Leading the TRIBE
Carnival is Ackin’s profession
Dean Ackin is the managing director, bandleader and co-founder of Tribe Carnival Band which has become both a national and international name brand in the world of Carnival with demand that far exceeds its supply and a “cult-like” loyalty from its masqueraders.
That “brand” is astutely led by the former banker and was adjudged TTCSI’s (Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries) Exporter of the Year. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Development Company’s and Republic Bank’s “Excellence in Business” award.
Prior to his leap full-time into the world of mas and revelry, he was the owner of a business that traded in clothing and accessories in the 1990s. His initial training for entrepreneurship began at Republic Bank where he worked for 13 years. There, he earned a bank scholarship to attend the University of the West Indies in 1996. He holds a BSc in Management Studies and has successfully completed two levels of the ACCA (accountant’s) qualification.
The former banker and youthful-looking 39-year-old Ackin recently sat down with the Sunday Guardian for the sixth in the series Getting Personal.
Q: What are your plans for the Tribe brand in 2012?
A: We are blessed that Tribe is a brand that is widely recognised here at home and even in many parts of the world. As such, in 2012, the team intends to leverage on the brand’s strong equity and branch out into other areas of business that would service potential clients both in and out of the Carnival industry. Our focus is always on building a brand as much as “bringing out” a band. Rest assured we will ensure that the quality of service will be of the same standard that customers have come to expect from the Tribe brand.
Who is your favourite bandleader of all time?
I admire various bandleaders for different reasons—the innovation of Peter Minshall; he revolutionised how mas is played, the business acumen of Michael Headley, and the design aesthetic and attention to detail that was the signature of Wayne Berkeley. The Tribe team learned a lot from all these bandleaders.
Of all your productions, creations, presentations, which would you like a first-time audience to experience?
For me it would be the costume that inspired and spawned the Tribe band. In 2004, Tribe was the name of a section our founding team produced for the band Poison. That portrayal created such an interest that the following year we took the plunge and produced our own Carnival band and called it Tribe, and this was the birth of a Carnival franchise that celebrates its eighth anniversary this year.
Tell us about your inspiration to do the type of work you do.
The happiness and satisfaction of our masqueraders is my main inspiration. They are the reason we exist and we are always looking to surprise and delight them.
Who were the people who have influenced you the most (outside of your family), in your career and in life in general, and how did they?
I have always admired the fearless nature of Richard Branson. He has taken the Virgin Brand and made it a global leader in many diverse industries. His calculated risks have always paid off and he seems to always seize the day and enjoy the moment. Not a bad way to approach life.
What advice would you give to anyone contemplating a vocation such as yours?
I got into this line of work because I love Carnival, I loved feting and I really enjoyed playing mas. The irony is that once you get into this business you can no longer enjoy the season the way you did before. Carnival becomes your profession and not your release. On Carnival Tuesday my day begins at 3 am and ends at 2 am on Ash Wednesday. The logistics involved with coordinating a full service moving party experience keeps you focused for the entire day. Long before the first truck pulls off and hours after the last masquerader leaves the las’ lap party, my team and I are working. Running a Carnival franchise leaves very little time for personal enjoyment during the season. It says a lot when you are too busy working to actually indulge the vibe and experience you have created for your clients.
How do you best describe the type of work you do?
Experience management; for me every event, every service we provide is an experience. We aim to ensure that our clients have the best possible experience with any of our service offerings. From the launch to las’ lap, our team works to ensure that every layer of the Tribe/Bliss experience is designed to ensure maximum enjoyment for our clients. It is important that our patrons know that their business matters and that their enjoyment and comfort are our primary concern. Proper and effective experience management allows you to retain and attract new business, strengthens your brand’s equity and allows you to set measurable standards that allow you to constantly improve.
What is your favourite thing about Carnival?
As a masquerader, it’s the escapism and release from stress and worry that is my favourite characteristic about our Carnival. Carnival is the one time of the year when you can fully indulge in carefree feting. The festival allows for total abandonment and it’s the one time of the year you can spoil yourself and give in completely to the party vibe without any feelings of guilt.
What is your greatest accomplishment in Carnival?
I believe that the Tribe Team brought a fresh approach to the business of Carnival band management. The full service orientation that is the mark of our Ultimate Carnival Experience created a new paradigm in an industry that celebrates creativity. This was one of the first service innovations introduced to the sector. As a team we set new standards and created an international best practice model for Carnival band management that has now shaped the industry both here at home and abroad.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Cascade, had a few early years in Woodbrook, but all my years growing up were in Valsayn.
At which schools/institutions did you receive your education?
I am a CIC “old boy” and I got my business degree from UWI.
What jobs have you held before going into the business of Carnival on a full-time basis?
My initial career was in banking where my last substantive position was a loans supervisor.
What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make?
My decision to leave a secure and permanent position in the financial sector was one I debated for months. All the advice I received from friends and family, including you when you were full time at Samaroo’s at the time, was that I would be crazy to give up the comfort of a full-time job in order to pursue a business in mas. Many felt it was way too risky, but despite all the concerns and my own initial insecurities I felt this was a dream I had to make reality. In the eight years I have been doing this, I have never once regretted my decision.
What goals and or ambitions do you still have?
I think Carnival can go global. I have this crazy dream to produce an interactive show on Broadway or in Las Vegas that gives the audience a taste of our culture through Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. The idea would be that the patrons initially take a passive role by simply being a typical audience but as the show progresses the audience becomes more and more involved until they themselves are the show, they themselves become the masquerader characters. Just imagine that!
What is an interesting facet of your personality that most people do not know about you?
As a businessman I have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company. Many times I am required to make some hard judgments that weigh on me mentally and at times emotionally. I have been told that true leadership comes when you commit to taking an approach in the best interest of the collective regardless of how difficult it may be for you personally. That definition gives me the strength to always follow through even when I feel emotionally low or spent. Essentially, there are many times I must say no, even though a big part of me really wants to say yes. That has been my biggest challenge over the last few years but it has helped to make me a stronger leader.