Aubyn Hill, Financial Gleaner Columnist
A recent Gleaner front page story announced that Noel 'Tony' Hylton will be leaving as the executive chairman and CEO of the government owned - taxpayer owned and financed - Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ).
After such a long tenure, Hylton has shown amazing, what Norman Vincent Peale called, "stick-to-itiveness".
He has won many accolades for his performance including the national honour, Order of Jamaica in 1996, and the Gleaner Honour Award in the Category of Business for 2003.
Soon after I returned to reside in Jamaica in 2002, I met Tony Hylton. He was introduced to me as a "legend" then. I served on two different boards with him between 2002 and 2005.
When a person serves a public organisation for 38 years it beckons evaluation. There will be many reviews on the personal and maybe even the political levels. This column will focus on the management aspects of his tenure.
I am reliably informed that when then Prime Minister Michael Manley approached Hylton in 1975 to take the job, he refused.
Manley had to make another approach and use his legendary persuasive powers to get his target CEO to take the job.
Hylton is reported to have a 'Rolodex' - database, in current parlance - which includes the who-is-who of shipping worldwide, every senior political leader in Jamaica over the last 50 years who has a right to such a title; and most every senior corporate leader over the last 40 years or more.
But in the end, it is his stewardship as the head of the Port Authority that will carry his legacy since it is in that arena he has been entrusted with many billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to build an efficient and profitable organisation.
JACK WELCH AND GE
Jack Welch served General Electric for 20 years from 1981 and at the end of the century and just before he retired, BusinessWeek magazine named him as the best manager worldwide for the century.
Even if one has to discount for a measure of hyperbole, given the difficulty in making such an assessment, it is quite a claim.
Then again, Jack Welch took a faltering American icon of a corporation and within a year dismantled the management system that he found and declared that any business which was not number one or two in the world would be jettisoned as a GE division.
He ended up with 13 which reported to him — from jet engines to aircraft leasing and advanced medical equipment.
The chemical engineer from a lower middle-class Massachusetts background who became GE's youngest chairman left an impressive record for BusinessWeek and business schools' professors, as well as business practitioners the world over to assess.
By the time he left GE, Welch had raised the company's value by over 4,000 per cent - I repeat - four thousand per cent - to well over US$300 billion.
It was by far the most valuable company in the world - and long before Google and Apple started to compete in this league.
Welch had to report to the financial press, face-to-face, every quarter for those 20 years and those quarterly financial statements became public record.
Welch left when he reached retirement age and stepped down from every board committee on which he served and refused to take on new ones. He stated publicly, he did not want to have his successor wondering if he was being second-guessed by him.
Before he left, Welch groomed a small group of executives from which the GE board chose his successor. Reginald Jones, Welch's predecessor as GE chairman, prepared a similar group of executives from which Welch was chosen by the board.
HYLTON'S TENURE AT PAJ
Clearly, the board of the PAJ did not follow the GE governance or management playbooks.
Bearing in mind that the PAJ is owned by the GOJ for the people of Jamaica, ministers of government and the boards of directors they have appointed must be held accountable.
A rough check identified Bobby Pickersgill, Dr Peter Phillips, Mike Henry, and most recently Dr Omar Davies as ministers who would have approved Hylton's long tenure.
Except for the last, Dr Davies, I contend that they have been unfair to Hylton to have him serve in such a stressful, complex and geopolitically challenging position for so long. When I met him in 2002, Tony Hylton was already past 70 years of age.
Take GraceKennedy and Jamaica Broilers Group in Jamaica. At GraceKennedy, Douglas Orane was kept by the board in the CEO position for three-and-a-half years beyond the 60 mandatory age.
Don Wehby took over as CEO in mid 2011, well before Orane's 65th birthday last month. Robert Levy was given a two-year extension past the mandatory retirement age by the Broilers' board.
The succession planning which worked so well at GE, GraceKennedy and Jamaica Broilers could have been copied by the ministers and the boards at the Port Authority.
Notice that I lay the responsibility for Hylton's staying for 38 years as the undisputed "captain" at the PAJ squarely at the feet of the ministers and their appointed boards.
No directive was given to prepare not one but a small group of able successors for Hylton? No younger Jamaican managers were capable?
So too they must carry a big part of the burden for the financial performance of the PAJ. The last audited financials on the company's website was for 2009 and it recorded an income deficit of J$4.81 billion.
The Gleaner recorded in November that the GOJ had to guarantee another loan of US$20.15 million to keep the company afloat. That prompted one opposition to call the PAJ "insolvent".
This suggests that the privatisation of the PAJ is very long overdue, and in fairness, no one else should be subjected to the unfair treatment handed out to the honourable Noel Hylton that forced him to stay for the last 17-20 years of his long career.
Aubyn Hill is the CEO of Corporate Strategies Limited and was an international banker for more than 25 years. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @HillAubyn; Facebook: facebook.com/Corporate.Strategies.