By FELICITY DARVILLE
During the week of Valentine’s when love was high in the air, I came across an unexpected love story. It was not told with the intention of being a love story. But the evidence of what love and full commitment as a couple can produce was so obvious, that it turned out to be one of the best examples for other couples to follow.
Basil and Margot Barnett are more than just husband and wife - they are business partners. Sometimes we are told this is a formula for failure. However, the Barnetts stand as proof that not only can it be done, it can be done so successfully that they become leaders in the nation and the region. The Barnetts have proved a couple can achieve success together with a thriving business - one that is growing from strength to strength and standing as a beacon in the community.
In February, Bahamas Medical & Surgical Supplies celebrated its 20th year in business by officially opening a brand new corporate complex on 5th Terrace, Centerville, Nassau. It is a remarkable edifice consisting of a 7,850 square foot warehouse including an office, staff room and three segregated temperature storage rooms for pharmaceuticals and high-value specialty products. The site is also home to a modern and expanded 3,750 square foot retail store and a 750 square foot service department. It is a milestone befitting a company which has been successful at delivering top quality medical and surgical supplies to a plethora of public and private medical facilities in The Bahamas, as well as the hospitals, dentists, and veterinary facilities. Not only does Bahamas Medical and Surgical Supplies (BMSS) service The Bahamas, the company also services hospitals in Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
During the opening ceremony, Basil took the time to share the story of the company’s journey and in the process, he revealed a lot more. Basil proved that believing in one another, giving each other full support and encouragement and helping each other succeed are the keys to a successful marriage and business relationship. They were married before the dream of BMSS began (31 years ago). They started BMSS 20 years ago and today, their business and their union are stronger than ever.
Basil shared a beautiful story of the highs and lows that brought them to their current success: “I need to take you back to put things in a better perspective. Michaela Virgill-Storr had recently transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) as Chief Hospital Administrator. She was a transformational leader who understood that in order to make big changes, it is necessary to implement those small changes that signify a change in leadership, a change in approach and a change in mindset. She was already charged with creating a structure that would separate the hospitals from the Ministry of Health.
“Mrs Storr shared her goal, her vision, and her mandate. Margot was excited to be a part of this transformation and decided that she needed to better qualify herself as an administrator in healthcare. As a result, she made a difficult decision - she would make the sacrifice to leave our two young children in my care while she attended the University of Manchester in England to pursue a Masters Degree in Health Services Administration.
“This was not easy. There were no cell phones, no FaceTime… no WhatsApp. A one minute call to the UK was $2 and telephone lines were often filled with static. On one of those weekly calls, Margot confessed that she could no longer do this. The work was hard and she missed her family. I reminded her that it was not easy for us either, despite the tremendous support we had from both families.
“I had already made plans to visit Margot during the Easter break to return her passport.
“You see, after she got to Manchester, she instructed me to take her passport with me; otherwise, she would be on the next flight to Nassau. So we agreed to make the decision about her continuing during that Easter break visit. I surprised her by bringing our two young children with me. The time she spent with our two kids gave her renewed strength and energy, and she completed the programme.
“Upon her return, Margot was made Deputy Hospital Administrator at PMH with responsibilities for some of the major clinical areas including Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Dialysis and Theatre. In her position, Margot experienced first hand the challenges with inconsistency in the quality of supplies and equipment. In response to this challenge, Margot was instrumental in establishing the SAVE committee which was formed to assess and improve the quality of supplies and implement a standardization process.
“Fast forward to 1999. Margot is gifted with a relentless drive, an unquestionable passion and a resourceful spirit. Despite her passion for healthcare, Margot saw her ability to positively impact patient care being diminished as her responsibilities had changed. She would often talk about leaving and starting a medical supply company, to which I would say, if you are serious, put it in writing! Her response would be, I am telling you. Why do I need to write it down, you’re the financial genius! I would gently suggest to her that when you put things in writing, it makes the idea just a little bit clearer and it helps to put meat on the idea. God sometimes puts people in your life for a single purpose.
“In November of 1999, Margot and I attended a Les Brown motivational speech. At one point, he talked about how people would often feel that they needed to have all the answers before they acted. Then he said, ‘Sometimes you just have to jump and grow your wings on the way down’. The very next evening, Margot sat down and put her idea in writing on a single sheet of paper. We discussed the idea further and a few days later, we created a business plan - a road map.
