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IROGHAMA OGBEIFUN, advocating for advancement of the maritime industry in Nigeria

Iroghama Ogbeifun is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer at Starzs Investments Company Limited. She is also an Entrepreneur with over a decades’ worth of experience in high impact positions across industries. She holds a first degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a Master of Science degree in Public Health and Health Promotion from Brunel University, London.

With a certification in Commercial Risk in Shipping from Lloyd’s Maritime Academy; a certification in ABC of Shipping from Nigerian Chamber of Shipping; a management certification from Harvard Business School and her extensive exposure, she has developed strong financial management, client relationship management, business strategy and change leadership skills.

Starzs Investments Company Limited, a fully indigenous ship-owning marine logistics company, provides vessel logistics services and offshore support to international and indigenous oil producing companies in the Nigerian Oil and Gas industry. As MD/CEO, a position she attained after successfully leading the affairs of the company as its Executive Director and subsequently the Chief Operating Officer, she manages the company’s daily operations. In this position, she draws on her exceptional depth of expertise and skills to lead strategy and policy, oversee business development, represent and promote the company’s interest amongst other roles. She works to maximize the company’s revenue performance and has recorded landslide achievements. Under her management, the company has grown its assets base from 3 ships in 2014 to 13 ships by February 2021.

In addition to her role at SICL, she also manages Eaglewatch Security Company (ESL), a licensed Private Security Guards company established in 1999 which provides professional security services.

She is as well an entrepreneur who founded Hair Hairven Limited, a hair care products and services company. She heads strategy and business development for the beauty and hair care brand while also managing the expansion of the Hairven hair bar model salons.

Growing up and influence till date

I grew up in Port Harcourt, River state, as the first girl and second child in a family of 7 children. My primary and secondary education were spread across Port Harcourt, Benin and Lagos so my exposure and network was quite diverse. My self-confidence was also cemented by virtue of being away from home and family at a young age. I was quite an energetic child and this came to bear in athletics were I excelled in sprints and long jump. I had many influences growing up but most significant amongst them was my dad. He was a single father for part of my childhood, while exploring the world of entrepreneurship and experiencing hard lessons in business, love and marriage but taking it all in his stride and finding a way to balance it all with raising 2 kids on his own. When I look at my life now, I find that I am able to cope because I saw him do it effectively.

Your journey to entrepreneurship and results till date

My first foray into the world of entrepreneurship was in 2009 when I started my first company, Hairven while I was serving in Abuja. The company started off as a hair extensions retailer seeing as the trend had just started in Nigeria at that time, and over the years it evolved into a beauty brand that manufactured its own hair care line consisting of shampoos, conditioners, serums, hair sprays and leave in conditioners and eventually established 2 Salons and a spa in the city of Port Harcourt. Presently, we have over 60 employees working in our service locations. In 2020, I started a tech based dispatch company, Southern Blaze logistics, inspired by the opportunity of convenience and reduced personal contact created by COVID-19. We currently have a fleet of 10 bikes rendering top notch services to businesses and individuals within Rivers State. While the journey has been paved with successful events, it has also been wrought with failures, disappointments, tough decisions, self-doubt and fear. However, the key thing for me has been to ensure I always got back up, so even if you fall down 7 times, you must get up 7 times, never stay down.

Biology & Psychology, Public Health & Health Promotion, then hair business…how did that work for you?

I have always believed that the role of education is not necessarily to equip you with just the technical skillset to deploy in a relevant work environment, but rather to expand your mind, develop other softer skills and enable you stretch your imagination. This is why I have been able to thrive in a variety of industries despite my academic background which may not necessarily be linked to my job role. Even though my initial desire was to work with the Ministry of Health on health sector reforms, value creation, making impact and driving change had always been part of my agenda, so I guess the platform is what is now different. We can also not discount the role of our experiences and that of others, as we journey through life because they are a form of school that teaches us life’s lessons.

