Derek Hudson became Non-Executive Chairman of Scotiabank Trinidad and Tobago in December 2020 (a position he still holds). Prior to this, he was President of BG Trinidad and Tobago from 2007 – 2012; and Vice President and Country Chairman of Shell Trinidad and Tobago from June 2016 to July 2019. Between 2012 – 2016, Derek Hudson ran BG and subsequently Shell’s business in East Africa. He also now holds the position of Chair of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM).
In this interview with CAMSEL’s Dominique Heffes-Doon, Hudson reflects on leadership as a Catholic and his new role in Catholic Education.
The move happened simply because His Grace asked… It’s not something I was thinking about in conversations with His Grace over the years, even when I did other jobs in the energy sphere and now in the financial world, with a financial institution, Scotiabank
He would have conversations with me as to what help I could provide to him and the Church. And this one came across. He asked me about it and I had no other choice but to say yes.
In leadership, when you begin to think of legacy, you have a tendency to lose your objectivity. What should be done with respect to critical leadership roles is that you simply get up every day and try to do the best that you can and let the chips fall where they may and somebody else will judge your performance over time….If you begin to focus as to what mark you think that you would like to leave behind, you run the risk that you make the wrong decision.
I would say that the Catholic Education Board needs to continue to cement their relationship with the Ministry of Education to ensure that we operate in sync, [and] to continue to cement the relationship with the other denominational boards because this is about education…for all children of Trinidad and Tobago.
We have some specific deliverables which we have been working on to achieve over the next couple of years. One of them is leadership training for people in those roles. Another is development programmes for teachers. A third ‘bucket’ is looking at the challenges of students, in terms of disabilities, learning challenges, and get to the bottom of that and see how we could support. Of course, there are infrastructural requirements that are needed both in terms of today’s virtual world but also in the context of the actual infrastructure where the kids go to school…
I’ve always used my Christian spirituality to help me in dealing with my day-to-day job. I have the practice, on moving back to Trinidad, of going to the chapel at Opus Dei and spending quiet time there…. I started off every Monday morning with church at St Finbar’s, and of course, going to church again on the weekend. And what that brought was a grounding of recognising that what you are doing is really not the most important thing in life….. And when you look around at the level of poverty, at children not having access to proper education, you begin to think that okay, in this role as much as you want to be successful from a profitability perspective, how else could you utilise this corporate objective to deal with the socioeconomic challenges which this country faces?
When I first started to run British Gas (BG), somebody said to me that there’s so much oil and gas that is produced in the southeast area of Trinidad, and yet there are a lot of problems with roads and water and what are you doing about it? And I said at the time, that is not my problem. My job is to produce oil and gas. I pay taxes and it is somebody else’s job to fix the roads. Well, I was absolutely wrong then. It is actually the responsibility of all in the business world to focus on those things which impact the population in general.
The next thing is I spent a lot of time working with the staff at BG and then afterwards with Shell, on what I thought were the key leadership tenets to be successful. And I would speak of ‘focus’; ‘control your own destiny’; ‘grab opportunities with both hands’; and ‘don’t be afraid to go beyond your comfort zone’….But at the end of the day, much more important than all those things is actually humility. I think humility is key to successful leadership.
So, I come to this job and Sharon and the team at CEBM, they are the experts. It is not my job to tell them what to do. It is simply my job to look and learn, utilise the experience that I have and in a very quiet, persuasive way suggest to them that maybe we need to look at a few other things, or maybe do things a bit differently. So, in many ways, leadership is about influencing. It is not about direction and control.
It is beyond a serious issue. Sometimes, I get up and look around and think the challenges that we face today are extremely difficult to overcome. And then I think and say to myself, probably my parents got up many years ago and had the same thought about the world and they dealt with it and therefore all of us, including the kids, will survive for many years going forward. One of the great things about your spirituality, is that it gives you faith and belief in yourself. So believe in yourself is one of the pieces of advice that I give.
To touch on something that I just said, to grab opportunities. And opportunities come in strange places and, this is where education is absolutely key. Ninety-nine per cent of all of us will not be born with the world at our feet. We will have to work for it.
And just as important, many times, you will be faced with downturns to those opportunities and that is the time that you learn the most. We really don’t learn much when things are going very well. We sort of glaze over it, but it is when things are extremely difficult that we learn. One of interesting things coming out of the pandemic is the perspective of, ‘what have we actually learnt?’, as opposed to constantly thinking about when we are going get to the end of it. The assumption is that when we get to the end of it, we will simply go back to how things were before. Well, kids have not been in school for quite a while. It’s going to take quite a long time for what we assume to be pre-Covid normality to come back and my guess is that it never will. A new normal will be created where the use of the virtual media and other things [will take precedence] and the same will apply now for young people getting into the world. There are a lot of things that if they kept their eyes open, many things that they would have learned over the last couple of years and that learning is going to be very key as they go forward in life.