Editor’s note: This article was featured in Ventures Africa magazine’s August/September issue

After finishing her medical degree and earning a Masters degree in Physiological Sciences from Oxford university, Amy Jadesimi never intended to pursue a career outside of medicine. Yet, soon after graduating from medical school in 1999, she found herself joining the Investment Banking division of Goldman Sachs in London, specialising in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions.

“I did not actually choose to go into business,” Jadesimi says, “but I was fortunate enough to be offered a job by Goldman Sachs while working with a firm [a group of doctors] under a female surgeon in Oxford. She encouraged me to go on and explore it, saying that it was a good opportunity to see what an alternative career would be like, and that I could come back to the hospital in another year. This made it easy for me to go and try something new – investment banking. I tried it out and I really enjoyed it.”

Jadesimi never returned to the hospital or her previous job. After three years at Goldman Sachs, she left to pursue an MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. While at Stanford, she accepted an internship with Brait Private Equity in Johannesburg, South Africa, working as a transaction executive in private equity. Her next move was her last – joining her father, Oladipo Jadesimi, a former founding partner of Arthur Andersen Nigeria, at his company: the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL), the only Nigerian owned deep offshore logistics base and the largest privately financed logistics base in Nigeria.

Working Her Way to the Top

Jadesimi, is now the Managing Director of LADOL, a position she has held for the last four years. But her rise through the ranks took time and effort, and she first had to prove her mettle to her father and his team. “Though I work with my father, meritocracy is very important to him,” she says. “The company is managed as an institution. This is a business that means a lot to him emotionally. Being the Managing Director one gets a lot of pressure, especially not to make any kind of costly mistake.”

She believes the working relationship with her father is successful because the two have a professional arrangement, a clear reporting structure and formal business structure. On the other hand, they share an emotional connection and have the same level of passion for and dedication to the business. “Fortunately, my father is still very active and involved in the company and I receive a lot of support from him. He knows and understands a lot about the market,” she says.

When asked how she feels being a woman in what many perceive to be a man’s business, Jadesimi is quick to dismiss the thought, saying that she has never felt this was a man’s business. However, she does agree that there are differences in the way that men and women approach business. “I think people more easily dismiss a woman in the workplace or try to put women down,” she says. “I have found that you have to set your mind to be 100-percent professional at all times. You must know what you are talking about before you open your mouth and do your work in such a way that you leave no excuse or doubt for people to derogate you or your work because you are a woman… I think you also have to be smart about how you come across to people as a woman.”

In terms of her leadership style, Jadesimi prefers to lead from the back as well as the front, giving I think it is much easier for a woman to be successful in companies that value teamwork than those that value individualism. A company that values teamwork and supports both men and women equally creates a diverse environment which brings higher returns and is more productive than a company which stifles diversity.”

Building Business in Nigeria

In a move to position the nation as the hub of West Africa, LADOL is currently developing some of the most strategically relevant infrastructure the country has ever seen, something Jadesimi believes will benefit indigenous Nigerians as well as international companies working in the country. Furthermore, she says the cost savings that will come from being able to carry out projects locally, using a well-trained local labour force, and the peace that will come from a thriving economy with a lower unemployment rate will be of exponential benefit – one that can easily be valued in the billions of dollars. “It makes more sense for Nigerians to invest in this infrastructure because we are going to do more projects with many other countries,” she says. “We also have the highest population [in the region], and so job creation is much more important [for Nigeria] than it is for neighbouring countries. If you look at it from just the economic analysis perspective, it makes sense for Nigeria to be the hub. If Nigeria is not the hub and if we do not develop infrastructure, we are going to end up financing these same jobs outside of the continent for the next 20 to 30 years and exporting jobs as well.”

Once Nigeria has built its vessel integration facility, the vessels and Floating Productions, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) units being commissioned in Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea can be integrated and fabricated in Nigeria, which could prove cheaper for these countries. Once Nigeria has the infrastructure necessary to undertake oil and gas related mega projects, Jadesimi says Nigeria will become a more economically attractive destination for other jobs, such as fabrication. “When people see the FPSO coming to LADOL, the tens of thousands of tonnes of fabrication currently being done outside the country will start being done inside the country. This is why the multiplier effect is so high: for every one job we create at LADOL we create 10 to 15 jobs outside of LADOL.” The benefits won’t stop here, she says, with other areas of the economy, such as finance, telecommunications, human resources and engineering, also standing to gain.

Jadesimi feels very strongly about foreign investment and believes that there are many businesses in Nigeria that would be willing to take on the risks associated with such investors. But, she says, foreign investors need to start making strategic decisions now. “They need to come here and see things for themselves because what they will find is that Nigeria is a goldmine; a market with huge opportunities,” she says. Currently, the country has a great many businesses that are enjoying highrisk returns on low-risk projects. “We, as Nigerians, are not standing with empty hands. We are not asking people to come and show us how to do things. We are asking them to partner with us on an equal basis. We have a market that thrives and which is filled with people who are prepared to put their monies where their mouths are.”

