When Georgette Barnes graduated from the University of Ghana in the early 1990s with a Bachelor’s degree in French, she was determined to land an opportunity where knowledge of the language would be needed.
A door opened when someone gave her a lead about an American mining services company setting up in Ghana as an entry point into the West African sub-region and were seeking to employ candidates fluent in both French and English.
That was how Georgette entered the field of mining in 1994, a field that was not in her career plan at all. After three years with the company, she moved on to work with an Australian mining consultancy who similarly wanted to establish operations in Ghana and across West Africa. She worked with this company for ten (10) years and a few others before starting her business. The time spent working with these companies gave her extensive exposure in mining operations.
Today, she is the CEO of her self-named company Georgette Barnes Limited (GBL), a business she founded in 2009. GBL specialises in provision of exploration and mining supplies including drilling fluids, muds and drilling consumables as well as geological and mining inputs. With ten full time employees and ten re-sellers, the company serves almost every mining company in Ghana and others in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
She used her name for the company to announce and demonstrate that a woman with the right skills and attitude can make a positive impact in a male-dominated field.
Georgette Barnes in her company’s warehouse in Accra
Forex-related costs pose major challenges since almost everything they supply is imported. The cost of borrowing has also been a major hurdle they constantly have to jump over. High import duties, which hover between 30% and 40% on some of their imported items also weigh in on their business. Inevitably, they have to pass these costs to their clients who sometimes complain. However, with clear explanation, they are able to sustain the cooperation of their customers.
“Our biggest success is still being here, in business after ten years,” Georgette says. She is grateful that in spite of environmental challenges that face all entrepreneurs, they are still prevailing.
Growth and expansion have been on the agenda of GBL. To achieve their growth agenda, they signed up for a capacity-building programme spearheaded by Invest in Africa. Invest in Africa is a not-for-profit organisation committed to improving Ghanaian SMEs’ access to skills, contracts and finance to build long-term capacity.
In 2019, GBL joined the Building Production Capability programme, an initiative of Invest in Africa which seeks to implement structures and systems critical to increase profitability and operational or production efficiency in growing businesses.
They received training in diverse areas such as taxation, finance and marketing. Specifically, Invest in Africa assigned a consultant who conducted diagnostics on the business. Areas of the diagnostics included financial performance, operations management system as well as appraisal of staff competencies and performance. The consultant’s report and recommendations reinforced their resolve to move to the next level. For example, establishment of a field office in Obuasi and enforcement of a rigorous corporate governance framework are recommendations that resonated well with them.
These recommendations are being implemented and they are certain that they will position the business for sustainable growth and expansion.
Leadership recognition and awards
Her efforts led to her recognition as Female Entrepreneur of the Year at Invest in Africa’s 2019 SME Excellence Awards for showing resilience and strength by surmounting huge challenges and excelling in a very male-dominated industry. She has also become a subject matter expert on women’s issues in mining, speaking at mining conferences worldwide.
In November 2019, Georgette was elected president of Africa Women in Mining Association (AWIMA) to serve a two-year term.
GBL is committed to expanding its capacity to do more and contribute more substantially to the Ghanaian economy. They have therefore been shortlisted for Invest in Africa’s Home Grown Buyer (HGB) initiative for high potential suppliers who have the potential to grow to become local buyers who can outsource business opportunities to other local businesses. They are also well-placed to compete effectively across Africa, in order to maximize the opportunities to be presented by the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Further, the company looks forward to leveraging the experience gained to provide similar products and services to other industries such as oil and gas.