With a gentle smile playing softly on her face, she stands before a group of young Nigerians gesturing at them. With a warm studious demeanour, she will pass for a teacher. Dressed in a simple black gown, her hair styled backwards, her visage beams with smile again…you can be sure she knows what she is doing. It is what she has always wanted to do. And, after 21 years doing something else, Ms. Barbara Lawrence is now doing her best to inspire and motivate young people in particular to be the best they can be. Barbara, who is the Managing Director of Insolitus Nigeria Limited, is passionate about self-development and self-awareness. Before becoming the MD of Insolitus, she had worked for 21 years with Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria; she is a graduate of Chemistry from the University of Lagos and also holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Chemistry from the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK. In addition to that, she possesses a Public Relations Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, UK. In this interview with Azuka Ogujiuba, she shares what makes her tick and why she gave up a career of 21 years in the oil industry
Who is Barbara Lawrence?
I am a mother who has passion for personal accountability and is I’m committed to driving this amongst youths and their parents. I am the founder of ‘Act Right,’ a reach-out organisation for the promotion of personal accountability and leadership amongst youths. My purpose in life is to inspire and motivate others to be the best they can be. I am the author of ‘Nuggets of Self-Development,’ which was recently published.
Tell us more about you?
Today, as l stand as the arrow head of ‘Insolitus’ an organisation and talent development company that trains and offer professional coaching, we also consult in the area of business improvement and change management. We have impacted on quite a lot of people through our training programmes, particularly ‘The Path to Personal Accountability’ which teaches how to own 100 per cent of one’s actions and their outcomes.
How did you make up your mind and turn in your resignation letter in an industry many are dreaming to be a part of?
Actually, I had almost similar feelings. On employment, I was excited I would be working where I had always wanted to and planned to work, so I was achieving my vision. On retirement, happy that I had spent 21 years in a fantastic company that I loved, and learned quite a lot to help me in the next phase of my life’s journey.
Tell us about your previous job and how you started with Shell?
Again, I started my working career with the Vanguard Newspapers, Lagos, as a columnist and features writer before joining the SPDC as a Pollution Control Supervisor in the environmental department in 1987. I was the first woman employed in that department. My job at that time involved a lot of fieldwork, which gave me a good knowledge of the company’s activities and operational areas. After eight years of various environmental positions, I was transferred to the Shell Centre, London as a member of the Nigeria Issue team responsible for managing all the allegations – human rights, environmental, and Ogoni – made against the SPDC in the late 90’s by some non-governmental organisations and others around the world. Part of my job was to engage other Shell companies’ stakeholders on their behalf, often working with senior Shell group leaders.
On my return to Nigeria, I became the Head, External Relations Strategy and Planning for the SPDC in year 2000, responsible for business planning and strategies for Shell Nigeria’s reputation management. A key challenge of the job was integrating external relations with community management, sustainable development and security management into a corporate programme for managing stakeholders in a consistent manner. I also developed management system to support engagement and communication process including first of its kind stakeholder engagement manual in the Shell Group.
As the CEO of ‘Insolitus’, what does it mean to head a corporate organisation?
Heading any business, particularly one you have set up yourself can be challenging. You have to be focused and believe you can do it even when it seems that the odds are against you. You must learn to take the pain and the gain of running a business and have to be technically sound in your area of expertise. And you need to realise that it is OK to seek for help when required as you can’t know or do it all. In general, it’s good to have a positive attitude towards whatever you do.
How old is Insolitus, and what achievement has it recorded so far?
Insolitus is a few years old; it is an organisation and talent development company. We train and offer professional coaching. Like I said earlier, we also consult in the area of business improvement and change management. We have been able to help quite a lot of people through our training programmes. One of such programmes that deserve a particular mention is, ‘The Path to Personal Accountability’ which teaches people the need to own 100 per cent of their actions.
Are there challenges running Insolitus?
Yes; every single business, every single human being must and do have challenges. You just have to tackle them the best way you can and make sure you stay on top.
How do you fund your business?
The funding comes from my savings. It is what l enjoy doing. So, l do not mind investing in it.
What is your role as a board member of the International Coach Federation?
As a board member of the International Coach Federation that is where all my experiences and years in the SDPC is expected to be explored immensely; my concern over the low state of members of the society and l am trying to put things in the right perspective to give back to the society. And that is why we had to launch the Nigerian chapter of the International Coach Federation, a non-governmental organisation. The International Coach Federation is a leading global coaching organisation formed in 1995 with over 20, 000 members worldwide.
Could you throw some light on coaching?
Coaching is actually working as an individual through creating a public sector so the person can be able to move himself forward.
You are such a happy and cheerful woman; tell us about your high and low moments?
Life in general is about low and high points. So there are quite a few of those in my life, without necessarily being specific. With that l will also say God has kept me going and is still keeping me going by his grace. It’s got nothing to do with my gender. Well, that’s all l can say regarding that.
You have lovely, flawless skin; what’s your beauty routine?
There is nothing spectacular about the freshness of my skin, just regular and basic daily routines cleansing, moisturising, good food, etc. Even though l love good things, l do not lust for them as l am not a designer freak. I wear what I like and what makes me feel comfortable. I also believe that one needs to turn up looking good at all times.