It’s Competence, Not Skin Colour - Africa’s premier report on the oil, gas and energy landscape.

It’s Competence, Not Skin Colour

By Fred Akanni, Editor-in-Chief

Baker Hughes’ First African born Country Director in Nigeria says he is proud to be a local..

IF IMAGERY WERE WHAT THE JOB WAS all about, Tayo Akinokun would determine that his stint in Algeria, North Africa was the best in his 18 year career with Baker Hughes, the ranking oil field service technology provider.

It was a decade ago now (1998) and Akinokun was a Senior field engineer who flew in “those tiny planes”, and was dropped on various airstrips close to well sites and was taxied straight to locations to lead field crews in deployment of the latest technology in Electric Wireline Logging services for the acquisition of various forms of petrophysical data.

The view from the sky was an endless stretch of desert sands, barbed wire fencing the wells, gendarmes guarding the fences and oil workers of various tones of skin colour. “Unlike in Norway (an earlier assignment) which was mostly Norwegians, the workers here were French, Arabs, Americans, Africans, you know, like colours of the rainbow”, he recalls.

But the images that come back to him, most vividly, were those of the rock formations. In Algeria, the essential rock sequences are carbonates. “I was acquiring an image log and it looked like a movie. The fractures in the formation leap at you”. In acquiring the acoustic log “you cold easily see the changes in the “acoustic travel time” very vividly”, this signifies essentially varying lithologies.

Akinokun joined Baker Hughes straight out of National Youth Service (a mandatory, one year post-graduation, quasi military service in Nigeria) in 1990. For a fresh bachelor’s degree holder in Electrical engineering, the opportunities, in his own words, were there to work in any service or E&P company”. He chose Baker Hughes because it was a place he thought he could make a difference. “The service companies are good building blocks. They roughen you up and build you for the future. Yours is just to perform”. Before long he was leading and supervising crews as a young wireline logging engineer.

Four years into his career he was transferred to Norway as a field engineer in the North Sea. Algeria, in North Africa, came after three years in Norway.

As this is the country that hosts the wealthiest state hydrocarbon company on the continent, this magazine is keen on what Akinokun has to say by way of experience in Algeria.

“There were lots of issues with security when I was there. But it’s like any other place-Nigeria, the United States-if you go to the wrong place you are dead meat.”

He went to Algeria because he “wanted to gather a lot of experience in a different environment”. He worked on various locations operated by various multinational operators and all operated out of Hassi Messoud.

Akinokun’s first management job came after the Algerian experience. He was appointed Operations Manager in Port Harcourt for one of Baker Hughes’ operating divisions, Baker Atlas in 1999 and then his career really took off.

“It was the first time I was managing as many as a hundred people”. He became a sales manager thereafter, a job which, in the upstream oil service company sector, is considered elitist, as it focuses on customers. The job description was Customer Service Manager, Baker Atlas, Port  Harcourt Nigeria. This was to prove a step to a bigger, more strategic sales & marketing job in Houston which, if you look closely at the CV, might have been the training ground for his current position.

In Houston, Akinokun worked as the Senior Technical adviser in the Baker Atlas Global Marketing Group. He was deeply involved in new tool development across the corporation, in the justification to build new technology services. “My job was to initially provide technical and financial justification to senior management for investment in specific new technology work and subsequently work with the scientists to intimate them with what the external customers wanted and interface with internal customers who engage with outside customers”. When a product reached the testing stage, Akinokun’s job was look for a candidate field, anywhere in the world, to test the product, receive the test data as collated from the field, engage the scientists again in refining the tool/product and then help in the deployment in the market. “I was traveling to every corner of the globe doing this job. It allowed me to know the corporation extensively”.  That job provided the greatest opportunity for exposure and global networking and was probably the leeway and to his present position.

He returned to Nigeria in 2004, as Business Development Manager for Baker Hughes in Port Harcourt. The following year he became the Deputy Country Director for Nigeria, a job which, with the benefit of insight, has proven to be just a stewardship for the current job.

Now he runs all of the Nigerian operations which consist of approximately 400 staff, taking over from Phil Vogel, who was the Country Director until December 2007.

In a sense, Akinokun’s rise to Baker Hughes’ top job in Nigeria feels like a breeze and it’s clearly atypical, in the international segment of the oil service sector in Nigeria, let alone in the major E&P companies, where technical people throw big parties if they make it to field superintendent at 50 and go for huge thanksgiving services, if they become General Manager of any unit at all, at age 55. “I have never been stagnated”, he notes. “Every two years, something happens”.

He quickly chips in that he’s not telling what will happen in 2010. “I have an assignment to further develop, stabilize and reposition the organization for bigger successes in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Does that include, we ask him, getting an African, or a Nigerian for that matter, ready to succeed him? “It could well be a Nigerian as we have several bright Nigerian rising stars working for us both in Nigeria and around the world, but as an International multinational Company with several nationalities it doesn’t have to be a Nigerian”, he says. “The way we operate; the Country Director’s role is about the skill set, competencies and experience just like a Nigerian with the right skill set could lead the business in any of our locations and countries around the world”

If I can get here, anyone else can and it is not a matter of skin colour. Baker Hughes employs more than 34,000 people around the globe.

The Baker Hughes workforce in Nigeria is 90% Nigerian and 10% Expatriate. “Several Nigerians are also making a great career as key players in our international locations around the world”, he contends. “Training and development is a culture well entrenched in our organization which has contributed greatly to our success story. All our young engineers right from the first day at work are scheduled to attend training programmes in our educational training centres spread across the United States, the United Kingdom and the Middle East where they have the opportunity to compete and learn along with other international employees from several countries. A process which continues all through our career”.

Akinokun explains that the company has operated in Nigeria for 40 years and has been in the forefront of the development of the skill set and critical mass required for the development of our industry through the recruitment and training of young Nigerian graduate engineers who have eventually blossomed over the years to be key players at various levels of leadership across the industry.  “Such has been the case with my career and development over the last 18 years”.

 

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