ONE ON ONE with Patrick Hylton
Barbara Ellington • Lifestyle Editor
He heads one of Jamaica's leading financial institutions and holds an enviable track record of performance in the banking sector. As if that were not enough, he holds the equally important 'office' of husband to the hurdler of the decade, the gorgeous Brigitte Foster-Hylton. But the seemingly shy Patrick Hylton remains unfazed by his achievements as he goes about his daily business.
As the country still struggles to emerge from a recession and continue on a path to economic recovery, Outlook spoke to the publicity shy National Commercial Bank (NCB) group managing director about his successes, plans for his career and yes, just when will he and the lovely Mrs Foster-Hylton start their family.
For Hylton, the most significant thing has been the performance of NCB under his watch, and the positive, consistent growth and significant improvements in many key indicators over the period.
"We moved from the position of number two in the industry in terms of total assets and profitability to number one in assets over two years and in profitability since last year," he said.
Outside of that, there are some indicators of organisational health in which NCB has also performed quite creditably. And having entered the employer of choice survey a few years ago, they have moved steadily up from number nine to number one last year. Among the enviable list of accolades chalked up by the group from reputable publications is the Banker Magazine's rating as "the company with the most engaged employees. ... Last year, we won five of eight awards. We have done exceptionally and while doing well, we have continued to do good".
Hylton is proud that to date he has met all the targets he set in the five-year strategic plan developed in 2005. "We exceeded most of the indicators in it for financial performance. In terms of challenges, it's even more significant, when you look at the global financial meltdown of 2007-8, including our own set of financial challenges leading to Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) and the International Monetary Fund agreement, we continued to grow throughout that period," he said.
These factors have combined with his organisation's formula for success to make the banker upbeat about the future. The way forward includes turning the focus to recognising that it's a new paradigm and environment; a number of things have changed and so NCB must do the same if it's to remain relevant and sustain the type of performance of the the past few years.
Just over a year ago, the bank conducted its staff and infrastructure rationalisations islandwide, the major part happened just ahead of the JDX programme, and Hylton said they put initiatives in place to prepare staff for that exercise.
"Many saw it as risky and some detractors said it was the wrong signal at the time and we should have waited before we acted. In hindsight, we did the right thing at the right time. But, most importantly, we ensured that prior to taking any action, we engaged the entire organisation in dialogue around understanding the nature and significance of the challenge we faced and its implications. We had to make changes and the feedback was that the staff appreciated being engaged in the dialogue.
Hylton said the labour organisations that represented staff commend the bank's openness, maturity and principled approach to the process. Feedback was sought as a precursor to these initiatives so that when they actually took place, there was a significant degree of consensus around the direction in which NCB needed to go. He said there was understanding as to why it was necessary to close particular locations and the basis on which those decisions had been taken and could relate more effectively to them.
Outlook sought to discover how the customers in the affected locations handled it, and Hylton said focus group discussions regarding the rationale were held prior to taking the decision.
"We were sensitive to some of the inconveniences, and tried to understand through dialogue some of the implications and how they would best be managed in all circumstances," he said adding that things have turned out smoothly.
The exercise had led to improved performance and the results anticipated have materialised. The focus is now on ensuring continued improvement of staff capability and emphasis on the customers' experience to make it positive. The group continues to build and grow the business to keep in step with the opportunities that the environment is now presenting. "We have moved to a point where the exchange rate is stable and low inflation now present a far more fertile environment for new businesses."
So have customers been beating down the doors to borrow money as a result of the stability in the exchange rate, or are they still apprehensive?
Hylton says some are adopting a wait-and-see attitude to gauge the how sustainable it is, but he has seen more people emerging with new projects and new ideas.The goal is to move from idea to implementation, but it's a good sign that more persons are coming to the table to discuss them. It's a start and it can be sustained, the sector will begin to see the lift. In the meantime, training seminars are conducted with potential small and medium-size business operators in how to get more successful projects off the ground.
