Name: Ifeoma Okpala
Date of birth: 17 June 1985
Title: Head of Operations Transformation
Company: Sealand Europe and Mediterranean – A Maersk Company
Degree: Mass Communication BSc, University of Lagos, Nigeria
Fun fact:I love to travel! So far explored 50+ countries and counting
What do you find most interesting about your career and your leadership position?
I love the fact that I have been able to explore, learn, and develop new connections during my career. Working with different leaders and teams across geographies has given me opportunities to learn from varied experiences, diverse perspectives and very key; to understand how to lead through collaboration and inspiration rather than just authority. All of this has fueled me to see endless possibilities in integrating experience, knowledge, relationships, and passions that move me and those around me.
What has been crucial to get you to where you are today?
From a young age, I have always been curious, open to learn and fearless about knocking on doors where I was seeking an opportunity to learn or contribute. An example was being home on summer vacation during my second year at university. I wanted to get hands-on experience working in my industry at the time so I could make an informed choice about where to start my career once I graduated 2 years later. I made a CV which did not consist of much at the time and went to every company within walking distance from home to present myself and ask for an opportunity to work for them. By the 5th company, I got an interview which resulted in a job which I returned to every summer until I graduated. I still believe it pays to knock on doors and offer a value exchange.
I strive to maintain a positive outlook, seeking out opportunities and solutions rather than focusing on gaps and problems. So, I have always been one to offer insights and support – sometimes taking on tough subjects where I believe it would add value or support other leaders to hear a different perspective as we work towards specific goals.
Tell us about a female role model and the impact they had on you – either personally or professionally?
My mum, who has and continues to live a life of exemplary service to her family and community. While she did not take the corporate route, I admire her integrity and being a source of wise counsel to many. I learnt from her to keep an open mind, ask questions and seek to understand especially when interacting with people from different cultures than myself before offering advice or solutions. This has been very critical for me while pursuing an international career and working in a global company working with colleagues and customers from all over the world. Growing up, I wondered why she spent so much of her time serving others without obvious return on investment. Eventually I understood that building up others in the society around you is a legacy in itself.
What advice would you give to young female students today?
Be curious and bold. Learn about responsibility as early as possible. For example, team sports and active participation in student bodies can help young people build skills and a sense of responsibility beyond oneself while developing empathy. There is immense power when you understand the value in being a contributor and not just being a consumer.
Looking into the future, what role do you think STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education will have?
STEM education is at the core of what we urgently need as a society if we are to face and overcome issues such as climate crisis, geo-political turmoil and innovate to find new ways to prioritize health and wellbeing of people. I also believe that by bringing better gender diversity into STEM fields starting with education, we ensure to develop more well-rounded perspectives in future advancements and solutions that impact more of the population.