Joyce Akpata, the Director General of Nigerian-American Chambers of Commerce, is a graduate of Law from The University of Abuja. In this interview with TAYO GESINDE, she speaks about her experience as the DG of NACC and the price she paid to get to where she is today.
What informed your choice of career?
As amusing as it may seem now, one of the attractions for law then was because I thought I would never have to deal with figures. But alas, it has turned out not to be so. A key attraction also was the versatility the profession provided as one is able to work in almost any sector. Thus, I saw Law as a means to an end and not the end itself. I guess this has played out in the various sectors I have worked in the course of my career. I have a background in law which has revolved around law publishing, company secretarial and administration, corporate law and then chamber administration and international trade. My foray into the chamber space was from 2014 when I took on the role of Director-General at the Nigerian- British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) before joining the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce (NACC) in 2017.
You were appointed DG of NACC a year ago, how has the journey been?
It has been an interesting and a remarkable experience thus far. I have had the unique experience of being involved in the repositioning of a second Chamber of Commerce, the first being the Nigeria British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC). With the NACC, we have been able to make it more relevant in the fostering of trade and commercial relations between Nigeria and the US. This we have achieved via regular engagement with all relevant government agencies and also engagement with relevant private sector and civil society organisations on both sides of the Atlantic. Our strategy as a Business Membership Organisation, has been to position ourselves to add value to the businesses of member companies. This we have been able to do by coming up with various initiatives that would be relevant to the businesses of our members which included knowledge sharing sessions, capacity building, business linkages and referrals. While trying to retain existing members, we also expect that our increased activities would attract new members. We are a long way from where we want to be, so there is no resting on our oars.
What are the challenges you have been facing in your career?
Well, every job comes with its challenges and one has to be ready to wade through them so as not to get deterred and lose focus. Perhaps the biggest challenge is dealing with people. You get to deal with various individuals with different personalities which you will have to manage to be successful.
What price did you pay to get to where you are today?
Studying hard and hard work, always enlarging my knowledge base and driving myself harder than I drive other people.
What is the most defining moment of your career?
I have a penchant for being saddled with new assignments I know nothing about. I was settling down to a legal advisory role in the publishing company where I was working earlier in my career, Odade Publishers, when the post of Training Manager suddenly became open and I was asked if I would try my hand on it. I did and I was successful at it. The contact I made on that assignment sourced and recommended me for the NBCC job as Director-General. I had no knowledge of the chamber movement before then. And my performance at the NBCC turnaround led to NACC looking for me when they had issues and needed to revamp the Chamber. So, as it were, one defining moment has created another. It has been a case of trying hard to make a success of every opportunity leading to the opening of a new door.
What is your philosophy of life?
You can achieve anything once you set your mind to it, work towards it and pray about it. Hard work pays.
How have you been combining the home front with your career?
It can be very tasking but having an understanding and supportive husband has helped in no small measure. Reliable helpers are also a must. Not taking care of the home front can have a negative effect and be destabilizing. Hence, as much as possible, I try hard to be very involved with the raising of my kids, I ride with them to school in the morning, try to be at school events as many times as I can and also go through homework no matter how tired I am. Telecommunications has also helped as I monitor them over the phone and video calls from wherever I am. It is not very easy but I have convinced myself that it is doable. It is about balancing the various area of one’s life.
Do you think we can ever achieve gender parity in Nigeria?
I believe gender parity is achievable. But as a starting point, we need to tackle the prejudices and unconscious biases that exist in people’s minds and appreciate the fact that gender parity does not mean that males and females must be identical or always require the same treatment to be fair, but it entails seeing both sexes as having equal status and worth. It is judging a person based on their merit, and not considering them as superior or inferior based on their gender alone. No doubt both sexes have different abilities, thus it will be paramount and fair to treat and evaluate each other based on the strength of their character rather than their gender. This makes equity a key factor in achieving gender parity.
What advice do you have for your women out there?
It is said that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to get any recognition, but hard work also doesn’t kill. So, it is, keep working hard, build a strong network, a solid support system and don’t be deterred, you are on your journey to the top.