Lucy Quist is a Ghanaian business leader whose commitment to Africa’s youth is palatable. CEO at Airtel Ghana, she is the first Ghanaian woman to lead a multinational telecommunications company. Trained as an electrical and electronic engineer, Lucy has received numerous awards for her vision and strategic planning for the expansion and integration of various telecoms businesses in Ghana and also across the continent.
Lucy Quist (LQ) sat down with SLA Co-Founder Afua Osei, at She Hive Accra, where she shared powerful insights on leadership and integrity. After her talk, Femi-Abena Senola (FS), former Vodafone manager and She Hive Accra content intern, spoke with her about more personal matters – from her family to her role models and her legacy. In this candid interview, we learn about the goals and dreams that truly inspire this global leader to continue her work.
FS: Hi Lucy, Thank you for joining us at She Hive Accra. Lucy, boss, what are you most proud of?
LQ: You’re welcome. I’m extremely proud of my family and my kids. My kids have demonstrated so much independence. I am also proud of the fact that over the years, I have been able to demonstrate to Ghana and the world that leadership is not a function of gender. I believe that black women, African women, are able to lead big businesses.
FS: What quotes sums up your career to date?
LQ: Impact driven by integrity, excellence and generosity.
FS: Who is the first person that pops into your head when you think about leadership?
LQ: Tidjane Thiam. He is the CEO of Credit Suisse. I have never met him but really admire his professional record. He inspires me to sustain a global path in my career. From what I know about him, he was at McKinsey, then he became a sector Minister in his home country, Cote D’Ivoire.
After a while he left the ministerial job to become the CFO of Prudential, then rose to become the CEO. Because he did such a great job at Prudential, Credit Suisse poached him. On the world hearing that a black African man was becoming the CEO of Credit Suisse, the share prices of Credit Suisse automatically went sky high. I think he is a man of full of integrity and that also resonateswith me.
We talk about changing Africa; we talk about creating the Africa we believe in. We know all our entrepreneurs are really important but it is equally important to have visibility in big businesses. When you look at revolutions that have taken place in the western world, aside the economic ones, they were all led by corporations, by businesses which means that companies change the human story. As Africans, we must be willing to play the corporate games, not play it for personal gain but play it for positive change.
FS: What are three things people would be surprised to know about Lucy?
LQ: That I don’t have a favourite food, the thing is I like variety. I may want this today at another time, I may want something else. The second thing is that I really like to sing.
FS: Really? I’m surprised.
LQ: I love [ love, love,] to sing. I really look forward to being part of an organised singing group one day, whether it be part of a choir or a band, etc. I look forward to the opportunity but I do not have the time right now. If you’re going to work with other people, you must fully commit. I look forward to a time when I can make that commitment, but I am very passionate about singing.
FS: So we can look forward to Lucy the professional singer maybe?
FS: And the final thing we’d be surprised to know about you?
LQ: Final one: I feel very global, I really believe you can make a life anywhere. I tend to believe that I can live anywhere. There are a number of places I feel at home at, from DRC to Europe to Ghana, etc.
FS: During your presentation, you stated that you could not have achieved what you did/do without support from your team and you made reference to your husband who has been very supportive. Many think that this may be the case because you met each other at a young age. Would you like to shed some light on this?
LQ: I was not very young actually; I was about 26 when we met and we got married a few years later. At that point I was mature enough to know what I wanted, who I wanted to be with and what values were important to me.
FS: Do you feel that if you met a different person your life would be different?
LQ: It is an unbreakable yes and I’ll give you concrete evidence: Before I met my husband, I had never heard of INSEAD [the business school]. I knew I wanted to pursue an MBA, but at the time I had no idea which school to choose. My husband said to me: “Lucy, you’re the kind of person who goes to INSEAD”. And I was like what school is that? And he said, it’s a wonderful school, one of the best in the world for MBAs. The rest is history. He literally sent me there.
There are so many examples and instances where he would lead and say to me this is what you need to do, go, go, go.
FS: OK, moving on to next question, what advice would you give an African woman at the start of her career?
LQ: Have huge dreams, be extremely ambitious, develop a consistent routine, make sure you’re known for some great things and make sure your name pops into people’s minds. Be very confident in what your dreams are and the rest of the world will conspire to get you there.
FS: What’s one app on your phone that you cannot live without?
FS: Really you still use the app?
LQ: Yes, I do and I’ll tell you why. I use Facebook as a platform to mentor and coach people. I use Facebook to communicate, to engage and to inspire others.
FS: Ok, please elaborate.
LQ: As part of my commitment to pay it forward, to mentor and coach people, I post on Facebook at least 3 times a week. This is my way of keeping in touch with people I would have loved to meet but cannot. I share lessons I’ve learnt or things that inspire me with the hope that it will spark something in others.
To lead, we need to learn. I like learning from other people’s lives and stories. I believe that when sharing my experience, I am helping people to shortcut. [And for others not to repeat my mistakes]. I want people to think, oh I heard Lucy speak about this challenge or mistake and how she overcame it – therefore I do not have to make that same mistake. I strongly encourage people to learn from other’s mistakes so that we can get there [to our destination] quicker. This is why Facebook is important to me.
FS: I didn’t know you had a Facebook page. I thought you were only on LinkedIn and even that I feel you probably do not have time for that.
LQ: Actually, I do. I am quite active on LinkedIn although not as much as I am on Facebook and the reason is that as a professional, I believe that inspiring the next generation is extremely important to me. I would not have achieved anything if no one in this next generation is impacted, and that’s why Facebook is so important. Facebook enables me to reach out to people of all walks of life and receive immediate feedback.
I am active on LinkedIn primarily for professional news and knowledge sharing. There’s a lot you can learn on leadership, career progression, managing people, technology etc. on LinkedIn.
FS: I think people would be surprised you’re on Facebook that much. They may even think it not you but rather an Airtel initiative, an Airtel PR piece, etc.
LQ: No, it’s not. It’s me and I make it a point, as much as possible, not to post commercially oriented materials on my personal page. My page is to inspire people to reach out and engage a great number of people. Actually, to make it clear, my Facebook page is to inspire the potential of the next generation. I am there to help them to realise their full potential.
FS: What would you like your legacy to be?
LQ: For inspiring the next generation of Africans– to inspire them to lead the world. This is why Tidjane Thiam is so important. He demonstrates to us that we have what it takes to lead the world, not just our country or the continent. The world needs us but we need to step up and we need to step into the world of leadership.
FS: Lucy, thanks so much for your time. Before we finish, do you have anything to say to your fans and our audience, and tell them how can they reach you?
LQ: They can engage with me via Facebook and Twitter. I usually tweet what’s on my Facebook page. I am also on Instagram but to be honest, I am a bit of a learner on that platform. I don’t post too often. I only post every now and then.
Facebook and Twitter are the best ways people can reach me and on these platforms, I share so that we can learn together.
Want to reach out to Lucy? Have any questions or want to request for mentoring or any other opportunities, you can connect with her via Lucy Quist Official.