Kilkenomics: Mission Accomplished

Kilkenomics Cayman Airways

What happens when you set a vision and then a mission for a business and you achieve them? Do you carry on, or do you pause, assess, then create new ones starting from the foundation of where you are now? Or, do you simply carry on without a “reset”, even though the job is complete?

Today a story from a Caribbean airline and lessons that could be learned by my favourite Economics festival.

Cayman Airways – accidentally finding a new purpose

In 1991 my first role outside public accounting was as Financial Controller of Cayman Airways, then, as now, publically owned and receiving millions of dollars in subsidies to cover losses. At that time, the airline represented over half of all seats to and from Cayman and also was the standard-bearer in terms of quality of service.

Fast forward to 2004 and the airline represented less than a quarter of all seats to the island, tourism was booming and multiple international carriers provided excellent service. Meanwhile, losses (and so subsidies) the airline had actually successfully realised the vision, completed the mission.

When such achievements are made, either reset and take aim at a new Vision and Mission, or close it down as the mission is complete. The first choice takes visionary leadership, the second feels politically unpalatable, so it seemed the airline would simply carry on.

However, on Sep 11th, 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated Grand Cayman. Cayman Airways was there, evacuating thousands, no questions asked, no or minimal fares charged. Overnight the purpose of the airline changed. It was then and remains an insurance policy for disaster relief, so no Caymanian would want to see that policy be “cancelled”.

Somehow, by accident, after the initial purpose became redundant, a new one emerged and remains to this day.

Kilkenomics – what’s next?

This year was the 10th anniversary of Kilkenomics. As he stood up in the magnificent St Canice’s Cathedral to introduce Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, David McWilliams noted that the Purpose of Kilkenomics was to make Economics Accessible.

At my third year at the event, with venues bigger than ever, more and more sold-out shows, and with tickets no higher than E30 per show, mission accomplished, David, mission accomplished!

Bravo, sir, bravo to you and your fellow visionaries who saw, back in the depths of the 2009 financial crisis, that people from Ireland and around the world wanted not simply to be angry, but to understand how Economics worked, what had happened and what the future may hold.

Now, I hope you recognise that the mission has been accomplished, and my challenge to you is to consider the question: “What’s Next?”

Whatever it is, I’ll see you next year!

Also published on Medium.