• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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For Patricia Obozuwa, the goal is to unswervingly soar

For Patricia Obozuwa, the goal is to unswervingly soar

Patricia Obozuwa is the Vice President, Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability, Africa at The Coca-Cola Company. She leads a team that oversees Government Affairs, thought leadership, media relations, corporate communications and sustainability for the company across the African continent.
Prior to that, she was the Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer for GE Africa, a position she had held since April 2012 when she built the communications and public affairs function. Patricia led a team of communicators across Sub-Saharan Africa, building and protecting GE’s brand and image on the sub-continent.
She established GE Africa’s corporate social responsibility platform, GE Kujenga, aimed at empowering people by building valuable skills, equipping communities with new tools and technology and elevating innovative ideas that are solving Africa’s challenges. In 2016, Patricia established the ‘GE Lagos Garage’ a hub for advanced manufacturing skills development that has produced over 2,400 graduates in Nigeria (March 2020). She is the founding co-hub leader of the GE Women’s Network for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Prior to joining GE, she was Head, External Relations, Nigeria and Corporate Communication Leader, Sub-Saharan Africa at Procter & Gamble (P&G), where she pioneered the public relations function and built the West Africa communications team from scratch.
Before joining P&G in 2005, Patricia was the Arts and Sponsorship Manager for the British Council in Nigeria.
Patricia is a Non-Executive Director of The Water Trust (US-Headquartered Non-Profit Organization). She is also a member of the Lagos State Industry Advisory Board for the Yaba ICT Hub/Cluster project. She serves as a teenage Class teacher at her local church.

Childhood memories

I come from a large family. There were seven of us, four women today, but we were five growing up and two men. It never really occurred to me that being a woman should be a barrier to achieving things. I had older sisters who were ahead of me, who were achieving great things. My parents were very instrumental to who I am today. My father was very strong on building self-confidence in his children; he exposed us to a lot of things. He took us out to bigger events and introduced us to more senior people. We interacted with him and my mom’s friends.

We entertained a lot in our home and we hosted families. It was good in that I’ve never been too shy of being able to address people that are in higher position than I am from when I was very little, which was helpful in my career and still helpful till today. From my mother, I learnt resilience. If she wants something to happen, she works at it, looks at different angles to make sure it’s done.
From my siblings, I just saw success. It didn’t look like it was an option to laze around and do nothing or rely on someone else. It was just instinctive that you have to do your own thing and see where it takes you. Maybe that’s the part of my background that I would say really helps me and continues to inspire me.

Values growing up and what obtains now
They are very different times and different things happening. Technology has affected so many different things. I don’t believe that whatever parenting style that was effective years ago will be effective today. Children have much more access to information than they did then. They will challenge whatever their parents tell them. From my nephews and nieces, I feel that sometimes, they know a lot more about topics than we do. So, it’s a different kind of interaction. But when it comes to values, values remain the same and are always useful. Whatever the medium, whatever the time, our values are important, and parents should always look to our children imbibing important values and those important to them. I don’t have children myself, but I definitely feel till date what I learnt from my parents. I didn’t always listen to them and I’ve made many mistakes but when I look at my siblings and I, I see what we have in common, I give credit to my parents.

While at British Council
Before I worked with the British Council, I worked in an art gallery. It was a tiny little space with beautiful works of art and an amazing clientele. For me, that’s the foundation of everything I’ve done in my career. It taught me the importance of putting in efforts to reap results. I say that because I know it comes naturally to most people, but for me, it did not come naturally. My parents were very protective. My parents were always like “You have to do this, you have to do that”, and I always felt like I have to be those things.

