Leadership & Management

The Extraordinary Career Of Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman

Dr. (Mrs) Lucy Newman is the current MD/CEO of Financial Institutions Training Centre (FITC). She is also an International Director of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). She has worked in OmegaBank, FSB, PriceWaterHouseCoopers and has covered the gamut of Investment portfolio management, Marketing, Turn around and performance improvement consulting of public and private sectors, Treasury marketing, Product development and management, Business development and Relationship management, Organisation design and development in private and public sectors, Strategy conceptualisation, Deployment and monitoring, Pre/post mergers and acquisition integration amongst other things. She has a doctorate degree in Business Administration (leadership and performance) from the University of Phoenix, Arizona, an MBA (International Business) and a B.Sc. in Business Administration (Financial Management) from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria.

She is also a graduate of the Centre of Leadership Colorado Springs, an associate of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPMN), a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), a member of the Society For Human Resources Management (SHRM) USA, a member of the Product Development & Management Association (PDMA), USA, a member and a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) USA, a certified Practitioner of the Thomas International Psychometric Assessment System, The Persona Global System, a member of the Development Executive Group of Washington DC, USA, a wife to Mr Ikechi Okechukwu Newman and a mother of children aged between 23 and 9 years.

She has also served on a profuse number of committees with numerous ad hoc responsibilities. She has published several articles and books on Human Resources including: ‘Emerging HR Landmine: Critical Concerns for CEOs’, ‘The CEOs’ Dual Dilemma: Governance & Sustainability In An Increasingly Dynamic Global Business Environment,’ ‘Effects of Employee Performance Management Systems on Employee Learning and Development,’ ‘The CEO’s Triple Dilemma of Compensation, Employee and Corporate Performance amongst others.

The exquisite lady welcomed FinIntell into her exotic office and granted us this interview on her extraordinary career.

FinIntell: Who were your mentors and how did they influence your education and career?

Dr. (Mrs) Lucy Surhyel Newman: My father. He taught us that we could be whatever we wanted to be. I was named Surhyel after my grandmother. She was a regent and my father taught me that as his princess, there were things I could not do. Once you were four years old you were entitled to two presents; a piggy bank and a pet.

A piggy bank: this was actually a small wooden box. It was sealed and it had a slit at the top of it. This is where you saved any money you got. If you did something good and someone gave you some change, you would put it in there. If you had some extra pocket money, you would put it in there. So that whenever you requested for something from him, Dad would ask you to bring out your piggy bank and see how much you have saved; whether or not you can afford the item. If you have saved enough, you would go out and get it and Dad would give you some of the money back. But usually when we bring out the piggy bank, it would dawn on us how much sacrifice we had made to save all that money and the real cost of the item we want to buy would come to light. Most of the time, we didn’t think the object of our fancy was worth all our savings so we usually let it go and kept our money. Dad can then spring a surprise and buy the item!! How we then cherished that, knowing its cost and what we would have spent to get it.

A pet:My mum didn’t like cats so it was usually a dog or a bird. Once you get your pet, you and only you were responsible for it, come rain or shine. You must keep it cleaned, fed and catered for. One time, my dog, Bingo died and so the guard and I took the remains of the dog to the refuse dump.

When we got back my Dad said: ‘You mean you left Bingo at the dump? You would go back there and give him a proper burial!’ So we went to fetch Bingo, dug up a pit, said a prayer for him and buried him. I experienced my first burial ceremony at age 7 for my loved dog Bingo.

My father knew that if you learnt to save, you would understand the true value of money. He knew that if you learnt how to take care of someone or somebody other than yourself, then you would have learnt responsibility. He knew that if we imbibed these two things we would be grounded for life. Another thing was hard work. There was nothing like a ‘boy’s job’ or a ‘girl’s job’. We had a roster for the dish washing. My brothers can cook and I could change the car tires before my teens. He taught us that the world was ours to be whatever we wanted to be.

My French teacher, Mrs. Mbwuko: When I started French classes in form I at Federal Government College, Kaduna, I taught it was unfair to be asked to study a strange language. When the results came out French was the only red ink mark on my otherwise blued inked report card. I had aced everything else and got an F in French. I was very distraught about it. Mrs. Mbwuko called me over and she broke it down for me. She laid down the principles of the language for me. She said “Once you get the principles and vowels, pronouns and tenses right that is it”. And that was it.

