A Fulfilling Career
Known for her negotiating skills and prowess in brokering deals in the energy sector, Stella Duru is all that you’ve heard about her and much more.
I had a chat with the amiable Stella to find out more about her and why she is loved and respected in her circle.
Stella grew up in Lagos, the 4th of 6 children from a happy close-knit family. The Duru family are from Imo state and both parents are happily retired. She has lived in Lagos all her life and attended St Mary’s Private School in Lagos Island then went on to Queens College Lagos for her Secondary Education. Stella read law at the University of Lagos and in 2001, she left Lagos for the first time to attend the Nigerian Law School in Bwari, Abuja.
Like many who read law, Stella saw the legal profession as an escape from the dreaded mathematics. For her, it turned out to be a sweet escape as she has excelled and is still thriving in the profession.
When asked how she thinks her family and friends will describe her, ‘the girl that laughs a lot but is very generous’ she said laughing. ‘My nephews and niece think I’m a magician’ she added. ‘They know when they need something Aunty Stella makes it happen. My niece also thinks I’m a fashion guru, she loves coming into my room and looking through my wardrobe’.
At this point, I also believed she could perform magic and that she was a fashion guru as I stared at her beautifully made-up face and stylish red glasses on my screen and allowed her draw me into her world with her infectious laughter and bubbly personality. She would occasionally poke fun at herself and I felt at ease and laughed with her as she told me stories upon stories about the 20 years of her law career.
Here are some other things we spoke about
Do you ever look back and wish you had studied something else?
I started my career as a youth corper at Banwo & Ighodalo, and I was retained after service. Being in a law firm has given me the opportunity to do different things. New innovative transactions come up and keep you busy and occupied so it’s hard to get bored.
I started off going to court as a litigator, then moved on to commercial law, doing things in the oil, gas and power space. I have had opportunities working on financing deals and typical big projects. I’ve done things in the real estate space as well as board matters and general company secretarial work. I have had the opportunity of working in different aspects of law which has kept things interesting for me. I don’t regret being a lawyer at all.
What are you most proud of?
There’s a project I’m very proud of, but sadly never took off. I have worked at B&I for 20 years and I worked on that project for 10 years. It was a gas project – an LNG project. I led a team of female lawyers to develop legal support for the project team. The client was so impressed with our performance that he tagged us the B&I angels. The project provided an opportunity to expand my knowledge in the energy space and also brought out the best in me. It brought out my leadership capabilities and projected me as ‘the lawyer of choice’ for negotiating tough agreements. It also intensified my love for the energy sector. Even though the deal was not to be, the experience is one I will never forget.
Another highpoint was my nine-week internship with the reputable law firm, EdwardNathan Pty Limited in Johannesburg. What made this special was that I was chosen after a rigorous selection process which involved highly skilled lawyers from companies and law firms all over Africa. It also happened at a time I was struggling, thinking I was not a great lawyer because of things that happened at the firm.
As part of the program, I had to make a presentation to the firm about the energy sector in Nigeria and report came back to the firm that I did great. The experience really boosted my confidence in myself and my abilities. My stay at Johannesburg was also a memorable one. I had my friend over for a few weeks, we went to Durban to visit another friend. It was a decent time in my life.
On the flip side, tell us the worst experience of your career?
You can’t get away without getting downs if you want ups, nobody always has ups, sometimes it is the push you need to make you reflect, dig deep and find that thing about you that is there.Stella Duru
Any good career will have its share of bad experiences. I’ve had so many bad experiences, but I remember one that happened at the beginning of my career. I messed up a job and got a major tell off from my boss. I must have cried for like 2 or 3 days and didn’t want to go back to the office. But I had to rise above it.
You can’t get away without getting downs if you want ups! Nobody always has ups, sometimes it is the push you need to make you reflect, dig deep and find that thing about you that is there. I’m sure if I hadn’t had that tell off from my boss, my brain would not have reset. I would have remained in my comfort zone, just having a good time and not pushing myself enough.