What Starzs does and your role as MD/CEO

Starzs Investments Company Limited is a fully indigenous ship-owning marine logistics company that provides offshore vessel logistics services, to support the operations of International and indigenous oil producing companies in the Nigerian Oil and Gas industry. We presently have 13 vessels in our fleet with a work force of over 200 employees, working offshore and ashore. Our company is committed to advocacy that drives the advancement of the maritime industry in Nigeria and human capacity development, particularly the training of cadets through our robust cadetship training scheme. As MD/CEO, a position I resumed in February 2021 after successfully leading the affairs of the company as its Executive Director, and subsequently the Chief Operating Officer, I manage the company’s daily operations, lead strategy and policy, oversee business development, represent and promote the company’s interest amongst other roles. I have also used my platform to drive gender inclusion and representation within our industry starting with my organization, so we are intentional about admitting female sea farers in our cadetship scheme as well as employing female officers on board our vessel. We presently have a female engineer and female vessel captain serving onboard. I am furthering this agenda using the ship owners association of Nigeria where I am the Chairman, Finance and membership committee.

Adding value to yourself to enhance your current role

This is absolutely critical because residual knowledge (common sense) will only get you so far, you cannot trade the value of intentional learning and acquired knowledge. They say that success happens when opportunity meets preparation. What this means to me is that you must constantly be in a state of preparedness so that you can take advantage of opportunities that come your way. So do not let laziness or self-doubt get in the way of your greatness, rather rise, work hard, focus and be resilient.

Share on Eaglewatch Security Company (ESL) and your role

Eaglewatch security company is a private security guards firm, and was founded in 1999 by my dad as a social enterprise project to render security services to corporate and private clients. His objective was to get young people off the streets and give them a means of livelihood and self-dignity that was not a life of crime. However, in 2010, the company was not thriving due to his inability to give it the attention it required so he considered shutting it down. I happened to be in Nigeria at the time and I offered to rehabilitate the business and asked for 3 months, that was 11 years ago. Today, the company is duly licensed by the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps with over 400 guards working in Rivers State and Edo state across several sectors. I serve as the Executive Director of the company, supporting strategy development and business growth initiatives.

How are you managing your other businesses while being CEO of Starzs?

Structure, Structure, Structure. One of the early lessons I learned in my entrepreneurial journey was the importance of structuring my businesses with competent team members, proper systems and processes, and training of employees to equip them to deliver successfully. It does not happen overnight, but it becomes worth it over time. So, if you want a sustainable, long lasting and thriving business that is not dependent on founder or any one employee, you must invest in building a functional and efficient structure.

Taking over from your dad to run Starz

Prior to 2014, I had never considered working for Starzs. In fact, I believed strongly that the maritime businesses my father had founded would be inherited by my brothers whom he had trained and guided to be professionals in the Maritime sector. I was focused on my own vision, my own dreams and I was building it steadily. However, man proposes but God disposes. The company was in the middle of a restructuring in order to attract foreign investment and the consultants that were driving the process recommended me as a potential Chief Operating Officer for the business, but my father struggled with the decision given my non-maritime background and the fact that he desired his sons to succeed him. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with him and the potential investors where I made some impactful contributions to the strategy. I believe this show of competence was the deciding factor that eventually led to my hire as Executive Director. I was placed on probation for 1 year as opposed to 6 months which was to allow me time to adapt to the new role. Subsequently, I was promoted to the position of Chief Operating Officer. I served the company for 6 and half years before my dad decided to retire on his 70th birthday and I was appointed MD/CEO. Over the last 7 years, I have worked with the best team, under the leadership of our Chairman, to grow the company from a fleet of 3 vessels to a current size of 13 vessels over a 7year period. My ability to perform over the period was driven by various factors such as the influence of key mentors including my dad, implementing a robust learning agenda, developing a sense of resilience, commitment and focusing on delivering excellence every time.

