Known within and outside of the industry as “The Gas Lady”, Audrey Joe-Ezigbo made an amazing entry into the Oil and Gas sector in 1994 with no single industry experience. Today, she is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Falcon Corporation Limited, a world class organization built on the values of excellence, professionalism and ethics, with diversified operations in oil and gas, energy infrastructure and Oil and Gas Engineering.
Audrey who serves as a member of the Executive Council of the Nigerian Gas Association and also on the Lagos State Light-Up Lagos Committee has brought creativity and dynamism into the industry leveraging on her over 22 years’ experience.
A recent chat with Joe-Ezigbo turns from a lifestyle inquiry into an unprecedented insight into the developments in the Oil and Gas Sector, economic diversification, entrepreneurship and social impact. The versatile winner of the ‘Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year West Award’ with four academic degrees, speaks with Morenike Taire.
Looking at Falcon today, how would you describe the early beginnings?
When we were venturing into the world of corporate enterprise straight from the Academia we were inspired by Entrepreneurship fuelled by excellence and creativity. We were driven by our innate strength, resilience, dexterity and focus. This drove the choice of even the name Falcon that is a bird that embodies all these characteristics I have mentioned.
We commenced operations in 1994 under the trade name of Falcon Petroleum Limited. This name was changed in 2014 following a re-branding exercise in the wake of the anniversary of our 20th year of operations, in particular also in order to reflect our current multi-faceted areas of operation.Through our engagement with the sector we were very alarmed at the extent of gas flaring which we saw as an inexplicable waste. We kept thinking that something positive could be done to innovatively convert these wastages to wealth, and so we started to research and consider proven avenues to curb gas flaring as well as convert that energy resource to other uses in Nigeria.
Those early days were very tough days but we stayed committed to the vision and our journey has been one of 22 years and counting, laced with diverse experiences, both positive and negative, but all combining nicely to make our corporation the solid enterprise it is today. Today we offer Engineering, Procurement & Construction Services (specifically Pipeline Construction, Fabrications & Structural works, and Technical Procurement services to the Oil & Gas industry.’
It is usually a challenge starting something new in this environment, coming from a non-related field or background, how did you manage to make it work in the early days?
Our early days were very tough. We were a local company and proud to be so. We were not intimidated by the fact that we were not a foreign company and did not have any expatriate staff or backing, because for us we set out to demonstrate that Nigerians had the competencce to deliver on many of the same projects that were usually then given to foreign companies. As we took on additional projects, we improved on our proficiency through training both locally and abroad. We also sought intervention from world-class companies like African Capital Alliance. They helped us to institute world-class systems and processes based on which the foundation of our operations could run even more efficiently.
Today, we have been able to penetrate the sector and in fact taken on some projects that were previously run by expatriates we won more bids and projects. You can say therefore that we at falcon are one of the industry players that initiated the vision of local content, because by the time government caught that vision and passed it into law, we were already far ahead of the market place in that regard.
Addressing the issue of local content, in what way can the Nigerian Local Content Monitoring Board be of assistance in your sector?
For many years, local content was contrived as contracts given to a Nigerian company fronting for foreign firms that then provide the manpower, produce the materials, launch and execute the project. That was clearly not local content. We have to begin to rethink local content in terms of creating knowledge and growth opportunities for indigenous corporations who get a chance to locally source the manpower, resources, fabricate/manufacture where need be, and provide top level services directly to the end users.
These corporations would deepen their knowledge base and technical know how, drive corporate growth and make meaningful contributions to the economy of our nation. To achieve these, there has to be a level playing ground. We indeed need true commitment to the objectives of local content. We need to re-examine some of the major contracts we enter into with multinationals and other foreign entities, and ensure we engrain specific provisions that will allow for transfer of knowledge, skills, and global industry intelligence to Nigerians.
Apart from Ikorodu being your franchise, is Falcon operating from any other area?
No. Not at the moment, and this is largely because of the current franchise model based on which gas distribution is being operated. Several years back, we bid for other franchises that NGC advertised and which we saw potential and growth prospects in. However, none of those new franchises eventually materialized because of the anticipated unbundling of the Nigerian Gas Company at that time.
This is just one more example of governmental inconsistency that has caused value to be left on the table, unduly so, given that the unbundling has now only happened several years later. That notwithstanding, we are positioned to replicate the success of our operations across any area of the entire nation. There are a few regions with power plants, industries and manufacturing companies requiring our services.
When the franchise system is deregulated, and supported by the necessary infrastructure backbone to ensure gas availability and interconnectivity, we are positioned to create success and impact across all regions wherever the opportunities present themselves.
The oil and gas sector is an extremely unique sector to play in, what are some of the challenges you have faced while keeping ahead of the market?
The biggest challenge is that the playing field is not yet level – in terms of regulation, legislation, technological knowhow, in-country manufacturing capabilities and so on. The sector also struggles under the weight of a huge infrastructure deficit and the amount of investment projected to be required to address this is staggering.
The recent happenings regarding foreign exchange rates and availability are issues for all of us, making many of our capital projects difficult to implement. .
What contribution do you think gas will make to the economy of Nigeria?
Industries are heavily reliant on gas but even though we have this everywhere, they are hardly utilized. So here is what is it, if a company spends about N100 million on diesel every month, if they convert to using gas, it will cut down its cost to approximately N60 million; and that is 40% cost saving right there and we know what that could do for any business. If such savings are ploughed back into growing the business through factory expansion, logistics and distribution or even human capital. The positive growth would of course have an enormous impact in the overall economy of our Nation.
