Leye Falade studied Electrical/Electronics Engineering at the University of Ibadan and holds an MBA from Henley Business School of the University of Reading. A staff of Royal Dutch Shell currently on secondment to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited as the General Manager for Production, he has over 24 years experience in the oil and gas sector spanning senior positions in Europe, Asia, Russia, Africa & Middle East. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (FNSE), member of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). A keen sportsman, Leye Falade was captain of Government College Ibadan Cricket Team and the University of Ibadan Cricket Club. He played cricket for Nigeria’s Senior National Team between 1994 and 2000. Leye Falade also enjoys playing golf.
My mom was extremely industrious. She was supplying dressed chickens to Joyce-B, a popular supermarket in Ibadan at that time and she enlisted us in the effort. For every chicken you dressed, you got 50 kobo. I was aiming do buy what we used to call a “Disco Watch”-it beamed brightly when you pressed a button. The watch was N13. I quickly understood helping my mom to dress chickens was a way to get the watch, so I was very enthusiastic.
University – Arts or Sciences?
I studied engineering against my choice. I wanted to study Accounting at the University of Lagos. We lived in Ibadan and it was a time when there was a lot of riots in universities. My father told me that I could study whatever I wanted so long it was at the University of Ibadan so that whenever there was a riot, I could easily get home. Fortunately, I did a mix of subjects in my O level examinations that allowed me to apply to study sciences as well as social sciences. But it was still not a straightforward decision. My older brother was studying Mechanical Engineering but my dad said that wasn’t a good choice for me because I had a small frame then. When I discovered that my twin brother was applying to study Electrical Engineering, that solved the problem. I just applied for the same course.
What was your first job and what is the main thing you took away from it?
I am still working for the same company that I worked for after university. I have been with Shell for 24 years. What I have learnt working for Shell is that you need to have total belief in yourself. There is no limit to the opportunities that you have ahead of you. The only limitation is in your mind. Great company. I never imagined that I could rise to where I have risen to. The experience has taught me that hard work pays, diligence pays. It has taught me that you need to have very high personal standards. Shell lets you know that you are not limited in how far you can go.
What did you take away from studying Electrical Engineering in Ibadan?
The key thing I took away is consistency. My brother and I asked a friend, also a Government College Ibadan old boy, who had entered University of Ibadan before us, what it took to succeed in the university. He told us to spend three hours every day studying. We followed the advice very strictly. Our day was never complete without the three hours of studying. We did not have to join people to study overnight during examinations. We used to play cricket and have fun close to exams. People used to be very surprised to see us blast the papers when the results come out. Whether it’s sports or academics, the secret to success is being consistent day in day out in what you do. That is what I took away from the university.
And what’s the key lesson you took away from home?
I made a decision not to go back home when I was leaving for NYSC. I served with Michelin in Port-Harcourt. I grew up and had all my education in Ibadan – primary and secondary school and university. And I remember telling my older brother that the day I finish by final paper, I was never coming back home to ask for a dime. Our parents had passed away in my final year in the university. I had the determination and discipline that gave me the confidence I could be independent. My dad died first and my mom died 52 days after. The foundation they laid for us, spiritual as well as moral, was brilliant. It was like they knew they would leave the five of us so early and wanted to instill in us quickly what we needed to survive. They instilled in us a belief in hard work and always standing for integrity, always being above board and never cutting corners. We used to think they were being too harsh on us. I have always had a steady moral compass due to my upbringing. The values have never left me.
Who was the greater influence, Mom or Dad?
Both of them equally influenced me. Both were disciplinarians but also very loving and caring. But they influenced me in different ways. My dad taught me to learn to introspect a lot. I remember around age 10-11, my dad called me and sat me down. He said “Leye never be discouraged if people don’t clap for you when you have done something great, just keep going”. I didn’t understand. But he later told me in the course of a conversation that he once observed someone try to dissuade me with negative comments. My dad would come home and give us a 3-page article and ask us to read it and come back to tell him what we understood. We would then discuss what we had assimilated with him. So, he taught me how to think and analyze. My mom was extremely industrious. Both parents were civil servants, teachers. The Nigerian middle class was taking a serious pounding when we were growing up and many parents had to do other things besides their professions to make ends meet. My mom then had a poultry and a farm. She taught us how to be industrious. She was supplying dressed chickens to Joyce-B, a popular supermarket in Ibadan at that time and she enlisted us in the effort. For every chicken you dressed, you got 50 kobo. I was aiming to buy what we used to call a “Disco Watch” – it beamed brightly when you pressed a button. The watch was N13. I quickly understood helping my mom to dress chickens was a way to get the watch, so I was very enthusiastic. Both of my parents had a great influence on me in their own ways so I can’t really say any of them was a greater influence. Honestly, that would not be fair to them.
