I never got any leadership position because I’m a woman – Owen, President, Transcorp Group
Owen Omogiafo. Is one of the leading female business leaders and CEOs of large corporations in Africa. In this interview to mark the occasion of International Women’s Day, she speaks to how being a woman hasn’t limited her rise to stardom. She also spoke about how women are making huge impacts on the growth and development of Africa in general and Nigeria in particular. She also to spoke on several other pertinent issues of leadership, and more. Excerpts!
Could you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers for the purpose of this interview?
My name is Owen Omogiafo. I am the President and Group CEO of Transnational Corporation PLC (Transcorp), a role I assumed in March 2020. Prior to this, I was the CEO of Transcorp Hotels Plc. I am the youngest person and the first female to have been appointed to both roles. I have a BSc (Double Honours) in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Benin; an MSc. in Human Resource Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science; and an alumna of the Lagos Business School and IESE Spain. My professional memberships include being a member of the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development, UK, the Chartered Institute for Personnel Management, Nigeria, and the Institute of Directors. I am also the Vice President of the Lagos Business School Alumni Association. I am a wife, a mother, an enthusiast for wider inclusion, and many more.
How would you describe your formative years and what influence have they had on the decisions you have made and the situations you have encountered in your later life?
I grew up as an only daughter and youngest child amongst boys – my brothers and my cousins. Quite different from what would be the norm, whilst my brothers protected me fiercely, they also demanded high accountability from me and would “reset” me, if I stepped out of line. We were also charged with doing chores, with none reserved for any gender. Thus, my brothers can cook, as I can, and I can also change a tyre as they can! As a child I was very inquisitive, I always asked questions and wanted to know more so I always asked the question “Why?”. My dad always encouraged me in this, and that moulded my quest for knowledge as I always had to read vastly about theories and ideologies. I was quite clear about what I wanted and did not want. Being average was not an option, as I believed in and still believe that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. I was brought up on the principles of integrity, hard work, respect for the individual, and kindness. All these, as well as the various people I have had the profound blessing to be in my life as I grew up (Aimiuwu, Idokoko, and Omagbitse families to mention a few), have contributed to the young woman who joined the workforce at the tender age of 20 and who continues to pursue excellence in all she does.
Have you faced any challenges or limitations due to your gender or being a woman? If so, how did you manage these situations?
As I mentioned above, I was raised in an environment that did not limit my brothers and me to gender-based roles. Thus, from an early age, I have been equipped and encouraged to be the best I can be without being conscious of my gender. It would interest you to note that I have faced more questions about my age, than my gender professionally. I recall wanting to apply to a top Government parastatal as a young graduate of 20 but could not as the minimum age at the time was 25 for an entry-level position. Undoubtedly, I have met some people in my professional career, who have questioned my abilities due to my gender and my age, but I am happy to say that most have changed their minds when we are engaged. At the end of the day, so long as you are dealing with open-minded people, whatever natural bias they may hold will fade once you prove your competence. On a lighter note, as you know the name Owen is predominantly associated with the male gender, so a lot of times people expect to meet a man behind the name, only to be surprised to find out I am female. I recall this playing out when I did my entry assessment into Accenture; we were told at the start of the test that only those who passed should wait behind for further instructions. 8 names were called and mine was one of them. One of the invigilators walked up to me as to him only male names were called out and nicely whispered “we said if your name was not called, you should go” and I replied, “my name is there, I am Owen Elaiho”. I was the only female out of the 8 people who passed.
Throughout your education and career development, what specific actions have you taken that have contributed to your success?
In life, one must always acknowledge and understand the role of the grace of God in everything that is done, and I am no different. I have been blessed throughout my entire life to be exposed to great mentors who have played important roles in my life, including my peers. I graduated at a time when having a Second-Class Upper was key to determining your future, especially if you came from a humble background as I did; I was fortunate to have someone in Banking, who informed me of this and perhaps more importantly, I listened to the counsel and worked hard to ensure I graduated with a high grade. As a firm believer in whatever is worth doing is worth doing well, preparedness, hunger for success, and value creation have propelled me to achieve results in my career journey. From reading GMAT and GRE textbooks as we prepared for entry-level exams to executing my role as President of Transcorp Group, I continue to be guided by these. One definition of luck that I love, is preparedness meeting opportunity. At various points in my life, imbibing this definition has helped me to take advantage of opportunities and translate them into reality.
What is your perspective on the development and empowerment of women in Nigeria and across Africa?
Over the years, we have made progress in Nigeria and in the continent. we have seen the emergence of female Presidents, women in politics, and top female leaders. However, there is still more to be done. In a recent report conducted by PWR Advisory, it shows that 23.4% of board directorships of the NGX’s top 20 companies by market capitalization are held by women and 25% of the top 20 companies have at least 30% female representation on their boards of which Transcorp was listed. In the banking sector, we have 7 female Managing Directors and over 100 women in management positions and making an impact. Outside the Banking sector, we have many female MDs/CEOs. Women now make up 22 % of the total number of engineering and Technology University graduates on a yearly basis, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, contrary to the past when we had very few women in Tech! A lot of female entrepreneurs have sprung up in the last 10 years. Across Africa, we have had about 7 female presidents! While these figures are encouraging, there is still room for more and we are getting there. We can have more policies to enable female participation in the workplace. For example, more favourable policies around maternity and childcare. Policies that encourage the participation of men in some of the roles that were traditionally centred around women. For example, FG recently increased maternity leave to 4 months and 2 weeks for paternity leave for its workers. It will be good for the private sector to consider this, as it is a good start for fathers to get involved in easing the stress on new mothers and also getting involved in the home front. There is also the topic of workspaces having creches, to enable mothers to focus on their roles in the office, knowing that their little ones are safe and secure. We need more of such policies, noting the biological role of women in nature.