You mentioned your passion for the energy/gas sector, why do you think Nigeria is not getting it right after all these years?
There are so many things, so many competing interests that are not necessarily national interests. Nigeria can be described as the province of gas with a drop of oil. The oil which we have focused on is nothing compared to the gas we have in Nigeria. We’re not doing enough to utilise or commercialise the gas. Gas exploration requires a lot of infrastructures which are capital intensive. They require a lot of funding. Unfortunately, the environment does not encourage the corporations that have the kind of capital to finance these projects to take them up.
The regulatory framework is not right. The existing laws do not make it possible for them to work effectively. There are other countries with competing interests that have better laws/framework that require these same funds and of course, investors will rather go there than come to Nigeria. The Petroleum Act is dated, it is a 1969 Act with nothing much said about gas. There’s no real legislation framework on gas. There are still a few investors working in the sector (compressed natural grass, LPG) but we still need an enabling environment that’ll attract the requisite investors into the sector.
Would you ever consider entrepreneurship?
I don’t think it is for me. To be successful at it you have to be committed 99%. Any business you don’t have time for is going to crash. I am happy to jump on boards, be a shareholder in businesses with good business plans but being the driving force behind a business won’t work for me.
A lot of Young graduates are choosing entrepreneurship over starting a career, why do you think this is the case?
The Era is changing somewhat. A lot of young people are more interested in entrepreneurial things. I think this is because they don’t have the patience and tenacity to report to an employer. They’ll rather work at their own time and therefore create a niche for themselves and also be able to do multiple things. Being an entrepreneur gives them the platform to do that.
There are still people interested in the law or whatever they studied at school. However, most people want to go straight to high paying jobs, which are very few out there. They’re not patient enough for the steady growth that comes with a career. Most young people today don’t want to answer to anyone, they want to be their own boss and work at their own time and on their terms.
What would you advise young people torn between a career and entrepreneurship, do you think it’s possible to juggle the two?
Some people are balancing the two quite well, we have a young man that works with us at the moment and does graphics and printing by the side and he’s doing it well. The fear or challenge I see with it is that you may not make a big success of either. You may get along, It’s very possible to make money from 2 or 3 different engagements but no one thing will propel you into the greatness that you seek. Which is why some people after running 4 or 5 things put it all together into a group or conglomerate and try to collapse it into one and run all businesses from the parent company. Running different things together could stretch anyone mentally and health-wise, it’ll take a toll on the body.
I’ll advise it is done in phases, maybe, for instance, give 5 years to the law career and see what it entails and know if it’s what you want. After service year most people are still trying to find themselves, I’ll say do it in phases. It’s better to do the career first and the business later because in professions like law, there is hierarchy and seniority, if you do something else first by the time you come back your mates would have moved up. So it’s better to try that out first.
However, you can just decide to go straight into your passion. We have people like my friend Funke Bucknor who went straight into her passion which is event planning. So did Yemi Akerele the founder of Lagos fashion week and Lisa Folawiyo the creative director at Jewel by Lisa. We were all coursemates at the Law faculty of the University of Lagos, but they went with their different passions and are doing very well. Find your passion look for something that drives you. If it’s not what you studied, go for whatever it is.
What is success to you?
success is being content with where you are and what you have seemingly achieved. It cannot by any stretch of imagination be reduced to just money or the things you have amassed.Stella Duru
I’ll start by debunking the fact that a lot of people think success is money. Success can’t be money! Success is being contented with where you are and what you have seemingly achieved. It cannot by any stretch of imagination be reduced to just money or the things you have amassed! It is more about what you know, where you’ve been and who you know.
Truth is you can lose money in seconds but you can not lose your memory – the knowledge you’ve gained over the years and with that knowledge you can have the foundation to rebuild. It is coming to your own. Success is having confidence that no matter what happens you’re going to be okay. It’s not about where you are at a particular time.
What do you think can be done to help young ladies understand they can be successful and do not need to depend on anyone to live well?