I was the highest scoring student from then onwards. In fact I considered studying French at the university and she was very excited about that. The touching thing was that she took particular interest in me and reached out to me. From her I learnt that once I understood the principles and applied myself to get it right there was nothing in life that I could not achieve.

Dr. (Mrs) Joan Nwasike: She was my supervisor for both my undergraduate and post graduate projects. She reached out and connected with me. She was Caribbean and was married to a Nigerian. Through her I learnt what it was like to be a wife and a mother in a land far away from home and still make a mark. She broadened my horizon and built on what my father had taught me; that the whole world was at my feet. She took out time to see that I did fine in my undergraduate and post graduate thesis at ABU.

When her husband Professor Nwasike passed away, she went back to her country. I spoke about her in a questionnaire for a publication some time ago and someone saw a copy of that publication and called her attention to it. She got my details and made contact. We communicate now, it is so wonderful. She made such a major impression on me. She said she is proud of me. Her kids are all grown up and she is working as a leader with a multinational organisation now.

Mrs. Tolu Peters: She was the Head of Human Resources (HR) at FSB International Bank Plc now Fidelity Bank Plc, after FSB she became the HR Account Manager to the World Bank Group. She is now with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

I was the Manager, Marketing and Business Development/Head Product Development & Special Projects at FSB International Bank Plc and a new staff assessment showed that my profile was HR, Strategy and Corporate Affairs. As a result, I was going to be moved to that department of the bank and the thought of leaving my colleagues and the classy treasury office for a cramped office space was hurting, so I took a casual leave for a few days.

The list of ‘sudden’ casual leave seekers is usually sent to her so she got my name and when I resumed she sent for me. She took me to lunch at the staff canteen (to my chagrin; because everyone was watching and) When we got back to her office she made me open up to her and then she made me write a resumé of my past career achievements. When I brought my resumé to her the following day and we went through it, it turned out that my achievements were ‘HR and training’ achievements even though I was in the Treasury Marketing and Business Development, and Product Development & Special Projects.

She opened my eyes to see what HR Development was really about. She showed me that I was actually cut out for it. Shortly after that, there was an opening for Head, HR Development. I did not apply at first but she called me and made me do it. After the review of candidates, she called me to her office again to say that I ranked the highest amongst the contenders. However she made it clear that another candidate was right at my heels. This time she took me out to Doublefour on Awolowo Way, Ikoyi, Lagos and shared her vision for HR with me. She gave me a book gift. It was a book which explained the HR vision that she had. The book was titled: ‘Straight from the gut’ by Jack Welch.

She put the vision in me and it became my vision; to live by and to defend. She is a marvellous lady. She also put me on my toes; she made it clear that if I messed up she would not hesitate to replace me. She challenged me. But most importantly, she believed in me. I know that she was busy, yet she remembered every conversation and treated each one of us at FSB individually. With my new position I moved into a beautiful office on Milverton Rd, Ikoyi, Lagos. The property reflected her vision for the Bank as “Croton Ville”; just as it was expressed in the book it was beautiful and it had a garden. I fought to keep that property in the bank’s possession after the merger, and succeeded. Then I moved on for another appointment.

Many entrepreneurs and team leaders fail to communicate their vision to their team members. She gave us a clear cut vision and she gave us autonomy. After Mrs. Tolu Peters left I became the defender of that vision. It was not just hers; it was mine as well as that of FSB, now Fidelity.

FinIntell: Looking back at ‘the road not taken’ you intended to study architecture, do you fantasise about it?

Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman: Remember I actually wanted to study French at first, but I was also very good in Technical Drawing, so I opted for architecture at Ahmadu Bello University.

So my first choice was architecture and my second choice was accounting and my matriculation scores were quite high but somehow, I was not granted admission for either. I eventually got to study Business Administration with the aim to switch over to Accounting in my second year but I chose to stay with Business Administration. I have not looked back since then.

Man proposes but God disposes. I am very grateful to God for everything He has achieved through me on this journey and I am thankful for the journey itself. That is just that.

FinIntell: That suggests that you are artistic. Do you draw and paint as well?

Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman: Yes I do, especially landscapes. I hardly have the time to indulge myself these days. But my children inherited it. In fact one of them wants to start a comic book. I am glad they inherited that from me. When work began on our new office building, I was very involved with the design and concept. Our builders said we were the best client they ever had because I worked with them all through the entire creative process. I also enjoyed the process

FinIntell: What has happened since your resumption as the MD/CEO of FITC? Also, could you also tell us about the 30th anniversary and the next level?

Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman: When I took over from Dr. Oladimeji Alo and the various leaders of FITC from inception for the Board, I inherited a very stable organisation. FITC started at the same time with several other organisations. Many of them are gone now. I give credit to Dr. Alo for setting FITC up for a great future. At the time of my resumption as Managing Director, I learnt that a search for the right person had been on for years. This is very humbling for me and it made me resolute in my quest to take FITC further. We have done just that and we have several awards to show for it.

The crown however, is the Gold Category we won recently. It is the Gold Category for service quality. It is based on outcome of nominations by clients and due diligence. The 38th Annual International Arch of Europe Convention will take place on the 29th of April, 2012 in Germany at the Intercontinental Frankfurt Convection Hall. Seventy -two countries would be represented there for the Arch of Europe Award. They use the criteria of the QC100 quality model which is implemented in over 100 countries and this one is sponsored by ImarPress with 26 publications. Nominations are confidential so we cannot say for sure who nominated us.

FinIntell: What is FITC’s focus as it rises to the next level in the business support sector?

Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman: Here at FITC our mission is to be the best; the highest quality. Our mission statement is: “To provide best in class service quality and value to our stakeholders.” Our vision is: “To be the preferred provider of training, consulting and research services to the Financial Services Sector in West Africa by 2016”. Our core values (A-S-T-E-P): Accountability, Service, Teamwork, Ethics, and Professionalism.

I inherited fantastic staff; they all run with the vision. Many leaders have to deal with staff who seek instant gratification, but the staff here are wonderful. They are dedicated and are definitely not self seeking or covetous in any way. Over time, we see the records coming in and it gratifies.

My predecessor made it easy. I know there are leaders who assume office and find that they have inherited a ravaged organisation, but I was very fortunate. FITC was doing well when I came in and it is doing even better now. God willing, it will be much better when I leave.

Our staff turnover has reduced even further. Only a couple of people have left in the past few years, and it was due to circumstances completely out their control. I have a family to work with and that makes it so much easier to meet our goals. The culture we now have is so tangible.

FinIntell: Could you tell us about your new role as the International Director of the International Society of Performance improvement (ISPI)?

Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman: I learnt about the organisation in the course of my research and I joined them in 2004. I learnt useful work processes and imbibed them. The mission of the society is to identify and develop the proficiency of its members and advocate the use of Human Performance Technology. The society provides excellent learning and growth opportunities and the research tools they equipped me with made a difference in my work at FSB, Fidelity, PricewaterhouseCoopers [PWC] and here at FITC.

I kept my work and reports in line with the ISPI standard from then on. So much so, that when they requested for a few case studies for my certification I had more than enough. I became a certified member in 2008 and re-certified in 2011.

Once upon a time I sent them a plan for ISPI in West Africa. The response I got was that they thought it was a beautiful plan, but West Africa was not on their mind at that time. That did not go down very well with me and I sent them a response; expressing my position on the matter. I felt that if they claimed that they were ‘international’ they should act ‘international’.

Time passed and I remained a member, but held my peace. So for the 2012 election results to reveal that I, the African had been elected as the International Director of the Global ISPI Board you can begin to comprehend the turn around that had taken place. I am not just the first African (Black or White African), I am the first (male or female) on the board who is not European, Canadian or from the USA. In fact, Africans make up a very small fraction of the members of ISPI and that means that it was the votes from representatives of continents other than Africa that brought me in as the international director, and that really humbles me. Of course ISPI has a stronger presence in Africa now!

FinIntell: How do you maintain a work-life balance?

Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman: It is a continuous process of knowing and doing what is important for the time. This is how I handle it. In my subconscious I have buckets assigned to the various aspects of my life and I take from each bucket every day ensuring that I go round all the buckets.

