By Jemi Ekunkunbor
She stands at an impressive 5ft 9in, with an almost flawless skin. Mrs Dorothy Atake could have passed for a model or one that has retired. But the mother of four adorable children is nothing of that sort. She is one of the amazons in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. Even though she is the external affairs relations manager with Addax Petroleum Development, her childhood dream was to be an air hostess. In 1985, she joined the then Ashland Oil Company as a Youth Corper and has not looked back since then.
Voted ALLUREâ€™s Style Icon last year, Mrs Dorothy Atakeâ€™s beauty and poise is not in question. She makes a great entrance and a very good first impression. Her great sense of style and urbane look differs sharply with her values which many may describe as conservative. Having been brought up by her maternal grand parents, her values belong to the old generation. She upholds high moral standards, respect for older people and all those values that shaped the society in the past.
A fine legal mind, she has distinguished herself as a career woman who has been able to balance both home and work.
She is an advocate of healthy living who believes very strongly that you are what you eat and she has her good skin and looks to show for it. In this encounter at her home in Lagos, we had an interesting chat that you would find most rewarding. Enjoy.
How did you get into oil and gas?
Well, Iâ€™d say it was by chance. When I graduated from the University of Lagos, I joined Ashland Oil as it was called then. After my youth service, I was retained and Iâ€™ve stayed on till now. So, I would say that I stumbled on it. I didnâ€™t go out of my way to look for an oil company to work in. The company retained me so, it was just a convenient thing at that time to stay on. There was no need to look beyond what I had.
I guess the work environment must have been very nice?
Yes, it was very conducive. The hours were right, 7.30pm-4.30pm, and we had nice bosses who encouraged us.
Were the ladies many?
Yes. We were quite many, at that time, but over the years, some have married and left. Some, for one reason or the other, have left to do other things.
What was your childhood dream?
As a child, I had always wanted to be an air hostess so, I could travel and see the world. But, as you get older you start realising that it doesnâ€™t follow that way and I had to be more serious about my future and what I wanted for myself. By the time I finished my A levels, I was sure I wanted to be a lawyer. Because I could not get in for law, I read English for my first degree and a few years afterwards, I went back to read law. So, I fulfilled my dream of becoming a lawyer.
It must have been very tasking?
Yes, it was because I had to juggle work and school. I used to close very late because I read evening law for five years. I closed at 4.30pm and start heading for the University of Lagos at Yaba.
That dream of being an air hostess, was it because you often went to the airport?
Of course, when you travelled, you see them in their uniforms – looking very smart and trendy. And, of course, I saw it as an opportunity to see the world. I believed that being an air hostess, youâ€™d go everywhere and discover new places. It was like an adventure for me. Iâ€™m sure most young women have the same dream.
Youâ€™ve remained in this industry for this long. What are some of the things that encouraged you to stay on?
Well, Iâ€™ll say that I was focussed. Once you are focussed in anything you do in life, youâ€™d always achieve your goals. I knew I had to put in a lot of time and that when you put in a lot of time and energy in anything, at the end of the day, youâ€™d reap the benefits. I donâ€™t want to assess myself but I believe that I was hard working and I tried to understand the industry. Once you understand the industry, your performance will increase.
Iâ€™m not a technical person but Iâ€™d say I have a very good understanding of the oil and gas industry. So Iâ€™d say, hard work, dedication and keeping your eyes on the ball.
In many companies, not many women get to your level. With the benefit of hindsight, what would you say are some of the factors that impede women from getting to the top?
What Iâ€™ve seen over the years is that there are some women who get married and have to change locations or stop work to follow their husbands. Essentially, Iâ€™ve seen that marriage affects women and their concentration. Secondly, even if you are married, you need the support of your spouse or else you canâ€™t even concentrate in the office. Even where you have all of this, at the end of the day, you need an element of luck – no matter what anybody says – because you may work hard and your bosses may not appreciate it or for one reason or the other you just donâ€™t excel.