What are the achievements you can count recorded by Falcon over the long years you have been in operation?
Our company marked her 20th anniversary on June 4th, 2014. It is amazing to know that we have been in existence for twenty long years playing in the Oil and Gas sector through a diverse portfolio of services that cut across Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) as well as Natural Gas.
There are so many milestones on the journey to where we are today. The most significant however which we remain very excited about and reference often is our Ikorodu Gas franchise. We are very proud of the fact that our Quality Management Systems are certified to the ISO 9001:2008 standard, and our Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Management System is certified to the OHSAS 18001:2007 and ISO 14001:2004 standards. Our unwavering commitment to excellence saw us through to achieving these and many other industry awards, and Quality and Safety today remain key drivers of our business.
So let’s get to know the Gas Lady herself. Who is Audrey Joe-Ezigbo?
I am first and foremost God’s daughter, committed to doing my excellent best by His grace to deliver to the world every assignment and purpose for which He put me on this earth. My greatest aspiration is to die empty of every gift, talent and ability God blessed and resourced me with, so I can fulfil His mandate to be a blessing in the lives of others. I have over 22 years’ entrepreneurial experience, with core competences in business strategy; finance and investment management; commercial strategy; business development and resource management among others.
I have a passion for mentoring aspiring, early and growth phase entrepreneurs with a focus on institutionalization and best practices, and I have done this over the years on my own, as well as through various structured platforms such as Wimbiz, YouWin, AIMP, Fate Foundation and the Lagos Business School mentoring programs.
I love to write and have 3 books published today. They include Double Impact, Uniquely Woman, and Ruach which is a collection of poetry. My fourth book will be published later this month.
Besides your own books, what three books have you read, which would you recommend to others?
I love the book ‘The Goal’ by Eliyahu M. Goldrat. It’s simply brilliant and a must-read for anyone looking for continuous improvement in their operations. I would also recommend the ‘E-myth revisited’ by Michael Gerber for anyone in the entrepreneurial space, regardless of whether they are a start-up or have been in business for a while. Another remarkable read for me in terms of its practicality and adaptability to every business is ‘Growing Pains: Transitioning from an Entrepreneurship to a Professionally Managed Firm’ by Eric Flamholtz and Yvonne Randle.
And I know you said three, but I must also recommend other non-business-related books that have been transformational for me and these include ‘DNA’ by Bidemi Mark-Mordi, ‘Instinct’by TD Jakes, ‘Woman Act Now’ by Coach Anna McCoy, and ‘Visioneering” by Andy Stanley. Remarkable reads!
What’s your opinion on mentorship – have you benefitted from it? And what are your thoughts on the value and importance of mentorship, especially amongst women?
Mentoring relationship involves two parties who work together and cooperatively for the development of one of the parties, though my perspective is that both mentor and mentee ultimately benefit from the relationship and process.
One of the things God has assigned me to do, which also feeds into my passion for mentorship, is the setting up of the Double ImpactPlatform through which we inspire married couples who are in business together to jointly and collaboratively maximize their business and relationship potentials.I have been in business with my husband Professor Joseph Ezigbo for over 22 years, building very successful businesses whist maintaining a happy and fulfilling home.
What has driven your pursuit of a wide variety of academic exposure?
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Micro-Biology which was a misdirected attempt by my parents to get me to study medicine. Beyond that, I have a Post-graduate Diploma in Banking & Finance, an MBA in Finance, and MBA in Marketing, and an Executive MBA from the prestigious Lagos Business School. I have taken on several Leadership and management programmes in global institutions abroad such as the Harvard Business School, IE Business School, and I continuously grow my knowledge base through short programs including short Executive Management programmes, Seminars and Webinars.
How have you been able to balance career, family and all the many crowns you wear as a woman over the years?
I am not a believer in Work-Life balance. I do not believe there is any such thing. I believe in seasons and prioritizations, and this is a revolving decimal throughout every stage of my life. I believe the commitment to be your excellent best in everything is the starting point, but this must be refined by the understanding of what should be the priorities of each season of your life.
My experience has been success on all fronts because of this philosophy and so I hold myself as a testimonial that this works. I won’t also fail to acknowledge my husband’s role in this. He is a man whose commitment to his family is evident. He has never shirked his role as husband and father and it is so much easier when both spouses jointly carry the responsibilities of parenting and for the home.
He is also a man who is extremely supportive of everything I do. I say all the time that my husband believes I can and should fly, and he is very hands on in ensuring I walk in fulfilment of my gifts and passions. When you have that kind of support, balance is not a conversation.
Lastly, I believe when you focus on the institutionalization of your business, backed by strong teams who own your vision, it is easier to apply yourself to every area of life which you are called to. Its hard work setting up, but the investment pays off over time.
And how do you refresh, rejuvenate and relax?
Relaxation for me is about reading, writing, and spending time with my family talking, or watching some of the legal drama series we all enjoy so much. I also love to sing, and so love karaoke. Every once in a while though, I take time out to do absolutely nothing, and I mean this literally – no TV, no books, just some light worship music in the background, and I allow my mind some quiet time. That is always a very rejuvenating and spiritually refreshing experience.
What word of advice do you have for other female entrepreneurs particularly the younger ones coming behind?
First is to believe that you can! If you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to. Secondly, don’t look for handouts and don’t look for anyone to make room for you. Take it!
I would also advise that you begin to implement structure in your business as early as is possible, from your processes and policies, to your business practices. Lastly, I would advise that they brace up for the cycles of the business terrain. It can be rough, but literally only the most tenacious will survive.