However, at the gallery, I learnt that you can get more by putting in more effort. Diligence actually pays more. It helped me explore a whole range of qualities that I didn’t know existed. It was my first job, and I took it because I was looking for a job and there was no job and someone said there is an opening there. It also taught me that you can make life into what you want it to be. You can look at things at face-value, or you can affect it and make it bigger and better so that it’s better off than when you came.
Then I moved to the British Council, and I managed the arts programme, literature, visual arts, and eventually, expanded that to include looking for sponsorship for the programmes that we did. Those were interesting times, we promoted UK artists and artistes in Nigeria and we promoted collaboration between them. We had this amazing event called ‘In The Gallery’, where we started featuring Nigerian artistes. Then, Nigerian music wasn’t popular at the time, but we started having those shows, having people exposed to those kinds of music and also being exposed to Nigerian art. I remember travelling to Calabar, Minna and Benue, just promoting Nigerian art. It was a great place to work.

There, I gained knowledge that you can develop yourself and you don’t have to wait for anyone. At the British Council, you have library resources that could help you in your career. I developed my communication skills with the help of my colleagues who were willing to teach me. I volunteered to do things, I helped my colleagues do stuff, and that’s how I came into communication, public affairs and government affairs. So, I moved to Procter & Gamble from just communications to managing governments affairs, regulatory affairs and then expanding my geographies further across Africa, and then currently to Coca-Cola.

At P&G, did you think you would achieve all you did in the space of time that you did and what was responsible for your success?

I never thought I would achieve all that I did especially because I wasn’t exposed to some of the things that I ended up doing, but I knew I wanted to be successful, and I knew I was going to put in my all to bring in whatever I could to that role, to keep developing more and more into the role. I loved the company, it’s an amazing company to work with and I’ll do it all over again.

GE experience

The thing I love about the value I added was probably my baby the ‘GE Garage’. It’s still so dear to my heart. It was amazing to set up such a programme, to work with young start-ups and hear their ideas and see the ideas come to life just using advance manufacturing technology, seeing them have those business ideas that evolves into a whole business model, business ventures, seeing them get funding and just growing, that for me has been maybe the most fulfilling thing in the course of my work at GE.
Also looking at the team, considering I built a communications department and public affairs too, I hired the people, looking at the team and seeing what they are achieving is another source of joy and pride. I wouldn’t have been as happy leaving if I didn’t know that the people that I left behind in GE were at a place where they can deliver amazing results without my help. So, these things make me really happy.

I really credit all my achievement to God. There is nothing I do without praying. When I pray about something that I set out to do, I know it will succeed. Let me give that credit to God first. Then, there are three things that I always say; one of them is setting a high standard for yourself. I was never to just get by; I set a high standard for myself. I want to achieve big things, even things that have not been assigned to me, if they come to my mind, I want to achieve them and leave a strong legacy.
So, I set a high standard for myself. The second is never lowering that standard; I don’t like my work to be patchy. I don’t want to be good here, and average there. So, I make sure I keep the same high quality of work that I do. The third is just to operate with integrity. You can’t fail anyone. If you say you’re going to do something, just do it. If you’re not sure you can do it, don’t say you will do it.

Transition to Coca-Cola

It was one of excitement because I was more excited about the prospect for the future than my apprehension about facing something new. When it came to GE, I felt I had given a lot to the company and the company had given so much to me. So, for some reason, it was as if we got what we needed out of each other. It was the right time to leave.
I knew I would bring so much more to Coca-Cola but it was a little bit scary leaving GE. I know that I’m saved on some people’s phones as Patricia GE, and it will be difficult for people to switch their thinking. So, it was a little bit scary but for some reason, I’ve always loved change and I’ve never seen any big thing happen in my life without big changes.
I may worry about transitioning from one thing to another, but usually, the excitement about the new thing is enough to get me going. I don’t make these decisions lightly, I think it through, I pray, and want to be sure of where I’m going. And most often than not, I know what I want ahead of time and when the opportunity presents itself, it’s just pure excitement.

Why Coca-Cola?

