Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor is the Google Country Manager in Nigeria. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, she speaks on Nigeria’s technology space and the opportunities that abound therein for Nigerian entrepreneurs
PT: What informed your choice of career early in life and have you always longed to work in the information technology space?
JULIET: Interestingly, as a child, I wrote poetry, sang and danced in front of a mirror. I wanted to do so many things and (studying) medicine was one of them. However, I did not study medicine and technology was the next option based on the fact that it was the buzzword. I studied Computer Technology at the Obafemi Awolowo University and I still write poetry.
PT: Have you found fulfilment?
JULIET: Yes, I have no regrets and there is no one-track in life; you must have different portfolios in life. That is why I feed my artistic desires by writing poetry. I love going to the theater with any opportunity, even in my job, there is a creative side to it.
PT: As the head of Google’s operations in Africa’s largest internet community, what does your job entail?
JULIET: So, my job is really about ensuring that there is a vibrant online ecosystem in Nigeria and in the African region. What we’ve been doing at Google has really been looking at developing partnerships that can actually make a difference in terms of making the internet more accessible and affordable to the Nigerian user. So we have worked with government, we have been involved in different government committees; we have had different engagements with telecom operators. We have also worked around innovating our products and services to make them work more effectively in low bandwidth environments. We are also looking into better ways of making the internet more relevant, and that’s really about local content development. We have run a number of initiatives such as a nationwide program that supported Nigerian small and medium enterprises into getting their businesses online. We provided free tools, which any business owner could help get leverage for free. The Nigerian E-Commerce sector contributes $79 billion to the economy.
PT: What tools does an average e-commerce business owner need to have to get started?
JULIET: He or she will need basic online tools, create a website and get his or her business listed on google maps. With basic computing knowledge you could follow the steps and create a professional website in a couple of hours, have it rendered on a mobile phone and be listed on google maps. We ran a similar programme on google maps and that year we had over 50 thousand businesses listed online. We also had some great testimonies in the same year too. We’ve been working with content creators in Nigeria as well to take advantage of YouTube, which is our online video sharing platform. We have great content coming out of Nigeria and we want to make sure that people have the opportunity to share that content with the world. Examples include Nollywood content, Nigerian entertainment, Nigerian music and other lifestyle content such as channels that focus on catering, make-up, finance and education.
We want all that great content coming out of Nigeria to be available to the export market and also create an income stream for the content creators because people can monitor the traffic on those channels.
Another thing we are working on is updating google maps for Nigeria. The final piece is around capacity building and that is where our 1 million digital skill initiative comes in. Google Nigeria intends to train 1 million people on digital skills. We also train developers, entrepreneurs, support tech hubs and engage in programs to help build capacity in the market place. We also work with large organisations around connecting them with consumers online, digital marketing and digital advertising.
PT: Does Nigeria truly have the highest figures, in Africa in terms of Internet users?
JULIET: Yes we have the highest number of internet users.
PT: What challenges have you overcome with regards to your current role at google?
JULIET: Considering the fact that our business is very much online, infrastructure is a big thing. We’ve seen great improvement in terms of data cost coming down and in terms of infrastructure being available. We are not there yet as there is room for development and so that’s been a challenge. And we’ve been very active in some key government committee. Like the committee that developed the national broadband plan, I was on that committee and I was also a part of the committee that developed the strategy for technology incubation. One specific project, which we’ve rounded up now, having run it for five years, was a program for universities where we actually provided internet bandwidth. We paid for internet connectivity, for a period of three years in over 10 universities. We also deployed our free google app for over 50 higher institutions in Nigeria. This is our way of getting the university community online.
PT: What would you list as the high point of your career so far?
