From being an advocate and solicitor in a reputable law firm, to becoming the company secretary of one of the biggest players in Nigeria’s cement industry, this woman has been diligent in her profession, with about 14 years professional experience. Nairametrics had the opportunity to interview her to know how she came this far. Meet Adewunmi Alode, the company secretary of Lafarge Africa Plc. Excerpt:
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Adewunmi Alode, I’m currently the Company Secretary/Senior Legal Counsel at Lafarge Africa Plc. I was born 37 years ago into the Eshilokun and Ashogbon ruling houses in Lagos Island to the Ogunbiyis as the youngest in a family of 10 children. I am passionate about raising the next generation of men and fathers. I am a lover of people, always willing to share from my knowledge and experiences. I love to read, listen to good music and travel among others.
Tell us about your educational and professional background.
I graduated in 2003 with a Law degree (LLB) and got called to the Nigerian Bar in 2004 (BL). I also hold an Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, UK professional certification. Currently, I am undergoing an MBA programme at the Business School, Netherlands (BSN).
Prior to my joining Lafarge in May 2008, I had a three-year active legal practice as an advocate and solicitor in a reputable law firm in Lagos.
At the time I joined Lafarge (then Lafarge Cement WAPCO Nigeria Plc), it was an era of massive operational, commercial and industrial transformation and expansion — Lakatabu Expansion Project — which afforded me the opportunity to play a pivotal role in Project Management, negotiations of complex international commercial contracts, on-shore and off-shore syndicated loans, and power projects.
One of the attributes that stood out for me was the innovative legal business partnership approach with which my responsibilities within the organisation were executed. Being the business-minded person that I am, coupled with the willingness to learn and explore new terrains, most of the legal documentations on the project transactions were drafted in-house, thereby saving some small fortune for the business.
Thereafter, I rose to become the Legal Manager of the then Lafarge Cement WAPCO Nigeria Plc and Company Secretary of Lafarge Ready Mix Nigeria Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company in 2011. I recorded a major milestone of zero litigation record, fines, claims and compliance breach against the company, despite its operations in various parts of the country during those 4 years.
Subsequently, I was further elevated to the role of Senior Legal Counsel, Commercial Contracts & Compliance for the three LafargeHolcim business operations in Nigeria.
You have been Lafarge Africa’s secretary since last year. What has been your experience?
First, I give all thanks and credit to God, my Father, for his grace and faithfulness for ordering my steps in life and making the appointment a reality even when I least expected it and for surrounding me with exceptionally selfless people.
Having had the honour of working closely with three incredibly amazing company secretaries, interestingly all females — Viola Graham-Douglas (now Corporate Communications Director, Guinness Diageo), Edith Onwuchekwa (Legal Director and General Counsel, Lafarge Africa Plc), and Uzoma Uja (Company Secretary and Legal Adviser, Diamond Bank). I must say that their mentorship, the opportunities given to me and the confidence reposed in me to practice the role from the background has in no little way assisted me to settle in well.
However, I must say that the experience of working from the background is totally different from being in the spotlight. It has been challenging, but worthwhile.
The Secretary, being the conscience of the company, plays a strategic role in implementing corporate governance principles, one of which is the ability to strike a balance between the interest of management, board, the minority shareholders, and sometimes myself. This is one of the most challenging aspects of the role. Thankfully, I enjoy lots of support from my network of senior colleagues, fellow company secretaries, and my team.
What can you say has been your biggest break since the beginning of your career?
Being appointed company secretary of a blue-chip multinational company in Nigeria easily ranks as my biggest career break. Notwithstanding this, I am someone who appreciates even the smallest successes and so I consider the pivotal roles I played in several of the highly successful company projects — legal and transactional support in debt restructuring; rights Issue, launch of Commercial Papers, scheme of mergers, scheme of arrangements, implementation of the company-wide Document Retention Policy and launch of LafargeHolcim Group Compliance Code of Business Conduct — as big breaks in their own rights.
Professionally Speaking, do you have any regrets?
Honestly, No! As a female lawyer, working in Lafarge has exposed me to a lot of corporate transactions, cross-border teams, operations of other departments and amazing people throughout my career. Contrary to the opinion about working with female bosses, it has empowered, challenged, transformed and kept me on my toes all these years. More so, Lafarge Africa Plc’s gender-inclusive agenda is highly commendable for emulation. My career path from a legal officer to appointment as company secretary within 10 years in Lafarge and 14 years of my professional career also gives me a sense of fulfillment.
How do you sustain work-life balance?
The office of the Company Secretary is truly a challenging one. As earlier stated, I am surrounded with exceptionally outstanding and selfless people, particularly my very understanding, supportive husband and my mum. I leverage on all the several support structures which I have deliberately built around me in order to easily get help from family, friends and colleagues. I deliberately spend the weekend with my family, quality time alone as often as possible, and try to get home early enough before my kids’ bed time for some storytelling (which they always look forward to).
Any advice for people aspiring to get this far?
I believe strongly that the God-factor is the most important aspect of our lives, notwithstanding our achievements.
I have learnt that attitude is key to everything we do in life. The attitude with which a person learns, take corrections, feedback, treat colleagues, administrative staff and others generally can either make or mar that person.
My advice to young folks aspiring to get this far is to inculcate the right attitude, stay humble to learn and unlearn, admit the wrong or ignorance and learn, ensure to add value in whatever capacity they may find themselves, and finally, God’s wisdom. If I got this far with this recipe, I believe they can get even farther.