“In December 1999, Margot decided to leave PMH and started Bahamas Medical and Surgical Supplies Bahamas, Ltd. Few people would understand or appreciate that Margot would have to get up to catch a 6am flight to Miami and return on the last flight the same day. Most days, she came home after midnight. The kids would be both sleeping when she left and when she returned. She would hold meetings with distributors in South Florida to discuss our business plan, and after a very long day, she would always find something positive to talk about concerning those meetings or the trip.
“We next learned that when God has a new assignment for you, he sometimes gives you a test to prepare you and to strengthen you for that assignment. Before we could get Bahamas Medical and Surgical Supplies up and running, Margot discovered that she was suffering from a critical condition. After a series of events that could only be described as miracles, she had a successful surgery. Ironically, an essential tool required for the surgery was an electronic microscope that was the last piece of equipment Margot authorized to be acquired before she left PMH. The illness and the recovery gave Margot a new outlook on life. A perspective about what was important and what was not. And a fearless approach to life with the knowledge that we are only here for a period of time and must live it authentically.
“After recovering, Margot operated the company from our home. With only a computer, a fax machine and now we had a cellphone. In September 2000, the company moved into rented space in the East Bay Shopping Centre that served as both an office and a warehouse. In those early days, Margot and her assistant would spend what seemed like hours walking by or standing over the fax machine waiting for a request for supplies to come through. It was very, very slow.
“Margot understood that she needed to do more and to do things differently to break into the industry and to succeed in this business. And so, she would go out into the field and speak to users directly to find out what were some of their needs and challenges so that the company could find solutions.
“Bahamas Medical quickly developed a reputation for being able to do the difficult things. While we knew as a company that it was important to be better than our competition, our focus was never on our competition. We focused on how we could best serve the needs of our customers and focus on the needs of the healthcare industry. That often meant doing things very differently or doing things that have not been done before.
“Despite our relatively short time in business, the company was selected to be the representative for GE Healthcare and later, Johnson and Johnson Medical. In sharing their decision for the selection, we were told that we stood out. Our approach was different, we were professional, we did our homework, we understood them as a company, we knew our market and we presented a roadmap to how we would accomplish their goals for this market. We continued to develop a relationship with leading companies in the global healthcare industry with a focus on companies that are innovators with modern, cutting edge technology.“
“The company outgrew the East Bay Shopping Centre space and in 2007, acquired the building at 159 Shirley Street. I became a full member of staff and the staff’s total complement had increased to seven. Shortly after relocating, the company opened its retail store to cater to the home care market focused on persons with home care needs, chronic illnesses, and end of life situations. During this period, the company hired a full time pharmacist to expand our presence in the industry to include pharmaceuticals. The Shirley Street location provided high visibility but had limited warehouse space.”
“In 2017, Bahamas Medical acquired the old PW Albury building on this site with a vision to create this corporate office complex. Bahamas Medical and Surgical Supplies Ltd is the realization of that idea written on a single sheet of paper.
“Today, BMSS is a full service provider to the healthcare industry operating a medical specialty retail store. The company is a supplier of medical equipment with local service support. The company is also the leading distributor of medical, dental, and veterinary supplies. The company caters to the full healthcare industry including pharmaceuticals and orthopaedics. The company operates in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands. We have a total staff complement of 21 including three service engineers, two registered pharmacists, two healthcare specialists and three highly knowledgeable retail sales associates.”
“There are some who look at the success of Bahamas Medical and say that we are lucky, or fortunate, or blessed. And it’s true. We are very lucky, we are extremely fortunate, and we are truly blessed. But that’s not the whole story… and that’s not the end of the story, because it overlooks the sacrifice, long hours, hard work, commitment, tenacity, and perseverance required to take an idea written on a single sheet of paper to what is here today.”
The large complex stands like a physical symbol of the Barnetts’ love, not only for each other, but for what they do - helping those who are in need of medical care. Basil thanked his children, Morgan and Basil Jr, for their patience and understanding, letting them know that they have been the source of their joy and inspiration. He also thanked their daughter-in-law; Sabina and their grandson Basil III.
The complex is dedicated to the memory of Margot’s parents David and Cynthia Rolle, showing that love and commitment can be a generational blessing. Basil thanked both of their families for their love and support over the years, whose help made their dreams possible.
Although Margot received the praise for making the business a reality, she used her speech to pay the homage back to her husband: “I want to thank my business partner and husband for taking us through this journey that I enjoyed and had an opportunity to reflect upon. The idea written on a single sheet of paper that’s now Bahamas Medical and Surgical Supplies Ltd. I know that you are proud of me. I hope you are proud of what we have achieved together - with our family and our business.”
I needed no additional words to tell this love story - I let the characters speak for themselves. I wish for them, a happily ever after.