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?

lucy quist

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.

lucy quist

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.

lucy quist

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.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

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


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.

Top 5 quotable moments from our Twitter chat with Anita Erskine

anita erskine

On January 18th, we were lucky enough to spend our afternoon on Twitter discussing career breakthroughs and opportunities with Anita Erskine. If you didn’t catch our chat, you can get a full recap here.

Anita Erskine is a woman of many talents. She is the host of three popular shows on DSTV, an oral narrator, producer and entrepreneur. Anita is also the founder of ReVerbGH, a strategic communications firm targeted at aiding small organizations and entrepreneurs fresh on the scene.

In addition, she lends her support to social issues through her organization BrandWoman Africa, which promotes the advancement of African women through television.

Here are the top 5 quotable moments from our chat with @TheAnitaErskine:

5. On the pressures facing African women in the media industry today

4. On the uphill battle faced by professional Ghanaian women

3. On encouraging healthy collaboration between men and women

2. On the importance of mentorship

1. On turning dreams into reality

A huge thank you to all our #MotherlandMoguls who chimed in and to Anita Erskine for sharing her wisdom with us!

If you want keep up to date with future events hosted by She Leads Africa, join our community and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram 

Emi-Beth Quantson: There is still so much I want to do

Emi Beth-Quantson

[In picture above, Emi Beth Quantson at SheHive Accra 2016]

As part of SheHive Accra 2016, I caught up with Emi-Beth Quantson, CEO and founder of Kawa Moka, after her talk on how she won Startup Cup Ghana. Kawa Moka is a “social enterprise coffee shop and creative space” that empowers underprivileged women through employment and mentorship.

The Startup Cup competition provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to network and gain financial support, which were essential for Kawa Moka to thrive.

What was your childhood like?

I had a very happy childhood. I have two older brothers who used to bully me shamelessly. And as my parents always entertained, we had to serve. I think that is where the interest in hospitality came from because my parents were always throwing parties – entertaining, they told jokes.

We used to have Christmases where all our cousins would come together and we will have nine lessons and carols and sing and do firecrackers. It was pretty cool.

What dreams did you have growing up?

A lot! I wanted to do so much. I still want to do so much. One of the things I wanted when I was in Ashesi [University] was to be the first woman governor of the Bank of Ghana.

I still have not lost that ambition. I am just praying that nobody gets there first. I still want to go to grad school, maybe go back into corporate and do something finance, sort of setup Kawa Moka, and then afterwards have it run a little and do something else.

I have a million and one ideas. We will see which ones get done and which ones do not. But there are a lot of things I want to do with my life.

What would you say are some of the influences that have shaped you into the woman you are today?

I come from a close knit family, and I would say my mum, aunt, and grandmother were my closest influences on my mum’s side. And on my dad’s side, there were also a lot of women – aunties and grandma. I guess each family sort of taught me different value sets and opened me up to different experiences.

I remember my grandma was always concerned about me: she calls me Aku. She was always like, “Oh Aku, what are you doing again? You say you want to do this or you don’t want to this, ohh”. She is always concerned and finding ways to impart knowledge from way back, not try to necessarily put me down, but then she will use some nice way of telling you that, hey you should do this.

And it was fun to have all those family gatherings so I think my family has probably been my largest influence.

How was your transition from Ashesi University  into the corporate world?

Very easy. I worked part time in my final year of school. I worked part time for Ghana Home loans so I had some corporate experience.

My final internship was at PWC so before I graduated, I already had a job and had already gained experience in that job. As such, it was a very easy transition for me – I did not have to send out a million CVs.

You have a background in consulting. What would you say are some of the key skills that make you a successful consultant?

Being able to think on your feet. Even though a lot of assignments have a lot of similarities, everything is unique in its own way. For every assignment, you need to think on your feet and find innovative solutions based on the parameters that you are given.

I think that is a key skill. Another key skill is networking and just learning how to talk to clients and establish a relationship because a lot of the consulting assignments are based on relationships. They feel the connectivity because you give them the best solution and you do it with a smile and you do it nicely.

So, I would say those are the two key skills, and of course the analytics is a given. You need to have the technical skills. A lot of which, if you are working with a multinational they will teach you, but you can also teach yourself.

You are the CEO and founder of Kawa Moka as well as the CFO at Impact Hub. How do you juggle all these responsibilities?

With Impact Hub, I am transitioning. We are hopefully going to put out a job description for finance manager so that at least I can have support in the sense of the day to day stuff. But I mean it has not been so hard.

I have had a lot of support from the Impact Hub team so there are other team members who sort of put in data and do the rudimentary stuff as well so that helps me with balancing.

But it has also not been easy because, of course, you have your peak seasons running your own business. I also do a bit of consulting on the side so that has been a challenge as well.

Emi Beth-Quantson

Some days you wish there are more than 24 hours in a day, but I think one tool that helps with balancing is communication – just make sure you set realistic deadlines and then you work to make sure you accomplish them.

I also take courses all the time on setting smart goals and managing time just to remind myself how to be efficient and plan things out properly.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your personal life?

My husband is really fantastic. He is like my number one fan. He is always like, “why are you not doing this?” So he is giving me that male aggression in my business. He always pushes me to make sure I get to the next level and stay honest with my goals and visions.

 So even though sometimes, I spend late nights at work or do events, he understands and he always asks how he can support me. It has been a bit harder on the weekends, especially if there are family events. I have missed a couple.

As I have slowly built capacity at Kawa Moka, I have not had to be there all the time because my capable team keep on top of things.

What motivates you? What keeps you going?

What keeps me going is having something in my head, believing it should be out there, and building it to get to that point. Basically, trying to achieve what you believe is possible. It keeps me going because at every level, I’m like ‘ok, I am here now, but I want to be here so how do I get there?’

And then just a reminder that I want to be at a different level sort of pushes me to get up, to stop being lazy and think about the next thing. So you have hit a roadblock, it is not the end of the world. What is the way around? Do you jump off?

This perspective keeps me honest as well. Also knowing that there is so much I want to do with my life gives me that pressure that ,”time waits for no man”, you need to get it done, you need to move to the next stage drive.

Also, just how do I let other people do a lot more? Because obviously, you cannot do everything by yourself. How can you get other people’s input so that it is a team effort and I am not dependent on just me.

With all of these experiences, what would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

That is tough. I think it is staying true to myself. Every stage I have been in my life, I have explored, I have challenged myself to be better, to accomplish more and not necessarily be confined by the expectations of society.

For me, it is that ability to stay true and still earn money and still create things that for me. I think is my greatest accomplishment.

Want to learn more about Emi Beth-Quantson, read this ’07 feature of her on Ashesi University’s career services page.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.