In the 1970s, Veronica Le-Bert’s father and brothers started a business exporting parts for the massive mining machinery that excavates copper, gold, lithium and other minerals in South America and the Caribbean.
For 13 years, Le-Bert International chugged along as a family-run company, becoming a well known name in the industry.
Then George Le-Bert decided to move to Chile and raise cattle.
Veronica Le-Bert, however, had found a career. She followed her father to Chile, where she landed a position with a mining company. In 2006, when the company shut down, she returned to South Florida, revived Le-Bert International Export and once again operated it as a family-run company, providing parts for everything from excavators to crushers.
Le-Bert, along with her daughter, Michelle, have done well enough. They expanded exports for parts on Caterpillar, John Deere, Hitachi and other machinery to Chile, chiefly, but also added Turkey, India and the Philippines.
“We really don’t say no to anything we can ship,” Le-Bert said.
Now she would like her son, Mike, to move home from Atlanta and join the company. To do that, she needs to get bigger. And that means making some changes.
Enter Juan Lorca, a counselor with SCORE Miami-Dade, the local office of the national nonprofit that has more than 12,000 volunteer business counselors nationwide. Lorca has degrees in both mechanical engineering and business, as well as more than two decades experience in the building manufacturing industry that includes a mining company.
Lorca found two chief problems: First Le-Bert operates on speed, but her bookkeeping is getting in the way.
“For me to ship overnight is gold,” she said.
Explained Lorca: “Mines run 365 days a year, 24/7. When you’re running, it may be $5,000 an hour, or $20,000 or $50,000 depending on the size of the mine. So if you’re down a part and you can’t continue the line, a thousand dollar part is nothing to them. They’ll buy a thousand dollar part and pay $3,000 to ship it overnight because they’re losing money.”
To improve efficiency, Lorca said Le-Bert needs a better accounting system. While Le-Bert has been using QuickBooks, a staple accounting system for most small businesses, she was not using it efficiently.
“They’re winging it, doing kind of trial and error,” he said.
The second major hurdle, Lorca said, involves how Le-Bert views her client base. By narrowly defining her customers to the mining industry, she is severely limiting the company, he said.
“A Caterpillar tractor is a Caterpillar tractor whether you’re bulldozing roads or farming,” he explained. “For her to increase, she needs to get away from parts for the mining industry.”
To a lesser extent, Lorca is troubled by how Le-Bert has grown the business. Le-Bert said much of her sales have been based on contacts and referrals, particularly in Chile where her father is still remembered. So Lorca encouraged Le-Bert, who travels often to meet with customers, to work harder at networking. To do that, he said, she’ll need to transfer some responsibility and with it, some authority. That will also force her to draft a plan for the succession of the company, her main goal.
To help solve the bookkeeping issues, Lorca recruited SCORE consultant Richard Raby, a Coral Gables Certified Public Accountant and Certified QuickBooks Pro Advisor.