Corruption and Competition

According to the 2011 World Economic Forum Africa Competitiveness Report, corruption is one of the four key factors holding back competitiveness in Nigerian businesses. But Jadesimi says corruption is just something that people just say – a word often used and which is unfortunately synonymous with Nigeria and Africa. She believes that if Nigeria has the necessary infrastructure and a strong, committed indigenous private sector ensuring that projects are done in Nigeria, the country’s economy will turn around for good. “Corruption is not what is stopping us,” she says. “The fact that we have historically relied on or sold out to people whose incentives are not aligned with ours has been our major problem.”

To overcome this, she says that Nigeria and Nigerians should end their reliance on foreign help and rather build infrastructure for themselves. “Corruption exists everywhere in the world and may well continue even after we solve our infrastructure issues, but at least the money and the jobs will be staying in Nigeria, which is a big, positive step.”

Jadesimi feels that competition between countries is as big a problem for business in Nigeria as corruption: “What we are actually facing is a situation where the incentives are not aligned. I have contractors and international companies I do business with, who invest heavily in infrastructure outside Nigeria. These companies quite likely are interested in maximizing the return on these investments outside of Nigeria. They also try to keep the jobs outside Nigeria to serve their own national interests. In some ways, my biggest competitors are all these companies which I am trying to attract into Nigeria.”

Jadesimi says that the Local Content Act, passed on 21 April 2010, has done well to demonstrate how the government’s interests have been realigned with those of longterm investors in the indigenous private sectors. This was further strengthened by the Minister of Petroleum, Alison Diezani Madueke, who made it clear that the current administration would not allow people to take work outside of Nigeria when it could be done within the country. “Indigenous Nigerians are not going to be helped by foreign contractors unless we show them that we are serious about local content and that we are value-added partners who can help them make a higher return,” Jadesimi says. “As Nigerians,we have to recognise the interests of all the stakeholders and know that we have to work together and reach a certain level ourselves before the international communities’ interests will be aligned with ours. We have to be prepared to invest in infrastructure, which will make it impossible for foreign companies to do the work in Nigeria.”

Social Responsibility

Passionate about her country and its people, Jadesimi joined an organisation called Venture Strategies for Heath and Development (VSHD), which works with Nigerian doctors and birth attendants to reduce Nigeria’s high maternal mortality rate. “My background is medical and so I tend to get involved in more medical-related NGOs,” she says. “We looked for a way to use market forces to address what is a social problem. In Nigeria, women bleed to death after giving birth, even though this is preventable. Any woman who gives birth or has witnessed the birth process will agree it is a traumatic experience; an experience that most women go through with traditional birth attendants, not in the hospital but in a rural environment. It is also an experience that most Nigerian women know how to manage and can handle if they are given better tools.”

Jadesimi and her partners realised that many of the available drugs to decrease maternal mortality were more expensive. In many cases, the more expensive medicines were ineffective as they were badly suited to the environment because of the need for refrigeration and short shelf lives. VSHD had found a drug that could reduce postpartum haemorrhage but which was available in tablet form. The challenge was getting it to market.

Under Jadesimi’s watchful eye, the organisation partnered with a leading local Pharmaceutical company, Emzor, to distribute the drug throughout Nigeria. “We made people aware of the drug and educated them on its use. I got the product registered with the aim of introducing it into the market and then letting the market take over. Today, Emzor Pharmaceutical manufactures the drug in Nigeria, which shows how NGOs and the private sector can successfully achieve sustained social improvements as well as improvements to their bottom line,” Jadesimi says. “As a business leader, one of the things I always have at the back of my mind is that if someone can sell soft drinks and market them in such a way that they are distributed and made available in distant places, then a product that could save lives should be very easy to market and distribute around the world. If we give people the tools they need they will save themselves and invest in their own futures.”

Roots to Grow

Jadesimi is proudly Nigerian and says that growing up, the strongest influences in her life were the stories of her Nigerian heritage. “My [paternal] grandfather was a bishop in the Anglican Church, while my [maternal] grandfather was Nigeria’s first Finance Minister, Festus Samuel Okotie Eboh,” she says. “I grew up with a very strong sense of pride in what it means to be Nigerian and what we can achieve as a people, which strongly contradicted the feedback I got from the world. For me, it is very important as Nigerians that we take time out to look for our personal heroes and learn about our heritage, who we actually are and what we have achieved as a people, instead of listening to the negative narrative the world gives us.”

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