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Monday, June 12, 2017

Dr. Joseph T. Isaac, President, AME University
Bishop E. Earl McCloud, Jr., Chairman of the Board
Faculty, Staff, Students
2017 Honorees
Fellow Liberians
Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen

Firstly, I want to say thanks to my Heavenly Father for this opportunity to speak to the 2017 Honorees of this prestigious university. Let me express how honored and humbled I am to be selected to perform the duty of Keynote speaker for this 17th Honors Day Program. Thanks to the leadership and administrators for according me this honor.

As I pondered over a topic to speak to you about. It became clear to me that I needed to advance a conversation that dwells on the mentality and way of life as a people and a nation. And so the topic “changing mindsets, developing a generation to transform a nation” appropriately came to mind.  I want you to repeat after me, “changing mindsets, developing a generation to transform a nation”.

You see this is not a popular topic or a topic that makes you feel good.  That is because most people do not like change. Let me hasten to say that if Liberia is to be transformed into a great nation, the minds of this generation must be changed and renewed.
This transformation will not be achieved if you, our honorees of 2017 and this generation settle to maintain the status quo and yet expect to see changes.  We cannot be stuck in the menace of ‘business as usual’ and expect to forge ahead as a people and nation.  There needs to be a paradigm shift and a true commitment to change for genuine transformation, a transformation that we must collectively commit to and unanimously effect.

There is a saying that you cannot continue to do the same things daily and expect different results.  No, you must be willing to be different, you must be bold in your decisions, you must be innovative and strategic and yes you must be committed to national transformation.  In order for Liberia to move upward and onward, you must refuse to conform to the norms of society or be like everyone else.  You are the leaders of the pack, independent thinkers and servants of the people.  You must continue to be driven by excellence in all you do, say and aspire to become.

Have Vision and Focus
To transform a nation, you must have a vision and be focused.

A visionary leader visualizes the future long before the rest of the team, he/she sees “beyond the years”. This leader must be able to sell the vision and devise a plan to implement with consensus from team members.

A focused leader is one who has a target and prepares to hit that target. 1 Corinthians 9:26   “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.”

2017 Honorees, you must not aim blindly. You must set goals and put actionable steps in place to meet your goals in life.  What are your personal short-term and long-term goals? What have you put in place to achieve those goals?  Have you thought about your plans to uplift Liberia?  What do you want to contribute to the development of our country? Or do you think that everything should be the burden of the government?

There is no easy ride to transforming a nation.  You must gear up for confrontation and negative forces.  Yes, a focused leader will be tested and attacked from time to time.  You must realize that nothing good comes easy.  There is a saying, “no pain, no gain”.  You must endure to the end.

History recalls vividly that many great world leaders encountered obstacles, false accusations even death for believing in their vision and goal to transform their nation.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was called a “Communist” and “the Most Notorious Liar in America” by Former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover.  This did not take King off track.  He had a vision and focus that were much bigger than his obstacles.  He stayed the course and ran the race. Even to his untimely assassination.  Today, the United States has been transformed because of the vision and commitment of Martin Luther King, Jr.  What will you do to make this world a better place for those coming after you?  What is your commitment to the community you live in. 

What about Nelson Mandela. He knew that nothing would change in South Africa if he did not have a focused plan to transform the nation.  In 1962, he was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the state and sentenced to life imprisonment.  He served a 27 year sentence.  After going through the fire and the rain, he became South Africa’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation.  Because of Mandela, South Africa is now opened to the world.  Our country has an embassy in Pretoria today because of Mandela.

Now let’s bring it home.  In 1951, Dr. Charles Dunbar Sherman, Liberia’s first trained Economist was elected as President of the Liberia YMCA. In 1954, he announced that he would be running for President of the World Alliance of the YMCA.  He was told not to even try. He was informed that he had 0% chance of winning since no one from a developing nation had ever been President of that institution before. Also, no black man had ever been successful as a candidate. In 1955, Sherman led the Liberian delegation to the World Alliance Centennial celebrations in Paris and was elected as President of the World Alliance of YMCAs.  He did not stop there, he served two consecutive 4-year terms.  During his tenure, he led the fight against racism and discrimination which resulted in the adoption of two resolutions on this issue in 1961 and 1965. During his leadership 10 new National Movements became members of the World Alliance. He is documented as one of the most distinguished Presidents of the World Alliance only next to John R. Mott (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate). This man had a vision and was on a mission to achieve when others did not believe in him.  Do not let anyone discourage you from pursuing your goals. Keep your eyes on the prize. What is your vision?

