With its customers mostly in Africa and its balance of suppliers shifting to Asia, there are very few business reasons for Citland International to be headquartered in Atlanta.
Yet the mining supply company, which sells exclusively overseas, is managing a rapid worldwide expansion from the city its founder called home until losing a battle with cancer in January.
Trevor King, the son of a mining engineer, was born in India and spent much of his childhood and professional career in Ghana. He had a lifelong affinity with Africa, which continues to drive growth for the company he started in California in 1989 and moved to Atlanta in 1995.
Citland bridges the gap between equipment manufacturers and the multinationals that manage huge mines in some of the world’s frontier markets.
It’s a profitable niche, said Bart Verbeke, director of commercial and global operations. Mining companies are often too focused on construction to directly source specialty materials like roof bolts, ventilation ducts and valves, and suppliers of those products are often unfamiliar with doing business in places where they’re needed.
“Being so big in Africa, we know how to deal with the African continent, which of course is a bit of a cold shock for many European and American companies,” said Mr. Verbeke, a native of Belgium.
After establishing a foothold in Ghana, Citland gradually burnished its reputation and spread throughout the continent and around the world.
It’s still strong in Ghana and is currently moving head offices from the city of Obuasi to Takoradi, a coastal city that will be the hub for the next big resource boom: offshore oil, Mr. Verbeke said.
Citland has been successful in part because it has built on the late Mr. King’s reputation for being unbeatable in pricing certain products, said Kwesi Bentsi Wilson, a longtime friend and customer who has worked across Africa in the mining business.
“When it came to piping and valves, he was bloody good,” Mr. Wilson told GlobalAtlanta by phone from Ghana.
He remembered working with Mr. King on a pipe contract for a mining giant in Tanzania. The company left the bidding open for five months, hoping to beat Citland’s price with a South African supplier. Finally they had to close the deal.
“I couldn’t stop smiling. I smiled and smiled and smiled,” Mr. Wilson said, remembering his friend.
Citland’s distinguishing characteristic has always been its focus on meeting the needs of customers, not simply offering the cheapest price, said Doris King, Mr. King’s wife, who has taken over as president of the family-owned business.
“It wasn’t just a matter of selling a product,” Mrs. King said.
Building on growth in Africa, which still accounts for about 60 percent of its business, Citland deals in emerging countries like Indonesia, Mongolia, Russia and Turkey. China‘s role in mining supply has grown along with its appetite for minerals, and an office in Hong Kong could be in Citland’s future.
Out of nine employees in the Atlanta office, Americans are the minority, reflecting the diversity of Citland’s hometown and the needs of customers in far-flung locales.
On a given day, staff members from China, Ecuador, Belgium, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire and the U.S. interact with customers using German, French, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
“Our business is certainly enhanced by people of different cultures. It’s just who we are. We reflect our customers,” Mrs. King told GlobalAtlanta.
As high gold prices prompt mining firms to squeeze productivity out of existing mines, Citland expects to grow revenues by 10 percent in 2012, Mr. Verbeke said.
Worldwide, the company employs nearly 30 people who focus on carefully choosing deals with large mines, he said.
“It’s about value per order for us. We don’t produce too much volume, but we produce a lot of value,” he said.
Visit www.citland.com for more information.