Nigerian CEO, Dr Amy Jadesimi, on building an entire ecosystem and staying inspired

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Dr Amy Jadesimi is the CEO of the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL) in Nigeria, a growing logistics terminal and shipyard. In 2018, she was named Young CEO of the Year by the Africa CEO Forum. We were fortunate to welcome her to an event in Ethiopia, where she shared the insights, lessons and experience that have shaped her career to date.

Here are 10 of our favourite questions Dr Jadesimi was asked during her talk.


I think, for me, being a CEO is about problem solving.

1. What other CEOs do you look up to?

I would say I look up to all CEOs, because everyone is in their space. But, particularly, I look up to people who are building small businesses and struggling but still succeeding, adding value in whatever environment they’re in.

2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career?

I would say a combination of my father and my mother and grandfather. It’s a less boring answer than it sounds. My grandfather was Nigeria’s first finance minister; he was a highly successful, self-made businessman who went into government after he’d built his businesses in order to serve the public. He was way ahead of his time; this was the 1950s, back then he pursued global business opportunities with local content, for example building the largest leather shoe manufacturing factory in Nigeria, working with customised foreign technologies. Now we import the products he manufactures locally. My father founded the business I currently work for, also building it from scratch. Creating an industrial village out of a disused swamp, fighting a lot of battles along the way. He keeps going because he knows that if we indigenes don’t develop Nigeria, we’ll constantly be losing jobs and never take our rightful place in the world economy. My mother is the smartest person I know, she proves you can have a lot of intelligence and healthy scepticism and huge compassion for the world. Compassion isn’t a weakness.

3. What strategies do you use to build relationships?

I think the most important ones are being genuine and transparent. Also don’t be judgmental; once you let people, companies know what your values and business strategies are you can try and genuinely align interests. Relationships don’t always work out, especially in a rapidly changing market like Nigeria, where many local and international companies are clinging to old style unsustainable, zero sum game business models. Maybe for every ten people you meet, you could only click with one person but you end up building a strong, sustainable and lasting relationship with them.

4. How much of your life is spent making versus managing?

I think, for me, being a CEO is about problem solving. Solving personnel problems, client problems, manufacturing, development etc... issues, all at the same time. Ultimately, everything I do is about building LADOL into a sustainable industrial free zone. One is also constantly leading by example.

5. What advice would you give a new graduate?

Choose a career you are passionate about and be prepared to work really hard. If you look back and haven’t given something 100%, or if you look back and didn’t work take risks for professional or personal goals you were passionate about, you may have regrets - regardless of how things turn out.

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“It’s important to remember being at the head of the team doesn’t make you special or better”

7. How do you structure your day or week for maximum productivity?

I keep a very strict schedule with a physical calendar and an ever expanding to do list. I travel a lot, so accurate scheduling and working on the move are essential. Being a CEO is a 24/7 job. I’m always keeping tabs on what’s happening. One of the critical things is to respond in real time and stay on top of things on almost a minute-to-minute basis.

8. What are the learning rituals that help you keep growing as a leader?

If you’re entrepreneurial you want to be inspired. So, even if you’re not as geeky as I am, I would advise you to do really geeky things that are related to your area of interest - like research, sceptical reading and seeking out a wide range of opinion locally and globally. There are amazing things going on out there and usually they won’t be in the mainstream media. I subscribe to blogs, I watch Ted Talks. It helps if you are interested, but if you don’t have a natural interest I advise you do take it up.

9. What do you do to encourage people?

I encourage people by giving them leeway. I give very specific instructions, initially and show people how to do things upfront. Then, I give them more and more responsibility and leeway to do tasks independently and come back with results. The outcome is always well defined, but how you get there is less defined. Leadership, for me, is also based on team work, so how we review people is based on somewhat of a flat structure. It’s important to remember being at the head of the team doesn’t make you special or better it just makes you responsible for the outcome. So, it’s a combination of defining the outcomes, making sure they have the training they need and encouraging meritocratic team work throughout the company.

10. What is success to you?

Achieving our outcomes. Every project we complete, fundraising that we close, every square metre of area we develop. There are big successes and small successes - which are all leading us towards developing the world’s first sustainable industrial free zone.