Lucy Quist, CEO of Airtel Ghana: Have huge dreams and be extremely ambitious

Lucy Quist

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.

lucy quist

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.

lucy quist

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?

LQ:  Absolutely.

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.

lucy quist

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?

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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?

LQ:  Facebook

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.

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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.

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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.


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How integrity and soft skills keeps Lucy Quist at the tippy top of the corporate ladder

First of all, a big shout out to the SLA team for this empowering conference in Accra. If they are in your country, don’t snooze or you’ll lose out on the keys to success.

Lucy Quist, MD of Airtel Ghana came through the SheHiveAccra and laid down nuggets for making it in corporate Ghana. While she highlighted teamwork, leadership skills and personal values, if I had to pick one word to remember from Lucy Quist’s session, it would be integrity

Integrity

It was eye opening to hear Lucy Quist highlight the ways in which the lack of integrity in Ghana and Africa as a whole is culturally engrained. For her, it is this lack of integrity that holds Ghana back and I must say I agree with her 101 percent. Lack of integrity makes it hard to trust that any task delegated to subordinates or left to the system will be performed efficiently, which is a stark difference from the Western world.

When you do not have integrity or do not hold yourself to a higher standard in developing economies, where people are constantly looking for ways to shortchange the system, it is impossible to reach your fullest potential and be excellent at what you do. This issue of integrity among the masses results in the creation of unnecessary problems that waste time and money.

As African women in leadership, we must hold ourselves to a high standard. We can’t say one thing and behave another way. We must walk the talk and stay true to our values. It is the only way to preserve our integrity. It is when we show that we have integrity that we can inspire others to do the same. We must lead by example.

Role Models

Lucy also honed in on the fact that although women have a place at the table, the challenge facing Ghanaian women is the reluctance to push oneself up the ladder and the absence of female role models at the top to help pull others up.

Because Lucy has had role models since she was 17, she stressed the importance of having people around you who support you and drive you to be the best version of yourself.

Leadership Skills

Another important point Lucy made was that in Africa, compared to the Western world, people openly state that they disagree with women in charge. While this may seem demoralizing, Lucy has shown leadership by sticking to her guns. As a leader, she doesn’t feel the need to justify herself to anyone or prove why she has her position.

In simple words, you are in your position because you are doing something right, so keep going, stick to your instincts and lead your team to success.

Lucy added that being a leader, however, does not mean that one should lose sight of their soft skills aka people skills. As you go further up the corporate ladder, your job slowly diverts into managing and influencing people.

To succeed, you have to be able to create an environment within which people can shine. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and be willing to learn consistently. Be a leader that people respect and look up to, and you will lead a successful team.

The A Team

Finally, Lucy advised that you need an excellent team around you. You need the crème de la crème who filter and think things through before they present it to you. This group reduces the burden of micro managing and taking on extra work, their work. 

Lucy used the analogy of the captain of a ship for how she views her role and the support staff around her. As the leader, you must have people around you that do all the work under deck, to allow you the mental space to see ahead and steer the company for success. Say no to mediocrity. But also, give people room to succeed, learn and grow. Allow lessons and growth in the company.

Hats off to Lucy Quist. After her session, I knew I had found myself another role model.