In line with the International Women’s Day celebration that was marked recently, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Transcorp Hotels, Mrs. Owen Omogiafo, in this encounter with Nume Ekeghe, narrates her experience as an executive as well as how to ensure work-life balance. Excerpts:
Congratulations on your recent appointment, how has the Journey been as a female executive?
I am now two months, one week on the job as MD/CEO of Transcorp Hotels. And it’s our intent to be Africa’s foremost brand. It has been challenging, enlightening and at the same time very rewarding. You know, stepping into the industry whose leadership is pretty male dominated, it is not every time you find that a woman is in leadership of a hotel of our size, one that is listed, and one that is the owner of the only five-star hotel we have in Nigeria, which as you all know, is also affiliated with the Hilton. It’s a Hilton and it is managed by Hilton, but we own the Hotel. What we are about is that each guest that comes in has that distinct Transcorp hospitality touch.
So, you have to be able to recognise people and that has been quite challenging as well because I get to meet so many important personalities and sometime you might not remember the name, but have to make sure that you try and place the face because you don’t want to offend people by forgotten their name. Not to forget, we also have a property in Calabar, Transcorp Hotel Calabar. We had a very good result at the end of last year, but we keep striving to see, how we can do better.
So, when I got the appointment, a number of people were concerned about how I was going to cope. Considering my marriage, children and especially how my husband would react. Gracefully, my husband backed me up as I have three kids. The first is 15, the second is 14, and the third is a year old. It wasn’t really in their best interest to begin to move them at this point in time, because we have settled too much in Lagos. I also don’t want them to move with me to Abuja because by the nature of my job, I live in the hotel, and I am always on call.
Seems you have a good work and family balance, what would your advice be to other career women out there who still struggle with this?
It is not easy. Being a woman in the whole place is not easy. But, there is a cliché: ‘nothing good comes easy’. First as a woman, you need to have the conviction that this is what you want to do. That is where you start from. After you have sort that out, the next question becomes, How? Some people will be like, because now I am now at the top of my career and I earn more, that is why it is easier for me, but they are wrong. At the early stage of my career, I had two maids at home, not because I was making a lot of money, but at that time I was living in Lagos and had no family member living with me. I needed to have that support. My husband and I were working and we were very young and just starting our family and our career.
I had those maids not because I was lazy, but because of my work schedule. I needed to be able to work and deliver on my responsibilities at work and not always giving excuses due to issues from home. What I always say to people is that, these challenges don’t happen every day. So what you need to do is to take it in your stride. For women in the work place, I am able to say this because I was once an HR director. I say to my fellow women to please plan. These days, children get their school calendar ahead of time, have a conversation with your boss and let him know when you will be out of work or attend open day your children’s school. Two weeks to the time, remind your boss again. A week to it, remind him, 72 hours to the time, remind him. And if you really look at it, it is only a horrible person that will tell you not to go on that day. That aspect of planning is very important.
In essence, for a woman, what I am saying is that, learn to manage your time, and at the same time the resources of other people, that will enable you succeed. There is one critical thing that a mentor said to me a long time ago – work/life balance is not daily. This means sometimes, work might be up, and other times, it may not be. It is never always the same daily. That is the truth. And one thing a woman should always remember is that we are important. A lot of time, we women forget that we are important.
This perhaps is because of the way we are wired. We are natural born givers, we are groomed to take care of the house, make sure everybody has eaten before we eat, if the food is not enough, give ourselves the smaller portion to ensure that the food has gone around an all that. It is good, but you have to make sure that you also take care of yourself and nurture yourself. Still riding on that, there is a negative emotion that tends to hold us back. Like emotion of guilt where we feel guilty. Another thing is to find a partner that is supportive. I frankly wouldn’t have been able to achieve as much as I have achieved without the support of my husband. It is very important. So, for young people; those who are already married it is okay, but if you are not yet married, these are the questions that you ought to ask before going into it. I think the fastest way for me to breakup with my husband if I want to, is for me to tell him that I want to be a full time house wife.
