New York – Day 3 – Claudia and Mine

Claudia Castellanos Roques is the founder and managing director of Black Mamba Foods, a fair trade brand based in Swaziland that manufactures and distributes gourmet chili products. Her Global Ambassador mentor, Mine Ozturk, is general manager, Baxter International in Istanbul, Turkey. Theirs was a signature GAP mentorship: Insights and expertise from totally different experiences unlock new ideas and clear opportunities for growth.

Claudia Castellanos Roques (left) and Mine Ozturk (right) during a one-on-one mentoring session

Why did you apply to the Global Ambassadors Program?


Mainly two reasons. The first is I’m at a very crucial point of growth in the business. I thought that having someone who works in a bigger business environment, with more experience, would be extremely useful to help me on the path forward. I never had one-on-one mentoring from someone with a different background. I really needed this because Swaziland is really small and we don’t have access to these opportunities. 

The second reason is I always thought it would be a great opportunity for networking – meeting other women entrepreneurs and businesswomen and getting feedback and new information – and also friendship!

Were you surprised by your match?


I was wondering how I was going to help. On the first day Zoe said, “Trust me… I know what mentees need,” so I was open-minded – at the end of the day she’s running a business and I’m running a business. The day-to-day is the same, the finance, the organizational structure, sales and cost control. These are the kinds of things any business needs to run. I think we really learned from each other – I mean, chili sauce business? I had no idea about the components and how it works – but it really was a good match. When I talk about my business in the day-to-day, Claudia will implement what applies to her, and her small business. 

Were there trainings you found particularly useful?


My mind was blown by Karla’s social and digital media training. Social media is like this unknown part of the business and we all try to do it but I don’t think you can be as effective or impactful as you want unless you have a proper strategy. Finding that out from Karla and understanding the steps to actually make it work was brilliant. 

I particularly loved Aaron’s communications workshops. He has a very good way of giving you takeaways that you won’t forget. Storytelling is such an important part of businesses, even more for social businesses, especially when you’re so far away you need to be able to get exposure and tell your story in a proper way that generates emotion. 


With trainer Kathleen Holland’s branding exercise – I think we took a good step forward on what is next for Black Mamba. Now, Claudia is thinking about updating her brand promise. We were talking about the tagline “Looks good, does good.” But Kathleen said talking about the social impact is an old story – everyone does it. Her advice was to get to the “chili heads.” 


Kathleen basically changed my brand promise like this (snaps fingers) – which will impact everything. 


It also gets to what Aaron taught – the fun part. Black Mamba is already helping society and the environment. We’re kind of taking the branding in a different direction. I think this will lift up the company. It will bring higher sales, I’m sure of it.


I really care about our impact on the environment, and working with the local communities. Aaron suggested we tailor the messaging to the audience, if we’re talking to an NGO, we’ll talk about the impact. Otherwise we need to show the fun part of it – the “bro” story, the guy with the chilis. I never thought about working on the branding, but we’re going to add more fun, add the Latin flavor – music, and people barbecuing.

What will you tackle first back home?


Oh, I have that very clear. It was stressed by Mine from the very beginning: I need to trust my employees and my management team. I need to delegate because I cannot be doing everything for everybody. So she says ‘you’re actually not allowing them to blossom and to do what they need to do because you’re always on top of them.’ I do a lot of admin stuff that I shouldn’t be doing. The first thing I’m going to do starting on Monday is I’m going to be meeting them and preparing them – things are going to change. I’ll tell them to take more responsibility and rise up to their position as managers because I need to step out of a lot of the admin stuff: my focus is going to be on business development and creating my proper online marketing strategy. I will change the management style completely. 

Another thing Mine has stressed is the trust. You have to trust your managers. You have them in that position for a reason. If they make mistakes let them make mistakes, you know, it’s fine. It’s a big thing for somebody super-controlling with everything. It’s an issue that small businesses have in general so I think it’s going to be a big change in terms of the whole mentality of the business.

Any surprises? 


For me it was an interesting eye-opener. After 28 years in a corporate environment, engaged with big American companies and big numbers. Now I see women entrepreneurs around 28-40 years old, ready to change the world. I do a lot of women’s leadership work but always within the corporate environment. Never in my life would I have met someone like Claudia. It was a like a “wow” moment – that there is a lot going on outside the corporate structure. I will definitely be more involved in these types of programs. 

Advice for future GAP participants?


The trainings are very good. The webinars are a fantastic path for mentors and mentees to prepare. They made it so that during the week we had enough time together to work on specific issues.


Be present on everything, absorb as much as you can, do the office hours with every trainer, suck all the information you can from your mentor, talk to other mentors, if there are impromptu events and dinners out – go for it. Go and have fun, because you never know where the next opportunity comes from, you have to be able to be there. After hours a lot of things are happening. Be present.

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Photography: David Hume Kennerly