She sacrificed. Hopped among jobs to perfect and widen her skill base. Family time was rare. And now with her dreams fulfilled, she looks back to admire the story better told by the trail of her sheer guts. Life for Lynette Armstrong has never been better. Writes KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO
Born in the copper nickel mining town of Selebi-Phikwe, sponsored to do tertiary education by the same mine her father worked for, which ultimately became her first employer too, it is safe to say Lynette Armstrong is a ‘true mining product’. Armstrong is now Debswana’s Chief Financial Officer. A job she has long vowed to one day assume after realising that her desire to become a dentist was a wild goose chase and that her future rather lied in Accounting and Finance.
After completing her A-levels at Maruapula, at just 18, young Armstrong was sent on BCL mine scholarship to do her ACCA in the United Kingdom (UK). And, she says, it was right at that point when she chose accounting that she knew what her goals were. “I knew then, that I wanted to be the CFO of Debswana,” recalls Armstrong with a twinkle in her eyes. With such big dreams she knew nonetheless that the mining sector was wholesomely male dominated, especially by male expatriates and changing that was bound to take quite an effort. “All the chief accountants at BCL were expatriate males,” she says. But because her father had while raising her, not only pushed her but made her understand that nothing comes easy, the young hopeful Armstrong geared her mind to it and now, she does not only have a decorated resume to boast of, but she continues to break glass ceilings.
Rising to the top was however not an easy one for Armstrong. After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 1997, she came back home to work for BCL mine, with aspirations that she will find an air-conditioned office with her name engraved on the door. “There was nothing like that. I came back and had to work in the cash office, where I had to learn the basics of accounting,” she says. That, and the sad truth that Armstrong was now one of the few women, who had decided to challenge the status quo by choosing a career not only in finance but in mining (both male dominated fields) did not by any chance make her complacent and settle for less. “There was certainly a perceived glass ceiling so I was constantly forced to exert myself. I had to be assertive, to show them that I can do it,” says Armstrong.
In her quest to get to the top she had to fight and conquer a few hurdles. From working twice as hard to prove herself to striking to get locals, especially females, to get just as much recognition and reward as their expatriates counterparts (predominantly male), the soft spoken trailblazer did it all. In 2002, she got appointed Chief Mine Accountant at BCL. This, to her, had nothing to do with the financial reward that came with it, but meant that her efforts were bearing fruits. She was finally getting the recognition she had long longed for and in a way also meant she was getting closer and closer to her dreams. She, however, did not stay long, as she would later join De Beers Prospecting in the same year as a Business Manager. “I felt that I needed to go and spread my wings,” she says. This part of her career though still in same field, exposed her to a whole different environment of exploration.
De Beers, Debswana, Tati Nickel, BCL
“I was part of the AK6 advance programme, now known as Karowe mine, and part of the team that was involved in pre-feasibility studies on the mine. Today I look at it quite proudly that I stood there on the ground years ago with the exploration team and now it’s a mine that employs a lot of people. It was quite an experience,” she says. After five years, she was appointed the first female Finance Manager at Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa Mines, where she stayed for three years. According to Armstrong, she then felt she needed corporate finance experience and after looking for a position within Debswana to no avail, she resigned and joined Tati Nickel mine, a move that shocked many within her inner circle. “They really couldn’t understand how one would leave diamonds to join a base metal company,” says Armstrong.
Despite this Armstrong states that it is at Tati Nickel where she spent some really exciting years in her career in mining. “It was not about the company but the experience that I was looking for. My biggest learning and growth took place at Tati Nickel mining,” she says. This, she says, is because when working for a small company, one is forced to be not only calculated and strategic in their execution of duty but also open and honest with the board of the company. Armstrong would later find her way back to her former employer - BCL mine – where she worked as the mine’s Divisional Manager Finance and Administration for just a year. An advertisement for the Financial Controller position came up at Debswana in 2013 and after applying, Debswana became host to this unstoppable financial whizz yet again.
“The idea was that if I prove myself I could possibly get the position of Chief Financial Officer,” she says. That promise has since materialised. And Armstrong’s dream of heading the financial department of one of the most successful mining companies not only in Africa but the world has been realised, after diligently working her way up the ladder. She is impressed that Debswana is now showing deliberate efforts of bringing women into the industry. The 42-year-old trailblazer acknowledges that her husband of 20 years whom she met when she was doing her A-levels has been extremely supportive. He pushed her and has been a solid pillar throughout her career. They are parents to two children.
Given the hectic environment that’s she had to work through, she acknowledges she had to sacrifice, forgo and deny herself so many things in life to get where she is. “I have been judged and labelled a workaholic, as someone who doesn’t have a social life and I accepted it because I had goals, the noise on the sides didn’t really bother me because I knew where I was going and I was very deliberate about my journey,” she said. According to Armstrong if one wants to get to the top, then they have to be deliberate and know that nothing happens by chance. “You really have to prioritise what you want, it’s your space to carve. No one is going to come and pat you on the back and say ‘Oh Lynette we think you deserve a promotion,” she says. At this point, Armstrong says the long working hours are finally paying off. She acknowledges that her success throughout the years came through great support from her team.
She is constantly working with her team, moulding them to realise their full potential. She believes women are quite capable leaders; from multi- tasking at the home front to the office which gives them an upper hand. With a supportive husband and family, Armstrong couldn’t have asked for more. She admires the current Governor of Bank of Botswana Linah Mohohlo and believes she is a strong woman who is doing a great job. It should not come as a surprise that Armstrong wants to fulfil her other childhood dream of one day becoming the Governor of Bank of Botswana too. She implores women to dream big and work very hard at achieving such. She also wants women to be careful about the experience they choose as they are the building blocks of their careers. According to Armstrong, it is about investment in time and energy, being purposeful and showing confidence in whatever they do.