‘Women should pay attention to opportunities around them’
Deborah David is a Chartered Accountant and a Certified Social and Emotional Intelligence Coach. Trainer, author and public speaker, she is a resourceful and versatile professional of over two decades, an experienced C-Suite executive with career expertise in finance, strategy and corporate governance. She is the current Chief Financial Officer of African Circle Pollution Management Limited (ACPML), a company licensed to operate port reception facilities in all the six Nigerian seaports on behalf of the Nigerian Port Authority.
A graduate of Economics from Olabisi Onabanjo University, an Aresty scholar and alumni of Wharton Business school of the University of Pennsylvania, INSEAD, Lagos Business School and the Institute of Directors, UK, David is the founder of Workplace Channel where she has been mentoring young professionals and female executives since 2012. An associate and a volunteer mentor at Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), she serves regularly as a resource person for initiatives focused on moulding Africa’s emerging leaders, advocacy for women empowerment and youth employability.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, the author of ABC Tools For The Workplace, shares life lessons from her career journey.
You have a long and illustrious career, take us through your journey so far?
MY career journey is somehow adventurous, touching different companies in different sectors. I started with MTN as part of the pioneer staff in 2001; we had a month-long world-class training, particularly on customer service. It amazed me that I was being noticed for serving more customers uniquely using different languages. I was later given an award before I exited the company.
When I was recruited by KPMG professional services, we had over 100 people in a two-week residential world-class training called KBAC (KPMG Basic Accounting Course). I emerged as the best trainee after the course; I left KPMG in 2006. I later worked in GlaxoSmithKline PLC, then to Centrica Energy, which is a sister company to British Gas in the UK. After four years, I left Centrica and moved straight to entrepreneurship. Subsequently, I joined my present company – African Circle Pollution Management Limited.
You are a chartered accountant, certified social, emotional Intelligence coach and an author, how are you able to hone your skills?
Before I became a chartered accountant, I wrote the exams many times, I failed. I had to work on my mindset to agree with myself that failure is not final and that I could try again. So, I tried, and by the grace of God, I became chartered. In retrospect, I reckoned that I lost chances in my adult life due to childhood trauma. Having identified my issues and sorted them out by coaching, I decided to take up the certification to help others.
I enrolled with the John Maxwell team, got full-blown coaching practice, theory and techniques. I went further to the Institute of Social And Emotional Intelligence to niche down the emotional dimensions to workplace and career issues. Talking about my authoring journey and how I got the skills, my love for writing became apparent due to my experience as a child where I lost my mother after my thirteenth birthday; I learnt to express my feelings through writing.
Today, I have authored three bestselling books. The latest being Work Easy – Proven strategies to rise quickly to the peak of your career and build thought leadership. In that book, I poured my heart out, my mistakes, and how I found them helpful in my life. It contains what I wish I had known which I later discovered.
As a versatile professional, with over two decades of experience, how has it been?
It’s been bitter, sweet, and a mixture of experiences. My summary is that the biggest lessons I have learned came at those periods where I experienced the most pain. Part of my regrets is not recognising early the role of mentors and mentoring, career sponsors, and then the role that coaching plays in the trajectory of someone’s career. I realised it was late. When I woke up, I realised I have not been moving as I should have moved. I, therefore, counsel and encourage ambitious, future-ready career professionals who want to make something good out of their career to ensure they are properly hand-held.
You have diverse certifications, both locally and internationally. How much value does it add to what you do?
A lot of values. Talk about ACCA, you need to be chattered to be respected as an accountant in Nigeria. In addition, I am a fellow of the American Institute of Financial Managers. That exposed me very well to the business of numbers and the simplicity of explaining numbers to those who do not have the core technical skills in numeracy, accounting and related fields.
With your expertise in financial management, how can businesses, especially women-owned ventures, improve, considering the state of our economy?
Very simple, education! Education as I mean is not the paper that we receive after going through a standard BSc programme; if you are running a business, educate yourself about the business. If you don’t understand your value system, value chain, how do you bank the money? What problem is this business set up to solve? I take for granted that all businesses are set up to be profitable and then to make returns to the investor, yes, but the problem that you’re solving is what guarantees that you continually have income.
We see a system where business owners don’t have enough financial education; they don’t even capture their full costs like communicating with customers, sending out marketing information, and inviting people. When your cost is not accurately captured, you can underprice yourself. Capturing costs correctly is a big way to manage your risk so that you survive in the long run.
Have you experienced any difficult periods in your career and how did you pull through?
Yes, a couple of them and at different stages. I will give you a general view about problems; problems are so labelled if you don’t have enough resources to handle the demands that are placed on you. The demand can be performance, money, or anything that’s an output you need to deliver. The resource, on the other hand, is the things that you possess; the skills, expertise, training, know-how and your support system, are your resources.
As I begin to introspect much later, I realised that the things we call problems are transformational adjustments, things that come to our ecosystem to expand us beyond the status quo so that we look differently, and begin to reason at a higher level. So, I got a couple of difficult problems.
I give you an example of when I went into entrepreneurship after I left Centrica; it was difficult to sustain a couple of projects that I had ongoing financially. I was not in the face of would-be customers who will need my service. And my summary again will be that difficulties are part and parcel of growth; it depends on the label you wear on them. You should call them growth challenges, transformational opportunities, where you deal with your situation in kindness and ask yourself, what am I supposed to learn in this process?
Having come this far, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Having a coach is something I would have done differently right from the beginning of my career so that I can move properly. Next, I’ll do networking better; strong careers thrive on good relationships.
How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
Let me play a respect card here, the Millennials has a lot of IT resources in their hand, which can catapult them even faster in their journey than the generation ahead of them. However, women need to pay attention to the opportunities around them. They should support one another. They should seek continuous improvements and invest time in learning from their chosen role models. Read their books, blogs, articles by or about them, take their online courses, listen to their speeches and glean from their wealth of experience. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; you can win trading the secrets of giants.
How do you get inspiration and stay motivated?
Prayer and worship. I see inspiration as being in a space where you have fresh ideas; your mind is cleared out.
As an established author, what kind of lessons do your books seek to impart?
My books seek to impart pathways to career success. My first book being ABC Tools For The Workplace, I explain the place of planning, programming, relationship, how to run on open-mindedness, investigating issues beyond the surface, developing a healthy scepticism approach. I wrote The Confident Woman to emphasise that women need to play in the space that belongs to them in the workplace; confidence amplifies competence. My latest book launched in September 2021 is entitled: Work Easy – proven strategies to rise quickly to the peak of your career and build thought leadership.
Hard work is hard. Labour Under Correct Knowledge (LUCK) is what I term Work Easy. I write from a place of empathy. I see many people who were like me, who didn’t pay attention to stepping out and offering themselves in the workplace. They say, ‘I don’t want to be seen as being so forward.’ I offered a lot of insights in Work Easy on how to do what you do in the best way, achieving the optimal results possible and utilising all the resources available to you (human and technical resources). Those are the kind of lessons that I seek to impart.
What is your life’s mantra?
Thinking ahead is staying ahead. Yes, we don’t hold the future but there are some things that planning ahead can help us achieve so that when we have a shift in our environment, we are better prepared to handle the shifts. That’s the way to work easy.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.