Seek to be a High Performer
To transform a nation, you must seek to be a high performer in your personal and professional lives. Our mentality and environment must shift from a “work” driven to a “performance” driven environment. Today most Liberians have work driven mentalities and exist in a work driven environment. This generation must subscribe to a performance driven environment. 
In a work driven environment one is rewarded for showing up to work and going through the motions. He/she is given an assignment and works towards completing the assignment. However, in most instances, the performance is not measured and the employee is rewarded only for coming to work. The results are disappointing and demotivating to those who are productive.  In the work driven environment, the organization does not meet its goals and ultimately is not profitable.  Today we see high numbers of low performing organizations in both the public and private sectors. This low performing culture must be eliminated.
To transform a nation, you must embrace a performance driven environment. This corporate culture is one that recognizes productivity, profits and maximum results.  One’s performance is measured by what they are hired to do. They are rewarded for what they produce and for the value they add to the institution ultimately impacting the nation. Your generation must ensure that professionals are placed and considered based on their expertise and performance levels and not their religion, sex, ethnicity, political affiliation, fraternal or social connections.  This should be a non-negotiable for every private and government institution if transformation is to take place.

To ensure success in this area of performance optimization, leaders must re-orientate those under them and accept nothing but the best from their people.  They must lead by example and put the performance appraisal tools in place to accurately and fairly assess the performance of their people.

While making positive change, you must identify people who may have hidden agendas or motives for maintaining the status quo.  You must find a way to bring them on board.  They should be counseled, encouraged and coached by leaders. 
John C. Maxwell said, “Adversity is always a partner of progress.  Anytime we want to move forward, obstacles, difficulties, problems, and predicaments are going to get in the way.” 

The fact of the matter is that, no change agent will have an easy ride.  To institute positive change, you will have to be prepared to go through the fire.  This refining process is for the better making of leaders.  As long as you are doing the right thing you must keep your head up high and stay focused on the goal.

Promote Liberia First

To transform the nation, you must promote Liberia first.

Today our private sector is controlled by foreign businesses while Liberian businesses are being undermined. Some Liberians front for and promote the interests of unqualified foreign firms over qualified Liberian firms. This unpatriotic behavior must be rejected and stopped.

For total transformation through change in mindset, you must buy Liberian, promote Liberian, encourage Liberian, and stop Liberians who put foreign products and services before Liberian owned. 

Some Liberians have said that Liberians do not have the best.  Let me emphatically state that this is a fallacious statement.  We have Liberian firms that meet or exceed quality standards and others who do not.  You have to provide opportunities to those who have proven themselves worthy.  We always firstly condemn our own before even conducting due diligence or assessment on the business.

I am of the conviction, that Liberia can only be rebuilt and restored by Liberians.  That is why I have encouraged and promoted Liberianization in all aspects of our economy for the last nine (9) years. It is unthinkable and quite troubling that some Liberians, for selfish reasons, would go against a policy that seeks to promote their own.
During my time in public service, I experienced similar situations.  As Managing Director at LPRC, we instituted a policy intentionally to promote qualified Liberian businesses. When I took over as Managing Director in 2010, the Liberian Importers controlled only 30% of the importation allocation while 70% was allocated for foreign firms. By 2015, LPRC had increased the Liberian allocation to 65%, appropriating 35% to foreign importers.  We also used the services of many qualified Liberian vendors during the period between 2010 to 2015. This success was possible because LPRC had a visionary Board Chairman, Board of Directors and a workforce that bought and supported the vision of the Senior Management.

This policy enabled Liberian firms to flourish and prosper.  Today four of those firms have expanded their businesses in Liberia, creating over 150 new jobs through direct hiring, construction, partnerships, consultancy and contract employment.  The profits from their revenues are invested here in Liberia while deposits are also placed in local banks.   This cannot be said about the majority of foreign businesses, who invest outside of Liberia and deposit revenues into foreign banks.   In addition, Liberian importers have decentralized the downstream petroleum sector by constructing filling stations and other businesses in other counties, thus creating multiple jobs outside of Monrovia.

Let me say that this was not an easy task since some of our own Liberians objected to the policy to empower Liberians. We received threats, false accusations and fake whistleblower complaints to LACC, GAC, PPCC and all the integrity institutions in the country.  All these false and misleading allegations came from those fronting for foreign firms who felt left out of the process.  This did not stop us because we knew the long-term benefits to the country and no amount of threats would deter us from putting Liberia first.  After all, “No lie will live forever and truth crush to the ground will rise again”. MLK.

I am not saying this to be braggadocious or boastful but to simply tell you of the advantages of putting Liberia first to improve our economic and business climate and to also encourage a national effort to put an end to this anti-Liberian behavior.

