Local oil and gas companies have domesticated expertise Nigeria could be importing – Audrey Joe-Ezigbo
AUDREY JOE-EZIGBO, deputy managing director of Falcon Corporation Limited, speaks with MODESTUS ANAESORONYE on her drive for excellence in the oil and gas industry, and how she has successfully managed her businesses with her husband for 27 years. Excerpt:
You are a woman involved in various prominent leadership roles, what will you say is your most significant observation as a leader?
I would say that leadership is about the commitment to serve people, with and through people. It is a commitment to creating value and impacting lives in your spheres of influence. I have seen various types of leaders and leadership styles, but for me, leadership is propelled from the inward recognition of the privilege that it is to hold any form of influence in and over the life of a fellow human being; and a commitment to then steward that influence honourably, positively, and productively. I have observed that people can see through leadership that comes from an authentic place of service, leadership that is vested in the wellbeing of the led. I have seen that people will follow and stay loyal to these kinds of leaders, and in turn very likely become the same kind of leaders. The leaders who succeed over the long term are those who never lose their awe for the magnitude of the assignments they carry, who never allow pride or complacency distort their vision and appreciation for the positions they occupy.
I have also observed that leadership is more effective when the leaders are open to ideas that are at variance from theirs, and who are willing to allow their people the opportunity to succeed or fail without blame, while trying out their own ideas. I think this is especially critical for many of us who are entrepreneurs, and especially those of us who are in owner-managed firms. We need to lead in ways that ensure our people are building capacity to be able to operate without us, whilst remaining loyal to the organization because they can see they are valued, and their best interests are well represented.
Having founded and still running Falcon Corporation Limited since 1994, you and your husband, Joe Ezigbo were recently referred to as one of the most powerful couples in corporate Nigeria. What principles would you identify as the foundation for sustaining a strong/successful work-relationship with one’s spouse?
There are many things that are involved with this. The first, which is critical, is that the couple must have a shared vision of what it is that they are building on both fronts. In our case, we were and are very focused on building a close, loving, and godly family, and a formidable business institution that will transcend generations. This vision guides our daily interactions through every season of our lives and business. On the business side, it is critical for a couple in business to both be aware of their individual competencies, what they bring to the table in terms of skills and experiences, and where these are best deployed within the business. Both should be committed to best practice and do the work of putting in the right sets of systems, structures, regulatory, compliance, and strong systems of governance in place.
For a couple to successfully work together, they ought to understand the dynamics within a professional firm including maintaining a professional approach to each other in terms of their communication styles and their conduct within the workplace. One thing that has worked well for us is that we approach each other from the lens of what the expectation would be if the person we worked with were not our spouse. If I needed to get a buy-in on a business idea from a professional colleague or boss for instance, then how I would ordinarily approach that person is how I should approach my husband. Every element of rigor in articulating my position and every amount of respect in my approach to someone else should be what I bring to the table, irrespective of the fact that he is my husband, and vice versa. This is actually critical because once there is demonstrable professionalism between the two of you, the rest of the organization will align to your example.
Another key variable is the commitment to the home front. The tendency is many times when couples work together, the business takes over their relationship unless they are deliberate about keeping these as separate as possible. Couples should work out ways to keep the fires burning, loving and respecting each other at home, playing supportive roles with each other, being available to their children. In our case, we set limits around what kind of work can be brought home and when work can or cannot be discussed at home.
You’ve been an entrepreneur for almost 27 years. In comparison to when you started, how will you describe today’s oil and gas industry?
First is to take cognizance of the fact that the industry is better structured. The landscape is more robust with many more players, with heightened competition and collaborations across the value chain. Today we have not just the international oil companies that dominated the scene back when I came into the industry, but also the indigenous oil companies and marginal field players. From the upstream exploration and production; to midstream processing, storage, and transportation; downstream distribution and services, we have built local capacity within the industry. This is following from the Nigeria Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act 2010 and the great work that has been done by the Nigerian Content Monitoring and Development Board (NCDMB) in this time. When I came into the industry, the first question you would expect to be asked was who your foreign technical partners were. Today, there are many competent Nigerian firms that are doing amazing work and a much higher extent of domestication of work that would otherwise previously have been imported.
There is a stronger, more inward-looking, and more sustained development focus by the government where the industry is concerned; and while it is still not perfect, we have seen improved articulation of government policy and regulation as related to Oil and Gas. Indeed, over the past few years and since we, for the first time, put out a National Gas Policy in 2017; the recognition of the Natural Gas industry as a separate and distinct one from the oil industry has been a major, laudable development in terms of structure. In this regard, it has been good to see the considerable traction that we have achieved from the time when we treated our natural gas resources as a waste byproduct of oil exploration, as was the case when I came into the industry, to where we are now intentionally working to leverage Natural Gas as a critical enabling resource for economic development and industrialization.
You serve as a source of inspiration to young women or women who aspire to be at the top in what could be tagged “a man’s world”. What are some contributing factor(s) to remaining in and flourishing at such a position?
First and foremost, perspective is key. What I mean by this is that I do not see myself first as a woman in a man’s world. That is a coloration added by an unfortunate societal construct that has been passed down from one generation to the other. I see myself first as a human being that needs to be accountable to the breath of God that is within me. I believe that everyone, male and female, needs to first approach their lives with this primary understanding.
That said, yes, I am a woman in a field that is male dominated, there are peculiarities that the terrain comes with, and many things therefore that are important for a woman to note in order to succeed in the kind of roles that I have been privileged to occupy. First, is that you must be audacious. Success demands boldness from you in any situation, and this has nothing to do with gender. In so far as a woman knows that she is knowledgeable, competent, committed, and capable of making a difference, she should be bold and own her space. She must choose to use her voice, show up at the table, and add the value that she carries, standing her ground in the face of challenges and obstacles that she will inadvertently face. I do not recommend for a woman to try to be ‘one of the boys’ in the name of trying to gain acceptability or fit in. She is not and never will be. Women bring very unique sets of insights and competencies to the table, so it is important that we establish our competences and credibility as the best version of ourselves that we are.
A woman in a male dominated field also needs to be strategic and tenacious. Unfortunately, there will be many who will be uncomfortable with your presence, but when you deliver excellent results with consistency; you earn respect from everyone, no matter how grudgingly. A woman in a male dominated environment must build the mental, emotional, psychological, and I dare say, spiritual fortitude to bear up and bounce back time and again; and in so doing, it gets easier to deal with the difficulty that comes with these kinds of roles. You have to establish your personal value system very clearly from the beginning, and work to maintain a good professional and friendly rapport with those on your teams, even while making clear that you will not compromise your values at any point. This will not always make you the most popular person in the room, but I will advocate for respect over popularity any day, if it is a function of holding fast to my core values. It is important to have a good network of mentors, friends, and professional colleagues, both male and female, within and outside of your industry who can serve as a support system to you. It is important that you stay visible and establish yourself as a good leader and a solid part of your organization or associations. I believe it is important that you realize that men are people just like you. They have their own fears and insecurities, as well as their own struggles. We are all journeying through this life looking for the very best outcomes based on our abilities and the grace of God.