“Periods when there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better”.
President Harry Truman
After successfully completing her career as an Executive Director with the wholesale division of Verizon Communications in New York, she came back to Nigeria to join the team that was to complete the privatization of NITEL. In her mind, she thought NITEL could have made more impact than it did. She saw that there was a need and chose to become the solution. Then a dream was born, a solution was created, a company was founded, jobs were created and a leader was made. Funke Opeke is her name. Share in her dream and inspiration;
“We had so much difficulty achieving the success in NITEL and internet services were almost non-existent in the country. I recognized that the absence of submarine cables was the weakest link in the chain. That was what inspired me. The more I thought about that and what it would take to build a new cable, the marketability and regulatory structures, the more it seemed that clearly there was a need…”
Funke Opeke by that decision would become the first woman and the first West African to draw Open Access Submarine High Capacity Communication Cables 14,000km down the floor of the Atlantic Ocean beginning from Portugal, to Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and stretching to Morocco, the canary Islands, Senegal and to the Ivory Coast. She is founder of Main Street Technologies and CEO of Main One.
Leadership has no more meaning if it’s bereft of solution. Whether it’s on the individual or organizational levels, the result and expectations are the same. On the individual level, leadership entails taking the right decisions that would help us achieve our purpose in life. On the organizational level, it entails more than achieving organizational goals, it also involves inspiring others to see that while they work to achieve the collective goal, they would also be achieving their own personal goals. Solution is the end of all leadership exercise. Leaders are born or chosen to provide solution to problems. The moment an individual discovers a problem that is worth dedicating his/her whole life to, a new leader is born.
Following our dreams is not always easy. It takes only men and women with the leadership courage to keep pushing in spite of the discouragement from cynics, challenges of lack of resources and human support. The breakfast of champions is not cereal, but challenges and they face it with courage. Was it otherwise for Funke Opeke? See her courage;
“The first year I essentially worked on my own and pledged all the savings I had or did not have into doing the foundational work, feasibility studies, business plan…to see that this was feasible. The next milestone was to reserve a slot for manufacturing the cables. We needed to make financial commitment. I was able to find a small group of Angel investors who would put money down to get us to the next step. (There were cynics), I don’t know if it was because I was a woman, but it is such a big infrastructure project to embark upon for a start-up company, and so some people just tended to dismiss it or me but I could not separate whether that was from being a woman or because “you got to be kidding. You cannot possibly pull this off. You don’t have the backing or structure; only big companies do things like that, so why do you think you can do it”
The strength of every leader who is hungry for impact and who has a dream that can’t wait is that help and provision naturally comes to any great idea. This is the fuel that drives the engine of the leader’s heart even in the midst of the deadliest storm. That ‘failure is not an option’ mentality comes from this conviction that helpers must come because he believes that his dream is not ordinary. It is a universal law that the level of faith you attach to yourself or your dreams would attract an equal amount of help and support to you. That law can’t be broken. Was it the same in the case of Funke Opeke? Be inspired by this truth;
“We had a very good partner, which was Tyco. This was very useful when investors and lenders would prove difficult or were not confident that we could pull it off. They shared in our vision …believed in our business plan. We thought that there was no turning back and we had to make it happen”.
Leadership is about turning the situation you hate into a dream and a worthy opportunity for oneself and for others. The African continent is blessed to be in the midst of numerous challenges. These are potential opportunities waiting to turn ordinary men and women into CEOs and billionaires. Welcome to our leadership series. Wait for more. Enjoy reading.