Lynda Scott-Tomlin - Lantrade Global Supplies
From sitting in a bedroom with her cat just seven short years ago, Lynda Scott-Tomlin is on the verge of a $100m deal that would transform not only her business but her life. And to her, business is just a game she likes playing more than any other.
Her entrepreneurial story begins in 1998, when she was asked by the European Union to manage a project to supply election supplies to Cambodia.
“I was working on the project for someone else and thought, this is something I want to get into,” says Scott-Tomlin.
By 2002 she had raised enough money via several remortgages to launch Lantrade Global Supplies (LGS) and began marketing her services as an election equipment supplier.
“LGS supplies to the United Nations (UN) and other such international organisations for overseas projects,” explains Scott Tomlin. “The primary focus was election projects in post-conflict zones initially, but over the years we’ve extended to other products such as generators, water treatment systems, uniforms, gas masks and a whole range of unrelated products to developing nations in Africa and all over the world. Our speciality is in procurement and logistics in post-conflict and developing nations.”
After two years of wearing out shoes and attending various UN conferences to push her business and attempt to get on the supplier list, Scott-Tomlin got her big break almost five years ago to the day. By then, she had moved out of the bedroom, but the business was still small, trading from a Portakabin and with just two female colleagues to help her.
“It was coming up to Christmas 2004 when we got the call from the UN to supply a huge amount of kit for the first post-conflict Iraqi elections,” remembers Scott-Tomlin.
“The thing was we had two weeks to get the equipment there, and those two weeks were Christmas and New Year.”
This was the make or break moment for LGS and Scott-Tomlin put into play all her business instinct and took on the almost impossible task.
“I jumped on a plane to Shanghai and started searching for the equipment. I even called up friends and family and asked them to cancel their Christmas to come and help me pack boxes in a factory in China to ship all the election equipment out to Iraq. It really was a seat of your pants moment.”
The equipment LGS ships for such elections is, simply put, everything a polling station requires to run an election – voting boxes, ballot papers printed on security paper, torches and electoral stain, the pens that mark a voter’s hand to ensure they only vote once.
Scott-Tomlin now freely admits that if the UN had known quite how small LGS was back then that she would probably have missed out on the deal.
“You’ve got to talk the talk and walk the walk when you start your own business,” she says. “I knew we could deliver on such a project, but just didn’t have the manpower to do so every day. We needed the first big deal to prove it and we did.
“I remember going to meetings at the UN in Washington and Canada to let the right people know about us. Once, there was one such meeting in London and, just to show how small we were, I found one of those £3 business card printing machines at Baker Street tube. I didn’t have any cards so made them on the spot to hand out at the UN conference.”
It’s an incredible story and one Scott-Tomlin is rightly proud of. Today she takes me through her potential contracts board. It shows big deals in the pipeline such as sending generators to Kenya, election kits to Sudan and stationery to Palestine. But the deal she’s waiting to celebrate could be just days away.
LGS is on the final shortlist of two for the $100m deal to supply the UN with all its generators, to be used in war torn or developing nations across the globe.
Now, with what she calls “proper offices” in Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire, ten multi-national staff on site as well as salespeople and agents around the world LGS is well set up to deliver on such an order.
“But, the size of it would transform the business,” she says. “We’d have to restructure, but it won’t be like that time in 2002 when I truly relied on the help of friends and family.”
There are also the more amusing jobs. Just a week ago, Scott-Tomlin was asked to supply election packs to the Comoros Islands, just north of Madagascar. The UN wanted them just a few days later and the usual air freight services couldn’t deliver on time.
“It was only for around 260kg of kit,” she explains. “So we sent four of our staff business class to the islands to deliver it. You get a 64kg luggage allowance in business class, so it’s the only way we could do it. So three of my staff and their 19 year-old son are out there now sitting on a beach waiting for the next plane home in three days.”
Not bad work if you can get it.