And while Leal recovers from the virus, Chairman Lizarraga is hoping his team can help BTL recover from a major slippage in profitability. At the board meeting he just spoke about, he said the directors were all engaged and ready to return the company to a dominant and competitive entity.
Of course, that is easier said than done, and Chairman Lizarraga is well aware of the challenges ahead of him. But he believes that the board, along with the management and the staff will be able to turn BTL around.
Today, he spoke to us about the issues that he has already identified and the new measures that he will implement - starting with a new style of management.
Markhelm Lizarraga, Chairman, BTL
"BTL has lost this major competitive advantage that they once enjoyed and is becoming just another provider of some services in an environment where we continue to compete with smaller and nimbler companies. BTL's approach, it seems, has been somewhat fragmented and there's a lack of a clear and comprehensive approach to how we're going to react to that competition. We have seen hundreds of millions of dollars invested in infrastructure in BTL and capital projects that lack in our view a clear and seemingly profitable strategy to use that infrastructure. We've seen things to the contrary as a matter of fact. We lack content and we lack a competitive advantage. Now the government and people of Belize have invested over 1 billion dollars in BTL and what we do see are diminishing returns on those investments. I can say, alarmingly so, that the company has not paid the gov some 19 million dollars in declared dividends because of its precarious liquidity position."
"This fiscal year of course 2020-2021, due to COVID, will bring its own challenges and we have seen thus far that we may be suing some 18-20 percent of our revenue. But we will begin to see new management new board design strategies aimed at turning the company around and bringing some comprehensive approach to our targeting new business and new services. An important part of this will be that clear lines will be drawn between the board and oversight. No longer will you have a chair that is in charge of everything. We will be strengthening as I said earlier and that was one of the matters we discussed at the first meeting. How do we strengthen our internal audit team at btl and perhaps for the first time in BTL's history we will have a functioning system of internal auditing and reporting directly to a subcommittee of the board of directors. Not to chairman, not to manage, but direct from internal audit to board of directors as it should be."
And well, they have to work fast, because as Chairman Lizarraga said, BTL is running out of cash. But like every business during COVID, they have implemented cost saving measures, specifically in the form of salary cuts. Lizarraga said that as a team, the staff is also responsible to assist with these measures.
Markhelm Lizarraga, Chairman, BTL
"Management and contract staff made some contributions towards savings, substantial contributions, and I believe that we were in conversations with the other members of staff but this is ongoing and will be ongoing and my hope is that when and if we have to do any adjustments that staff will be full appraised of what our position is so that they can see where the company is. Of course, we recognize that our staff are our family and they're important for our profitability and management of the company and they have a vital role to play in cost saving as well, in recommended areas where cost can be cut, where savings can be realised, and helping us to be more efficient as a company."
The new board of directors is also preparing for BTL's delayed AGM but Lizarraga said that they will have two extraordinary general meetings to pass and then confirm resolutions. One goal he is working towards is ensuring that the company will be able to hold meetings virtually.