Driving Caterpillar’s success in Cuba
Driving Caterpillar’s success in Cuba
Bill Lane, the Washington Director at Caterpillar, is responsible for
the company’s international advocacy in support of competitiveness,
trade liberalization and economic growth.
BY TOM HUDSON
Before Bill Lane worked the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., and a
dozen other national capitals, he was a kid in what today is Palmetto
Bay. Lane moved to Dade County in 1959, the same year, coincidentally,
that Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba.
Today, Lane works on trade issues for Caterpillar. He’s the senior
director of global government and corporate affairs. He also calls
himself a lobbyist. He works to open up new markets for Caterpillar’s
agriculture, mining and construction equipment. With Caterpillar, he has
traveled to Cuba three times. His first trip came in 1998 just after
Pope John Paul II visited. He also went in 2004 and traveled there in
April, five months after President Barack Obama announced the effort to
normalize diplomatic relations.
WLRN’s The Sunshine Economy spoke with Lane upon his return to
Washington. Here are edited excerpts from that on-air conversation:
Q: How did your most recent visit to Cuba for Caterpillar compare to
A: In many ways it was similar to what it was in 2004. For us, the
biggest difference was actually the food. There are a lot of private
bistros that have been established, and the food was four-star. For the
hotels, there were still some problems as far as power reliability. But
like anyone [who] visits Cuba, you tend to focus on the 60-year-old cars
that are driving on 60-year-old roads. The only difference is that when
you have Caterpillar executives, we don’t focus on the cars. We focus on
the old roads, and we’d like to see new roads.
Q: In addition to the food differences, what about the engagement
A: People are optimistic. People are excited about the future and that
goes [through] a cross-section of the Cubans that we talked to — from
the folks that are dealing in the hospitality sector, the folks that are
promoting the Port of Mariel, the business representatives or just the
folks on the street. People are excited. They think Barack Obama is our
I have to say, when you’re in Panama, you hear that Jimmy Carter was our
greatest president, and when you’re in China, you often hear that
Richard Nixon was our greatest president. But [Cubans] really are
excited about what’s going on. They’re giving the president a lot of
credit. And they are welcoming business, particularly American business,
like we see all over the world.
Q: How are they welcoming that business in Cuba?
A: The question on how successful this new policy will be depends
largely on the Cubans. If they welcome foreign investment in trade and
commerce, I think Cuba is going to be a magnet for investment. If they
try to totally control it, I think it’s going to stymie some of the
positive impacts of the initiative.
They’re setting up economic zones. They’re talking about the need for
infrastructure [and] the need for more power. They’re talking about
building four new mines in Cuba. They have a lot of nickel production in
We haven’t been down in Cuba in decades. But our competitors have. So
the Europeans dominate the mining sector. The Japanese dominate the
construction sector. The Chinese have been trying to make inroads in
Cuba. What we found was while the U.S. has been trying to isolate Cuba,
what’s happened is, we’ve isolated ourselves.
This was really a learning exercise for us, and we came back excited.
Q: Opponents of the re-engagement on the part of the Obama
administration point out that the rest of the world does business with
Cuba and its economy is still in the shape that it’s in.
A: [They] have a good point, and this is why it’s important for the
Cubans to change some of their policies. But in fairness, a million
Canadian tourists go to Cuba [while only] about 100,000 American
visitors go to Cuba. That’s going to ramp up quickly. People are
intrigued about what a trip to Cuba would be all about. You add one to
three million American visitors a year to Cuba and you’re going to see a
huge increase in commerce. If the Cubans welcome investment, that’s
going to ramp up exponentially. On top of that, I think you’re going to
see the multilateral institutions. [Once diplomatic relations are
reestablished] then they’ll take greater strides as far as normalizing
business. That means all [of a] sudden, the World Bank the Inter
American Bank and other multilateral institutions will have the green
light to start investing in Cuba. So they’ll be a lot more opportunities
Q: What does that look like — normalizing commerce between the United
States and Cuba — from Caterpillar’s perspective.?
A: We’re going to do this by the numbers. We want to take extreme
caution to make sure we know we follow the law. We had a spirited debate
whether we could even take Caterpillar hats down to Cuba to hand them
out as souvenirs. We were advised against it, so we didn’t. We tried to
be very cautious.
Remember the musical The Music Man? The key there is you have to know
the territory. Well, we don’t know the territory, and so our for our
first venture to Cuba, [our priority] is to start scoping out the
opportunities there and what the market potential is and whether it’s
what we expected or is it more. Right now, it is falling in the category
of more. [In addition], our foundation is looking at ways to try to help
the Cuban people with cultural initiatives.
