In the spirit of celebrating International Women’s Day 2019, we are featuring one of Endeavor Nigeria’s female board of directors, Halima Aliko Dangote (Executive Director, Dangote Industries Limited). Halima spoke to us about her challenges and accomplishment as an investor and executive.
Q: What’s one time you faced a challenge, setback, or failure as an investor or executive? What did you learn from the experience?
A: A recent example is when I joined Dangote Flour Plc in 2016. The business had just gone through a challenging phase, under Tiger Brands’ leadership. Dangote Industries Ltd had just repurchased the company, and I was charged with the responsibility of positively turning things around. I had to draw from the success of the Dangote Group and my own experience as Executive Director Commercial from NASCON Allied Industries (producer of salt and food seasonings) to change the situation. The challenges for me were manifold, particularly as I was being pressured by the Board to restore shareholder confidence and bring the company back to the path of profitability. First of all, I was not familiar with the dynamics of the flour industry, which is very different in terms of customer base, logistics, delivery and product shelf life from NASCON. With a strong team, we quickly learnt about the business’ complexities, customer needs and the prevailing issues that led to eroding market share and profits. This knowledge gleaning process helped us to work with the MD and other executives to develop and implement a strategy that significantly changed our operations and effectively helped the company record profitability for the first time after five (5) years. The biggest lesson for me though, was that success is absolutely earned as the learning process could not have been eliminated to create a winning strategy plan. There are no random success stories. I also learned humility in leadership, as I had to depend on learning from other people within the company, even those reporting to me, in order to have a deeper understanding of what was happening on ground.
Q: Describe a problem you’re solving as an investor or executive. What is its significance to you, and what is the solution your business presents?
A: Malnutrition is an issue close to my heart that I see Dangote businesses resolving every day. Many people do not have the information about what constitutes a nutritious diet and also cannot afford to purchase fortified and nutritious foods. I see malnourishment everywhere I go in Nigeria, especially with children, and as a mother myself, this is an issue I can easily relate to. I am proud to be a trustee of the Aliko Dangote Foundation which works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate collaboration amongst food processors to ensure all food produced and sold in the Nigerian market is fortified with nutrients. Also, as a key decision maker in Dangote Flour Mills, we tackle this issue by providing healthy food varieties through our product offerings. For example, we produce fortified pasta, ball foods and flour. We do not compromise on the nutritional components of our products and we also have a competitive product pricing structure that is pocket-friendly. This philosophy is the same across all Dangote Food businesses; our role is critical as we produce foods that are consumed by almost all Nigerians. So we do our part to ensure Nigeria is fed and healthy.
Q: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of growth or a new understanding of self.
A: I am a woman, a wife, a mother and a business executive. Each aspect of my life is just as important and relevant to my growth and balance in life. After recently having my 3rd child, it was a struggle to manage a baby with the responsibilities of my role. However, I was able to return to full-time work with so much zeal, re-energized and even more dedicated to ensuring the success of the Dangote group. I love my husband and children, and I will always be devoted to them. On the other hand, I am extremely invested in the success and continuity of the Group of companies whose name I share. I learnt that both aspects make up who I am today, and this understanding helped me balance family and work.
Q: The theme for IWD 2019 is “Balance For Better”. What does that mean to you? What do you think needs to be done to achieve a better balance for women in high-impact entrepreneurship and business?
A: Studies and surveys over the last decade also point at the fact that the integration of women at board level encourages better leadership and provides better returns for business and by extension, the economy. The macroeconomic impacts are significant enough for governments to enforce diversity quotas. And this is what ‘balance for better’ means to me, that a gender balanced business is better for the economy. Despite this, women still face several challenges at the workplace, battling historical social bias, stereotypes and ingrained beliefs which are difficult to unlearn. Many of us carry preconceived ideas and unconscious biases about how women “should” act in business. I believe the most important factor to improve the balance for women and perhaps the most difficult to address is a shift in mindset and perception of the role of women in the workplace. I have observed that once there is a shift in perception and absolute trust in the abilities of women to achieve success, there is always that willingness to entrust them with more responsibilities in the workplace and more patronage in business.