So, at the end of the day, you need luck and Godâ€™s blessings. Sometimes, some leave, some others stay but they could move others above you. You know, every organization has its objectives. They may say you are not the right person for the job; maybe they need a more technical person. So, there are different things they are looking out for. The timing must be right; you must be lucky for them to appreciate you – especially in this oil and gas industry that is largely dominated by men and they usually focus on the technical people. If you are not technical, the administrative roles are limited. And so many people are going for it; only a few are chosen to handle those roles. That way, women are limited.
What should women do? I donâ€™t think they should be made to feel bad for fulfilling their roles as mothers?
Well, I donâ€™t think that. I have managed to juggle both my home and my career. Like I always say, if you are focussed and dedicated, you donâ€™t have to be at home before your home is running. All you have to do is get capable hands and whenever you have the time, make sure that you spend quality time with your children. In the African setting, you always have your mother, mother-in-law or aunty who is willing to help. I didnâ€™t have the advantage of having extended family members helping me. I always employed able hands to help me and that doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™ve neglected my children. Once I finish from work, I review the day with them; I find out what has happened and then we plan ahead. Every evening, I sit down with my domestic staff and plan for the next day. And the office, once in a while, they let you go if you need time. Then of course, during my vacation, I spend quality time with my family. So, you need planning just like anything in life.
So, what has been the most challenging thing for you?
If you have to be away from your children at very short notice, it is challenging. You feel bad, especially if you had a plan. So, like I said, you have to find time to make up. My kids met me as a working mother. Iâ€™ve never been a house wife. Sometimes, they even ask me, â€œarenâ€™t you going to work today?â€ Itâ€™s like being born in the barracks. You see soldiers matching all the time. You are used to it. So itâ€™s worked out well for me.
Have you ever imagined being a house mum?
Well, Iâ€™ve never imagined but I always tell people that whenever I stop work, Iâ€™m going to take a whole year off and do nothing but stay at home and spend time with my family. The first one year is going to be like a sabbatical for me to discover what it is like to be a home engineer.
I know you are a stickler for healthy living. Is it very challenging keeping a regimen?
Definitely! Nothing good comes easy. To keep a healthy lifestyle, you have to be dedicated, disciplined and determined. Every good thing takes time. I juggle between my job, my family and looking after myself – making sure that even though Iâ€™m busy on all these grounds, I still have to have my own time- a time I use to exercise, to plan what I will eat the next day. I just donâ€™t wake up to say I will eat this. As Iâ€™m choosing what Iâ€™ll wear the next day, Iâ€™m discussing with my cook what he is going to prepare the next day because, you are what you eat.
I exercise regularly and, most of the time, I eat healthy. But sometimes, there are bad days when you binge or eat things that are fattening but you canâ€™t have four bad days in a week. Itâ€™s like input and output. You strike a balance. But I can assure you that once you start exercising, you just wonâ€™t throw anything into your stomach. Your brain psychologically starts to adapt to that healthy eating and just eating right. Why eat fattening food when you know youâ€™ll spend two or three hours burning it in the gym?
Discipline is something we donâ€™t have any more. Values are being eroded. As a child, what kind of discipline did you receive?
I grew up with my maternal grand parents and you know grand parents have the tendency to pamper you but they were strict at the same time. They had this old idea about how you greet elders. In fact, my grand mother didnâ€™t need to open her mouth. All she had to do was look at me and Iâ€™d get the message, whether she wanted me to leave if she had visitors or join in the conversation. But you donâ€™t see that now.
I wonâ€™t call somebody who is five years older than me by name. Iâ€™d call her â€˜sisâ€™ or look for a pet name but not just slam the personâ€™s name. But nowadays, even when you are older than them by 20 years, they call you by your first name. I can tell you that as modern as I look, I still find it shocking. I see young people call me Dorothy and I keep wondering, what did I do wrong that this person has the audacity to call me by my first name? Did I not carry myself well or was I too playful? Why would anybody see me and slam my name? I do correct them sometimes in a nice way. Some people tell me itâ€™s because they schooled abroad but I say they are not the first to school abroad. They tell me: (That was in) the olden days. Dorothy, you have to wake up and smell the coffee. Times have changedâ€. But, I still think these are values we should try to preserve. There are people, you see an old man instead of curtseying, you stretch out your hand. All these things have disappeared. I really donâ€™t know how we can stop this train from moving in that direction.
