Ronke Onadeko: ‘We need to write our own authentic stories for other Nigerians to read’
She is considered as one of the go-to persons in the Nigerian oil and gas sector and is a sought after international speaker and panelist on energy related topics. She is a regular commentator and guest on oil and gas discussions on radio, social media and television.
For over 11 years she worked with a financial institution active in oil and gas in Nigeria as the consultant and advisor. She managed BNP Paribas formal entry into Nigeria covering corporate and investment banking, asset management and private banking.
Ronke currently acts as an energy and power consultant to Ibikunle Amosun, Governor of Ogun State, and she is rolling out a 1000MW plan for the state to be realized by the first quarter of 2019. Under the current administration she has acted in the capacity of the supervising commissioner for the Agriculture ministry of the state also. She is also the principal consultant at DRNL Consult Limited, UK and Delt-R Company Limited, Nigeria.
She is on the board of several companies with interests in agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing, telecommunications, education and human capacity development and oil and gas sector.
As a youth empowerment advocate, she works with several non governmental organizations and platforms and speaks to hundreds of youths annually to encourage, guide and direct them on career choices, navigating personal growth and development, and management of time, resources and relationships.
A Chevening Scholar and an Archbishop Bishop Tutu Leadership Fellow, she recently published her debut book, To My Younger Self, to share valuable lessons and insights in life, career and business with the younger generation.
‘To My Younger Self’ is a collection of letters from business leaders and leading professionals in Nigeria. The book has inspired the #ToMyYoungerSelf movement on social media where individuals are beginning to reflect and share letters to their younger selves.
In this interview, she talks about her journey into public service, having her first child at 50 and self-sabotaging mistakes women make in business.
Tell us about your career journey till date?
I got back to Nigeria after my first degree, which was in Food Science and Technology and I was posted to Unilever for my NYSC, and worked there for one year. I wasn’t looking for a corporate job, I wanted to stand on my own, to be an entrepreneur.
I was thinking of starting a fast food restaurant and started looking for a spot on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi and ended up at a family friend’s place off Awolowo Road.
The person in question wasn’t so organised, so I started helping this person manage the business and this was how I found myself in the oil industry, which was a brand new industry at the time.
I developed myself in that field, went back to school for a postgraduate diploma and that started the foundation of my career despite the fact that I was a food technologist.
Over time that I worked in this industry, I have been in operations, downstream, upstream and so on but later, I decided to opt out.
Around this time, I had the opportunity to buy a farm but didn’t quite understand the magnitude of going into agriculture, but because enterprise excites me, I jumped into it and quickly discovered it was much larger than I could manage.
Along the way, I got interested in food manufacturing and set up a beverage company without having a factory.
What I did was used other people’s factory to pack my goods. This is called contract manufacturing and is widely practiced abroad but was relatively new in the country, because when I explained to people what I wanted to do, they told me no one was going to let me use their factory, but I did it all the same.
It was a juice business and I did this for many years. Years later, I won a Chevening Scholarship from the British Council and went to do my masters in England for a year.
During that year, I was privileged to do my dissertation in China and came across the advantages and disadvantages of different business models and came back with the knowledge that I was done with manufacturing.
The process of manufacturing is a difficult and long one and the period from the time you start spending money buying materials till when you’re able to get your money back was so wide that it was a marginally profitable business.
I decided I wanted the money and not the stress, so I decided to set up a service business instead.
Within months of coming back to the country, I was approached by one of my service clients who was looking for someone to help them manage their business in Nigeria.
I wanted to help him look for a banker, as I wasn’t one and he refused, insisting on working with me and that was how we started.
The bank was BNP Paribas and I worked with them till about three years ago.
I was their sole representative in Nigeria, managed their business relationships, looked for business opportunities, pitched businesses for them and so on.
This was how I delved into consulting and when BNP was unwinding from emerging economies, I got poached by another international bank to continue consulting.
I consult for international oil and gas companies that want to position in Nigeria and want to understand the terrain and how to do things.
I deliver papers, speak on panels in the oil industry and three years ago, I was called by my state to come and serve.
I started as a consultant to the governor on energy and a year into my service, I was asked to become the commissioner for agriculture. During this period, I was hoping to have a baby and sat in as a supervising commissioner for four months and I got pregnant.
You sit on the board of WIMBIZ, how did you get into the organization?
I know most of the ladies that started WimBiz through work, socially or family and have been invited to a few programmes.
