[00:00:00] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I define myself as a servant leader, a mom, and a big dreamer. I'm a technology and business executive. Today I'm working for PwC which is like a audit and consulting firm. It's part of the big four company, driving technology transformation for the entire team, but also driving transformation for our clients.
[00:00:31] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: That's only a less complicated version of what Patricia Pedhom Nono, a Cameroonian technology leadership expert with 18 years of experience, does. Basically, her consultancy role has her helping tech businesses discover the potential areas they should focus on that can give them massive outcomes.
[00:00:55] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: On the side, she's passionate about mentoring young African leaders in a bid to build a generation of Africans that can rightly portray the continent's potentials to the world.
[00:01:07] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Welcome to another episode of Expert and African, where we spotlight African tech specialists and their journey from newbie to expert. In this episode, we look into the life of Patricia Pedhom Nono, the transformation director and technology leader at the international audit and consulting firm, PwC in sub-Saharan Francophone Africa. She's strongly passionate about empowering African youth and helping organization heads understand what it takes to lead and be successful at it.
[00:01:41] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Patricia's background has a comical and impressive tone to it. A good place to begin is a vital trait she has had since she was a child and that has fuelled her consistent professional climb.
[00:01:55] Patricia Pedhom Nono: While growing up, I was a very, very stubborn kid. And try to question everything. And at that moment, I think that my mind was just bubbling to try to understand the environment. And when I was asking question, I just asked my mom and dad, why do we have to do this? Why do we have to do this? And then my mom was just because I say so, right. And that was pissing me off a lot.
[00:02:20] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Although it often got her in trouble, this attribute has a silver lining. Being stubborn, made her choose to be independent early in life. For a start, she explains how this curiosity has made her unsatisfied with the status quo and a driving nudge to do things differently.
[00:02:38] Patricia Pedhom Nono: So that developed like a solution and challenging type of mindset. I think that is very important if you want to grow in technology, because things are changing so, so fast.
[00:02:50] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: In the African setting, a child with such qualities can be considered difficult. However, Patricia regards one of her privileges as growing up] around understanding parents who found a way to manage and help her direct her curiosity in the right direction.
[00:03:06] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Patricia takes her root in Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital, growing up as the only girl child among three other siblings in a middle-class home.
[00:03:15] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Since she was a kid, Patricia loved to read. And that's only one of the qualities that stood her out as a student. She proudly describes herself as a brilliant, top of class, A-student. And there are proofs to show that.
[00:03:29] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: During her final year in high school, she got a scholarship into a two-year preparatory program at the top French engineering school, Telecom SudParis, in France. Of course, she aced her entrance examination and was set to resume school. But little did she know she was in for a life lesson, one that lingers in her subconscious till today.
[00:03:50] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I was shocked. The first mark that I got at class was a 3.5 over 20. And I called back my dad and say, oh dad, you know what, I'm going back home. This is insane. I've never had this type of mark in my life. How come I'm not even reaching the average?
[00:04:08] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: You bet she wasn't going to have it that easy.
[00:04:11] Patricia Pedhom Nono: And my dad told me something that was very, very crucial in the way I see things today. He said, "you know what you got the scholarship to represent Cameroon-- because I got like a scholarship for excellence to go there-- so you're not there just for you, but you are also there for all the people that are looking at you and expecting that scholarship to happen. So stop being childish. And I know that you can do it, think about what you don't do, and what you need to improve in order to make this happen. But running away is never a solution, Patricia, especially when you are not doing it only for yourself, but also for the generation behind you."
[00:04:53] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: At the time, 18-year-old Patricia found it a hard pill to swallow. But her dad said he would only allow her to return home if she genuinely didn't like it there and not because of the scores. But how else could she confirm what she felt about the school if not to get back her good grades first?
