The advancement of any individual or a people is hinged on quality education, the right dose of exposure, and the ability to keep an open mind towards continuous learning. However, to attempt to advance solely could be daunting; akin to going on a road trip to a place you have never been without a map. I think this is what Isaac Newton meant when he affirmed that, “I achieved my current height by standing on the shoulders of those who went ahead of me.” While I never met Newton, I assume that he felt highly grateful not having to navigate his journey in creating tremendous scientific work without the advantage of using “others’ experiences.” In the professional space, we refer to the use of “others’ experiences” as mentorship. Mentors are our road maps, footprints, the ability to live in the past and present simultaneously; indeed, the role of mentorship in a person’s success cannot be overemphasized.
First, let me begin with self-introduction to establish the right perspective. My name is Idotenyin Isaac, from Etinan LGA of Akwa Ibom State. I grew up in Benin, Edo State, where my father was a senior executive of the federal government-owned Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR). My secondary school was at Federal Government College, Sokoto, after which I got my first degree from FUTO in Maritime Management Technology in 1998. My master’s degree is in HR Management from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland, in 2007. In addition, I have other professional certifications in HR. I am a Chartered Fellow of CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, UK).
Before I took on my current venture as the Founding Partner/Lead Consultant at GEORGID Consulting, I have had an excellent career spanning about 20 years working for several world-class multinational organizations: Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, Lagos (2001-2006), rising from Management Trainee to HR Manager, Ikeja Plant; Accenture (2006); worked as a Human Performance Consultant; Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), worked for some months while schooling; Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (2007-2008), worked as Capability Development Advisor and finally at ExxonMobil (Jan 2008-Nov 2020, from HR Coordinator to Field HR Manager.
In all these organizations, I have worked and walked with many managers, directors, and business leaders. They all have their superb qualities and have influenced me a great deal, but I must confess that Udom Inoyo is in a class of his own in terms of leadership qualities, ability to relate well with people from across the cadres (juniors and contemporaries) and the passion he has for National Workforce development, diversity, capacity building and community service.
As a Nigerian, I have come to realize that we generally pretend to be in want of disciplined and detribalized leaders who eschew nepotism, value meritocracy, and seek to get things done the right way for general good/interest. However, when we find such leaders, we castigate and condemn them because their actions which are generally based on principles and fairness do not fit into our selfish and parochial narrative and interest. This is the fate of Udom Inoyo. I hope we will all rise above this someday.
I first met Udom Inoyo (UI) at the final stage of my interview at Mobil in Lagos in December 2007. I was working in Shell Nigeria, Lagos then, and was exploring broader and more challenging opportunities to advance my career which I believed ExxonMobil would offer. UI was the last person to interview me after a series of interviews and tests. Then UI was the HR Director at Mobil. I recall that my interview with him which he invited one Norman Hill, an American to sit in, was a warm, friendly, and professional chat. In the end, he complimented me on the jacket I had on. I also returned the compliments politely and courteously as his dressing was pristine. After that, he wished me well and asked if I had any questions; since I was working with Shell, I had nothing to lose, in my confident state, I asked when I would resume. He laughed at me, asking who told me that I was successful and then politely ushered me out of his office. As they would say, the rest is history, as I was eventually hired and had an excellent career with ExxonMobil.
About the first or second week, after I started work in January 2008, I was in my office one afternoon when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I lifted my head, and it was the HR Director, Udom Inoyo. I was astonished and before I could regain my composure, he asked ‘’have you had lunch’’? I said no. He then spoke in Ibibio ‘’Da, di yak iki dia mkpo (my friend, let’s go and eat). You have to understand the shock and amazement that I felt when you consider the huge power gap between me, a Coordinator, and him, a director! I later realized that this gesture was characteristic of him to break the ice and get employees to feel at home with him. Our offices were on the 10th floor, and the cafeteria (we call it Mess Hall) was on the second floor. So when UI and I entered the elevator, I pressed the second-floor button, but when the elevator door opened on the second floor, UI refused to step out and asked me to stay put. My bewilderment returned. We went down to the basement, and immediately, his driver pulled up in a gleaming Range Rover. I then had thought that he wanted to get something from the car and that we would return to the second-floor cafeteria for our lunch. But he opened the door and got into the car and motioned to me, saying ‘’Da, tamma duk’’ (my friend, jump in). I went around and got in beside him. It was my very first time in a Range Rover (I am laughing..). Before then, I had traveled widely; I was exposed to different cultures and worked in many places, and seen many people. I have also met a lot of Akwa Ibom people, big and mighty. But this experience jolted me big time. I was so awed by this gesture that I was tongue-tied for some minutes as the Range sped out into Victoria Island.
