By Victor Ajihromanus
Audrey Joe-Ezigbo is the Deputy Managing Director of Falcon Corporation Limited, a leading wholly indigenous midstream and downstream Energy, Gas Distribution & Trading company which she co-founded in 1994.
An accomplished professional, Audrey holds several Masters’ degrees in Finance, Marketing and Business Administration from the Lagos Business School, University of Nigeria and Nnamdi Azikiwe University; as well as executive certifications in Management, Leadership and Governance from Harvard Business School, IE Business School, and IESE Business School.
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Until March 2021, Audrey was the first female President of the Nigerian Gas Association (NGA) in the Association’s over 21-year history. She is a Fellow of the Energy Institute (FEI), the chartered professional membership body of global energy experts. She is a founding member, Women in Energy Network (WiEN); member and global role model, Women in LPG (WiNLPG) Nigeria chapter; member of the NCCF Diversity Sectoral Working Group of the Nigeria Content Development & Monitoring Board (NCDMB).
Audrey is on the Executive Council of WIMBIZ where she also serves as Chairperson, WIMBIZ Capital Committee (WIMCAP) and Chairperson, WImbiz Membership & Programs Committee. Audrey is a certified transformational coach and member of the International Coach Federation. She is a prolific writer and author with four books, and has won multiple awards including the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year West Africa Award 2014, Female Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 Award, and Lagos Business School Distinguished Alumni Award 2018. She was recognized as one of Leading Ladies Africa 100 Most Inspiring Women in Nigeria 2019. She is married and a mother of four young adults. Vanguard had a chat with her on leadership, charting the business waters and navigating today’s oil and gas industry and much more.
As a renowned business leader born and living in a continent that is in dire need of transformational leadership, Audrey believes that leadership is about the commitment to serve people, creating value and impacting lives in one’s sphere 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 honorably, positively, and productively.” she says.
According to her, people can see through leadership that comes from an authentic place of service, one that is vested in the wellbeing of the led. 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.
According to her, 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.”
In the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, studies show that women-led countries handled the pandemic better than their male counterparts. Does this mean that women make more effective leaders? For someone like her who has thrived over the years in a male dominated industry, what does it take to succeed in a “man’s world”?
Audrey believes that the term “man’s world” is a coloration added by an unfortunate societal construct that has been passed down from one generation to the other. For her, she sees herself 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.”
She agrees that she, like other women in the gas industry is in a male dominated industry and for a woman to thrive in leadership or any male dominated role, she must first be audacious. “Success demands boldness from you in any situation, and this has nothing to do with gender. 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.” Audrey encourages today’s woman to 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.
She was quick to add however, that she doesn’t not recommend for a woman to try to be ‘one of the boys’ in the name of trying to gain acceptability or fit in. According to her, a woman is not one of the boys 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.” she adds.
“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.” Audrey acknowledges that it is important to have a good network of mentors, friends, and professional colleagues, both male and female, within and outside of one’s industry to serve as a support system.
“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.”
On the most consistent challenges in the oil and gas landscape in Nigeria and Africa at large, Audrey believes that it is primarily the issue of continuity and stability in government, and then continuity of focus and direction in terms of policy and regulation. “I believe that underpinning this is the lack of a broad strategic long-term vision for the nation and continent, and the tendency to personalize governance and glory.” she admonishes.
She submits that if we had long-term plans that every successive government would adhere to, we would be experiencing a different Nigeria and Africa today. “We are all familiar with projects and programs being stalled or totally jettisoned because the prior leader has put their name to it and an incumbent does not want to identify with it, even where they may be laudable.”
The size and cost of governance is also a challenge across the continent, compounded by the multiplicity of regulatory agencies and the attendant legislative delays and bureaucratic bottlenecks, corruption and rent seeking points, which all serve to constrain productivity and effectiveness. Another challenge is a lack of adherence to the sanctity of contracts in regions where there is strong government dominance and heavy regulation in the industry.
This particular issue has been a longstanding challenge in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry which not only impacts negatively on existing projects, but also constrains the amount of inflow of new investments into the industry.
Audrey revealed that another constraint is the ageing nature of, and inadequacy of infrastructure. She recommends the adoption of newer technologies that make for cleaner energy as well as cost and other operational efficiencies. “Within this same infrastructure bucket is the challenge of high level of import dependency and attendant significant foreign exchange risk exposures because we do not have manufacturing capability for many critical industry materials and components domiciled on the continent.”
The AFDB estimates that Africa will require about $900 billion for Gas infrastructure development alone. Audrey believes that this is huge. “It brings me to the issue of funding and the lack of capacity of our local banks to finance this level of infrastructure built at reasonable rates and over longer terms. As it stands in Nigeria, oil and gas companies account for about 30% of sector loans and approx. 20% of the non-performing loan portfolios of our local banks, thus placing a significant strain on the financial services sector.”
Audrey points out security as a key challenge in most of the African countries including Nigeria. She added that the Nigerian oil and gas industry lost a lot of ground in the period where there was active militancy and continuous vandalization of assets.
“Today, there is still ongoing vandalization and infringement on assets, albeit much reduced.” she noted. However, we now face different sets of security issues, from kidnapping to killings by herdsmen, armed robberies, insurgencies, and more. This makes the terrain extremely challenging for operators and does not send the right signals to potential investors.
She, however, ended in a positive note, stating expectantly that Africa and Nigeria in particular, is set to be a major contributor on the global energy landscape. “It is imperative for us to try to address some of our systemic and structural challenges as quickly and effectively we can, particularly as the investing world globally is rapidly moving their financing away from hydrocarbon projects.”
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