[00:05:11] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Ironically, it didn't get better immediately, but it eventually did when her mathematics teacher approached her with another piece of encouragement after noticing how tensed she often looked during tests and examinations. He told her,
[00:05:26] Patricia Pedhom Nono: You have to compete against yourself. The moment that you have given the maximum that you can give, then you should be proud of you. Don't try to look around and try to compete with the other John and Smith or whatever. Focus on yourself first. And by the moment that you shift the heads up, you will see all the journey that you have done and potentially you will be in front of others.
[00:05:52] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: At the end of the two years, she w
as back at the top of her class and it was clear that she actually liked it there. After that she got another scholarship for a 3-year course equivalent to a Master's in management and information systems and finance in the same engineering school.
[00:06:09] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: But that's not the only twist to what happened that changed her mindset and career direction.
[00:06:15] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I always wanted to be a surgeon, that was my dream. I wanted to be independent at that moment when I got my high school diploma and I got that scholarship, I was like, Woohoo. Not depending from my parents anymore. Because the scholarship was only for engineering school. I said, can I have a scholarship for medical? She said, no, no, no. many doctors now, so we really wanted to drive the engineering field in Francophone Africa. So the scholarship was only for engineering school. So I said, okay, I will do engineering. And my dad was like, oh, that was never your dream. I said, I will be independent, so no more you on my back.
[00:06:54] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: And it got even more interesting in her final year as an engineering student. Patricia, had always had her eyes on the United States for a funny reason.
[00:07:03] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I was a kid, eh. I find those American guy, when I look at all the music and whatever. I say, oh the American guys are so beautiful. So, I need to go to America.
[00:07:14] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Obviously, this mattered less by the time she eventually got an opportunity to be in the US. The opportunity came in form of an internship at KPMG (whose consulting arm was called bearing point as of the time) in New York. But this wasn't an easy feat either because the internship was never for students in her school.
[00:07:36] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Patricia promptly acted on a tip from a friend at a different school that an American company would do interviews to fill some internship roles. She visited the school and was luckily not turned away probably because of her confidence. In the end, she did exceptionally well in all the stages of interview, which, to be fair, she intensely prepared for.
[00:07:58] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: She won their hearts and was given the role despite her ineligibility in terms of not attending the school that the recruiter was an alumnus.
[00:08:06] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I knew what I wanted, and I was actually bold enough to go after it. And it turns out to go well. I'm a very demanding person, not only for the team, demanding for myself as well, because remember for me, excellence first.
[00:08:23] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: And this is also reflected in her career journey. Apparently, Patricia had proven herself not to be the typical girl child. It was unsurprising that she wasn't terrified at the thought of starting her career at 23 in a country that is thousands of miles away from home. And she climbed the ladder so fast that in nine years she had accomplished so much by taking up consulting and project management roles in two of the big four US consulting firms, that is PwC and KPMG all the while that she was in New York. But it wasn't long before she began having a yearning that needed to be addressed urgently.
[00:09:03] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I started looking at things from a different perspective. I'm like I'm here enjoying my life and what am I doing for the continent? Which value do I bring back? And I keep asking those questions. At some point, I decided that you know what, I wanted to try going back.
[00:09:27] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: She requested a 12-month family leave to go back to Cameroon. During her visit, she decided to get a feel of work by freelancing at an organization as a mentor and coach for teenagers and youth. And she considers that period very inspiring. After spending a little over a year back in the US, she began planning her relocation to Cameroon.
[00:09:49] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I had that calling. It's like, you know, motherland was just calling me. It wasn't necessarily the most rational decision. It was tough. Because I was already a very independent mind and growing up outside, living again in New York has actually strengthened that independence mind. And when I came back, I had that clash of culture, because from a woman perspective, they don't expect you to be like that. And it was a challenge at work. It was a challenge in the environment and in the society.
[00:10:25] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: As is characteristic of her, Patricia insisted on not changing to fit the status quo. But after a while, she decided to do things differently without it affecting her individuality. Having in mind that she had spent those years in an English-speaking environment, she needed to learn the ropes anew in a Francophone work condition.
