Dr. Amy Jadesimi, managing director of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics (LADOL), is very versatile, intelligent and exceedingly competent. Her rise through the ladder of success has seen her move from Oxford University, UK, with a degree in medicine, to Goldman Sachs, London as an investment banker, and to Stanford Graduate School of Business in America, where she got an MBA. In this interview, she speaks about LADOL’s projects and how women lead differently.
Can you give us an insight into how LADOL evolved?
LADOL was established as a 100 percent indigenous Nigerian company whose focus was and is to build strategically important infrastructure. So, our first project is LADOL free zone, which is in Lagos. The free zone itself is like an industrial hub. It is built around a specialised port, and because we are the first to do this, we have to prove the case and proving the case means that we took an undeveloped area like a green-field site and invested $150 million in the first phase, to develop it to a fully operational, fully integrated deep port logistic base.
And logistic base means that not only do we have the industrial facilities like, workshops and equipment, we also have accommodation and fully serviced offices, so that people can live, work and sleep there. So we are kind of building an industrial village.
We are now going into our second phase where we are going to invest about three times as much, expanding our existing facilities as well as building Africa’s largest fabrication and integration facility.
The facility, which we are building in joint venture with Samsung Heavy Industries will attract tremendous amount of additional business into Nigeria. We are looking at it creating 50,000 direct and indirect new jobs into the country. The projects that are going to be done in Nigeria for the first time, will really change the dynamics of the market functionally from one where we are exporting jobs to one where there is a huge new market created here that requires new investment that will also reward us with access to millions of dollars of new business for projects that were previously only done in other parts in the world.
You studied medicine in your first degree, how did you switch to managing a firm involved in infrastructure development?
After I qualified from Oxford University as a medical doctor, I worked as an investment banker at Goldmans Sachs International in London and then to Stanford Graduate School of Business in America, where I got an MBA in business. The idea of getting an MBA after having rounded off my studies was to give me a platform that I could use. So after I moved back to Nigeria, I got involved in LADOL because of my finance background.
At a time, we were doing some financing, so my first job was putting together a business plan and working with the team we had. As time went on I got more and more involved in the company, and at that stage we were mainly doing construction. So, I was liaising with the contractors, looking at the different projects, deciding how to deploy the funds, which we were able to raise to the different projects. And then as the facility was built and opened and became operational, I then moved to serving clients, different companies and different projects.
What are some of your challenges so far?
We have encountered every conceivable difficulty that you can think of when you are starting a new business, especially when you are taking on a project as large as this. And that is everything from choosing the location to choosing your management team, recruiting staff, training staff, to your interactions with governments, getting your approvals, retaining your approvals.
Since we are doing something that has never been done before and when we say it is a l00 per cent indigenous Nigerian company, you can understand that there are a lot of people in government who wouldn’t believe that a Nigerian company could do this. So, we have to prove ourselves to the government.
Of course, the passing of the Local Content Act in 2010 was very helpful to us and we appreciate the efforts that have been made to bring indigenes into our economy, allowing us to participate in an area of our economy that was previously dominated by foreigners.
So once we overcame the main barrier to entry and became operational. We now delved into a whole lot of other challenges of running the operation and I think the main challenges of running a growing operation are that of the human capital. So training of Nigerians is absolutely key at this stage of our development. Now, underlying all of these is of course, the financing and with the changes that are currently going on in the value of the naira, everyone is acutely aware
of the difficulties right now in attracting funds into Nigeria.
Attracting funds for a long-term investment, especially for a facility that has never been done before and that is a 100 percent indigenous Nigerian company is almost impossible. Fortunately, we have the backing and the support of our chairman who is treating this as a legacy project.
With the backing of our chairman and institutions like GT Bank and the Bank of Industry, which is also one of our shareholders, we are able to meet our financing challenges.
In your recent interview with BBC, you were quoted as saying that “people trust women more” when it comes to raising money. How true is this?
My experience is informed by the fact that my mother set up an NGO here, which was basically like a microfinance organisation and what they found out is that women were the best people to lend money to. The idea of the organisation is that they lend money to individuals to set up businesses, you mentor them and with small amount of money, they set up farms, run taxis and things like that. What we found out was that women tend to stick to the business more and they tend to have almost 100 percent repayment rate. But I think in terms of businesses on the level in which LADOL is doing, people look for some very sophisticated analysis to determine whether they think you are a credit risk. But I think that in the finance industry, women tend to be more committed to dealing with business on a day-to-day basis.
How have you found people’s attitude towards you as a female managing director in a male dominated industry?
Yes, I think all women operating at certain executive level may realise that they are in the minority. In the oil and gas, maritime and even the general industrial and manufacturing sectors, which are dominated by men, what happens regularly is that when you walk into a room, you are put in a spotlight and you are expected to prove yourself in a way that men are not asked to prove themselves.
I think the opportunity created by the fact that people pay attention to you because you are one of the few females in the room is that you have the opportunity to make yourself heard if you know how to express yourself. So, I have always felt that as a woman, I have to plan very carefully, not just what I am going to say, I have to plan how I look, how I am going to come across, the points I am going to get across and how I am going to get it across. I think the other things I do, as a woman -I don’t know whether men also do – is that I try to build consensus. I focus more on teamwork. My leadership style is based on two things. One is meritocracy, the other is collaboration; and I think that studies show that women try to use these strategies more than men for a lot of reasons.
Recent researches and data seem to suggest that only about 10% of board of directors of major companies are female. Why do you think most women find it difficult to break into the C-suites in most organizations?
As we know, there are some parts of the country where women are not very educated; where women are married out at very young age.
There are parts of the country where even educated women are not allowed to work and women are by cultural norm expected to take care of the family. So, in order for a woman to be successful, she has to overcome prejudices and cultural norms and challenges which men don’t have to overcome.
When it comes to building a career, the choice is not made easy for a woman. Also, as women get more senior in an organization, people’s life style come into play and while women will probably leave to love children whereas men will have their wives supporting them so they will be able to move up in their career.
So I think the main challenge we have in Nigeria has to do with education. I will say that the one, two, and three of the things we need to do is to educate over girls. There are lot of data and researches that show direct correlation between educating women and a country’s GDP. So the more you educate your women the high your GDP is. So it is for the benefit of the whole country if we educate more girls. And then lastly, there are a lot of tough choices that women have to make, but I think we need to have a lot of strength of character to the able to defend whatever choice we make.
Of people you know, and of people you read about, who has had the most influence on your leadership style and professional career?
I think the people who influence us most are people who are closest to us, and in my case, they are my parents. Both have been very supportive. And given that I work in a company where my father is the Chairman, I have been able to see and learn and be mentored by his leadership and business style.
Culled from Businessday.
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