an opportunity to measure our capabilities and leadership skills, be they according to the gospels of Fayol, Drucker, Welch, Porter or Hamel. This is a test of the classic, proven principles of leadership that we did or did not employ in our businesses. It is a strict inquiry of our leadership vision, our commitment to purpose, our articulation of mission, our crafting of strategy and to our execution on deliverables as well as how we followed and applied our business plan to day-to-day operations. 

This has nothing to do with politics. These are the mirror questions: look at yourself, the man or the woman in the mirror. (Thank you, Michael Jackson.) These are the private, contemplative and thoughtful personal moments that announce how well we performed regardless of title in the last one, two, three or four years; a tenure-valuation of our business acumen and being.

In previous columns I’ve written about the ‘next new thing’ and the ‘new normal’, showcased technology advances and presented ‘Janus views’ to the past and to the future. Each column called for action and change. 

Not the time to wait

This is not the time to instinctively sit tight to wait out the times. In spite of the Caribbean reputation for sand, surf and sky and to take it easy, we cannot wait on the sidelines. Our world moves too fast – ask Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The velocity, volume and variety of the market are testimony to the changes taking place. We are too interconnected, which makes ‘wait and see’ obsolete and outmoded.

As with the President, it is time for action. And, in the words of another American president, Abraham Lincoln, in his annual message to Congress on 1 December, 1862: 

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion…. we must think anew and act anew.”

Thus, it is now the time to ask, Quo vadis? Where do we go? 


Joe-CervenakJoseph Cervenak is Managing Principal of Kemper-Joseph, llc
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