[00:10:46] Patricia Pedhom Nono: It took me actually two years to try to understand the environment. Shifting that mindset from Anglophone to this Francophone environment was quite challenging for me. Thanks God, I managed to find my way in trying to balance things.
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[00:11:47] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Patricia considers herself a stubborn and servant leader, but it took a whole lot of experience to arrive at that.
[00:11:55] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: After her relocation, Patricia got into MTN Cameroon in 2011. The first team she led in Cameroon became the turning point in her career in servant leadership. Given where she was coming from, she was more concerned about getting work done than having to care about what was going on with the people she was leading.
[00:12:15] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: And after the first assessment survey where leaders are rated, she realized her team's perception of her. They thought she was mean and unkind, and that made her reconsider her leadership style.
[00:12:26] Patricia Pedhom Nono: As a leader, it was challenging because now I understand that the culture bit is quite important. And if I wanna succeed, I need to leave that independent American heart somewhere, and try to understand the environment because success is also, how do you make sure that you achieve your objective within the constraints that you have, whether cultural constraint, team constraint, personal constraint.
[00:12:51] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: But more lessons lie ahead, Patricia started as Chief Information Officer at MTN Cameroon after which she led the customer operations department.
[00:13:01] Patricia Pedhom Nono: We were serving about 10 million customers at that time. And I went from a team of 20 people to a team of 400. And first year, I failed in my objectives because, making 400 people dancing the tango is not easy. So someone where dancing salsa, other tango, other Chacha, other Coupe Decale or whatever, everyone was not dancing the same dance.
[00:13:28] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: After an analysis of the situation, she realized where she might have gotten it wrong.
[00:13:33] Patricia Pedhom Nono: And when you have been like kind of A-profile you tend to think that you can control everything and then you can do it yourself. You know, with 20 person, it's fine, you don't do it. You say, okay, I can do it myself. And then we go. But once there is an organization, delegation becomes very, quite important. Because you cannot do everything. And if you want to achieve, you have to push people to do what they have to do and to do it the right way.
[00:14:01] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Patricia did not only take responsibility for it.
[00:14:04] Patricia Pedhom Nono: For me, it was a personal failure, right. It was not just the team could not deliver. I'm like, okay, maybe if the team could not deliver, the problem is me.
[00:14:14] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: She decided to develop leadership capabilities after noticing how a background in engineering is not enough to help her in her new role. And it was at that moment, she began an intentional climb to climb to becoming the best version of a leader she could be. In 2018, she started an academy where she coaches women and young people on how to be excellent. She would regularly share failure stories and the lessons she had learned from them on LinkedIn.
[00:14:42] Patricia Pedhom Nono: It was quite fulfilling. Not most of the leader are taking underperformance on them. I'm like, okay, maybe if the team could not deliver, the problem is me. You have to take the time to be able to nurture and coach the team to them to become highly performers.
[00:15:00] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Nonetheless, she confirms that one of the skills that stand out for her is critical thinking, which she learned as an engineer. As a consultant, she has honed the ability to present an idea and convince people to buy into it, as well as the ability to point out the value and impact her effort is generating. She even co-authored a book titled the X -factor where she shared how she's leveraging her faith to be a good servant leader while aiming for the top.
[00:15:30] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: At the end of that phase, she had gained a lot of valuable lessons from her own experience and other examples of poor leadership. She has learnt patience, empathy, and consideration.
[00:15:45] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: After seven years at MTN Cameroon, Patricia joined PwC again, this time to be a transformation lead for sub-Saharan Francophone Africa. Currently in her role, she trains tech people to look beyond technical skills, to learn leadership, management, presentation and negotiation skills.
[00:16:10] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I went back to the consulting field where I'm helping my clients to make their organization, the technology function more and also to drive business growth.
