Interview by Visual Collaborative
October 2019 6 min read
Nancy Ejike-Umole is a finance professional who lives in the Canadian province of Alberta. Formerly a resident of Lagos, she became the first localized female to occupy the Chief finance officer role at the Integrated transport and logistics company Maersk. As a feature in our “Supernova” interview series, Nancy talks to us about her experiences in the industry, life’s perspectives, roots and culture from the Nnewi Kingdom.
(VC) Outside of a successful career, being a mother and other social roles you play, who is Nancy Ejike-Umole?
(Nancy) Some people say I have a reserved personality but fearless, but I like to think of myself as being an open-book, confident and forthright, yet considerate. An enthusiastic learner who is passionate about helping people in need and solving problems in general.
I joined Maersk as my first job out of University in July 2005 as a management trainee and ten years down the line I broke a ‘glass ceiling’ by becoming the first local and first female to occupy the Chief finance officer role
(VC) You spent many years at Maersk, forecasting in finance and engaged in business analysis for the logistic company. What were the timeless values you picked up working for this international conglomerate?
(Nancy) My experience in Maersk (the ‘blue world’ as we called it on the inside) has been nothing short of amazing. I joined Maersk as my first job out of University in July 2005 as a management trainee and ten years down the line I broke a ‘glass ceiling’ by becoming the first local and first female to occupy the Chief finance officer role in Nigeria. The 14 plus years in Maersk contributed fundamentally to my personal development and professional growth. Working with a multinational organization as Maersk, some of the key values one certainly picks and needs are; a open mind first and foremost as you deal with people of diverse race, culture and background, adaptability because shipping connects the world and the world is ever changing at a fast pace, conglomerates change things to stay ahead so you need to adjust and move with the changes or be left out. Risk-taking is also necessary as nothing ventured nothing gained.
(VC) In the present work world of patriarchal microaggressions, there seems to be a decrease of empathy as the use of social media rises, please tell us about your own experiences in the work world as an executive, how it may relate?
(Nancy) Microaggressions are very prevalent in the society and in the workplace, I have experienced it on several occasions through my career both from peers, bosses and even subordinate colleagues. Great organizations today provide appropriate platforms and channels for tackling this. I believe in dealing with these situations whenever they arise as best you can, while keeping an unwavering focus on your goals and purpose.
(VC) As a female professional from Africa now living in Calgary Alberta, what do you tell the aspiring young woman or entrepreneur about success and risk?
(Nancy) It may be 2019 but it is still a man’s world and very much so in Nigeria. As a female professional or entrepreneur, you have to work twice as hard to earn your seat at the table. After earning that seat at the table, you constantly need to keep proving yourself so that people don’t think you got the role just to make the company’s diversity and inclusion ratios look better. These biases notwithstanding, my personal mantra has always been to set very high personal standards for yourself, compete not with others but the self you see in the mirror. Integrity as a value is a ‘must-have’ and should be non-negotiable, it may not get you to that destination as fast as you wish but it will take you far eventually. My Dad would always say “a good name is better than money (Eziafakaego)”
Every ambit of society can benefit a great deal with more women involvement. Beyond women though, the world would be a much better place if we helped each other more especially the less privileged in society
(VC) At this stage of your career considering your present commitments, if you could work alongside any notable personality or enterprise. Who would it be and why?
(Nancy) If presented with the opportunity I would in a heartbeat, choose to work with Melinda Gates. I am aligned with her thoughts and ideas as shared in her book The Moment of Lift : How Empowering Women Changes the World. Every ambit of society can benefit a great deal with more women’s involvement. Beyond women though, the world would be a much better place if we helped each other more especially the less privileged in society. Specific to Nigeria, better quality education for all from grassroots to higher institution levels will go a long way in transforming lives and the nation at large.
Photo by Studio 24
(VC) You have spent some time residing around Nigeria, Your linage hails from the Nnewi kingdom. What can you tell the world about your culture and heritage?
(Nancy) Nnewi is one of the largest cities in Anambra state. It is divided into 4 big towns Otolo, Nnewichi, Umudim and Uruagu. I am from Otolo. The Nnewi city is very popular largely due to its vibrancy, being a major trading and industrial hub. Nnewi has a rich heritage and hosts many cultural festivities throughout the year. The most vivid festival I remember growing up as a child is the Ofala festival held at year-end to celebrate the coronation of the Igwe (King). There are usually many masquerades in different shapes and sizes coming out to perform traditional dances on the festival day, and we were warned as little girls that women weren’t allowed to see them. The Nnewi people are widely known to be very industrious in nature and are constantly seeking opportunities to thrive. The Nnewi people are mostly entrepreneurs, traders, and farmers and are natural risk-takers.
Should you ever visit a man at his home in Nnewi, you would very likely be offered kolanut or garden egg and peanut butter as a welcome offering. Before the kolanut is broken, and then a prayer is usually offered for both the host family and the guest.
(VC) What kind of work, commercial or personal if any can the world expect from Nancy within the next 5 years?
(Nancy) There are a lot of ideas baking right now in the areas of health, early childhood education, recycle and fashion [Nancy smiles]. I guess time and ultimately God will tell which of these manifest in the end.