Catherine Uju Ifejika is the Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of Brittania-U Nigeria limited, an affiliate of Brittania-U Group –an indigenous and integrated Oil & Gas Company.
Recently, Ventures Africa Magazine listed her among the “10 Nigerian Billionaires You’ve Never Heard Of,” while Montage Africa Media headlined her “Africa’s Most Successful Female Oil Tycoon.”
A lawyer by profession, Mrs. Ifejika previously worked in the oil and gas industry for 20 years in Texaco, which later merged with Chevron, rising from junior counsel (after being retained when her compulsory national youth service ended) up to regional company secretary before retiring early in 2007 to start her own business. Mrs. Ifejika was the first person to hold the position of a Company Secretary, Public and Government Affairs at Texaco, covering West Africa region –Nigeria, Togo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Congo and Benin Republic.
The core business of Brittania-U is Petroleum, with operations covering the entire spectrum from upstream (exploration and production) to downstream (trading, supply and distribution). The company also has interests in shipping and sub-surface engineering affiliate companies. They have over the years built momentum to respond to local challenges, but act globally, to meet international standards in their business operations.
The company’s vision is aimed at being a profitable and fully integrated Nigerian Oil & Gas Company of first choice, while its mission statement is based on the concept of being professional, ethical, with clear business objectives that ensure growth, profitability and customer focus.
During an interview, Mrs. Ifejika said Brittania-U’s main objectives are to contribute to the nation’s value creation for the well-being of the people, better quality of life, quality products, fair price, and job opportunities, while ensuring a business operation in a safe and clean environment. She added that the firm has an ultimate objective of ensuring maximum returns to its shareholders, not forgetting the need to provide international standards and quality petroleum engineering, field development planning and asset management services to both marginal field operators and international oil companies.
Performing Better Under Pressure
In spite of the demanding nature of the oil and gas sector, Mrs. Ifejika has successfully weathered the storm because one of her areas of strength is performing better under pressure. She was recently quoted as saying: “You see one thing about me is that I like challenges, and I perform better under pressure. Other people wobble under pressure, but if you want to see the best of me, it is when I am under pressure.”
The oil mogul ventured into the oil and gas business because that was the only industry she’d ever worked and fully understood. “Naturally, leaving the oil industry, although the downstream sector, because I have never worked in exploration and production, I wanted to try the exploration and production which was the upstream sector. My experience was not deep in the oil industry because I was just a company secretary, and you don’t get involved in marketing operations or in exploration and production but I decided to take a chance and see what it is like.”
Thinking Out of the Box
Mrs. Ifejika’s words of advice, in an interview with Montage, for prospective entrepreneurs who are still scared of venturing into their dream business:
“As a business person, every day you have to think out of the box. I think that is one of the biggest problems a lot of people have. You go to sleep everyday knowing well that you can sleep. When you are asleep, you are virtually dead because the line between death and life (while you are asleep) is very thin; but you don’t consider it, you go to sleep.
“I have never walked in exploration and production, but the only thing I was able to do was to rise above my fear level. You can imagine someone who came out from a paid job (a little less than ₦10 million severance package) going to ask for $23 million loan from a bank. I’m not a petroleum engineer, I’m not a geologist, and I have never worked in exploration and production, but the only thing I know is how to take something that is nothing and create something out of it that you can see and appreciate. And for you to be able to do that, you must not look at what people are saying.
“You should look into your inner intuition because all of us have it. It is you as a person that matters, not any other person because the vision of what you want to do is with you and no one else. This is what I discovered early in life. Not being an engineer or a geologist was immaterial. Today, I have trained myself to speak the language of geologist –I can interpret the maps and when they bring in technical things, we look at it together.”
Women in Nation Building
“For me, the motivation is that there is no word called impossibility in my book. The only thing that is impossible is waking a dead man; every other thing is possible.
Women need to be more engaged in contributing to anything in every sphere of the country. Nobody ever knew that a woman could be in oil exploration and production when I came into the industry. This shows that there are more women who have more guts and can do much more than I have done.”