Today, I am proud when I drive around the country and see a world class Aminata Filling Station looking even better than a TOTAL station in certain areas.  I am hopeful when I see the Srimex Petroleum Fleet making deliveries to major customers around the country.  We must encourage and empower our Liberian businesses.  Liberians, we must make this clarion call of nationalism to all.  How do you feel when you see a thriving Liberian business?  Are you happy or are you envious and jealous of your fellow citizens?  We need to celebrate Liberian success.

2017 Honorees, as I travel the continent, I see the progress that is being made in Ghana and other neighboring countries and wish better for us.  In Ghana, Ghana First is the order of the day.  In Nigeria, Nigerian First is the order of the day. This is not compromised and is supported 100% by all there citizens.  We must commit to working together as a people and prioritize Liberia First.

Honorees, we continue to look for things that separate us instead of those things that bring us together.  We need to stop this divisive attitude and promote National Unity.    

Fellow Liberians, no numbers of UN organizations, NGOs, foreign firms, or military troops can make Liberia better if Liberians are not prepared to make the necessary changes to transform Liberia.  We cannot rely on foreign intervention to boost our economy to create that middle class.  As much as I appreciate what has been done by our global partners, we must save ourselves.

Work as a team and collaborate

To transform a nation, you must work as a team and collaborate.

In 2009, I invited nine (9) friends to join me in Marshall City.  When we arrived, I asked a question, “gentlemen what can we team up to do to help our country and make money in the process”.  This question sparked a serious discussion that continued for hours.  A lot of ideas flowed and excitement filled the air.  The atmosphere was harmonious. However, after a few weeks our numbers dropped from nine to five. After a couple of more weeks, only two of us remained standing.

Liberians, we do not do well in team work settings and collaborative initiatives.  This mindset must change. To transform a nation, we must be willing to visualize the BIG picture.  You see the two of us who committed to the vision, started a small business that is successful today. But imagine if ten of us, including me had collaborated on a major enterprise.  No foreign firm would have been able to compete with us.

You see a strong Liberian collaboration could start a regional commercial airline instead of a three bus transportation company, a five star hotel with 300 rooms instead of a 30 room motel, a state of the art movie theatre instead of a video club.  The list goes on and on.

As we transform our nation to one that is united and developed, let us put aside pettiness and self-promotion and combine forces for progress.

2017 Honorees, you must realize that no leader will ever succeed in isolation. A true leader will bring people together with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Every successful team member must keep their commitment to each other and to the project at hand. Individual team members should not undermine the efforts of the team or backstab team mates or the leader.

Fellow Liberians, if you love Liberia and commit to doing something to help, we can collectively transform this nation and make it the envy of the rest of Africa. This is what a committed people can do when love of country transcends self-interest.  Today, more than ever before, we hear and witness horrific comments and bruising infighting on social media and in the public domain, leaving many to wonder, what kind of people we are. We willfully tear down our own country and speak insolently to our leaders. This must stop. 

As you prepare to embrace this charge to transform the nation, I see a blessed nation.  Today, I see a United Liberia where Christian and Muslim children can sing with pride “The Lone Star Forever”, where there is no Congo or Country but simply Liberian.  I see a harmonious collaboration of peace between Nimba and Grand Gedeh, a flow of love between Bong and Bassa, a stream of tolerance between Lofa and Margibi. I see the rights of women and children protected by all, I see hope for a better tomorrow, I see you the 2017 honorees of AMEU a generation transforming the nation.

So 2017 Honorees, I congratulate you on your well-deserved success.  However, I remind you that this is not the end, but only the beginning, I challenge you to take up your generation’s assignment to begin changing mindsets in order to transform this nation, one step at a time.  You have to start with your own mindset and then light the world around you.  It is an awesome task, but I have faith in you.  I expect great things from you and I believe that you are up to the challenge.   Let me leave you with a quote from Former U.S. President Barack Obama.  “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Please repeat after me:  “I am the one I’ve been waiting for.  I am the change I seek.”

Thank you and God bless Liberia.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER.  Williams previously served as Managing Director at the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC). He also served as Deputy Managing Director at the same company. Prior to LPRC, Williams served as Vice President at Bank of America and Assistant Vice President at SunTrust Bank, Inc.  He is a certified Human Resource Executive who possesses 27 years of Corporate Management, Operations, Banking and Oil and Gas experience in the public and private sectors.  He holds a Masters in Public Administration with concentration in Human Resources Management and Counseling from North Carolina Central University.  He also obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Computer Science from St. Augustine’s University. He is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). Williams is a member of the Board of Directors at ECOBANK Liberia and serves as Chairman of the Assets and Liabilities Committee. He is the Co-Chairman on the Board of the President’s Young Professionals Program (PYPP). Fraternally, Williams is the President & Chief Dean of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity – Liberia. He has received many national and international awards for service to humanity.