ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- On Tuesday, WICB CEO Dr Ernest Hilaire appeared on Observer Radio in Antigua for an extensive and frank interview. The following are excerpts from that interview.
Hilaire is serving his final month at the WICB before moving to a diplomatic post.
On the current state of play at the WICB:
We’ve come a long way, we’ve made some difficult decisions, I was brought in to lead the change and make some of the difficult decisions. I always said that I would give it my best shot for three years and that three year period has come to an end. We are preparing for the new programme financial year which starts in October. My priority now is to focus on putting in place the budget and programme for next year.
On the status of WICB media and commercial rights:
We are about to conclude a deal for the sale of our media rights and commercial rights until 2019.
The Board next week will consider the reports and make a final determination. We’re also in the advanced stages of discussions to have a commercial Twenty20 league in the region and I have been leading the negotiations on that. We’re very close to completing the negotiations. I would like to complete that whole process before I move on.
We will be having the Caribbean Twenty20 in January as scheduled. The Board will meet next week and make some decisions on its structure and how it will be organized. Moving forward, we are in discussions with an investor to have a commercial franchise T20 league. Once we have an understanding that we can move forward with it we will then need to speak to WIPA and FICA and other stakeholders to make sure everybody is on board.
I have been the lead negotiator for the Board to secure that deal (and) it has mattered to me tremendously that all the negotiations so far (relating to media and commercial rights) have centred around providing a very sound financial stream for West Indies until 2019.
On what his role as CEO was during his three year tenure:
It was incredibly difficult, stressful and strained. It was probably the most difficult period of my life. (As background) when I came in as CEO in October 2009 we had strikes (or threats of strikes) for three years before that. In 2009 the team covered the Digicel logo in Guyana, the (players) went on strike and did not play against Bangladesh, Bangladesh – the lowest ranked team – defeated us at home; we had to send a replacement team to the Champion’s Trophy in South Africa.
My first meeting as CEO at the ICC, there was discussion as to whether West Indies had violated the participating agreement by not sending a full strength team to the Champions Trophy in South Africa. My first meeting was to defend the West Indies and explain what had happened.
You walk into a job where they’ve had a strike each year for the previous four years, where the players were on strike, they had boycotted the ticket launch in July that year (2009), there was turmoil.
The Board then decided that we needed to change things, the team has been losing for 15 years, we were down at the bottom of the pile, the players are on strike and we were about to talk about retainer contracts and players not going to sign retainer contracts. So my first day walking into the job was just total chaos all around me.
The Board had taken a decision by then that we could not go any lower, we had to make some tough decisions and we had to move forward and we needed a CEO who was prepared to lead the Board during that difficult period. I was one of those, as a student at Cave Hill and my own views of West Indies cricket who was very critical of the Board and the way it operated. I got an opportunity to help make it better, for me that was the challenge.
I knew it was going to be incredibly difficult and I said so to the President and the Board (Dr Julian Hunte) – that we need to take tough decisions, are you ready to make those decisions? It will be painful, it will be brutal but somebody has to be able to take those decisions and transform the Board. If I am not going to be allowed to do that with your support, we will not move forward and in a sense we started off knowing that we had to go through a difficult period. And that has been the difficult period for the next three years.
The next CEO coming in will find all the elements of the foundation put in place already, some very tough decisions have been taken about the future of West Indies cricket and the new CEO will have to take it to the next level.
My job would have been done and that’s what it has been.
On the highlights of his tenure:
(1. Realisation of Sagicor HPC) Having been part of a Board retreat in November (2009) just one month after I came in discussing a High Performance Centre and the Board had had plans for over six years for an HPC and we just could not get it. We even had funding waiting for us but we just could not get it right because decision making at WICB and the way you arrive at a final position is a complicated process with multiple influences that prevents effective decision making and I told the President that I will get the HPC in a couple of months, I will make the decisions.