[00:16:20] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Addressing her moves across industries, she explains how they are often based on circumstances. One was because a respected boss changed companies and she was interested in moving with them. The other was because of relocation. And another was because her role was suspended in the company. However she learned to open a new page whenever she gets to a new company, instead of importing what applies in the past company. On the other hand, she insisted her moves have made her to be well-rounded as she has performed in various roles across core tech, commercial, customer experience, among others. She shares her opinion about when the best time to move around is.
[00:17:02] Patricia Pedhom Nono: So one of the mantra that I give to my team, the moment you are not learning anymore, it's time to move. If you are not growing, you are not learning, you don't have perspective, it's time to move around. Keep that in mind, because you are losing extremely valuable time, especially when you are the start of your career or middle of your career. The option are still very large because you are junior or medium level. Don't lose time because it is the growth that you will achieve in your first 10, 15 years of your career that you will capitalize in the next one, because at some point at a certain level, people are not looking at your competencies anymore, they're looking at your reference as an expert in the field.
[00:17:50] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Patricia explains the three levels in a career. The first is where you do any job that comes your way just to gain experience and probably to make ends meet. The second is when you are beginning to be seen as an expert. At that point, you dictate the kind of job you take. The third stage is where you headhunted or recommended for professional roles.
[00:18:12] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Although Patricia is quite vocal and keen about her professional life, she has other areas that drive her consistency. She speaks proudly of her family and partner, who by the way, might have been a huge motivation for her relocation to Cameroon.
[00:18:26] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Proud to be a mother of two, Patricia says,
[00:18:29] Patricia Pedhom Nono: When I'm done at work, they keep me on my toes. And they're the most important thing that I wanna leave legacy through them.
[00:18:36] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: On lessons that have stuck with her for the most part of her life, Patricia alludes to her experience back at the preparatory school that has helped her productivity.
[00:18:45] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I don't mind not being at the top, but what I really mind is giving the best and be excellent at what I do to the maximum of my capacity. If at the end of the day I do the math and I'm confident that I have given my best I can sleep well.
[00:19:05] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Not only that, she had the privilege of having parents who constantly drum the need to be excellent into her. She and her siblings are always told to live by the goal of aiming for the best, even though they can be the fifth on a list of five winners.
[00:19:21] Patricia Pedhom Nono: If there is five person that wins, you should be the fifth. If there is four, you should be the fourth. If there is three, you should be the third. But if there is only one, you should aim to be the one.
[00:19:34] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: On the question of what she thinks about the bias she stood to face as a young Francophone African woman in the US, she says,
[00:19:44] Patricia Pedhom Nono: I'm not saying it does not exist. It does exist. But, if you are able to not see it, to be able not to focus too much of your energy on it, and not try to justifying yourself and prove people. Just be who you are. I'm sure you will find areas where you can leapfrog your performance and move forward.
[00:20:04] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: On an average weekday, Patricia starts her day by preparing her kids for school. She exercises, and then have her meetings in the morning before focusing on work and attending to clients. Meanwhile, she spends time with her family on evenings and weekends.
[00:20:19] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: By the way Patricia has quite a controversial opinion about work life balance.
[00:20:24] Patricia Pedhom Nono: Let me say there's no work life balance. it's Utopia. You cannot have work life balance. You cannot have it all. Maybe I've never achieved it. But for me, I don't see. If you wanna grow the ladder, you wanna be a strong professional, there's few sacrifices that we make on the way. So you have to pick your top three. Whether it's family, work, whatever, pick your top three and know that you will juggle.
[00:20:51] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: To stay productive at work, she adopts the two minute rule and uses her calendar app consistently.
[00:20:58] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: She also encourages standup meetings and proper delegation. Patricia likes to read, travel, exercise, and have quality family time.
[00:21:08] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Thank you for listening to Expert and African. This episode was proudly sponsored by The Techpoint Africa business team(https://techpoint.africa/advertise). Adapted and narrated by Oluwanifemi Kolawole. You can send me a mail at [email protected]
. For most stories on startups and innovation, visit techpoint.africa.