Pardon me if I sound a bit basic about this, when I was with Procter and Gamble, I always look at rankings and the recognitions companies are getting. I see best place to work for women, I see leadership, I see most admired company, most innovative company and these companies just keep popping. I see GE, I see Coca-Cola, I see Procter and Gamble, so, that’s what first captured my interest.
The second is, I’ve had a decade-long addiction for diet coke, which eventually became zero coke. When I told my former boss from GE that I was moving to Coca-Cola, he made a statement to the effect that at least it justifies my love for coke.
It’s a strong brand and one thing that those three brands have in common is integrity and operating with good governance and doing things the right way. This might not appeal to some people, but these things, the corporate governance, the dedication to employees’ commitment, the development of people and being the leader in their field, these things are attractive.

Read Also: COVID-19: How vulnerable are the states in Nigeria?

Being Vice President, Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability, Africa at the Coca-Cola Company

I started about four weeks ago, while that sounds like a long time; it’s a very short period of time in learning about the company, which is a huge multinational. My responsibility is really for government affairs, engaging with the government when we need to, media relations, communicating with employees and driving a sustainability programme that looks after the planet, and the communities. It’s a team of people that do this across the continent.

As to how I’m doing it, hopefully well. But for now, I’m just learning, but I’ve met new people. Apart from getting to know a new company, I love people. I love meeting people and I’m meeting some of the smartest people that I’ve come across and it’s just a lot of fun getting to the members of new team and just expanding my circle a bit more.

The importance of branding
You have to stand for and represent something. Let me relate it to people. With people you can brand yourself the same way a company brands a product. You can pick out your best qualities and display them and demonstrate them in a way that meets an objective in the future. You asked me about my career, and I realised that I would like to be seen as a particular kind of person. So, earlier on in one of my early jobs, I felt that I was hired at a level that was lower than I should be.

I wanted to be promoted very quickly and I felt that the only way to make it happen is show more value in what I do at a higher level than in what I did in the job of that day. So, I made sure I set a higher standard and looked for opportunities to demonstrate how good I was in certain things. But I also paid attention to my appearance because I wanted to be different. I was working for a company where the dress code was smart casual, but I decided that from Mondays to Wednesday, I’m going to wear a suit and look formal and it will make me look a little bit different from everybody else and seem more senior because it’s just a little step above and I did that consistently.

I’m just trying to say how much attention you can pay to different things. But that’s not what got me the promotion. It was a combination of everything. For me, the objective was getting promoted. The same way companies build their brands to sell their products better and with different objective at different times, you can work out what your objective is and emphasise those traits, demonstrate them and take action to exhibit those qualities that you have for whatever objective you are trying to meet.

First day at work
It’s nothing I can ever imagine. Staring a new job in the middle of a pandemic is a very different thing from what you imagine a first day at work to be. My first day at work was, turning up at the Coca-Cola office, empty, because everyone is working from home to be safe. Turn up there to pick up my work tools, my computer, phone, Ipad and then come back home, set up these things and start navigating my way to understand the company better. That’s what a first day at work looks like in a pandemic.

Covid-19: Private organisations creating awareness, Coca-Cola’s intervention

It’s important that we all intervene in creating awareness about the pandemic but also taking action that helps people and health workers deal with the pandemic and Coca-Cola has played an active role. We have distributed thousands and hundreds of thousands of protective gears across several countries in Africa and we’re constantly working on new projects that would help alleviate the suffering from Covid-19.
Companies have been involved and it’s amazing to see all the other companies that have got in the COVID-19 project, protecting people, creating awareness, and now the place where a lot of help is needed is with vaccines, getting them to places where it is needed.
I’m sure a lot of companies will support this. So, it’s been interesting because usually, companies come out with information about things and you think there is an ulterior motive, but when it came to COVID-19, you could see everyone just joining hands and trying to solve a problem.
There is a lot more that can be done, and there is a lot more that should be done, but definitely the private sector is playing a major role, especially in Africa.

