There is an old proverb that states: tall oaks from little acorns grow. Businesses start with an idea and some develop into successful ventures. Back in 1997 a small group of entrepreneurs from the UK, together with Ghanaian business partners, established the Blue Skies fruit processing factory in Ghana. The concept involved processing tropical fruit, chilling and air-freighting to the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Passenger planes were flying from Accra each evening with capacity for additional cargo, so transport was available.
Business success builds on a clear vision, but this must be backed by proactive behavior and effective action. During the first year there was need to identify and overcome obstacles that would have prevented the new company from achieving critical mass. As in many business situations, progress is much easier if stakeholders are identified, potential problems are avoided, and resources are focused effectively. With a totally new operation, systems need to be put in place. By 1998 the Blue Skies business had started to export products.
One point to note is that Blue Skies, like all ventures, required a team of people to overcome initial problems and help the business grow. Initially, there was a need to confirm the potential market, clarify essential steps in the distribution process and identify how to build the factory. In almost all organizations, there is benefit in looking at the network of connections that contribute to successful outcomes. This becomes increasingly important in modern business.
The Blue Skies story provides a useful example of successful investment in a developing economy. The start-up highlights issues relating to individual initiative, teamwork and personal resilience. There was also the need to appreciate the wider social and cultural context. The Sustainable Agriculture Group of the World Bank included Blue Skies in a guide to making value chains work in agribusiness in Sub Saharan Africa.
The guide observed that since 2000, the company has grown tremendously, expanding its value chain by incorporating additional operations into its processing facilities. It goes on to note that several factors contributing to Blue Skies’ success… such as high levels of trust, sharing of information, innovation, value addition, positioning collaboration, and risk mitigation. Blue Skies emphasizes prompt payment to farmers, the provision of training and education on EurepGAP standards, certification of farmers, interest-free loans for dedicated farmers, and willingness to improve local road infrastructure to improve access to farms by company trucks.
Looking back to 1997, we can see the steps that enabled a small start-up business venture to develop into a multi-national operation with production facilities in a number of countries. The vision provides the start point, but other guiding principles also contribute to long-term success.