Dr. Ijeoma E. Jidenma, CEO, Leading Edge Consulting, in an exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch magazine, talks about her career as a management consultant. Excerpt: 

Kindly tell us more about yourself and some of your experiences growing up.

I was born in Port Harcourt to parents who were teachers.

My father Chief (Dr) F .C Ogbalu was a consummate Lecturer and my mum a devoted secondary school teacher. My father was selfless to the core. He was very diligent and always strived for the common good. His life’s philosophy which he practicalized is “Others first, self-last”.

This showed in everything he did whether as a Teacher, Publisher, Parliamentarian or a Cultural Defender of note. His life was a life of service. My mother was a very simple and humble woman. Born into the family of Rev and Mrs. Joel Chidebelu (of blessed memory) my mum, Lady Evelyn Amuchechukwu Ogbalu is a devoted child of God in all its ramifications. At age 80 years, she is still a Chorister, Lay Reader and People’s Warden in our village Church, St James Anglican Church Abagana.

As the first child of my parents, I had a burden to show high sense of responsibility. As a child, I was greatly drawn to academic things. In my primary school, I hardly missed the first position. This also followed in my secondary school where I ended up as the best student in my class. I was to have my first major life challenge in the medical school and I fell like a pack of cards. It took me time to find my feet.

In terms of my career, some of the things that had helped me very much apart from my God-given intellect is being diligent and persevering in what I do. I am naturally an introvert but while working in PriceWaterhouse, my then Director had commented, “Though not one that would easily be seen at the forefront as a marketer, Ije had been able to meet and exceed expectations”. The same single-mindedness and perseverance also saw me through in the pursuit of my PhD. In fact, one of my lecturers taunted me that “PhD was more of sweat than intellect”. I had been the best Masters student in my class and he challenged me that it was more about ‘staying power’. Practically, all the people I registered with for the PhD dropped off along the line and I ended up being the first non-faculty member of a University, to get a doctoral degree in that department.

Let it be known that whatever success I have made of my life is beyond my family background, intellect, diligence and perseverance.

There is the hand of God in my life; I saw the hand of God even in my marriage. My late husband brought humor and emotional intelligence to bear in my life. Life is beyond cognition and rationality; it is also about emotions and empathy. It is beyond winning the argument. It is also about carrying people along. It is about adding value to other people’s lives. They may not care about what you know but how you care.

You have built a name for yourself as a management consultant and professional with vast experiences in areas, such as learning and development, as well as human resources management. Please tell us more about your career journey.

I believe that the coin has two sides. I believe in calling a spade a spade and standing for something. Our Philosophy is to do the right thing always. As Management Consultants, we avoided assignments that were not in tandem with our values. In the late nineties and turn of the century, we carried out mass aptitude testing and recruitment for Banks and other multinational organizations. We never compromised our stand or tampered with the outcome of our processes. We became known and respected in the industry for that. We had relations that needed jobs but could not be employed and it didn’t matter that we were in charge of the process.

There were indeed challenges whereby individuals who realized our stance stalled repeat businesses for us but we have remained steadfast in this regard. This has also remained the case now when we handle top-level positions such as board-level Executive Director and CEO positions as well as NED positions

Being professional has been my watchword. It has helped me in my growth. In an environment like Nigeria, it has also limited our growth in the short-term. However, I believe it is better to work according to your beliefs and conscience than jettison them and lose your authenticity. Everything works out well in the long term.

The dividends of delayed gratification are evident. When individuals of a certain hue are needed, people know those to look for. Several years ago, I was approached by one of the founders of Nigeria’s leading publicly quoted companies to play a key executive learning and development role in his organization. The first thing he told me was that my reputation preceded me. Apparently, he had asked different individuals to recommend the person for that role and my name had “popped” up variously. Even though I decided to stick to my Consultancy practice and did not join the organization, the feedback helped to strengthen my resolve to forge ahead.

While I worked, I tried to give my best and brought the values I believed in to bear on my job. Because, I had no double standard, it gave me a voice, all through my career in paid employment and even gave impression of “seeming power”. The truth is that I am not a person of power. I hardly know what to do with power but my consistency and firmness had made it seem so. I also gained tremendous respect of both my peers and seniors as a result of this.

Even as old as I am both in terms of my career and in chronological age, challenges are endless. I have since realized that this is nature of life. What really matters in a situation is one’s response to it, and not the specific circumstance.

My knowledge of Psychology taught me this. There is no circumstance that nobody has never encountered or mankind has never seen.

In my long career, I have been exposed to functional areas such as learning and development, human resources, management, psychometrics, corporate governance, strategic planning, organizational development etc. These are areas that have to do with talent identification, acquisition, development, optimization and organizational development. I believe that consultancy has offered me the room to exercise my intellect. I have also grown in Executive Management as well as Non- Executive corporate roles such as serving as a Director of First Pension Custodian, Independent Non-Executive Director of First Bank and Trustee of Goddy Jidenma Foundation etc.

Of course I have learnt from some role models and mentors along the way; people like Dr Christopher Kolade who is the Chairman of Leading Edge Consulting, Prof Pat Utomi who has shown so much staying power in the pursuit of what he believes in, Dr Stella Okoli whose sheer entrepreneurial energy is unrivalled, Dr Oba Otudeko for his shrewdness and experience in Board Leadership. There are also so many others who have been supportive and played key roles in my life.

I believe in continuous learning and have greatly benefited from series of Executive Development and Board development programmes across the world in centres of excellence such as Lagos Business School, Havard Business School, Kellogs School of Management and Cranefield School of Management.

According to the World Bank’s President, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, building human capital is critical for all countries, at all income levels, to compete in the economy of the future. How would you describe the implication of the ranking to organizational growth and economic development in Nigeria?

The implication of the ranking to Nigeria is a sounding bell or wake up call. We must arise from our deep slumber; of not paying the needed attention to health and education. Not much economic development can be achieved where the critical mass are largely uneducated. In the 21st century, the bar is even raised to include being technological savvy. Therefore, where the foundations in subjects like Mathematics are lacking, it becomes very difficult and almost an uphill task to  convert this abundant human resources to critical mass that would compete favorably in the global arena and facilitate economic development.

How are you able to balance your family obligations with your work life?

The balancing of family obligations and work life for me has remained a work-in-progress. At some stages of my career, I had to make some sacrifice together with my family to achieve my career goals. For instance, I left a well-paying job in a Bank to pursue a doctorate degree on a sabbatical leave without pay. Again, my family is also a beneficiary of the gains that I have made in my career, in some ways.

My strategy has always been the capacity to identify what is key or material at any point in time, be it a family or career matter. In all, I have always prayed to God to help me in the joggling of the balls so that none is lost.

What is the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) optional?

The readers of Amazons Watch Magazine can connect me via https://www.linkedin.com/in/ije-jidenma-60477119/ or https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009535301656

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