Amy Jadesimi: A One-Woman Economic Engine
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Amy Jadesimi is determined to show how much a local woman can do for this foreign-oriented industry.
By Laura Secorun Palet
Elegant, Oxford-educated Amy Jadesimi is not so far from a Nigerian princess: Her father, Chief Oladipo Jadesimi, founded the massive logistics company she runs, and her ambitions extend to the whole of her country. On the phone she talks smart and fast, and with little apparent need to collect her breath: “In the next 20 years Nigeria could be in the G-20,” she tells me.
Making the G-20 is by no means an impossible goal. Despite threats from Boko Haram and a looming political crisis, Nigeria is on something of an economic tear, in the midst of an oil and gas boom whose revenues account for about a third of the country’s GDP; last spring, it officially became Africa’s largest economy. And in many ways, 39-year-old Jadesimi represents the best of this rising Nigeria. As managing director of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL), Jadesimi aims to turn Nigeria’s incredible resource wealth into jobs for locals — some 50,000 of them, she says — and ensure that the oil wealth trickles down.
That, it turns out, is the much taller order. As it stands, oil dollars rarely reach Nigerians who live in poverty — almost half the population. The unemployment rate is 24 percent. Social mobility is virtually nonexistent, and Jadesemi, as accomplished as she is, provides some evidence of the fact: Her father is an eminent businessman, with major stakes in Niger Delta Oil Company, and a founding partner of Arthur Andersen Nigeria. He founded LADOL in 2001, and Amy joined the company in 2004 after earning an MBA at Stanford.
Jadesimi insists she never would have gotten the job had she not been the best person for it. Judging by her devotion to the company, she is likely right. “We are not a mom-and-pop shop,” she says with the impeccable British accent she picked up during boarding school in the U.K. “We are a corporation, and my father’s legacy goes beyond his family.” And hard as it is to be married to your job, it might be thornier when you’re a woman in Nigeria. Being unmarried is “thrown back in my face every five minutes,” she says.
Crude is the privilege of few, won with good government connections and money upfront.
Her endless conference calls and visits to the offshore base have one main purpose: to lessen her country’s dependence on foreign money and encourage local investment in infrastructure. If Nigeria diversified beyond crude exports into oil- and gas-related services, like manufacturing, it could make many billions more. She’s now investing $300 million, together with Samsung Heavy Industries, to expand her offshore base and construct the country’s first large-scale dry dock. That would enable in-house construction of billion-dollar vessel contracts, which oil companies operating in Nigeria usually order from places like Japan. By 2016, Jadesemi says the project could create 50,000 jobs, most of which would require qualified personnel for two or three years, the time it takes to build a boat. “To realize this country’s potential we simply need to create jobs, and to create jobs we need to solve some critical infrastructure issues,” she says. In 10 years, she wants LADOL to employ only locals.
Diversifying beyond crude seems a necessity for Nigeria’s development. Crude is the privilege of few, won with good government connections and money upfront. Interestingly, women are becoming less of an anomaly in oil and gas: The world’s richest black woman is another Nigerian tycoon, Folorunsho Alakija, a onetime couturière who dressed a former first lady and who, along with a handful of others close to the president, got an oil prospecting license. “They are important examples because regardless of how they got there, they have to work hard,” says Moremi Onabolu, program manager at WimBiz, a Nigerian nonprofit that promotes women in management, business and public service.
Yet it’s far from clear that Jadesimi’s infrastructure plan is enough to bring benefits to more Nigerians. Oil and related services account for a very small percentage of the country’s workforce — way behind agriculture, fishing, retail and manufacturing — and jobs in the industry often require skill sets that much of the country does not have. Then there’s the recent drop in global oil prices. That’s why “Nigerian investors should be looking to develop agriculture and the textile industry again, instead of oil, because that’s where most jobs can be created in the long run,” argues John Campbell, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink.
Jadesimi knows oil won’t last forever, of course, and insists she is not putting all her eggs in that basket. The fabrication facilities will be designed to be able to build not only oil and gas tankers, but also cargo ships and crafts used in other industries, she says. To her LADOL isn’t oil and gas; it’s “an infrastructure company.” And so Nigeria’s infrastructural growth is taking the fast track. Now the question is, will this help the majority to catch up, or leave them further behind?