Local women are continuing to shatter the glass ceiling to rise to the top in the corporate sector. The recent appointment of Naseem Lahri as the first local female CEO of a mining company in Botswana is one such big move, ensuring gender balance in critical sectors.
A mining outfit known most for discovering huge diamonds – Lucara – named Lahri as its Managing Director for its subsidiary – Boteti. A professional Accountant with a Masters in Strategic Management (BCOM, FCCA) Lahri’s experience in the mining sector and as a decision maker speaks for her.
The well-rounded accomplished professional with 20 years’ experience, of which 17 years is in the mining industry, cut her teeth in the corporate sector at an auditing firm Deloitte and Touché in Gaborone just after completing her Bcom at the University of Botswana. She studied part time while working for the audit firm and acquired her ACCA qualification.
Enters mining field
Thereafter her career in the mining sector started when she joined Morupule Colliery in Palapye where she spent two years. It didn’t take long before the diamond mining giant Debswana Diamond Company noticed her talents and snatched her. She worked for Debswana’s corporate finance; Diamond sales department for 10 years climbing up the ranks to senior management level until she was appointed Finance Manager.
“I participated in large scale strategic projects such as Morupule expansion, Orapa Turbines, secure transfer facility, Cut 8 and the shared services implantation,” said Lahri.
Although her aspirations was to end up as the Chief Financial Officer at Debswana, her Debswana dream was cut short when Boteti Mining advertised the same post and the ambitious Moshupa-born trailblazer didn’t waste time – she applied for it and was hired.
“I just decided to try something new and challenging and I applied for the post. I won’t say I got lucky because I do not believe in luck. I did my best and got the job, “she said.
A year into the CFO post she was promoted to be the company’s Director, responsible for Finance, Admin and Security. She played a critical role in the Phase 2 project resulting in the commissioning of the XRT machines which recovered the Lesedi la Rona, the second largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered.
Now five years as an employee of the Canadian mining giant, she has ascended to the top position and nothing will stop her to live her dream.
“This appointment means a lot to me. I have always wanted to be the first female Managing Director in the diamond industry. It has always been my aspiration, it sooner than expected but it was well received by me because it has always been my dream,” she said.
Just a month into position Lahri has hit the ground running and has her plan for the company intact. She reveals that her first priority is to expand the business by getting other pipes to mine stage.
“I mean AK-6 is a success story. There is no reason why we cannot have another one,” she said. According to Lahri, her other aspiration is to get the mine to go underground. The company, she says, is currently prospecting underground and a feasibility study due next year will determine whether this will be a good move.
“This move could actually expand the life of the mine by 10 years from 2026 to 2036,” she says.
On whether Boteti mining and the parent company Lucara are perhaps looking into venturing into other areas of the diamond mining business, Lahri says at the moment they will stick to what they know best; extracting the diamond and selling it. She says they have however decided to embrace technology and embed it in all their business aspects.
The acquisition Clara Diamond Solutions Corp., a company whose primary asset is a secure, digital sales platform geared at transforming how rough diamonds are sold, unlocking value for diamond producers and manufacturers alike, is meant to give them an upper hand against other players in the industry. Clara uses proprietary analytics together with cloud and block chain technologies to modernise the existing diamond supply chain, driving efficiencies and ensuring diamond provenance from mine to finger.
As a long-term plan to give back to the communities where they conduct their business, she says they have initiatives which are more directly people centred like the Karowe Emerging Entrepreneurs Fund (KEEF) whereby the company loan citizens in the Boteti region money to start up their businesses.
Lahri acknowledges that theirs is a male-dominated industry but she has never been or felt discriminated. A very strong advocate for women, the 43-year-old mother of two says women are now a force to reckon with and don’t necessarily excel because they are done favours but because of their competency and hard work.
“First of all you have to understand what the requirements of the job are and show them that you are smart and are on top of things. As long as you have the knowledge and apply it, you can take on the world. It has always been my philosophy; understand the business and make sure that you get the message across,” she says. She has also served as a board member in the Debswana Pension Fund, Botswana Accountancy College (BAC) and Pula Medical Aid.