In your career so far, what are the three things you have learnt that you believe they can’t teach you on any MBA programme in the world?
The first one I would say is delivering through others. As a manager, you have been taught a lot of technical stuff that helps you deliver. But one thing you must learn on your own is how you empower others to do things, how to step aside so others can step forward to do great stuff. I have an MBA but that’s not something that I was taught. The second one is building a winner’s mindset. How do you play to win and not play not to lose? When you are playing not to lose, you are a lot conservative. In football, the winners are the people who play to win, who focus on scoring more goals rather than on just not conceding goals.
The third one is the power of network. You actually need to invest in building your network on a daily basis. And you build it not even thinking you would call on it but the reality is that at some point you need your network when you have to do things that go beyond the regular things you do. I don’t remember being taught any of this on the MBA programme.
What’s your favorite kind of music?
I listen a lot to negro spirituals. I love jazz too. I also love Nigerian artistes like Timi Dakolo, and Korede Bello. I smile when I listen to some of their songs. We listened to Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade growing up. Maybe we are getting too old for what’s on the music scene now.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I read a lot on leadership. I also read biographies and leadership books a lot. These books offer ideas on how to turn things around and how businesses that had collapsed were made great. They are about the lives of people who are giants in their fields and they offer insights into what made them succeed and how they often turned major setbacks into great successes. I also read my bible every day.
What books are you currently reading?
Currently I am reading a book called ‘Rebel Ideas’ by Matthew Syed. He is a great author. He is also the author of ‘Black Box Thinking’, I have read that as well. I just finished reading with my leadership team a book called ‘The Meaning Revolution – The Power of Transcendent Leadership’ by Fred Kofman. Others include Extreme Ownership by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink, Good to Great by Jim Collins, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Great by Choice also by Jim Collins and a few others.
Someone may wonder why bother reading so much about management and leadership, given that Shell or the NLNG are very structured places in which you cannot innovate much.
Leadership is progressive and knowledge about leadership itself is also progressive. There was a time when people felt the way to lead is the command and control style. Leadership is also situational. You need to understand the horse for each course: which context, which environment and what you need to do. It’s a big advantage to be armed with perspectives from theories. In your career you might not get exposed to many of the business situations you have studied, but when you encounter situations you have acquired knowledge about, you then put the theory into practice. I admit that it is difficult to have entrepreneurs in the kind of organisational structures that I work in, but you need to be entrepreneurial in your leadership. Even in very structured organisations, there are opportunities to use the entrepreneurship and management toolkit. For example, when you have to lead change. At one point I had to go to London Business School to take a module on leading change. And I do that in every job that I have find myself. I ask myself where is the gap, what do I need to do, how do I engineer people to move from where we are to where we need to go? It is not going to happen in a very mechanical way. You have to work on hearts and minds and there are methods for going about this in various situations. I realised very early that I need to always equip myself with these methods. Ideas on leadership, like on all aspects of management, are evolving and keeping oneself up to date with new learning and new insights is essential to being an effective manager.
Who is your best boss ever?
When I look back over my career, I can think of a number of great people but three of them stand out. I will talk about my current boss, a gentleman called Tony Attah, who is the MD/CEO for NLNG. This is going to be the second time I would be working directly for him. The first time was in the Netherlands in 2008-2009. Tony is a great guy. He thinks a lot and he pushes you. He also doubles as my mentor but he doesn’t pamper me. He stretches me a lot and sometimes I just think he is unreasonable. I love his power of analysis. He is also a deeply caring person. He looks out for you. He anticipates what could go wrong and he brings structure into any decision-making process. So sometimes you are in a room and you are rearing to get going on a task or project but Tony will make you see why you should do things in a different way. He painstakingly takes you through how the decision has been made and you will clearly see the benefit of his very structured thinking. You learn a lot from this. He has given me the latitude to fly. There are many instances where I have not been in the room, behind closed doors, and he has spoken for me. I feel honoured to enjoy the confidence of someone like him. We don’t agree on everything but even when we do disagree on something, we talk the issues through. There is mutual respect. I just I have great admiration for his style.
Any teacher you remember for making a particular impression?