Because I knew most of the women and had access to them, I felt there wasn’t any need to join until it dawned on me that I needed to join, not because I needed something from the body but to give back to people.
I’m involved in the mentoring programme, I teach and facilitate, do fundraising and now I’m on the board.
People claim it is difficult to work with other women but that doesn’t apply here, as it is a value adding sisterhood that gives a tried and tested platform to do things.
In April, WimBiz Big Sister Programme came to Ogun State, partnered with the governor’s wife’s foundation and four commissioners and went to different schools and reached over 5000 young girls on different, life-changing areas.
How have you impacted the citizens of your state, serving first as energy consultant then Commissioner for Agriculture?
To be honest, I was a little afraid initially but if you know Ogun State, you will discover it is a unique state. We have more capable female members of cabinet heading high-powered positions than any other state.
The governor is a doer and you can’t be caught slacking when working with him because if you don’t know your ministry, he will know it better than you and keep you on your toes.
We started with a state-round audit on power in the state to find out how much power we have and how much we need.
Power is very important to us because there are more industries in Ogun State than any other state in Nigeria, more tertiary institutions, all the mega churches and Islamic bodies have their headquarters in the state and it is obvious we need and consume power more than any other state.
We have started to build from the ground up, partnering with small companies by providing land while they bring expertise.
We have signed 17 MoUs and several power purchase plans and we hope to commission these before we leave. Our goal is to grow these instalmentally, so that we ramp up the power supply yearly.
You recently wrote a book, Letters To My Younger Self and launching it tomorrow. What spurred this?
When I got into business, there were not a lot of people who could handhold me, teach me what to do and how to do it.
Both my parents were civil servants and when I came back to Nigeria around 1989, it was uncommon to venture into business, as most parents usually found jobs for their kids in a ministry or company.
But I wanted to be on my own and had to resort to trial and error to figure things out and I thought if I have made mistakes, lost money and time, why should others have to go through that if I could pass on my knowledge?
This was how I got into mentoring and I have mentored for several national bodies.
Even after mentoring hundreds of people, I still need mentors myself and so I have mentors for different areas of my life.
I shuffle between Abuja, Lagos and Abeokuta and by the time I get home, I’m very tired and don’t have time for my mentees.
I struggled on how to create time for younger people and decided to write a book to share my experiences.
I got in touch with others that I feel have better knowledge in certain areas and pleaded with them to write a chapter in the book.
I have had tough times in businesses, had more businesses that didn’t work out than the ones that did.
In fact, for every one business that worked, three didn’t work but no one tells you this.
We need to write our own authentic stories for other Nigerians to read not reading a book from someone in America that has a different struggle than us in Nigeria.
This book is one in a series of books that we are working on.
How was it working with the heavyweights that wrote in the book, as there are several?
By God’s grace, I know everyone that contributed and they were gracious enough to give their time, sweat and effort for nothing.
I am excited that this book would be in the hands of many and people are going to benefit from it.
I thought I knew the contributors but as their stories were coming in, I was seeing parts of them I had never seen before.
If you read through the stories, hard work, perseverance, focus, God, good value systems are echoed over and over in different ways.
Speaking of good values; it is clear that youths are easily swayed by ill-gotten riches and get-rich-quick schemes these days. How do you hope this book will work on this?
I usually tell people that it is easy to get distracted when you don’t know who you are and where you are going.
Everyone’s race is different, some people are early bloomers; they know what they want to do and they’re shooting off and you feel left behind.
Several successful people didn’t start what they’re doing now till they were in their 30’S and 40’s but most people don’t have this patience.
I understand that this stems mostly from the economy, as there is a lot of pressure to start earning money the moment you finish from school.
First, find your passion. You can like cooking but you don’t necessarily have to be a chef.
There are other things you can do in the food line that would give you a sustainable income like food packaging, food exporting and so on.
Careers come from solutions to problems. If you like writing, you could be an author, a ghostwriter for others.
We need to get more creative with our thinking and stop waiting for oil company jobs, stop waiting for ready-made things and for things to be handed to you.
First, develop yourself and your values, be attentive and don’t procrastinate because it is deadly.
There are a lot of life lessons to be learnt from this book, how to position yourself, pick friends, attributes to look for in people that would help you grow.
If you dropped dead today, what would people say about you? Start living the kind of life that you would want people to speak of positively when you are not around or alive.
