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‘Being a woman never prevented me from rising to the top’

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The Executive Director, Subsea Services, Baker Hughes, (BHGE) Sub-Saharan Africa, Feyi Okungbowa, sat down with GuardianWoman to speak about her career journey, responsibilities and the company’s contributions to Nigeria’s economy amongst other issues.

Tell us a bit about your background? I was born in London, United Kingdom but grew up in Nigeria, where I attended University of Lagos Staff School, the International School, Lagos and later attended Dunraven School, London. As a teenager, I enjoyed socialising and reading. I had odd jobs throughout university, including working at the BBC Complaints Department, where I gained experience in handling difficult situations. I studied Business Information Systems at University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. Unknown to me then, the course was more about systems thinking as opposed to actual computing. Nonetheless, the course gave me early exposure to strategic management and systems thinking, skills I still use till today.

When did you join BHGE and how has your career evolved during your time there?
I joined BHGE in 2006 in Credit Control. Soon after, I moved to Project Accounting. It was during negotiations of a key subsea deal that I had an experience that positioned me for my new role in BHGE. I was assigned to support a colleague on commercial deal process. With my curiosity, I soon joined the commercial operations team with this colleague becoming my mentor. Several years later, I became Commercial Operations Leader, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

How does your organisation support female employees in terms of career development and women empowerment?
BHGE operates on meritocracy; the sky is the limit in your career regardless of your gender, age or race, provided you perform on the job. BHGE empowers with support structures provided to aid your career. Examples are affinity groups, mentoring and sponsorship programmes and providing access to leadership programmes. I’m a beneficiary of BHGE’s Accelerated Leadership Program (XLP) programme now called “Impact”, an accelerated senior leadership development programme through various assignments, locations, roles, businesses. Though a challenging programme involving juggling multiple responsibilities including personal and family responsibilities, I received immense support from BHGE, enabling me deliver expected outcomes.

Tell us about your current role; what does it entail?
My role as Executive Director, Subsea Services for Oilfield Equipment (OFE) business covering Sub-Saharan Africa is accountable for a multimillion-dollar business with a head count of 200 full-time employees across SSA. My job involves securing in-region execution of services, including Subsea Production Systems (SPS) equipment, field service and customer fulfillment. I focus on business strategy and people development. Also, it covers localisation, supply chain, training/knowledge transfer for business competitiveness. In addition, the role delivers on organisation’s objectives on quality, on-time delivery, customer satisfaction and profitability. Our world-class facilities include the OFE site in Onne, River State, run by over 95 per cent skilled Nigerians, particularly for Xmas Tree (XTs) refurbishment, with customers like Shell, ENI and Addax. Another is a multi-modal facility in Luanda, Angola supporting our full stream offerings, that is, upstream, midstream and downstream, also run by a majority of skilled Angolans.

You occupy a senior role is a male-dominated industry. How did you rise to this position?
I believe it’s through hard work, pure dedication and not focusing on gender to be honest. I also believe in mentorship and learning from other people’s experiences. Networking has also been key in my career progress. But most importantly, consistency in delivering results. Fortunately, my company’s culture enables a nurturing and safe environment to foster professionalism. It celebrates diversity of gender, thoughts and orientations in its workforce.

What would you say has been the biggest or most impactful project you have worked on so far?
My current job is perhaps the most impactful, in terms of the financials, impact on people development, capacity building, and creating a sustainable business in SSA. We started with the localisation of the engineering function through annual recruitments of University graduates into BHGE engineering internship programmes. Also, our ASPIRE programme targets young graduates across various disciplines, exposing them to early career opportunities in quality, supply chain, finance, project management etc. Moreover, I am a product of BHGE late career programme, IMPACT: an accelerated leadership journey for BHGE senior leaders, globally.

How is BHGE adding value beyond its commercial interests?
For us, localisation is a way of working and key business enabler, rather than just rules and regulation to be complied with. In other words, localisation means working sustainably, taking into consideration, stakeholders, contexts and needs. We have made strides in localising all our operations. For instance, in our subsea business, we’ve implemented a deliberate localisation strategy of engineers, technicians and field service personnel through internships, technical programmes and on-the-job training and our Onne Oilfield Services base is proof of this. In operation since 2002, Onne is an ISO 9001:2015 certified facility’s capabilities include Subsea Production Equipment Repairs, assembly of subsea wellhead and mud mat, Subsea Tree build and test. These in-country capabilities especially on Xmas Tree refurbishment (we are approaching an industry landmark figure of 25 XTs) translate to shorter time-lines, cost efficiencies for customers. A mainly Nigerian workforce runs Onne’s sophisticated set-up and our supply chain works with local suppliers in adding technical capacity to SMEs. BHGE localisation empowers the industry by developing Nigeria’s capacity for domestic needs and international deployment.

With the recent stability of the oil and gas industry, how do you see the industry’s future, particularly in Nigeria?
Specific to the subsea business, we have moved from the traditional ways of pricing for products and services to a more collaborative effort; with us working more with customers to deliver solutions tailored to desired outcomes. We call this the subsea connect. This is driving more collaboration and significant commercial innovation to achieve results. This requires more technical expertise from suppliers such as our latest technology Aptara, which is simpler and lower total cost over the project lifespan.

What is BHGE’s future plans especially concerning the Bonga Deepwater project it is bidding for?
Bonga is a deal we have been working on over the past 12 years at several rounds. We have spent many years building in-country technical and physical presence and expertise, including a Centre of Excellence in our Onne base. We have refurbished 16 trees till date (and on course to achieving 25) as well as built many new trees from this base. In addition, we provide all services of a life of field contract from Onne including equipment management, storage, spares, field services deployment, equipment repair, refurbishment and recertification. Onne base has a high bay for large assemblies, gas test chamber, clean room for subsea control modules and Specialty Connector and pipe facility, Subsea Control Module and EDP/LRP refurbishments. We have a strong track record of SPS projects execution and delivery in Nigeria deep waters and SSA.

In readiness for Bonga, we have the required infrastructure in country, with a skilled Nigerian team experienced in delivering complex scopes. Our robust supply chain works with local companies to deliver engineering, fabrication and procurement in-country.


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