“A partner asked me to lead advisory work on a $15 billion transaction. He saw I was very frightened, and he reassured me I could do it. I am still drawing on the huge shot to my confidence from successfully leading this project.”
AKUA ABOABEA ABOAH, Managing Director, Sambus Geospatial. Aboah trained as a lawyer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi Ghana and the University of Birmingham. She worked at the law firms Bentsi Enchill and Letsa and White and Case LLP in London. Sambus Geospatial is Africa’s leading geographic information systems company, a major supplier of geographic information system software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications to governments and firms in oil and gas and financial services sectors. It supplies 80% of GIS solutions in West Africa, including Trimble Hardware and ENVI remote sensing software, backed by solution implementation, training and deployment. Akua, who is writing a PhD dissertation at the University of Dundee on arbitration and investment, has doubled growth since joining Sambus Geospatial in 2013. She has attended many management and corporate governance courses at the University of Cambridge and the University of Harvard and trained extensively on numerous GIS technologies, including Trimble, Harris (ENVI), ERDAS and Imagery. She is very optimistic about the future of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and is passionate about the possibilities of African governments to better plan and finance development, thus reducing poverty through incorporation of GIS technologies in governance and policymaking.
University, science or art?
Arts. I studied law.
Your first job.
Bentsi Enchill and Letsa, a law firm in Accra, Ghana.
Where did you go from there?
White & Case in the UK.
What are you doing now?
I’m working with SAMBUS Geospatial Group. My father was running the company. He started it in 1986. He passed away while I was studying and working in the UK. I had to rush in to handle things.
The best lesson you took away from the university.
To make a lot of friends.
What’s the best thing you took away from home?
Always remain humble, no matter what.
And from your last job?
Working hard really works. I arrived at work at 7 am and seldom left before 11 p.m. I worked with a partner who had a private jet who mostly “saw” his young daughter on video. He was about 38 years old. He had a private jet, used mostly for work. Then a dogged can-do spirit. A partner asked me to lead advisory work on a $15 billion transaction. He saw I was very frightened, and he reassured me I could do it. I am still drawing on the huge shot to my confidence from successfully leading this project. You don’t do 16 hour a day job forever. You do it while you are still young and move on to something less stressful.
Who is the bigger influence on you: mum or dad?
Dad. He understood me.
What’s your favourite kind of music?
Pop, jazz and the like. I like Paul Simon. I still listen to Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.
What are you reading currently?
I’m reading a lot of management books: How to Manage Employees, How to Mentor, How to Break through the Ice. Management and business books are my focus now, not fiction.
Who’s your best boss ever?
I wouldn’t say boss. I would say mentor. He’s Spanish. He handles the ESRI business in Spain with over 100 staff. He tells me as it is. He is a good mentor. Sambus Geospatial is major distributor for ESRI, Trimble, ENVI hardware and software. We also train, consult and build solutions for clients. We are one of the leading suppliers of GIS software in the world.
Spanish or English management culture, which works better for you?
Because I am African, the Spanish works better. They are closer to us than the English. They are a developed country, but I wouldn’t call them developed fully. They are in-between. So, you can relate to some of their things better. Like, I went to Spain to see someone and I watched a bullfight. It’s a crazy sport but you’ll find it over there. You won’t find that in the US or the UK. They are too developed for that. It was crazy, and there are women doing it. The bull fighting.
Any teacher you remember?
I remember my piano teacher, Mr Klutse. I can’t ever forget him. I don’t know why. He used to teach me piano at home. I still remember him quite a lot.
What expensive fashion accessories do you spend on?
Creed Aventus. But I’m not a perfume freak. I spend more on shoes.
So, what’s the most expensive pair of shoes you’ve bought?
Tea or coffee?
It depends. If I need to stay alert, it’s coffee.
What’s your take on prosperity gospel?
It works if you have a relationship with God.
Ideology – left or right? Or pragmatic?
Your favourite place in Africa?
Ivory Coast. Maybe because I stayed in France for two years. I think I like the French pace of life. Ivory Coast is in some ways a replica. The leisure, the way they relax. I have never seen such a relaxed atmosphere. You don’t get that in Ghana, you don’t get that in Nigeria. I like the attitude of the people.
Your indulgence: cars, bags, clothes or shoes?
Sport: football or boxing?
What’s the best use of money for anyone who has some to spare?
Helping people who really need it. Emphasis on who really need it. You know what I mean? I support a cause in Ghana where we find women who have lost their husbands and want to start a business. They often have four or five kids. We give them $100 to $200. I support twenty of such women. I have seen the transition in their lives. Many have been able to build something and take care of their kids. They really need the help and they use it well. It’s very fulfilling to help people like these.
If you met an African Minister of the Economy, what would be your biggest policy ask?
I think to stop with all the rhetoric. They should go to the markets. The women there have more experience and knowledge than them. They should listen to them. I met a lady who sells bras and underwear in the market and she carries huge sums of money to China every time she travels to buy items. And she sells in the open market. She distributes products to women. She has five houses in Accra and she has never been to school. Something can be learned from traders like that.
What’s the one big thing your business SAMBUS Geospatial can do for people in Africa?
We can help reduce poverty. The potential to use geospatial technologies to plan infrastructure, design budgets, improve agriculture, reduce inefficiencies, etc. is massive.
Where do you see your sector in the next five years in Africa?
Much bigger. We are just scratching the surface.
Who is someone you’ll like to holiday with?
Jesus. Not a Brazilian man. I mean Jesus Christ
Do you think there are too many Ghanaians?
I don’t think so. It’s just that the fundamentals should be there: healthcare, roads, schools. Once those are there, I think everyone will take care of themselves.
What’s the best development model for Ghana- India or China or Malaysia or Rwanda?
I would say Rwanda because it has worked.
Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you for having me.
The Lunch Hour was at:
Lagoon Breeze (The Poolside Bar),
Eko Hotel, Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos
Fresh Fruit Juice (N2,700)
(5 glasses for Akua Aboah and entourage, 1 glass for the Arbiterz Correspondent)