How have you handled your own children?
I always remind them that my grand mother brought me up so, Iâ€™m old fashioned. So, when they come with all those ideas, I say to them, â€˜Are you that person?â€ Then, Iâ€™ll mention their names. Is their mummyâ€™s name Dorothy?
Nature has brought you here to me and this is the way I want things done. I talk a lot with my children and how my grand parents brought me up and what is expected and they are latching onto it and from my expression, they know what to do without me even talking. There is an expression I put on; when they see it, they behave. I cherish those values.
You were Allure Style Icon for last year. Does it put you under any pressure to look good?
Well, I must admit Iâ€™m a bit more conscious. Iâ€™ve always been an easy going person. My style is contemporary and elegant. I donâ€™t over dress as long as looking elegant and nice is concerned. Simple and elegant has always been my style. Iâ€™m a very confident person. Iâ€™d say I have everything going for me.
God has given me my height which I think is the height of a model. Fair in complexion, I have achieved what most women would dream of achieving career wise. I have four beautiful children, a good marriage, a good spouse who supports me in all I do. So, Iâ€™m a very confident woman.
Of the trends we seen come and go, which one would you not subscribe to?
It will be the micro-mini skirt!
Could it because of the old values?
Exactly. I donâ€™t think I am that adventurous or daring.
Between clothes and accessories which comes first?
It will be my clothes because if you wear wrong clothes with good accessories, it will be like putting icing on a rotten cake. When you meet somebody for the first time, the first thing you notice is what he or she is wearing. The accessories will come next. I am somebody who can even get by without accessories. Once Iâ€™m dressed, I can get by without accessories. So, I place emphasis on my clothes.
What kind of clothes do you really like?
It must be something that is comfortable for me. I canâ€™t manage anything. I canâ€™t say because I want to be fashionable, then Iâ€™ll wear something that is very tight and uncomfortable for me. My comfort comes first and it must not be too revealing. I donâ€™t do that; not that I donâ€™t admire those who have the courage they can, if that is their style but I canâ€™t.
My focus is to be elegant. I want to look elegant and nice. I avoid things that make me look bigger or emphasise some parts of my body. I donâ€™t want to draw unnecessary attention to my body so, Iâ€™m always very careful with my colours. Most of the time, I move away from light colours like white. I believe that darker colours make you look slimmer. So, I have the tendency to move towards dark colours. I donâ€™t know if that has not been influenced by my professional life as a lawyer.
What beauty item would you always carry?
My Mac powder and lip gloss.
And your favourite fashion item?
I love bags.
Whatâ€™s the highest amount youâ€™ve spent on a bag?
Iâ€™m not too extravagant.
Do you like labels?
I like Chanel. It is my favourite because, they do classics and they can be there for a long time. I have a friend who carries a Chanel bag that belonged to her grandmother. I like things that transcend time.
A lot of the styles we see outside are, in their own way, trying to define elegance. How would you describe an elegant woman?
What attracts me to a woman is her elegance. And, elegance means being comfortable in what you are wearing and that it suits the occasion. I donâ€™t expect you to go and wear something that is so floral when you are going for a formal meeting; neither would I expect you to wear a dark coloured suit when you are going for a wedding. So, what you are wearing must match the occasion; it must be comfortable.
You must be able to carry yourself and be confident. You may wear nice things but if you are not confident, youâ€™d look timid or unsure of yourself and all these things affect your general outlook. People just see an item and think â€œOh, this is in fashion, I must wear it.â€ Do you have the body to carry it? You have to look at your shape. Some people are overweight and they will be wearing stretch things that show all the contours of the body. Clingy things are for people who are slim. So, to be elegant, you have to be sure of what you are wearing in terms of comfort and fit and whether it suits the occasion.
Is there a woman around here that fits that bill?
A lot of Nigerian women are richly blessed with good sense of style. If you attend a wedding abroad, you can pick the Nigerians out of the crowd. We are very fashion-conscious. A Nigerian woman would rather spend money on clothes than on what she will eat. But itâ€™s difficult to pick one out that I really admire. The ones I admire, I admire them for different things.