It is easy to imagine that the easy-going Patricia Obozuwa would know all about success. It is the umpteenth time we are trying to make a connection, and it seems like virtual interference does not want us to win at this. I ask if we should move our interview to the following day, but she responds,
“I am determined to make this work. Let’s try again.”
This is the beginning of what would become an interesting conversation.
An innovator of many firsts, her impact is not unknown: As Head, External Relations, Nigeria and Corporate Communication Leader, Sub-Saharan Africa at Procter & Gamble (P&G), she pioneered the public relations function and built the West Africa communications team; as Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer for GE Africa, notable among her achievements in the organisation is the creation of ‘GE Lagos Garage’- a hub for advanced manufacturing skills development that has produced over 2,400 graduates; and as Arts and Sponsorship Manager for the British Council in Nigeria, she influenced and attracted attention to the Council. Only in December 2020, she was appointed Vice President, Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability, Africa at The Coca-Cola Company.
Even when she doesn’t realise it, Patricia Obozuwa is constantly trying to help people succeed, help companies grow and nations thrive.
A graduate of accounting, it didn’t take long for her during her years in the university to know that accounting wasn’t her passion. And in a country where prevailing societal conditions determined what course one should study to become relevant, Patricia was taking a risky call by grabbing “any” opportunity that the lack of jobs presented. So when an opportunity in an art gallery as an assistant art curator showed up, the accounting graduate quickly took it up. While she was there, she noticed that her life was taking a certain trajectory.
“I realised early on that I had a knack for devising a good strategy to achieve my objectives.”
“Another thing I found was that somehow I had a natural ability to work out how to build a reputation. I tell you, I cannot dance, paint, or sing or draw (laughs). And even though I wasn’t a fantastic salesperson for works of art, I was very good at building the image of the gallery.”
Her love for building image and reputation also made her take up the assignment to hone her writing skills. And for the five and a half years she worked there, the British Council witnessed a significant leap in external perceptions and the image of the organization.
Her strive for excellence set her apart so that when she left the Council to work at Procter & Gamble where grew to become the Head, External Relations, Nigeria/ Corporate Communications Leader, sub-Saharan Africa.
Landing On The Moon
As we go on with our conversation, I chip in a quote by Eleanya Ndukwe Jr, “We have become accustomed to the saying, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ I disagree. We are shooting solely for the moon and we are never landing even a fraction less off!” We ponder over this, as this buttresses her point on living a life that gives back.
As a woman thriving in an [African] environment which is learning to open up its arms to diversity, it was, until recently, that one could picture in their mind’s eye, the possibilities of having a woman steer the ships of organisations. With all that she achieved, she opines that rather than see her gender as having limitations, her gender “propels” her to do even more, especially with her knowledge of the African woman as a “resilient” woman.
“One thing being an African woman has made me very conscious of, is that… I have a strong obligation to lift other women up as I go.”
“I try as much as possible to be transparent about my journey so that those people who look up to me can learn from it, and I try every day not to let them down.”
She also credits the organisations she has worked with for taking diversity seriously. “I am cognizant of the fact that I am not the typical picture that comes to mind when you are thinking of an executive in an international organization, so I understand what the expectations are and then I aim to go above them.”
And for every ground tilled, Patricia has discovered a goldmine. It seems to the public that she knows exactly when and how to hit gold. Even though in today’s world false positivity fuels some decision making, she also says that knowing when to stop is also as important as almost everyone is still ‘work in progress’.
“The worst thing is to be afraid to take that step forward because you will never know till you’ve moved whether or not it is successful. Another thing is to know when to pivot and when things are not working and immediately work out a new strategy.
“It is important to have a good strategy but there are often many roads to one place. It is about knowing what road you want to take. The surest way to fail is to blindly keep going forward.”
In pursuit of happiness
Will Smith (plays Chris Gardner) in the popular film, In Pursuit of Happyness, tells his son, “You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.” One of the deduced subtle messages from this scene is that, while on the race to ‘get it,’ you shouldn’t forget that your identity is built along the way and this brand is what is mentioned in rooms you may not be present in. Hence, personal branding is vital to the overall success of one’s journey. Obozuwa adds that an effective personal brand is built on the foundations of authenticity and consistency.
“It is not something you put on, it needs to be based on attributes that you can deliver on at any time. Ultimately, everyone can benefit from operating with integrity. A good name is better than gold.”
Settling for one’s comfort zone is commonplace around the world. And with Paystack setting the pace on the African continent, she says that setting a high standard for oneself even though they are starting small shows the drive to excel.
She opines that the likes of Paystack have shown that using one’s unique qualities as well as asking oneself, “What more can I do to ensure that I achieve my objectives?” will easily set them apart.
She adds that creatively solving a problem is the genius idea needed to create and establish a profitable environment. Also, working independently in setting objectives and delivering projects without synergy, can become a detriment if your efforts are not adding business value.
Tackling Impostor Syndrome
As successful people open up on their daily lives, the words, impostor syndrome, is a popular phrase. Obozuwa says that, like other creatives, she is not new to the syndrome
. “Every now and then, I get that.. ‘Can you do this?’ Finally, they will find out that you are not who they think you are. But you know, you only grow by tackling new challenges, You can’t keep doing the same thing forever and expect to grow. I remind myself about actual things that I have done and achieved and remembering those times when I said, I’m not going to be able to do this, and still went ahead and achieved great results.
“Impostor syndrome is a lie that plays in your head when tackling the unknown, and once you identify that, you see it for what it is rather than believe the lie.”
As she forges ahead, Obozuwa climbs the ladder confident that winning is the only strategy, nothing less.
This Interview was originally published on Guardian life.