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Dusting off a dream

Dusting off a dream

Posted 19 February 2015

Both Katrina Stubbs and Rowena Leslie had worked for family-owned businesses so understood the resources, time and commitment required to establish and grow a business within the at-times unpredictable mining industry.

‘Mining and business are in our blood, so to speak’, said Rowena. ‘Our great-grandparents were prospectors, our grandparents were mining speculators, and our mother has run a very successful business – Bundarra Contracting - for the last 14 years’. (Bundarra is an Indigenous-owned and -operated company providing earthworks, labour hire, construction and fencing services to the mining industry.)

Katrina and Rowena with their families. Image courtesy of Chloe Jane Photography.
Rowena and Katrina with their families. Image courtesy of Chloe Jane Photography.

Tertiary qualified, Katrina has experience in business administration and Rowena in law. With four young children between them, the sisters were keen to create a business structure that would accommodate their need for professional stimulation while fulfilling their desire to care for their children.

‘Out here in regional WA, there are opportunities to establish new businesses because there are a lot of services that still need developing’, said Rowena. ‘We had been thinking about starting a business together for a long time and had played around with different ideas about what to do’.

‘A contract came up for Bundarra Contracting to supply a water cart to a local mine. But Bundarra couldn’t extend themselves to buy another big asset, so decided to hire one. Instead, Katrina and I said to them, “Why don’t we buy the machinery and Bundarra can hire it off us?” And because they wanted to help us to develop our business and to achieve our goals, they said “yes”’.

Water carts are an important asset within the mining industry and are used primarily to dampen and cool roads, reducing dust and air pollution. Mines also often use them as a back-up firefighting resource in remote locations.

What seemed a straightforward premise - establish a business, purchase a 15,000-litre water cart, lease it to Bundarra, which in turn could sub-lease it to a local mine – proved less straightforward to finance.

‘The opportunity was there for the taking’, said Rowena. ‘We had the contract – a five-year lease via Bundarra to a local mine. That was a given, but securing the capital to get our business started was a problem’.

Initially, the women approached Many Rivers Microfinance Limited in Kalgoorlie, a not-for-profit organisation providing advice and business support to individuals and community organisations.

‘Many Rivers were really helpful in keeping us on track … and they motivated us into getting the business plan done, and seeking out investors’, said Rowena.

'They told us about the IBA Asset Leasing Trust. At first we said, “Leasing a water cart? No way, that’s crazy”. But then we looked at banks and also at the loans IBA offers through its business program, and it was going to be too much for us to take on financially’.

‘Many Rivers kept saying, “Have another look at the leasing option; give it a go”.

So we looked into the terms and costs, and realised that it would be a much better fit with our situation. The mining industry is a bit up and down at the moment and leasing was a safer option for us. We were blessed to have help from Jason Varlet at IBA, and valuable pro bono legal advice from a Perth law firm Squire Sanders. so we knew what we were getting into with leasing’.

After successfully applying to IBA’s Asset Leasing Trust Katrina and Rowena secured a lease on a 15,000-litre water cart, and launched Hamlet Machinery in 2013.

Drawing on their professional skills, work experience and personal strengths, the women have easily – and naturally – fallen into their respective roles within the business. Katrina is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the business - book keeping, organising insurance, and general accounting - while Rowena’s focus is building Hamlet’s Machinery’s profile and nurturing business relationships within the mining industry.

‘We have seen Bundarra go through the good and the bad and have learnt from that and applied it to what we are doing’, said Rowena. ‘So we make sure we both know what our roles are, and luckily we are in agreeance about what we want the business to do, and what we want it to achieve for us’.

With the income generated through their first contract, the sisters are hoping to expand their business and acquire further assets.

‘We only have the one water cart at present and it’s contracted for the next five years. So when we approach other clients it’s a juggling act because we are asking them for a contract without having the equipment yet. It’s hard to secure contracts with established working mines because they can just as easily ring up a local hire company and get equipment straightaway. Because it can take years of planning to establish a mine, we are instead talking to those who are at the beginning of the process’.

Katrina and Rowena are aware that this is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ approach to business, which is not without risk. ‘It’s the reason a lot of people can’t get into business in the mining sector’, said Rowena. ‘We have seen it a lot; some mines happen, some don’t. So we need to plan for expansion, but also be aware that it may not happen’.

In making their plans, Katrina and Rowena are committed to maximising any opportunity to generate employment for local Aboriginal people.

‘A big thing with our mother’s business (Bundarra) is about helping others out’, said Rowena. ‘We’ve seen how having a job can help turn lives around, and have seen people come out with experience, training and qualifications. So through Hamlet Machinery we likewise want to build up our community. In empowering ourselves through business ownership we hope to empower others’.

Empowering their children is also a strong motivation for Katrina and Rowena to ensure their business succeeds.

Rowena said, ‘I like the fact that Katrina and I have daughters and we are able to be role models for them and say, “Look, your mums are in business”.

‘The upfront costs of going into business so often make people baulk and walk away, but we want to try and inspire people to look at their options, get out there and take their ideas as far as they can’.

Find out more about Hamlet Machinery or read more about how IBA's Asset Leasing Trust may be able to assist your business.