Omobola Johnson
Nigeria
Omobola Johnson
  • Senior Partner, TLcom Capital; Former Minister of Communication Technology, Nigeria (2011-15) (Communication Technology)
Born Ibadan, Nigeria, 1963. Bachelor's in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Machester; Master's in Digital Electronics, King's College, London; Executive Doctorate in Business Administration, Cranfield University School of Management.
“If we don't try to solve [the problem of gender inequality], nobody is going to solve it for us.”

Summary

Omobola Johnson is the first and former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria. She begins this interview by describing her international schooling at Ibadan and the importance of her close family relationships. In contrast to her early upbringing, Johnson discusses the initial shock of arriving to a male-dominated engineering class at the University of Manchester. After completing her Master’s in Digital Electronics, she returned to Nigeria and started working at Eltec Engineering, a Siemens subsidiary. In 1985, with her manager’s support, Johnson applied to join Arthur Anderson’s new Management Information Consulting division, where she gained experience installing computer systems in banks. She reflects on the firm’s attractive approach to leadership and its commitment to meritocracy. Having transitioned between several departments, Johnson notes the versatility of an engineering degree. She then details one of her assignments, in which she consolidated two profitable branches of the First Bank of Nigeria to operate more efficiently. Johnson shares how she won over skeptical board members by practicing transparent, consistent communication and presenting a novel data-driven analysis. Ultimately promoted to Country Managing Director in 2005, she recalls what it was like to take on this executive role just as the company lost its contract with its largest client in the region, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Johnson successfully recovered the business within a year through diversification, thereby strengthening the firm’s foundations. Concluding this chapter of her career, she explains how she developed the public speaking and networking skills required for her public-facing directive position.

In 2010, President Jonathan Goodluck invited Johnson to join his Presidential Advisory Council. She was identified for her work at Arthur Anderson with the Minister of National Planning on Nigeria Vision 20:2020, a long-term economic transformation blueprint for the country. As the Minister of Communication Technology, she was the most senior representative of the Peoples Democratic Party in the Ondo State. Reflecting on her experience in government, Johnson calls for more collaboration between the ICT industry and its regulators. As an example, she points out how the overregulation of cryptocurrency has held back Nigerian entrepreneurship. In contrast, she references her work on the Nigeria National Broadband Plan to show the benefits of engaging stakeholders when drafting regulations. Johnson goes on to discuss the need for local content development and ICT skill capacitation, drawing comparisons with the growth of Nigeria’s oil and entertainment industries. In terms of funding, she explains why the venture capital model is a good fit for the country. Inspired by young Nigerian entrepreneurs tackling local challenges, she continues to support and mentor budding start-ups as a partner at TLCom Capital, an Africa-focused tech VC firm. Johnson also comments on the ways the Ebola crisis prepared Nigeria to confront the COVID-19 pandemic. She then expands on how technology can help solve healthcare challenges in access, quality, and safety. Finally, she emphasizes how her family’s support and her Christian values grounded and guided her government tenure – from accepting the post to staying grounded in such an executive role.

Johnson also describes her participation in the co-founding of WimBiz, a Nigerian non-profit organization that seeks “to be the catalyst that elevates the status and influence of women and their contribution to nation building”. Operating since 2002, WimBiz’s annual conference has grown from about 400 to 2,000 participants. She explains that this was one of the first events in Nigeria to offer women the opportunity to come together and address the common challenges they face in the workplace. The organization has expanded to include a big sister program, roundtable lunches, individual and corporate mentoring, and more specialized trainings. Johnson goes on to detail the launch of the WIMBoard Executive Database, a resource pool of profiles of interested, competent women who are qualified candidates for corporate Boards. Looking forward to WimBiz’s future, she notes the ambition and confidence of today’s generation of young female professionals.