A lot of women entrepreneurs have started businesses that have failed. What would you tell these women?
There are so many trainings in Nigeria today for women entrepreneurs, find them.
It’s not by having money to start business alone and so you jump into any one.
If you want to set up a clothing business, go and learn from someone in that field for at least six months because what you see on the outside is never what is on the inside.
When I was doing my juice business, I had other businesses by the side but was well known for the juice business and when I bought a car, people said, “Juice business is good. Look at her, when did she start, she has bought a car,” but they didn’t know what was involved.
Understudying someone gives you a clearer picture of things as they really are. When I started my business, I was the secretary, cleaner, lawyer, marketer, delivery woman, producer and director.
Most people didn’t see these difficult aspects, they only saw the results. Also, build a network of people in that space so when you have issues, you’ll get help.
Also, be humble and willing to learn because even if you have done several years in that business, you will come across a problem that would confuse you.
Furthermore, you need to join associations that would help in your difficult time; find like minded people who are in the same space with you because when it is time for collaboration, they will call only people they know and trust.
A stranger will not call you for anything. If you’re a woman that wants to go into business, have these at the back of your mind.
More importantly, bank every kobo you earn because the day you need to borrow money, your bank would see your track record with money and how consistent you have been, even if you withdraw everything, they know you will still bring in money.
Most people go to the bank for the first time when they want to borrow money; this is not how it works. There are so many things we don’t do as women that men do.
When a man is setting up a business, there is no emotion involved, he will look for the best hands; but women will employ their cousin, husband’s brother and even husband.
We need to do things differently, be more strategic. Have accountability partners that will tell you the truth at all times; when you need to dig deeper or throw in the towel.
What is your greatest success story?
Having my first child at 50 years of age. I didn’t give up; it was something I really wanted. Everyone that knows me knew I wanted a baby.
I never hid it. I talked about it, made enquiries, researched, tested things and threw myself in the process.
I feel blessed, thankful and grateful to my forerunners- women who had children at older ages. Because I saw they did it, it gave me the boldness and tenacity to keep at it.
I read authentic stories of Nigerian women and it emboldened me, making me willing to tell my own authentic story, hoping it inspires other women.
What would you say to inspire more women to be deliberate and strategic?
Personally, I’m trying to live a more deliberate life and I’m still growing.
I go to Linkedin, look for top women and read their profiles, look at what they’re doing that I haven’t done and write it down to do.
I force myself to be more intentional more than ever before. As a woman, educate yourself everyday, talk to more people, volunteer for free as every experience adds value to you.
You don’t know whose eye will catch you; stop looking for money to do every single thing, sometimes volunteer.
The first few times I went to speak outside Nigeria, I paid my way because I wanted to have the experience of international speaking engagements.
Now I have a retinue of places I have spoken all over the world and now people are paying me to come and talk.
You have to sow a seed, allow it to germinate before reaping any fruits. If someone asks a man and a woman to do a job, without even having zero idea, the man will say he can do it confidently and contract the job out when he gets it.
What inspires you and keeps you motivated to keep going?
I’m greedy for experiences, for opportunities, so I’m always scanning my environment, looking at what others are doing and striving to do it.
I give people ideas and help them set it up. I want to add value to people around me.
I want to also raise a phenomenal man; I want to raise my son to be the kind of man that people would pray for me when they come in contact with him.
I want to raise a man that is in touch with his masculinity, treats women as equal, to be articulate, athletic, musically inclined, a robust man, an exceptional individual.
I hope God gives me the long life to see this come into fruition, to see my next generation succeed and do better than me.
Tell us how you achieve work life balance as you have your fingers in so many pies?
You need to have a very robust support system around you and be a good planner.
I’m not superwoman; I outsource many things to free my energy and time to concentrate on things that really matter like my work and family.
My weekend is family time, I don’t allow anything interfere with that.
What would you say to women that want to go into entrepreneurship?
It’s a tough, challenging journey but rewarding. I love to bring the pieces of things together and see the final results; just make sure it has the wow factor because that is what makes people pay for things, whether it’s a service or product.
No matter what you are doing, just ensure you stand out from others.
It doesn’t have to be something big or extra, just be unique and different. When ideas come to you, write it down, articulate them, research on them, look for people that have good knowledge on it, explore it.
Not all would work surely but most times, we have original, money-generating ideas inside of all of us than we give ourselves credit for.
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