Women on boards
If an organisation doesn’t have women on boards, such organisation is missing out on something big, because it’s no more just nice, feel-good argument to say, “oh, you have to give women the opportunity…” now, there are business cases everywhere that show that diversity in boards makes companies more profitable. There is a strong correlation between a diverse board and profitability of a company, and this is not just gender diversity, but diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and orientation. The more diverse a board, or even an executive committee, the more the successful the company is.
So, whatever company is leaving women out is losing 50 percent of what they could be gaining in terms of ideas, innovation and about everything. If you leave 50 percent of the population out, then you’ve only hit 50 percent of your potential audience, talent pool, and the right expertise and experience for a board.

Women supporting women
If I talk about it theoretically, then I’m wasting my time because we can talk about it forever, but if we don’t take action, then nothing is going to change. I’ve met some women in the course of my journey that did wonderful things, taught me a lot, mentored me and had significant impact in the course of my career. These were not just people that were more senior than I was, or more experienced, sometimes, they are my peers. I’ve met some amazing women in my career. Everyone should support everyone.
Nevertheless, where there is a problem in the corporate world is in the number of women in executive positions, that’s where the intervention is needed. In the first place, support women in getting them into the corporate world, and support retaining them in the corporate world, so that policies that allow women to be able to thrive while still being women can be established. It’s not about creating just one level field; it’s about playing in the field as well.

So, if you can, provide opportunities for women to work flexibly while they are having children, or maybe have a nursing room or a crèche in the office, so women can come in and be comfortable that their children are taken care of. Little gestures like that are helpful. But in the company, I want to see a lot more women sponsoring women’s careers.
Mentorship has increased significantly, but I want to see sponsorship which is taking an active role in driving a person’s career, recommending them for a more senior position, because you are in a position of influence where you can. Talking to your peers about the women that work in the organisation and are looking for bigger opportunities, that kind of action is what I want to see a lot more. Another one is in pay parity.
It’s an open secret that in many companies, men are paid more than women. I want to see women who are in position of authority take action to physically alter that. In a lot of companies, a manager can increase a person’s salary without seeking much approval, there is usually a range. So, if you are managing a man and a woman and you see that the man’s salary is this and the woman’s salary is much lower, a lot of times, you can physically just change it. When women support others, I want to see it go pass mentorship and giving good advice. I want to see actual sponsorship and direct action being taken to support other women.

Why I picked on salary is that, if you also increase a woman’s salary to be at par with a man, it’s with them for life because every time you negotiate a new pay, a lot of times, it’s based on what you were earning before, so that’s one significant difference that you can make. I know people are not all motivated by money, but we want to see parity.
It’s an open secret that in many companies, men are paid more than women. I want to see women who are in position of authority take action to physically alter that. In a lot of companies, a manager can increase a person’s salary without seeking much approval, there is usually a range. So, if you are managing a man and a woman and you see that the man’s salary is this and the woman’s salary is much lower, a lot of times, you can physically just change it. When women support others, I want to see it go pass mentorship and giving good advice. I want to see actual sponsorship and direct action being taken to support other women.
Why I picked on salary is that, if you increase a person’s salary to be at par with a man, it’s with them for life because every time you negotiate a new pay, a lot of times, it’s based on what you were earning before, so that’s one significant difference that you can make. I know people are not all motivated by money, but we want to see parity.

Admonition to every young lady out there
Take your work seriously; treat it like anything you value. Look at people who have gone there before you. Get good mentorship. Don’t assume that being a girl should be a barrier to success in any way. There are many advantages to being a woman, just as there are disadvantages. It’s a man’s world we hear, we know and we experience, but don’t lead with that thinking. Lead with the fact that you can achieve anything you set your mind to achieve. A young girl shouldn’t limit herself. Be very broad about what you want to study in the university, be very broad about the career you want to pursue. Don’t leave certain fields to men, expand your tents, throw your nets very wide and see where your best abilities are and go with what your best abilities can get you.