Lack of time, resources and connections were insignificant obstacles compared to the first challenge Javier Illanes had to overcome on his quest to become a business owner—fear.
“It’s hard to stop being an employee and become an owner, because when you’re an employee you get comfortable, and you know that at the end of the month you’re going to get a paycheck,” says Illanes, a former employee of Barrick’s Veladero mine who now works as an entrepreneur in Iglesia, a town located in Argentina’s San Juan province. “Being an owner is harder, because you don’t know how things will turn out or how much money you’ll have at the end of the month. So that’s the first challenge you have to face: your own fears.”
Illanes is the owner of Man-Mat, the only workshop in Iglesia certified to repair and recharge fire extinguishers. It’s a small but successful workshop. The business’ machines and supplies fill the nine-by-13-foot space of a back room in the house of Romina Illanes, Javier’s sister and business partner. So far, there hasn’t been a shortage of customers, and that’s in no small part thanks to the owners’ commitment to their business and the support they’ve received from the Veladero mine.
“Barrick provided some of the initial heavy machinery and tools Javier needed to launch his business,” says Alberto Abecasis, Sustainability Chief at Veladero. “But the main driver of the workshop’s success is the owners’ efforts to provide the best customer service possible and learn new things every day.”
Man-Mat has been in operation for a little over a year, but in Illanes’ world of dreams and ideas, the workshop has been taking customers for almost a decade.
The idea of opening the workshop emerged and evolved at Veladero, where Illanes worked for eight years as a haul truck operator. During his spare time at the mine, he observed how his colleagues handled other equipment he didn’t usually work with. One of the things he noticed was that fire extinguishers were sent to an external site for repairs and refilling.
“I began investigating online and realized that setting up a maintenance workshop for fire extinguishers could be a good idea,” Illanes says. “I had always wanted to have my own business, so I said to myself: ‘we don’t have one of these workshops in my town, so why don’t I open one?’ And that’s what I did.”
After years of research and planning, Illanes took a leap of faith and quit his job; he had conquered his fears. He worked tirelessly to obtain financial backing for his project, and drafted a proposal for the Veladero sustainability team to obtain their support acquiring the heavy machinery needed to set up shop. The mine also supported him with the training needed to open the workshop. In early 2015, a representative from TÜV Rheinland—a German firm that specializes in quality and safety assurance for a wide range of equipment and services—travelled to Iglesia for an inspection of Man-Mat. The representative granted the license needed to open the workshop. He also changed Illanes’ life.
It’s been a rewarding but difficult change, Illanes admits. His day starts at 7 a.m. and usually ends at 7 p.m. At Man-Mat, he wears many hats: accountant, chief development officer, operations manager, customer service specialist, marketing consultant, and any other position at the workshop that requires his attention on any given day. He handles special orders on weekends, holidays, early mornings and late evenings. But the satisfaction of knowing that his dreams are now a reality in spite of the challenges is irreplaceable.
“My parents couldn’t give me a university education, but I worked hard to do something else and here I am: I’m the owner of a maintenance workshop for fire extinguishers and I feel extremely proud of that,” he says. “And I want this to keep growing, because I think about my children and my family, so the plans are to keep expanding.”
Although Veladero’s support to for Illanes was not part of a formal program for entrepreneurs, the example illustrates what can be achieved when companies like Barrick partner with new small businesses to help them succeed. This is why the Company launched a business incubator for Iglesia entrepreneurs in 2016.
“We want to offer a space where local entrepreneurs can get expert advice and receive the necessary funding to turn their ideas into real businesses,” Abecasis says. “Right now we’re at the first stage, where we select the projects from all the proposals. With time, we’ll move forward and support the launch of these new businesses, which will generate economic opportunities for the entire region.”
Creating these opportunities is part of Barrick’s commitment to sustainability. Part of being sustainable involves nurturing economic opportunities for host communities that extend beyond the life of the mine. In Man-Mat’s case, while Barrick is currently the workshop’s main client, Illanes has secured contracts with the municipality, local schools and other businesses. He also supports other sectors of the local economy with purchases from printing stores, and parts suppliers, and by buying chemicals needed to refill the extinguishers, to name just a few examples.
“I think it’s clear that deciding to stop being an employee and launch your own business is a difficult choice,” Abecasis says. “Carrying it through requires perseverance, discipline and, above all, courage. I feel proud of being part of a team that supports the people who have the willingness and dedication to make this hard choice, and give them the tools to craft their dreams.”