Whatever difficulty people had with making decisions I will make them. So from November (2009) it was helter skelter to get the HPC going. We started the HPC in May the following year so within six months we were able to get the HPC off the ground, something which for over six years we just couldn’t make the final decisions to get going. And it’s been a success, a tremendous success.
(2. Investment in Cricket Development) We also had a situation at WICB where we kept saying cricket development is important, we must invest in cricket development. And it is true, think of any company, you cannot have a future if you do not have research and development. You must invest in research and the next generation of products you want to sell. So we needed to find money to invest in cricket. Immediately we started the Grassroots Cricket Programme where each year for the past two years we’ve spent over a million (US) dollars having youngsters throughout the region involved every Saturday in the Digicel Grassroots Cricket Programme. (It was) a substantial investment for the Board at that time and one which will grow.
(3. Streamlining WICB Selection Policy based on clearly defined goals) The next thing we had to look at was the whole question of selection. You had selectors who kept saying we’re not sure exactly what the policy is. We select players and we are criticized and we change the players and the selection committee is changed because people don’t like the fact that the team is not performing or they don’t like who has been picked on the team.
So we said let’s sit down, what are our goals for 2017, goals for 2015, for 2014, 2012 and we established those goals. So by 2017 we want to be in the top 4 (ranking for Test cricket), for 2015 we want to be able to win the ICC Cricket World Cup, for 2014 we want win the World Twenty20, by 2012 we want to make the semi finals or even the final of the World Twenty20. We set ourselves the goals and we then decide what are the players we need to help us reach (these goals); what are the types of players, the skills, the attitudes, the competencies, the dispositions and let us start defining that. Having done that, let us start building the teams of the future and how does the HPC link into that.
(4. Ensuring that the West Indies Men’s Team had a committed head coach) When I became CEO there was no coach for the senior team. John Dyson had left, (David) Williams was the acting coach so you had to find a coach. You had to find the right coach because in speaking to a number of persons I got the impression that the foreign (coaches) we had, though they were technically very good they could not really link with our players culturally. But more so there seemed to have been an absence of the passion and commitment you would want to the task.
You hired a professional, he comes into the region he’s doing the work but you didn’t feel the sense where he would die any day for the team. And I also found out that some of the players had been talking to Ottis Gibson. West Indies had just toured England the year before, they had met with him in Durham and had already started to excite him to become the coach of West Indies.
The senior players had already had discussions with Ottis Gibson the year before in England and this has not been said in public. So I now walked into that scenario where there was no head coach, there was already a movement by the players to bring Ottis Gibson back home to coach so I took over negotiations with Ottis. I sat down with Ottis, he sold his vision, it coincided with the particular historical point at which the Board was and it mesh. All of this was done within six months of becoming CEO.
(Overall) the most pleasing moment would have been the launch of the HPC; to have seen the first cohort of players. This is something we were toiling with for over six years and within a short period of time we were able to get it going. That would remain the highlight for me because deep down inside I know the importance of the HPC to West Indies cricket.
On whether WICB President Julian Hunte being a fellow St Lucian made life for him as CEO easier:
Our region is so prone to stories and rumours and I have often heard that I used to be Julian Hunte’s campaign manager. (In fact) I was the campaign manager of the person who went up against Julian Hunte, I was not his (Hunte’s) campaign manager.
Justice (Mario) Michel who serves here in Antigua was my best friend, he went up in 1997 for the Gros Islet constituency (in St Lucia). I was the person working with him against Julian Hunte and we defeated Hunte. And it is a statement of the kind of person Julian Hunte is that here is somebody who helped engineer his downfall in the political circles but he held no animosity or acrimony. That tells you a lot about the kind of person Julian Hunte is.
Yes it helped a little bit but if you know Julian Hunte he is a remarkable man to work with. It is not by accident that he was foreign minister, he was ambassador, he was president of the UN General Assembly. He has stature, he has a certain capacity to work and to reason and it helped a lot. And in many ways he was the calming influence on me. Trust me, if it were not for Julian Hunte I would have tried to shake up a lot more than has been shaken up.
