Surviving in the banking sector during the era of consolidation has given an opportunity for self-discovery to Mrs Christabel Onyejekwe. However, the sector has navigated through one reform to another. Aside being a lawyer-turned banker, Onyejekwe is like the proverbial ‘cat with nine lives’ having lived up to the billing that when the going gets tough, only the tough gets going more especially during this period of economic recession. As an economist she is never bereft of ideas about the way out of the quagmire. Beyond being a banker, Onyejekwe is also a motivational speaker and at several times, had inspired women on the roadmap to success. In this interview with Effect, the Executive Director of Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) went down memory lane into her two decades experience in the banking sector and why she does not go to bed until she’s sure the ATMs are working perfectly.
Please tell us about your background?
I am a professional banker working with Nigeria Inter-bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS) as Executive director, Technology and Operations. Before I started working at NIBSS, I was the General Manager at UBA, I enjoyed my time and growth there. Previously, I had worked in other banks in the areas of consumer, commercial banking, corporate banking and treasury management. I trained as a lawyer at the University of Lagos after which I went on to practise law for two years before veering into the banking sector date. I bagged an MBA in Banking and Finance and have attended several local and international trainings. I am happily married with two lovely children.
Tell us about your childhood experience; is there anything you would like to change about your childhood years?
I was raised properly by two wonderful parents. I was more influenced by my father’s strictness, discipline and push for excellence. He was one of the few graduates in his time and that made all the difference in my life. It wasn’t easy but my parents raised me and my siblings well and they did the best they could to ensure we got what we needed. I imbibed a lot of virtues growing up and they guided and kept me focused all through my life. It’s easy to look back and wish you could have more, but I’m fond of reliving my childhood memories and I would never change it for anything.
Can you tell us about your leadership style?
My leadership style revolves around human development and exemplary leadership. I am passionate about customer-centricity and that is what I preach. If your customers are not 100% satisfied, you must learn to go the extra mile for them. I always ensure I lead my team by example in this regard. I also encourage my staff members to work free of stress, smile, relax and learn to enjoy their work. My attitude to life is ‘work hard, play hard!’ The customer is happy, you’re happy… everyone wins!
Why did you go into the banking sector instead of law?
The Deputy Managing Director where I did my first banking job felt that I would do better as a treasury personnel instead of belonging to the legal department. So, she posted me there. Hence, can say it’s by sheer providence coupled with my love for diverse challenges.
Do you regret not practising as a lawyer?
I practised law for two years and I had an exciting time running around incorporations at the time and later in the courts, I enjoyed it all at the same. I live my life without regrets and that’s a sure way to ensuring happiness. So, I have no regrets at all.
What situation or experience do you think would have cost you your job or resulted in demotion, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise?
In 2005 when the consolidation of banks happened, my boss gave a herculean target for everybody to achieve. Among my peers, I excelled and met the target following which I was commended and promoted. If I had failed, I would have been sacked.
What is your success tip as a career woman?
Hard work, focus and balance. To succeed, women must unleash the qualities and talents within them and stretch them beyond limitations to achieve career goals and objectives. A good way to do this is to choose the right profession, adapt to work environment but never change who you are. You are to also work hard and persevere. Most importantly, people should balance work and life in a well-planned way that suits you. It appears like a tall order but achievable.
What inspired that aspect of yours that mentors women?
I believe in giving back to the society. There is no amount of teaching that will be enough. Most women will be unfortunate not to hit the glass ceiling. Since some of us are privileged to have achieved something so far, the best thing to do is to impact younger women to do better and rise above their challenges.
Did your upbringing play a role in shaping your life as an extraordinary motivational speaker?
My upbringing helped a lot. My parents were good Christians and the fact that I was raised religiously served as a spiritual guide to my growing up. As I grew older and began to understand the world better, I realized that I needed to make a difference; beginning with myself, then others. My father believed that what a man can do, a woman can do also; so I had a voice early in life. I love seeing women working hard, breaking barriers and crossing boundaries in the so-called “man’s world”. It really hurts seeing a woman being dependent when she can easily fend for herself. So, I tell whoever is willing to listen, “you can do it”
How do you relax?
I go out occasionally with friends on social outings and parties. But most often, I spend quality time with my husband and the children when they are around.
How do you juggle the home front with being a career woman?
This might sound like a cliché of an answer but it is the work of God. God has given me divine wisdom and guidance to make the right decisions whether at work or at home. I advise career women to make sure that for every 24hrs, they ensure they do their work in the office and play their role at home as housewife as well. One role should be detrimental to the other.
Apart from your job as a banker, most women look up to you as a role model; what advice do you have for them in the face of this economy hardship?
Three simple words: Accept, Adapt, Overcome; you need to know so much about yourself. I prescribe self-awareness test for most women e.g who you are, your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t copy others. Be contented with what you have and discover how to diversify your skills.
What does it take to achieve greatness, especially as a in a male-dominated environment?
Women should learn to work harder than the men in any male-dominated environment, especially in Banks. All through my career I have faced challenges that could make a woman to want to give up, I have discovered easy routes that would ultimately limit my potential; but I stayed true to myself. One must identify his or her goals, then work hard to achieve them. As long as you have breath in you, there’s nothing you can’t achieve under the sun.
How did you meet your husband?
I first met him after my secondary school since both we’re from the same village. Two years later, we met in the university and built on our relationship from there.
What qualities made you to say ‘yes’ to his proposal?
The qualities are simply the things I asked God for in a husband; He must be God-fearing and generous. He possessed these qualities and moreover, he proposed to me when I was on sickbed.