Did gender play a role in your journey to your current position, especially in a male-dominated environment? How did you overcome any challenges you faced?
No, gender did not play a role in my current position and others I have held prior to this. I have not been given a role because I am a woman, I have been given my roles because I earned them and was deemed the best person for them. I am fortunate to have worked in companies that are truly driven by equal opportunities, and there is no bias for race, age, religion, gender, or otherwise. My Chairman, Mr. Tony O. Elumelu, CFR is a strong advocate for a merit-driven culture and creates an enabling environment for such to thrive. So, my journey has been enabled by being able to operate in a bias-free environment, with new challenges daily. I have learned to listen at meetings, learn from others and apply said lessons. Another pillar that was key to my growth is my support system. It is important for every woman, and really, everyone, to seek out mentors and allies who can offer guidance and support. Connect with networks within your industry and speak to like-minded individuals who can share their experiences and provide support. Lastly, I never gave up in the face of challenges or setbacks. I picked myself up every time I fell or seemingly failed. Persistence and resilience are key qualities every woman must have if they are to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.
What is your opinion on the participation of women in leadership and politics in Nigeria? What advice do you have for women on International Women’s Day?
I feel so proud of the calibre of women in leadership positions in the corporate world. Being one myself, I must say it is a good time for women and there is still room for more women to step up to the plate of leadership and get more involved in politics. We need more women to oversee government initiatives and policies that can move the country forward. I would love to see more female governors in the next decade, and I know we are getting there. Already we have about 25 women running for the gubernatorial elections this year under various parties and that is encouraging. I hope we can see more of this and have more women win these sits. On International Women’s Day, my advice to women is to be more intentional about ourselves, our goals, and what we want to achieve. Never limit your dreams even if the current environment or situations around may not be in your favour for there is always a light at the end of the tunnel if you keep at it. Never give up! I also want women to push themselves more, get out of their comfort zone and upskill where there are gaps. Take a relevant course and learn more for it is the knowledge that gives you the advantage over the next person. Speak up, and let your voice be heard, not harshly but with authority and confidence.
Lastly, I would like to encourage women to support other women genuinely. Let’s collaborate with each other, let’s do business together, and refer each other where opportunities are available. Let’s respect and love each other.
To what extent are women prioritized in the evolution of a sustainable education system in the country? Is there an increase or decrease in the enrollment of girls in primary, secondary, and tertiary education? How can Nigeria improve the standard of education for girls to meet international standards?
I must say that over the years, there has been tremendous improvement in the enrolment of more girls in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions despite the known cultural perception that girls don’t need to be educated. Gone are the days when educating the girl child wasn’t relevant. We have done well as a country in the last 10 years with sensitizing and enrolling more girls in our local government primary and secondary schools, but a lot more needs to be done especially in areas of less economic development. We need laws and policies that ensure that every child, especially the girl child must be enrolled in school regardless of their geographical location. At our Transcorp Schools, we have a total of 689 enrolled at TransAfam Staff School where we have 350 boys and 339 girls. At Transcorp Power Limited Staff primary and Secondary Schools we have a total of 1073 enrolled students with 527 boys and 546 girls! We also need more school development projects across all local government areas in Nigeria. Projects that introduce technology into school curriculums. A general overhaul of school syllabuses is to be updated and modern regardless of whether they are government schools or not. How do we meet international standards if we are not moving on the same platform as the world? Lastly, there is a strong need to invest greatly in improving the quality and welfare of teachers in Nigeria.
As a leader, what specific plans do you have for your organization in the coming years and next decade?
At Transcorp, we are all about impact and value creation, hence our purpose of “Improving Lives, Transforming Africa”. Last year, we changed our name from Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc to Transnational Corporation Plc, in line with our intent of propagating our mission of transformation beyond Nigeria. We recognise, in line with the principle of Africapitalism, the role of the private sector in catalysing the development of our dear continent, Africa. We will continue to focus on catalysing growth across key sectors, notably in the Energy sector. Nigeria has a lot of trapped value that can be unlocked if we get our Energy sector amongst other things right. Thus, we will optimise our existing investments of nearly 2000MW in the Power Sector, drive our integrated energy strategy by maturing our oil and gas asset, as well as diversity into renewable energy sources. Leveraging on our dominance in the hospitality sector, we will continue to redefine service standards and excellence, one hotel asset at a time. Ultimately, we look to build a sustainable conglomerate that will succeed from one generation to the next, creating value for all stakeholders.
Pls update this based our conversation this evening. We can also mention the number of women who won on Saturday?