The Challenges of Management as Experienced in the Sugar Industry of Guyana

The Challenges of Management as Experienced in the Sugar Industry of Guyana

Dear Editor,

Ever since the earliest days in organisational management, informed initially by attendance at universities, and other training interactions, one kept searching for literature that focused on the management of agricultural entities, albeit within the limited accessibility to books authored in Europe, the United Kingdom, and more often the USA. The primary reason was to find more relevant advice about how better to manage Guyana’s largest industry – sugar.

Though Caribbean universities taught relevant specialised courses, there remained at the time this lacuna of recorded analyses of how to manage more efficiently the collective sugar producing entities known as the Sugar Association of the Caribbean (SAC).
One discovered almost a singular concentration on the management of manufacturing and services, with an exasperating indifference to agriculture, probably because in more developed societies so much of it was rural and of personalised ownership.

As it turned out, in those early days in Bookers Sugar Estates, in the absence of a coordinated consensus of how best to manage to achieve targeted results, a generation of highly trained and motivated, Guyanese, more particularly, Personnel Officers, would meet, brainstorm, and eventually produce recommendations regarding a range of operational, social, human resources and community development issues, that earned ready approval by a then expatriate Board, as policies to be implemented for the benefit of the industry, much of which have stood the test of times – from the 1960s to now.

What we learnt then was that communication, involving strategic decision-making, could be acceptable from responsible lower levels upwards to the highest decision-makers in organisation – so contrary to the imperious style adopted later by the various political directorates.

However activists, Personnel Officers, constituted but a small component within the wide range of highly technically equipped managers who were developed through the creative Bookers Cadet Scheme, including every specialist type of engineer and chemist; along with agriculturalists, accountants, economists, sociologists, community development officers – all comprehensively trained at various overseas universities (the list is not exhaustive). A high priority has since been given to Information & Communication Technology. A most strategic inclusion in this Human Resources Development was the institution of the Apprentice Training Centre at Port Mourant, Berbice in 1957. It developed a track record of graduating talents who logically went on to university level, and in time became managers in factory and mechanical agriculture operations.

It was a Bookers’ Sugar Estates initiative, which contributed quite substantial funding to the earliest agriculture programme at the University of Guyana. The company also found it in their interest to invest heavily in the establishment of the Guyana School of Agriculture.

One pauses to remark on the fantastic career of Bigyan Chandra, a clerk of Skeldon Estate, who started out by excelling at the Guyana School of Agriculture, soon after at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture; and maintained a level of performance as an agriculturalist, that the high ratings he achieved at the very disciplined performance evaluation system in those days, resulted in rapid promotions, eventually to the level of Agriculture Director in GuySuCo.

Of course, there were other equally high-achievers who have since survived to boast of the inspirational management training workshops in which they participated at the Corporation’s Management Training Centre at Ogle – regrettably abandoned to accommodate the pedestrian operations of a Head Office – first occupied by Booker Tate (no relation to the original Bookers) – then Management Consultants to the Administration of the day.

For all of this century, the industry has been subject to non-professional high-level direction, which had the effect of too many hasty departures of managerial employees – during one period at the rate of about thirty annually. It is fair to say that there was a replacement programme in the continuing award of cadetships and scholarships to the University of Guyana and the Guyana School of Agriculture. But too much institutional memory had already been lost.

It is nevertheless important to emphasise, that in addition to the aging of relevant machinery and equipment in field and factory (in the latter connection, the Skeldon Factory remains an elephantine puzzle), the most critical contribution to the industry must come from well trained human resources – at all the related levels. Positive motivation towards productivity through “team-man-ship” is also key.
So that there will be need, not only to revisit former successful management styles, but more critically to upgrade them in the light of this current pandemic environment.

In this connection, critics in particular should feel it fortunate that the Corporation is still able to attract certain needed experienced specialist skills, including principally in engineering and agriculture.
But it remains absolutely necessary that the Corporation re-establishes the much needed capacity to deliver a range of education and developmental programmes to address current assessed managerial and technical needs, including at the highest decision-making levels.

So to finish where we started, it would be helpful to refer to appropriate management literature.
It was not pure coincidence therefore that a small library of books on management was shared between GuySuCo’s Head Office at LBI, Demerara and Albion/PM Estate, Berbice, around 2017. It might well need updating.

Arguably however, the following sample may yet be relevant to all concerned, even in the new dispensation:
Leading Change – John P. Kotter
Lateral Thinking – Edward de Bono
Reinventing Organisations – Frédéric Laloux
In Search of Excellence – Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman
Case method in Management Development – John Reynolds
The Fifth Discipline – Peter M. Senge
A Development Programme for Women in Management – Mike Smith
Obviously, the climate change being experienced will invite interest in more current management philosophies and practices.

It must always be borne in mind however, that it is not just a matter of revival, but more critically, the objective of survival of our sugar industry.

E.B. John
Retired Human Resources Director

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