UI started talking and asking questions. I couldn’t utter a word. I was lost in thoughts: Akwa Ibom person? Our famed arrogance… The legendary inability or unwillingness of our people to help or associate with others… The pomposity of our big men… Many thoughts… I have had some unpleasant experiences with some of our people, even those less privileged than the man I was seated by. This was my first time of being so warmly treated by an Akwa Ibom man in such an elevated position.
Soon, we were at an Italian restaurant in VI. UI opened the discussions by asking about my career journey, interests and motivations after which with my permission, he veered into my personal life. He asked if I did visit home frequently. I said no. By then I was a lot more relaxed, and I started talking. My mom passed in 2000, and my dad three years later. Benin has always been home for us, so I rarely visited Akwa Ibom. I explained that my experience with our people is that they’re quarrelsome, full of envy and pettiness. He laughed and told me that that was the more reason I must start visiting home. “Our people back home need our help; your help. You need to visit home and be an inspiration to the young ones, and be of help to your people and the community”, he said. He spoke passionately about the poverty, missed opportunities, and challenges our people to face, and that he was passionate about capacity development so he would encourage me to do the same for general interest. He then shared his experiences and cautioned that for accountability and fairness, whatever capacity development initiative I chose to embark on in my community should be done through a structured platform – either the church or family structure for traceable impact. After that lunch experience, UI invited me to visit him at home which I did severally with other of my colleagues and my relationship with him continued to grow. He has indeed been a mentor and big brother.
One day, I was at work and UI called me into his office and told me, ‘’Da, get ready and move to QIT’’. Before I could ask questions, he explained that there was a capacity gap and I needed to resume in QIT immediately. And that’s how I was transferred to QIT. I was in QIT from 2008 till 2013. He kept in touch with me and continued to provide mentorship and career guidance. I returned to Mobil House, Lagos in 2014 and was transferred back to QIT in January 2018 as the Field HR Manager.
Udom Inoyo has a penchant for National Workforce development, diversity and capacity building. In his pursuit of National Workforce development, diversity and capacity building, he provided countless opportunities for several Akwa-Ibomites to participate in ExxonMobil’s recruitment process (both for regular and contract employments). He practically scouted for CVs of qualified Akwa-Ibomites and made cases were possible for many of them to be hired. As an HR Advisor and later Field HR Manager, I know a good number of people who benefited from his selfless gesture. While he embarked on this quest, I would usually ask him if he knew these people and if they were aware of his efforts and contributions towards their employment. His usual response was when you help people and act in the interest of the general good; you are not doing it for reward or recognition; what is important is that they are given an opportunity.
Sadly, some of these people who benefitted from the altruism of Mr. Inoyo are the ones calling for his head today, on the basis that he did not assist anyone in his time at ExxonMobil; what a price we pay for modesty and professionalism. I still wonder what sort of assistance they expected.
Having known him for about 14 years now, I can say for a fact that Udom Inoyo is one of the most misunderstood persons that I know, and the reason is that he does not seek to take credit for his services and assistance he renders as he believes he is acting for the general interest. As HR Director, in his pursuit of National Workforce development, diversity and fair community representation, UI got the company to expand its recruitment centers for tests and interviews beyond Lagos to Akwa Ibom (Uyo and Eket) to make it easy for indigenes of the community to participate in the process. This led to huge benefits in terms of employment.
I should also note that the tendency of our people to try to diminish the contributions of professionals like Inoyo is one of the reasons well-trained and cultured professionals keep away from politics.
Politics and governance should not be left for the so-called professional politicians alone. Akwa Ibom people should also endeavor to appreciate the contributions of their icons so as to encourage more of such interventions from other well-placed citizens.
Mr. Inoyo, I am a witness to the fact that you touched as many lives as you could, and for those of us who benefited from your mentorship, we remain grateful as we continue to advance in our pursuits. For those who did not pass the required aptitude test for employment into ExxonMobil but have chosen to blame you, I wish them well as I believe that someday, they would find the type of “help” they desire.
Idotenyin Isaac is Managing Partner/Lead Consultant, at Georgid Consulting, Lagos.