Being a woman, how are you coping in a male-dominated industry?
I think I have an edge here over a number of other women. I was an only daughter for a very long time. I had three elder brothers and three other male cousins living with us. And honestly, it was really when I started working that I started realising that I am a woman and I was supposed to be different. Because when I was growing up, my father made me feel like there is nothing I can’t do. And he encouraged me. I could read very well at the age of five because of my father.
At the age of five, he would come with newspaper, and we would sit down together and read together. He would put scrabble board and we would play together. And mind you, I was the youngest child. So for me, I have always felt that I can do anything a man can do because it is how I have been brought up. That foundation meant so much to me now that I am an adult. That is why I said I have an edge over the average Nigerian women who were told not to climb trees. I was encouraged to climb trees. All those other things of old that this is what a woman or man must do never really featured in my life. And I also went to a mixed school and had relative freedom.
So coming into a male dominated environment; you can imagine how it is in the hospitality business. Your clients, a number of them are men and because of the fact that I grew up with guys all around me, I am able to understand the male folks, hold my home and much more. Naturally, being a woman there is always a little bit more expected of you. But when you show people that I can bring something to the table, and make sure you deliver. A number of people may have doubts about you, but when they engage you, they leave with a different impression. So that helped out. Being a female, they claim we know how to multi-task and it has conferred certain advantages. My predecessor laid a very good foundation in his time, but now that I am here, people come in now and say, ‘we are seeing the feminine touch.’ There is one of my staff, he is very efficient. But he didn’t used to smile. So I told him that it is important for our business and he has started smiling.
If you go to somewhere and someone attending to you keeps a gloomy face, you won’t want to even drink water. So these are thing I have also used to my advantage. Let people know that youb are capable of doing the job you have been employed to do. And the way you let them know is always in the doing and not just talking.
You have a good support system and a background that helped prepared you for this role. However, for women who don’t have such support, how can they achieve such heights?
I talked earlier on about having clarity of purpose, your own vision and goal. So my advice is, be it a man or a woman, know where your strengths are. And in this era of digitalisation, most people are just a click away. I have some women that I mentor but we have never met. We just connect via social media. In fact, recently I found out that a young lady I mentor is somebody I know. And you can also raise for yourself role models. Your role model doesn’t necessarily have to be someone you know or you get a chance to speak with. But just someone you can look up to. So you can look up to someone like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and say, she got to the position of Minister of Finance and World Bank, even with her children, how did she get there if she had given up so easy? And so many others like that. There is Mobolaji Johnson, Ibukun Awoshika, Bola Adesola, and many other women. Years ago, when I was working at Accenture, Bola Adesola was invited to come and speak to us.
And she talked to us about how she made sure that she had assistance and the co-supports that she employed. That there was somebody’s job then among those she employed which was to make sure that she does not forgot her mobile phone at home. That was how busy she was. It was after that talk that I decided to get a second maid. She didn’t know me then, but I met her last year and I told her about this encounter and she was amazed. I remembered looking at her and saying, ‘I want to be there, I am going to get there”. So have for yourself role models.
And also surround yourself with people that can lift you up. It doesn’t mean that you are a gold digger. Also, as a young person, it is very important to know how to identify those people that have ‘PHD’ syndrome, which means ‘Pull Him/Her Down’ syndrome. There are people that will never want you to climb out of the pit. They want you to remain down. And on the other hand, we have people in same pit who will say, ‘climb on my shoulder to get out, when you get there, hold that stick, stretch it down and lift me up’.
And also keep in mind that not everybody will like you along your journey. And get ready to pay the price. I also share with people that this whole thing of being a woman in the work place is not mandatory. It is not for everybody. Know what you want in your heart. Kudos to the professional home makers, I have the greatest respect for women who have also chosen to do that because it takes a lot to also decide that I am going to dedicate my whole life to being the home maker. In summary, know what you want, be committed to getting there, identify role models, set goals for yourself which is very important. Sometimes we set goals in our professional life and forget to set goals for our personal life.