I wrap my work around my entire life. I leave the office around 6pm daily. I pack up my unfinished work and take it home with me. I make sure that I never get home after my kids have gone to bed. I ensure that I am a part of their lives. I help with their homework and they tell me how their day went. I spend time with them. When I finish with the kids, my husband and the other house matters, I settle down at my desk at home and finish my work.

Having a family is not an excuse to let yourself fallow. Self improvement should never end even, if you have a family to care for, because if you sit at home and do nothing but have babies and cater to your husband alone while he goes to take courses and improve himself, one day that husband would look at you and say: You are not my friend anymore. I cannot talk to you anymore. Simply because, both of you are no longer on the same level. He has changed as he progressed and you have changed as you regressed. Keeping up with the pace would ensure that both of you can continue to have those 4 hour conversations you had while courting.

My husband and I are supportive of each other and we criticise each other strictly because each of us wants the other to be the very best he/she can be. Yes there are times when I have to travel and we try to ensure that both of us are not away at the same time. If we can’t help but be away at the same time, then we get someone really reliable to stay with the kids. We ensure that we spend time together as a couple, you cannot focus on the work and the kids and forget your spouse; whether you are male or female. It is important to dedicate time for each other. For instance if we are both going away on business trips and our destinations are within the same proximity, then we would arrange to meet and use it as a getaway.

Another important thing is to spend time on yourself. Too many women sacrifice all their time and money on everyone else except themselves. I attend these conferences and even there the women learn about maintaining a balance and it starts from within. You must have a ‘bucket’ for every aspect of your life including she-time and she-money. “She-time” is time you spend alone doing something you fancy even if it is just lounging or taking a walk. “She-money” is money that you spend on yourself; whether at the spa, beauty salon or shopping. You must take it very seriously to maintain an inner vibrancy that many women loose after they start having babies. At one of the conferences, a lady told us she actually saves money for a solo holiday every year. She would travel, lodge in a hotel and spend her time enjoying the scene and lounging. She put “she-money” aside every year for the flights, hotels, and everything. Once you have all your “buckets” in front of you and you know which you have and have not taken from yet, you would always maintain a balance. Keep the “buckets” balanced – don’t let anyone fall over and your life would be balanced.

FinIntell: What challenges have you overcome so far; being a female professional in a male dominated environment?

Dr. Lucy Surhyel Newman: You are a woman in the eyes of men in four ways: As a wife, an elder sister, a senior colleague and a junior colleague. Our African inclinations make it easier for the male-female disparity so you need to help these men to help you.

That means you need to help them ‘forget’ that you are a woman. You must keep your feminine wiles away from them and meet them with your mind. You relate with them from your ‘head’ alone. I would recommend a book titled ‘Climbing the Ladder’. At the time I got the book, the image on the cover showed the title being written with lipstick. The book is about women making progress in the corporate world. When you are relating with a male teammate, you must do it from your head – be professional always. When you are relating with your male boss look at the best performing male colleagues you have and relate with your boss on that level; step up your game and don’t expect favours because you are female.

Desist from feminine blackmail. I would say this about unwanted sexual advances in the offices: Bear in mind that men by their nature are moved by what they see, so don’t give them things to look at; don’t get their imaginations working. It doesn’t stop you from being yourself.

I have experienced it only once in my career and this is what I say: come out clean about the situation. Many women pretend they do not notice what is going on. The man would simply interpret your playing dumb as playing hard to get. He would only increase the pressure. I would say; call him out. Yes, call him aside and speak to him with the concern you would have when speaking to your ten year old son.

You would say: ‘I sense that this is what you are communicating to me and this is what you are doing. Please am I getting the right message?’ Like a mother would; gently explain why it is wrong. He would appreciate your forthrightness.

Once the issue is closed with him, simply let it go and do not tell a soul. You would earn his respect and that man would turn around to be your defender in the office. He would be the one saying: Leave my sister alone!

If you dare snitch about it behind his back, he would get on the attack and you would be the one to lose out. There are times when you would use your female skills to cool tempers down; when the men are getting at each other’s throats. You are a woman after all, and if a man reaches out to steady you from falling, accept. But that is as far as it goes. A woman on a team should carry her own weight in line with the role nature has given her at home and at work or in society; our bodies might be weaker but our brains are equal. At home, submit. At work, step up and lead effectively irrespective of your gender.

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