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Omobola Johnson is the first and former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria. She begins this interview by describing her international schooling at Ibadan and the importance of her close family relationships. In contrast to her early upbringing, Johnson discusses the initial shock of arriving to a male-dominated engineering class at the University of Manchester. After completing her Master’s in Digital Electronics, she returned to Nigeria and started working at Eltec Engineering, a Siemens subsidiary. In 1985, with her manager’s support, Johnson applied to join Arthur Anderson’s new Management Information Consulting division, where she gained experience installing computer systems in banks. She reflects on the firm’s attractive approach to leadership and its commitment to meritocracy. Having transitioned between several departments, Johnson notes the versatility of an engineering degree. She then details one of her assignments, in which she consolidated two profitable branches of the First Bank of Nigeria to operate more efficiently. Johnson shares how she won over skeptical board members by practicing transparent, consistent communication and presenting a novel data-driven analysis. Ultimately promoted to Country Managing Director in 2005, she recalls what it was like to take on this executive role just as the company lost its contract with its largest client in the region, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Johnson successfully recovered the business within a year through diversification, thereby strengthening the firm’s foundations. Concluding this chapter of her career, she explains how she developed the public speaking and networking skills required for her public-facing directive position.

In 2010, President Jonathan Goodluck invited Johnson to join his Presidential Advisory Council. She was identified for her work at Arthur Anderson with the Minister of National Planning on Nigeria Vision 20:2020, a long-term economic transformation blueprint for the country. As the Minister of Communication Technology, she was the most senior representative of the Peoples Democratic Party in the Ondo State. Reflecting on her experience in government, Johnson calls for more collaboration between the ICT industry and its regulators. As an example, she points out how the overregulation of cryptocurrency has held back Nigerian entrepreneurship. In contrast, she references her work on the Nigeria National Broadband Plan to show the benefits of engaging stakeholders when drafting regulations. Johnson goes on to discuss the need for local content development and ICT skill capacitation, drawing comparisons with the growth of Nigeria’s oil and entertainment industries. In terms of funding, she explains why the venture capital model is a good fit for the country. Inspired by young Nigerian entrepreneurs tackling local challenges, she continues to support and mentor budding start-ups as a partner at TLCom Capital, an Africa-focused tech VC firm. Johnson also comments on the ways the Ebola crisis prepared Nigeria to confront the COVID-19 pandemic. She then expands on how technology can help solve healthcare challenges in access, quality, and safety. Finally, she emphasizes how her family’s support and her Christian values grounded and guided her government tenure – from accepting the post to staying grounded in such an executive role.

Johnson also describes her participation in the co-founding of WimBiz, a Nigerian non-profit organization that seeks “to be the catalyst that elevates the status and influence of women and their contribution to nation building”. Operating since 2002, WimBiz’s annual conference has grown from about 400 to 2,000 participants. She explains that this was one of the first events in Nigeria to offer women the opportunity to come together and address the common challenges they face in the workplace. The organization has expanded to include a big sister program, roundtable lunches, individual and corporate mentoring, and more specialized trainings. Johnson goes on to detail the launch of the WIMBoard Executive Database, a resource pool of profiles of interested, competent women who are qualified candidates for corporate Boards. Looking forward to WimBiz’s future, she notes the ambition and confidence of today’s generation of young female professionals.

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Video Clips by Topic

Healthcare & Technology

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, discusses the ways the Ebola crisis prepared Nigeria to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and healthcare challenges in access, quality, and safety that can be solved using technology.
Keywords: Healthcare, Nigeria


Local Content

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, emphasizes the importance of local content development and ICT skill capacitation in response to the burgeoning tech industry in Nigeria.


Government Regulation

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, discusses the need for innovative regulation that engages industry.


Fundraising

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, discusses her transition into a venture capital career and highlights how venture capital enables young Nigerian entrepreneurs to address local challenges.


Innovation

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, reflects on the success factors of her Arthur Anderson consulting assignment with First Bank of Nigeria, in which she consolidated two of their most profitable branches to operate more efficiently.


Responding to Crises

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, discusses how she recovered the business that Arthur Anderson's lost after she was promoted to Country Managing Director through diversification and strong leadership.


Gender 1

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, discusses her participation in the co-founding of WimBiz, a Nigerian non-profit organization that seeks “to be the catalyst that elevates the status and influence of women and their contribution to nation building”.


Gender 2

Omobola Johnson, the former Minister of Communication Technology in Nigeria, explains how the non-profit organization WimBiz seeks to increase the representation of women on corporate boards, spotlighting the WimBoard Executive Database.


Interview Citation Format

Interview with Omobola Johnson, interviewed by Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Lagos, Nigeria, Boston, Massachusetts, December 7, 2021, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, https://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/interviews/Pages/profile.aspx?profile=ojohnson.