I had many good teachers through my education but one stands out. My Yoruba teacher in secondary school. She used to be Miss Oguntoye; she is now Mrs. Nwabuzor. To be honest, I can’t remember much of what she taught me. But there was an unmistakable impression that she deeply cared for one’s future. I spoke to her last year for the first time in 29 years and discovered she was turning 60. I congratulated her and said nothing else. She was so shocked when I turned up for the birthday party in Milwaukee in the United States. When I was given an opportunity to talk, I shared with the gathering how caring my former Yoruba teacher was. She is now a registered nurse. She was always nudging us, always finding the words to praise us, praying for us, encouraging us. I am very glad that I was able to show up at her 60th birthday.
Do you think the coronavirus pandemic will permanently change the way we work?
It has changed our ways of working. It has changed our ways of life and I dare say it is permanent. There are things we knew were possible before but we didn’t have the courage to do then. The coronavirus pandemic forced us to embrace new ways of working. The positives outweigh the negatives. A lot of people can actually work effectively from home so we can save on maintenance cost for offices. But what will happen to existing office structures? Commuting time and costs are drastically reduced. But spending more time at home is another challenge. We have to make homes conducive for working. The technology has to be there to enable people work effectively from home. Remote working is reducing social interaction. But the reality is we have tasted it, we have found out that we can be efficient not working in offices and there is no basis for us to go back to the way we used to work. I think organizations that will thrive are organizations that imbibe the positives and wire them into how they operate. Google wrote to its employees: see you next year. There are organizations that have let their employees know they are not expecting to see them in the office again. We used to work one week from home in a quarter but we have now done seven months working remotely and have found that it is actually possible.
What are two attributes you look out for when hiring staff?
Two things are important to me. One is clear technical competence which gives you credibility on the job. But the second one is character. Unfortunately, character is difficult to detect fully. But as you progress as a manager, you become better at understanding cues to character while hiring. There are indications of a person’s values that come out during the hiring process. We can train you and mold you to whoever we want you to be if you come in with the right level of competence and the right attitude. You can be trained to be competent in so many other areas. The job I am doing today is not directly relevant to what I studied in the university.
Examples of things you have done but you weren’t trained for?
I have worked as an electrical engineer which is what I studied. But I have worked as a production engineer. I have been an operations manager at the NLNG, a very complex process that bore little relation to what I studied or had done before. I remember I had to get one of the operators to get a process flow diagram and start teaching me the basics midstream. An extremely complicated thing. I have worked as a change manager at Shell as well as at the group level, leading an initiative across the Royal Dutch Shell Group on maintenance reliability and turn around. This meant that I was interfacing with different countries and I was helping them to achieve operational excellence in their businesses. I also once worked as a business opportunity manager that was meant to close the performance gap in a significant asset In Shell at a time when there was a production crisis and significant under performance. This meant working across different functions, from logistics to HR to well engineering and others. It is about the attitude you have to things and being really committed, getting to grips with the issues and being very focused on having clarity on what you need to do to succeed. You can take up many new things if you have the right attitude.
Where do you love to holiday in Nigeria and abroad?
In Nigeria if I have to go to a place to holiday, it’s Ibadan. Ibadan is beautiful and quiet. There is quality life in Ibadan, I love it. It allows you to relax and connect with people at a level where there is very little hierarchy. I love that. I go back to Ibadan whenever I have the opportunity. Outside Nigeria, I have been to many countries. At last count, I have been to about 46 different countries but as a family we keep going back to Dubai. We lived for 5 years in Dubai. Even after we had left Dubai, we have been back 3 times to relax. It’s a melting point with great people. Of course, there are many tourists but you can still find quiet. It is absolutely fantastic place. Next to Dubai is perhaps Oman. It is also a very beautiful place.
Best use of money?
I think the best use of money is to establish businesses that thrive, businesses that flourish, businesses that are sustainable. You can provide an opportunity for gainful employment for people. So, money is only relevant in creating wealth, not just for yourself, but for others.
If you had the opportunity to choose anyone in the world to holiday with, who would be first on your list?
It is my wife. I feel like I have not spent enough time with her. I feel that she’s made a lot of sacrifices for the family. I would love to spend more vacations with her. I would love to know her more. I don’t think I have had enough of her.
Football or Boxing?
I love cricket. I played for Nigeria between 1994-2000. I played club cricket as well. But right now, I play golf actively. Today I have played 18 holes of golf. I am currently playing handicap 11.
Is there any other sector you would love to work or invest in apart from the oil and gas sector?
Absolutely. I would love to work on sustainable development. I would also love an opportunity to be involved in economic policy making. We need continuity not only in government but first at the level of political parties. Our political parties need to fashion policies based on rigorous studies and stick to them no matter who is in charge. We are getting there but we could also move faster.