They love baseball down there, and they are great at it. They have a
league that plays in the winter that spans the island. So we’re looking
at all sorts of ways that we can be helpful to the Cuban people while we
learn more about the business opportunities.
Q: When you’re using that “Music Man” business strategy and getting to
know the territory in Cuba, I have imagined a big part of that is
getting to know the regulations. Do you believe that the regulations are
stable enough for the kind of commerce opportunities that some think
exist in Cuba for a company like Caterpillar?
A: Not yet. That’s going to be the next phase because you’ve got U.S.
restrictions and you have Cuban restrictions and they’re changing.
Listening to the presentation [about] the economic zone in Mariel, you
would think you were sitting in downtown New York hearing the governor
of New York. In fact, the governor of New York was down at the same time
we were there. [The presentation was] talking about why you should
invest in New York. The only difference is Cuba’s not putting ads on TV
like the state of New York is. Countries are trying to attract capital.
They’re trying to attract commerce. And they see that this is the path
to economic growth and prosperity.
Q: Did you get a sense of the policy framework that Cuba is going to
employ when it comes to greeting the new openness that the Obama
administration is trying to ply?
A: Not to the degree where you call it a deep dive. More than anything
else we are trying to get a feel for [if] things going to move slowly or
move quickly. [Obama’s] move was bold and it was decisive. [On
Caterpillar’s most recent trip to Cuba], the question was, would the
Cubans to be trying to take a slow approach, or would they be welcoming?
Our feeling was that this is going to move very, very quickly once
diplomatic relations are reestablished. The Cubans are keenly aware of
what regulations the president can change on his own and what
regulations require Congress to participate.
Even where you think there is a fair amount of opposition to this new
policy, it’s really subdued, in our opinion. Whether that is maintained
or not will depend on whether the Cubans embrace reform our way or
whether they try to control it.
Q: You mentioned that your takeaway from your recent trip to Cuba was,
you thought that the Cubans were getting prepared for some pretty quick
changes after the diplomatic relations are normalized. We’ve heard from
Cabinet secretaries, including U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker,
that it’s a go-slow strategy after 54 years. What you felt and saw on
the ground was a much different kind of expectation than what we’re
hearing from top administration officials.
A: With Cuba, when someone says “go slow,” there’s a whole new
definition. We waited 54 years for this. We have taken our time to the
“nth” degree, and now is the time to move forward. The last thing we
want to happen, though, is have the U.S. go slow, have this influx of
capital come into Cuba, and have all that business go to our non-U.S.
The guidance that we would give any American company is, now is the time
to get to Cuba. Start scoping out what the opportunities are so that
when the opportunities truly avail themselves, you can participate
rather than [be] on the outside looking in.
Listen to this conversation, which aired on “The Sunshine Economy” at:
Personal: 62 years old; married to Jan Pursell Lane for nearly 40 years.
Current role: Leads a global team of 38 government affairs professionals
in 12 countries. In that capacity, Lane is responsible for Caterpillar’s
international advocacy in support of competitiveness, trade
liberalization and economic growth.
Additional roles: Lane has held numerous leadership positions in
Washington and was most recently chairman of the Russia PNTR coalition
and the U.S. Latin America Trade Coalition, a group that supported Free
Trade Agreements with Colombia and Panama. He is also co-president of
the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, a coalition supporting a robust
international affairs budget.
Career before his current role: Started as an accountant at
Caterpillar’s York, Pennsylvania, facility. Worked construction on five
different dams in Pennsylvania during summers while attending college.
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting/business from
Penn State. He was a Penn State Alumni Fellow.
Connection to South Florida: Grew up in Kendall from 1959 to 1969. Went
to Palmetto/Howard Drive Elementary, Palmetto Junior and Senior High
School. Parents Ted and Marilyn Lane started St. Andrew Episcopal Church
in Kendall. Attended the first Miami Dolphins football game.
Interests: All things Caterpillar and all things Penn State.
About Caterpillar: For 90 years, Caterpillar Inc. has been making
sustainable progress possible and driving positive change on every
continent. Customers turn to Caterpillar, which is based in Peoria,
Illinois, to help them develop infrastructure, energy and
natural-resource assets. With 2014 sales and revenues of $55.184
billion, Caterpillar is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction
and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas
turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. The company principally
operates through its three product segments — construction industries,
resource industries and energy and transportation — and also provides
financing and related services through its financial products segment.
Source: Driving Caterpillar’s success in Cuba | Miami Herald –