April 18, 2002 – "Is Michael Jordan more successful than Rosa Parks?" Robert B. Washington asked about a hundred women and a few men at the third annual Women's Business Center Economic Development Conference on Thursday.
He then answered that it depends on how a person measures success.
Washington, the keynote speaker for the opening session of the three-day conference at the Divi Carina Bay Resort, said women have tended to be less successful than men in business. This, he added, is in no small part because women have had to focus on broader areas like family along with business concerns, whereas men could focus solely on business.
For true success, he told his audience, women must develop a strong understanding of the financial aspects of entrepreneurship — sales projections, profitability, and accessing capital — which he has done through strategic partnering with Robert L. Johnson, America's first black billionaire. Johnson is the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) Holdings.
Washington is president of Caribbean Lottery Services, a private company that has contracted with the V.I. government to provide computerized lottery gaming in the territory. He spoke of opportunities associated with emerging businesses. "Today as a result of the Internet and other paradigms, barriers are reduced," he said.
But, he added, one must be prepared in order to spot opportunities, and skilled in order to take advantage of them. He urged those thinking about starting their own businesses to "get experience before you take the risk to go out on your own."
The graduate of Howard and Harvard universities said he got his experience as an attorney representing a lottery company in Washington, D.C. Today, his company operates lotteries in 10 Caribbean locations, having recently expanded to the Virgin Islands.
Washington said he decided to relocate to the territory to expand his regional business holdings after WBC executive director Yvette deLaubanque invited him at a Black Enterprise convention in Florida two years ago. He said he and his partners — Johnson and lawyer Johnnie Cochran — are moving the headquarters of their Leeward Islands Lottery Holding Co. to St. Croix.
Washington also said business people need to master multiple languages if they want to be competitive in a global market. "It is the greatest failure of the American education system — I'm sitting there waiting for a translator," he said of communicating with potential clients and governments.
The theme of the conference is "Emerging Businesses and Their Role in the New Economy." The program features an array of development specialists focusing on new trends and their application for the territory and on the roles Virgin Islands women can play in the global economy.
"This is the historical continuation of women in business," Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said of the networking event. In the Caribbean, women have been stellar in securing financial and entrepreneurial means to maintain their households, he said. And he said his image of the market woman conducting commerce always will be the impetus for his support of events such as the WBC annual conference.
In an afternoon session Thursday, Virgin Islander and technology consultant Kathleen Dyer, a principal with Booz Allen Hamilton, shared insights based on over 26 years of experience in government and corporate management. As a global management and technology consulting firm, she said, her company deals with government defense and national security, which has increased since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
For today's emerging businesses, Dyer said, "Management concerns should be the principal factor that drives the utilization of technology" — issues such as growth in revenues and market share. "In the Virgin Islands, we think only around the V.I. and maybe the British Virgin Islands," she said. "That's a small market."
A fast, reliable and affordable telecommunication infrastructure is important for securing a global reach, she said, noting that Africa is distant yet reachable with today's technologies which provide a basis for e-commerce. "There is a tremendous marketplace in Africa," she said. "People in this room need to get behind their government to make sure that you have the telecommunications technology to support your business."
Friday's agenda includes presentations on "Financial Advice for Emerging Businesses," "Smart Marketing Techniques for Achieving Business Success," "What Dreams Are You Sitting On?" and "Your Health/Your Choice — Life's Decisions for the Mind, Body and Spirit." The luncheon speaker will be Jennifer Nugent-Hill of Tropical Shipping.
On Saturday the conference will address "Federal Procurement in the New Economy," "The Power of Etiquette in Business," "Youth Track — Your Future, Your Choice," "Body, Mind and Spirit — A Winning Business Combination," "Successful Negotiation, Successful Partnerships, Successful Businesses" and "Your Track — Think Skills, Think Future." The luncheon speaker will be F. Willis Johnson Jr. of Principal Griot International.
The conference will conclude Saturday evening with a gala banquet where Elizabeth Armstrong of the Buccaneer Hotel will receive the center's Empowerment Award.
"What I'd really like to see is more people take advantage of this opportunity," deLaubanque said Thursday. "We expended a lot of effort in choosing the caliber of speakers, and the feedback from the audience is fantastic." She added, "Our job is to bring the information to our people, but our people have to come and get the information."
For more information, call the Women's Business Center at 773-4995, visit the conference web site or drop by the conference at the Divi Resort.
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