JULIET: What I find most fulfilling is seeing the impact of our initiatives in an individual’s life. When we ran our program on how to get businesses online, there were a lot of success stories. There was the story of an African investment run by a guy in his fifties; he is your very unlikely technology advocate. He had a delivery business that he had been running for 27 years with just one truck. Upon getting online within seven months, he was able to go from seven trucks to eight trucks and when he shared his story, it was really fulfilling. We have a number of such stories. When we see the ability to create income streams for people who were primarily either disadvantaged or didn’t think it was possible that’s also very gratifying. These are some of the most fulfilling parts of my job; seeing the impact on the market place.
PT: As a woman in the technology sector, do you think there is enough room for women to excel in the Nigerian technology space?
JULIET: Absolutely, there are lots of opportunities and we’ve seen more and more women actually shaping the direction of the future and taking leadership positions within the technology space. But, there’s room for improvement and that’s something we look forward to seeing more of.
PT: How would you describe your leadership style and in what ways do you inspire your colleagues?
JULIET: My leadership style is very democratic and coaching. I always try to get consensus, and sometimes it’s not always a good thing. Get people to see for themselves. I believe in the potential that exists in every human being and I believe if people are well informed, mentored or coached they will make the right decisions themselves. In terms of how I inspire my team, it starts with providing information, providing insight options, and also just showing them what’s possible in terms of what they can do better, what the vision could be for what they can achieve and how we can work together to get there.
PT: What’s your ambition for the Google Nigerian brand?
JULIET: Google has some great products and solutions, which individuals and businesses can use to transform them. My goal will be that those products and solutions become household names, second nature for people. Such that when they have questions, they can simply search and get answers. More broadly, my goal is really about getting people to take advantage of technology for empowerment.
PT: Aside from your time at Google, where else have you worked?
Juliet: I worked with Microsoft UK for six years years, initially as a Program Manager managing Strategic Projects for MSN Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). I received the Microsoft “Ship-IT” award for successfully launching the new MSN online subscription business in the UK, Spain, Italy, and Germany. I also worked with the Shell Petroleum Development Company as a Performance Monitoring and Quality Assurance Supervisor from 1995 – 1997.
In 2005, I left Microsoft to start SI (Strategic Insight) Consulting Ltd UK, focused on providing collaborative programs that connect African Business leaders and Professionals with their global counterparts.
PT: How would you measure success and what success tips will you give to the younger generation?
JULIET: I think success varies depending on what you are looking for in life. Sometimes we act like there is a blanket definition for success but I don’t think there is. I think it’s very personal and my advice to people will be; be very clear about what your goals in life are, what legacy you want to leave behind and do not follow the crowd. For you to create anything you need to conceive it in your heart first. And then take practical steps towards getting there because only then can you go from wishful thinking to something that is actually feasible.
PT: As a woman, have you had to work a lot harder, and how did you overcome gender biases?
Juliet: To be honest, yes I have to work harder to some extent. I have never been one to slow down because I am a woman. Sometimes my colleagues would make comments like, ‘Slow down, you are a woman, and you don’t have any problem’. So, I work hard just as hard as my male colleagues and in some cases I would work harder. Once people see that what you have to offer, they tend to then respect you and you basically earn the respect. From that perspective I think more recently I don’t really feel a gender bias but I think to excel as women we must put in more. Because of our natural disposition as a woman we tend to more self-critical and that is why we often think that to earn a certain position, we really have to do much more.
PT: Having enjoyed a thriving career overseas why did you return home?
JULIET: I voluntarily chose to come back and I’m very glad I did. While I worked at Microsoft, I was in touch with Africa and got invited to present at conferences. So, I was very present to the needs and the opportunities that abound back home. I just felt I could do much more on my own and provide more impact than where I was at the time. So, I resigned and setup my consultancy, which I ran for four years travelling back and forth doing projects. I soon realised that in doing that there is a limit to what you can do on your own. If you really want to create real impact you really need to be immersed in the system. When the opportunity arose, I felt it was a great time to actually move back and so I did. Any Nigerian in the diaspora, looking to return home must know that a lot of opportunities abound here. In addition, your work will have more impact here in Nigeria compared to other parts of the world. Most of all you have to have a plan so you don’t suffer.