On the Chris Gayle matter:
Undoubtedly it would have been the lowest period. It was the lowest period not because I doubted the rightness of what was being done but I doubted the fact that it was even necessary to have unfolded the way it did. Most people don’t know, the first meeting we had with Chris was in Jamaica after he came back from the IPL. There were actually two meetings. There was one with (Shivnarine) Chanderpaul who had himself made comments and one with Chris. The Chanderpaul meeting ended within two hours. It was dealt with. The Chris one went on for an extended period. That meeting could have solved the problem immediately, just like we did with the Chanderpaul matter. But because of other influences involved it (the Chris Gayle matter) went on and on. For me it was low because we could have avoided all of that. It is instructive to see what is happening in England with (Kevin) Pietersen and the kind of mirror image of what took place with us. Let’s see how it’s resolved. But I am convinced deep down inside just as we solved the Chanderpaul matter in two hours we could have solved the Chris Gayle matter in two hours if the right people were at the meeting.
On WICB/WIPA relations:
For us the primary issue is the MOU/CBA that governs us and in mid-October there is a court case in Trinidad where the High Court will hear a case as to whether or not the MOU/CBA ought to be terminated. I have stated my views on it, that the way the MOU/CBA is written it causes too many conflicts in terms of the ambiguity of the language, in terms of the lack of clarity of some of the provisions so we have a major issue with WIPA. As long as the MOU/CBA remains (in its current state) it will always be an issue. It’s a court matter and it is going to be dealt with next month so we will see what happens in that regard.
Yes the change (in WIPA leadership) will make a difference – the styles are dramatically different. I don’t know that the change of face necessarily changes the agenda. I hope we will have a more reasoned and structured approach to our relationship but at the end of the day we have a responsibility as the governing body which has to be fulfilled.
On whether WICB/WIPA relations improved during his tenure:
Before I became CEO Mr (Dinanath) Ramnarine (then WIPA president and CEO) and I were very good friends in terms of a professional capacity, speaking with each other, sharing ideas and he was one of my biggest supporters to get the job. When he was setting up one of the organizations which is a very contentious one now – WIPMACOL – I was sharing ideas with him and my best friend registered the company for WIPA.
So we actually started off having a very good relationship but the relationship deteriorated very quickly because of a style, the manner in which issues are dealt with, for me a lack of reasoning behind how things are done, no respect for WICB as the governing body. (The relationship) deteriorated and I don’t know that it ever improved.
I made the point, and it probably angered the individual, that before I became CEO there was a strike (or threat of strike) every year for about four years, since I became CEO there has never been a strike. That’s just the truth. (WICB) relations with the players have improved and maybe we are able to force WIPA into alternative mechanisms to deal with issues rather than call a strike because a strike was always the first reaction.
We had to make the point that you may be right, you may be wrong but the first response cannot be calling a strike because it’s too detrimental to West Indies cricket. At the end of it we became further and further apart. I had to do what I had to do for West Indies cricket. I’m sure he will say he had to do what he had to do for WIPA and I respect him for that.
Advice for the next WICB CEO:
The next CEO should not be afraid to take decisions and to ensure that the right processes and procedures are followed. We cannot allow decision making in West Indies cricket to be about the best political configuration that can be had, or the most directors happy or the most people happy, we have to do what’s right. We have a Strategic Plan which was well thought out. Deliotte Touche helped us in preparing it, we have a blueprint for moving West Indies cricket forward, we have seen the successes of that blueprint, let’s stick to the course. I trust there will be less fights for the new CEO and there will be less challenges that I had. The big hurdle we now need to cross is the governance issue. It is one which, for me, I was never able to cross the line with but I hope the next CEO can stay true to make sure there is a restructuring of the Board to make it a better Board.