Your view on continuation of family owned businesses

A wise woman/man leaves an inheritance for her/his children says the bible. If you are privileged to have the opportunity be part of generational wealth creation that transcends even your own family, seize it! Either way you will be adding value somewhere so why not in your own family business.

Advice to parents who desire that their children should continue their businesses and advice to the children too

Do not force your children. Do not manipulate them into working for your company because they will likely rebel. Instead, expose them from their teenage years to what your company is about, your passion and your vision. Let them see your commitment by themselves and over time, they will develop the interest. It is also important to allow them find themselves and discover other interests, gain experience which will translate the value for the organisation if they eventually decide to join the team. I had the opportunity to build my own vision before I was asked to join the family business. I was also not prepped to be in the family business from childhood so I was independent in my thinking and my experiences. My love for my dad and my commitment to family legacy were also a driving force in the decision to join the business. Lastly, my dad did not trivialise my business or deny me the opportunity to advance my plans for my business even while I was working with Starzs. He actually supported me and encouraged my business growth but on the condition that I would put proper structure in place that would ensure its success without my day to day involvement. This level of flexibility is key and rare.

How did you handle the challenges of leading such a huge company especially in regards to human relations?

I prayed for wisdom. In 2013 when I was competing in The Next Titan business Reality TV show, the best advice I was given before entering the academy was to pray for wisdom every morning. I did this for the 3 months of the show and I saw the transformational power of wisdom particularly when I emerged as the winner of the show. I never forgot that lesson and I have deployed it since then. When I joined Starzs, I was young, free spirited, used to running my own business and calling the shots. Now I had joined a structured system that had been in existence since I was born. I was suddenly supervising employees that watched me grow up, people I referred to as uncle and aunty at one point or the other. I definitely needed wisdom, tact, patience and confidence to effectively win the team over and get them to follow my lead. It didn’t come overnight. I went through coaching, I made mistakes and picked myself up, forgave myself and forged ahead. I believe the genuineness of my intentions were clear to the team and I was an effective leader so over time, we forged great bonds, delivered significant value to our clients while experiencing business growth in the last 7years.

Day never to be forgotten and why

The day I lost my mum, February 10th 2018. My parents were divorced in 1986, a year after I was born, and my dad got custody of my brother and I so he raised us. I only saw my mum on some holidays growing up. We were not very close during my childhood. She was a driven medical professional working with NNPC. I admired her and I believe she influenced most of the traits I have today. We became closer when I left for university as we had more opportunities to spend time alone and really get to know each other. It wasn’t easy at first but as I got older and experienced certain milestones like starting my business, participating in the TV show and winning, getting married, our relationship grew stronger.

One of my fondest memories of her was when I had to undergo an emergency major surgery and she left work and stayed with me for the 5 days I was in hospital. She slept on the bare floor for my entire stay in the hospital because there was only 1 bed in the room. I experienced the unconditional love of a mother, I would wake up at night and weep as I watched her sleeping on the floor.

Over the years, her sacrifice of love came to bear at every chance she got. Even when she was diagnosed of Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer and she was fighting for her life, I became pregnant for twins and she promised to be with me through it all. God was kind, He kept her and she stayed with me through delivery and my first 2 months with my babies, who came prematurely and needed extra care.

She would juggle chemotherapy sessions across 2 States in America so she could be present for me and her grand babies. She finally lost the fight the following year. I see her in other mothers. I find that I get emotional watching women in her age group who share similar attributes. I miss her, terribly but I am consoled knowing that she is now my guardian Angel, watching over me and my babies.

Never too young to lead

You are never too young or too old to make your own kind of mark in your own kind of time or way. You are never the wrong age to release the power within you to create the life you deserve, said a very wise person! Words never rang so true.

Final words

Faith, perseverance, resilience, self-values, self-determination, excellent mindset, courage are the attributes that will bring you to fulfillment of purpose! Build them!!

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