On the question of car loans, customers continue to purchase cars through the bank. This is an important aspect of business, particular the retail segment, lending rates are down significantly, and there is a change in the duty regime, so NCB is benefiting from it.
As far as the performance of other loans since the drastic contraction on the overall job market, Hylton said throughout the entire shaky period, NCB customers managed most of those negative experiences well and non-performing loans across the retail sector have been much lower than were anticipated.
"Part of that has been due to proactive engagement with customers so if we thought we were in an environment that was creating a difficulty for a customer, we worked to mitigate the threats and that worked well," he said.
Even on the credit-card side, when the bank saw the rapid devaluation of the United States dollar, it simply asked customers whether they wanted to convert to a Jamaican dollar card. That worked well and Hylton is happy with the overall health of the organisation and pleased with the progress made over the last few years.
"I am excited about our prospects as I look from our current plan towards future opportunities."
Modern technology continues to play a major role in the life of the approximately 2,400 staff across 37 locations islandwide. Hylton said modern technology has assisted its efficiency and NCB is currently looking to undergo a major technology upgrade, including building a new data centre in the Caymanas area and a standby disaster recovery centre in Mandeville, Manchester.
On the personnel side, he is pleased to watch people develop and grow. Their career aspirations are realised through their growth and development and the major focus is enhancing capability. The organisation has some courses that are accredited by the University Council up to tertiary level and the aim is to get them all accredited. "We have eCampus, eLearning and eCommerce through access to books and magazines that are key to understanding management and financial issues. These are among the best in the world and staff can access them at work and from home," Hylton revealed.
Plus, within the organisation, staff is sometimes drawn to teach the courses, thus sharpening their own expertise in the areas where they work and developing others who want a better perspective of how they work.
The bank continues to be among the nation's best corporate citizens and this is recognised by everyone. They are active in education sports and community development; donating some 200 tertiary scholarships annually, as well as book grants and other educational materials. They also contribute to sports, and community development and the staff is encouraged to make a contribution where they live and work.
Does he see himself at the bank for the long run? Hylton said: "I see NCB as the vehicle through I want to accomplish my career aspirations. I see my performance as being synonymous with the institution. The next five-year plan for the organisation is in alignment with my personal goals to maximise the potential of NCB."
And one of them is the intention of the bank to list on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Plans are still in the early stages, but they have gone through the due diligence, and done all the groundwork including working with investment bankers to develop an information memorandum that would outline all the details about the organisation and stated what the money would be used for. When all the preparatory work has been complete, people will be able to trade NCB shares on the NYSE.
That means shares will be traded in a far more liquid market, there will be more information flow and transparency, that will reflect the true intrinsic value of NCB's stock price - a benefit to shareholders.
"We will be able to raise significant funds from shares, giving the bank capital to execute plans that will enhance the business. It is hoped that this aggressive process will be concluded by the end of the calendar year."
In his private life, Hylton is the husband of the woman declared 'hurdler of the last decade', so Outlook asked him whether there was a timetable for her to hang up her spikes and settle down to raising a family.
Being a smart husband, he was quick to point out that the final decision of when to quit the athletics scene rests with Brigitte.
"We are taking things one year at a time," he said, adding that he is entirely supportive of her decisions.
But, for him, the most memorable achievement in her career so far was when she won gold in Berlin, Germany.
"I thought no one deserved it more than Brigitte and I take a lot of lessons from what was required for her to get to that point. It has parallels with how the corporate world is approached."
His wife's discipline, he says, includes waking up at 4:30 in the mornings for training, continuing till 9 and returning from 2-7 p.m. During the months of training, she cannot be by his side for corporate functions as she has to focus to maintain the highest levels of performance and that also includes a different diet from his, he said.
But Hylton is no slouch either. This reporter has spotted him out working up a sweat during his early-morning walks and he is also an avid tennis player who packs in some 10 hours weekly with some of the pros on the local circuit.
"They beat me constantly, but that improves my game and I take my licks and learn," he quipped.
Like his father, Hylton, who has three sisters, is an avid sports fan who loves to watch cricket, basketball, football and tennis.