The Brand Named Em Bartels
6/23/2012 12:18:00 PM -
Em Bartels is the personal branding expert that has got people in Ghana looking at themselves in a whole new way. The title of one of her early articles, 'The Brand Named You', conceptualises her main interest in you if you are an African business person in need of a makeover. Her company, Excell Consulting, is at the top of the must-call list in Ghana for anyone seeking image consultancy and personal branding. The success of Excell stands on the profile of its CEO whose own achievements are a testimony to the concepts it promotes. It is quite fair to say that the brand named Em Bartels is today synonymous with excellence and high achievement in the African business and professional world.
Emelia Bartels is the name behind the Ghana Professional Achievers (GPA) Awards. She founded the prestigious event in Britain back in July 2001 and it was through this that her name and face became known. Em, as she prefers to be called, says she was inspired to start the scheme because she wanted to motivate black youth in Britain to aspire to things other than just footballers and entertainers which she saw as the main role models at the time. "Through the awards, I came to be known first by the Ghanaian community, then the African community and then the wider Black community in Britain," she explains. The event went from strength to strength until Em and Excell became seen as an authority in Britain on Ghanaian professionals and business people. They were solicited by the media and government agencies for commentary on trends and for information that they had collected in their databases.
The awards recognise high achievers in various fields of endeavour including lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers and business people. But even in the lap of success, Em wanted more. "I wanted this thing to be more than an awards scheme. I wanted it to be something that actually develops professionals," she said. She established the GPA conference as a vehicle to help professionals develop themselves and set up a membership club for high net worth professionals. Today, GPA Awards has been expanded beyond just Ghanaians in Britain and has been brought to the continent itself. The first award event has already taken place in Ghana and is set for launch in Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa as well.
Emelia Bartels the woman is intelligent and accomplished and her looks are as amazing as her credentials. Seeing her you might think she is about thirty years in age but she alludes to having passed her fortieth birthday. I saw her twice this month. Both times she was impeccably turned out and on each occasion I was struck not only by how fantastic she looked but also the honesty with which she talked about herself and the matter of fact way she seemed to regard her academic attainments. "Oh I've got first degree, second degree, MBA, PR certificates, Institute of marketing certificates, etc. All the things you get to move on," she says almost dismissively as if the years of study she has put in were nothing. She was speaking at a personal branding conference which was where I met her first. Her point was how to differentiate oneself from others with similar qualifications. In order to stand out herself, she has studied public speaking and elocution, she can make her own clothes and understands style and personal presentation. "What have you done for your brand today," she challenged the audience of entrepreneurs gathered at the Kama Conference Centre that day. Coming from Em, the question was all the more arresting and had some of us squirming rather uncomfortably in our seats.
The second encounter I had with Em was over beverages at Frankies lounge, Osu. In this more intimate setting she was able to talk even more candidly about her personal life. She is the daughter of John and Comfort Bartels. With two professional parents she had a middle classed upbringing in Ghana and describes her childhood as 'wonderful.' She did a lot of moving around but seems not to mind. As she grew up she spent time living in all the regions of Ghana, she says. Her father was a senior manager at Unilever Ghana while her mother was a banker until she gave that up to concentrate on her own business in fabrics.
It was her father that seemed to be the figurehead in Em's life and the relationship between them was one of mutual adoration. She credits him as being the one that made her into the person she is today. "He taught me how to be a lady, how to be tenacious and how to be confident in myself," she reminisces. She talked of the good times they had and how, when they were teenagers, he used to take her and her sisters out on "dates" to restaurants and clubs.
Em attended St Louis Catholic Secondary School in Kumasi. She did her first degree in Economics and Law at KNUST, Kumasi. After that she went to England and did another degree, this time in marketing. She then obtained a masters degree; MBA in International Marketing, also in the UK. Em stayed on in Britain and besides doing more courses she entered the world of work. She held positions at various firms thus gaining experience and bolstering her CV. One place she worked was at Hospitality Marketing where she was engaged showcasing hotels, conferences and events. However, working for other people was not a permanent solution for Em. "I always knew I had to work for myself and I always knew I wanted my own consultancy," she told me. She registered Excell Consulting in UK in 2000.
After 20 years away, returning to Ghana was a natural progression. Em wanted to grow her business and the next logical step for expansion was Africa. She began the repatriation process in 2008. Coincidentally, matters at home also seemed to be calling her back. Sadly, her father died in the same year and her mother was also developing health issues. By 2009 she was permanently based in Ghana and had set up Excell Ghana as well. By 2010 GPA Awards was staged in Ghana.
"Coming back was hard. Socially I found a lot of things wrong," Em admits. She found the "mentality" difficult to fathom and the apparent "indiscipline" frustrating. She recalls an incident where she was caught in some senseless traffic at one of Accra's major roundabouts; caused in part by drivers not observing basic road protocols. "Until we get some discipline in this country we are going nowhere," she said she shouted out of her window to no one or anyone who might listen. "Blockheadedness" on the roads was not the only challenge she has had to face. Cut throat competitiveness in business surprised her. In UK she had grown accustomed to networking and sharing as a means to get ahead. In Ghana she found the same ideals led to blatant intellectual property theft with no course for redress. "I would go to people with my ideas and the next thing I would see is them done on television behind my back and without credit." However, these things have not dampened her resolve. "I come from here, I must be able to do something here," she affirms determinedly .
Despite initial setbacks, Em is very optimistic about Africa as a place to do business particularly for African people in the Diaspora. "This environment has enormous potential. It's about positioning yourself and preparing yourself to take advantage of the opportunities here. It's like digging for gold and finding dust. You have to polish that dust to make it shine," she says. "The African market is such that you have to be able to understand the culture of business and the way business is done here. The way we do business swiftly and execute things swiftly is the difference with Africa. You get that understanding from research. Through reading even on sites like Facebook you get to know about people's perceptions and the way they think. It's about putting your ear out and tailor making your business idea or skills to match the African context in order to be innovative and become the driver and market leader in your field." This is sound advice and something Em practices as well as preaches. Her plan is to position herself as the Personal Branding Strategist for Africa. Her thrust for 2012 is to propel Excell Consulting as the "go to" company for personal branding and certification in Africa.
Em Bartels is a Christian and our conversation ended with her talking about her faith which she says is at the centre of everything she does. "It's all in the Bible," she believes. She quotes Psalm 139:14, "we are fearfully and wonderfully made," and Proverbs 22:29, "Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings." "That's personal branding," says Em.