IF I were her father, I would be so proud. Chief Dele Fajemirokun, the chairman of AIICO Insurance must definitely be proud of her daughter Dr. Adenike Fajemirokun, the Chief Risk Officer at Dangote Group. She is a chip off the old block, a lady about whom Dad once said after he listened to his daughter make her point in the board which he chaired: “The money I spent educating this girl did not go in flames.” With a PhD in Risk Management, she was one of the heroes who rescued Deutsche Bank AG, London, in 2008 from the global financial meltdown through her wise counsel as Global Head Operational Risk and Deputy Head of loan exposure management. She left the bank as director, came to Nigeria to set up AFRisk Management Consultants Limited and went on to deliver Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) frameworks for some of the country’s major institutions including Central Bank of Nigeria and First Bank Capital Plc. She was later headhunted to join the Dangote Group as Group Chief Risk Officer. She was promoted last year as the first female Executive Director at Dangote. Father and daughter each share a chapter in our forthcoming book, 50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategy. By the time you read these 7-point excerpts based on our interview with her, you will understand why we included her in our book:
Everything done to avoid negative consequences or to en- sure that a company taps into opportunities or protects its assets—that is risk management. All a board does is around risk management and governance. It is not farfetched to say that the existence of a board is to ensure that the company has effective risk management and governance. What I find interesting is how in recent times risk management is becoming a bit of a buzzword. We have always had risk management, otherwise companies would not survive. In my view, risk management is using common sense to understand anything that can negatively impact your business. I can input part of technology into what I am doing, but I don’t lose the fact that I have a brain, and I am not dependent on machine 100 percent because I know that was built also by somebody just like me, somebody that didn’t have two heads. The dependence on technology has become a bit of discouragement to people using their brains.
The role of a non-executive director is to guide the board, and to do that effectively, the director must understand what goes on in the organisation. At any point, if asked questions about the company whose board he sits on, for him not to be able to answer is embarrassing to say the least. It speaks volumes that apart from the regular meetings, such a director is not engaged. A director has to be engaged in the company. A board meeting is a story; if directors sit in one meeting, without an understanding of the president, or the history of the company, or the flow of how they got where they are, they can make decision calls based on sentiments or based on exigencies of the moment, as opposed to the implications of other things that got them to that moment. Directors have a lot to bring to the table if they understand what their job is, which is to help management of the company.
I am not one for the debate around gender vis-à-vis the dichotomy of male-female director. What does a woman bring to the boardroom? Why not ask, what does a man bring to the boardroom? I don’t see a difference in what a woman brings and what a man brings. I am not a feminist. I kind of believe that whatever a man is able to do, a woman can do as well. We bring exactly the same thing. All I have said about the board is independent of whether the person at the centre of it is a man or woman. Directors that know their onions bring those qualities to the table, regardless of their gender. I look out and see what someone represents, and that inspires me, not necessarily because she is a woman or he is a man.
I have seen Alhaji Aliko Dangote in the boardroom a lot of time. He is a leader. He appreciates the value that everyone brings to the table, and he allows everyone to have a voice. That is the trait of a proper chairman as I have learnt from my dad. A chairman is not someone that bullies or bosses you with what he knows. He is someone that can take some of the knowledge in the room, knit it together and take a decision. For boardroom style, I would say, his is an inclusive style. Everyone feels like a family when you are in the boardroom with Alhaji Aliko Dangote. I say to people, Dangote is like a movement, not just a company. It is as if everyone in the organisation is moving in the same direction, because we all become like a family. Barring my father, I don’t think I have met anyone I know that works as hard as Dangote.
The first time I was in the boardroom with my dad, it was exciting. My dad is a tough guy, he is a brilliant man. If my dad is talking, you better listen, because he carries a lot of wisdom. He never took anything by chance. I have seen that he worked hard for everything. Hard work inspires me. Being in the boardroom and watching him for the first time was interesting. I saw my dad completely changed. He took charge. Dad has no tolerance for nonsense. To see him in a room where he is getting respect from people some older than him; to see him passing off so much intellect, his knowledge of his companies in details, his knowledge of where he wants the company to go, it is a different experience. He listens, he respects people and this reflects in his boardroom character.
I am a member on the board of AIICO Pension, AIICO Capital, AIICO Insurance and Food Concept. Combining board responsibilities with the job of Chief Risk Officer is difficult. I chair the AIICO Establishment Committee. I bring my specialty as a risk manager to bear on all the boards I belong to. Besides being on other committees, I am always on Audit and Risk Committee by default. My father is not someone that gives you things because you are entitled to it; you must bring something to the table. There had been situations where I proved him right. I remember once in the boardroom when I came in and defended a point based on my experience. His response to the externals in the board-room was: “Owo o jona m’biba yi o.” (The money I spent to educate this child is not wasted). There had been situations where my father had taken me off boards. I don’t think I am ever anywhere that I don’t deliver; but I can be somewhere where I just can’t commit to the time. And there are companies that need to be run. Without any sentiment, if you are not attending meetings, or if you cannot commit to the board, then you cannot be on the board! Being on the board is not for fun. You are there to deliver.
My boardroom hero will have to be my father. Till today, I have never met anyone that really understands the dynamics of a boardroom like my father. My understanding of what a boardroom is first came from seeing my father in the boardroom. As a kid, I knew it wasn’t an ordinary meeting, even though I didn’t know it was called a board. I am sure someday, I will be called upon to chair a board, not necessarily stepping into my father’s shoes. It might be on board of another company completely, independent of the family businesses or family-aligned businesses.