I would say it is necessary to have more strong independent women go and have talks with young girls in primary and secondary school because truth is university girls are already grown and almost set in their ways. It’s better to start early. Young ladies should be reminded that they are beautiful and are more than their beauty and bodies. More should be done to help them understand and respect themselves – if you don’t respect yourself no man will respect you. The narrative has to change. It is necessary to let women know there is an option.
There are too many issues, some have been abused sexually and feel since this has been taken from me why not use it to get something in return! We need to go back to how raising the child was a communal effort. It’s the church, the mosque, the school coming together as units, being aligned in their thinking in bringing up strong individuals. We all have to be responsible for raising the child as these communities have failed the child.
It is necessary to spread the message of strong independent women and not feminism as this has been hijacked. We can’t stop the conversation, we need to put up things that will let the children know they can be anything.Stella Duru
We ought to let our young people know that they are better than fraud or bed-hopping etc. People must come to a place where they don’t only respect themselves but also love themselves cause if you really love yourself you will not settle for some of the demeaning things some of the youths get into now. It is necessary to spread the message of strong independent women and not feminism as this has been hijacked. We can’t stop the conversation, we need to put up things that will let the children know they can be anything.
There has to be a way to show the children that they can, we need mentors, Icons that we can show off, homegrown ones that we can say they didn’t throw away their values that they can learn from. Unfortunately, there’s so much poverty in the land that when you approach these ladies they just look at you like you’re not okay. They are just thinking about their next meal. That’s why I said it’s better to start in the early years. Career talks at schools, bringing in young successful career women to talk to them. Things like that will really help project the right image.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years
I am currently a partner at my law firm. After making partnership, you can become a managing partner. If this happens, that’s fine but it is not a goal for me. I’m concerned about been strategically placed in key companies as a director. Right now I‘m on the board of three companies including Zapphire Events Limited and, Zedcrest Capital.
Some people may think I’m now a partner and that is the peak but it’s just ticking a box. There are boards that need strategic thinkers, political offices, thinktanksetc. The right people are needed to shape the political landscape as well as the corporate world which I feel with all I’ve learned I should be able to contribute to. I want to sit on boards, help companies scale up, I want to be able to join conversations to move the country forward. In 10 years I could be the minister of power.
Though I’m not interested in politics, My vision for Nigeria is one that any capable person can run for office anywhere. Where the fact that I am Igbo does not stop me from running for a political office in Lagos. I’ve lived in Lagos all my life and if I go to Imo I would be run over as I’ve not lived there but you need the grass-root politics. Nigeria’s politics is still stomach infrastructure.
I won’t shy away from taking a political appointment where I know I can make meaningful changes. I’m now a bit more interested in how things are run especially after the SARS protests as we have only this country and we need to fix it. Even if I can’t do it myself, I want to be able to help identify people that can do it and help through the process to achieve progress and success.
What advice do you have for young lawyers hoping to make it up like you?
I’ll say there’s a need to be prepared. Nobody knows it all, and nobody was born confident. It’s built over time. You get your knowledge and confidence from reading, you have to prepare yourself. Read your document, understand it or seek help if you don’t. Find out what’s happening in other jurisdictions, develop yourself.
It’s good to know a bit about everything and not just law texts. Know what’s happening in the world. You should know about topical issues – understand and appreciate nuances in those issues. Watch the news so that you can carry a good conversation.
Tell us something about you that we won’t find on your resume?
I love to cook. Cooking helps me destress. I have my ”Stella special’, a variation of the popular Gizzdodo. My recipe includes other ingredients like prawns, snails, goatmeat, hot spice etc. It is garnished with red and green pepper.
I enjoy watching movies and tv series in my downtime, I love thrillers and law dramas. I also enjoy watching nature shows, psychological dramas and true-life crime. I’m curious to find out how people turn to the monsters some of them become.
What do you splurge on?
I love my shoes. I wear a lot of blacks as I feel comfortable in black so my shoes and bags are my pop of colour. I’m not big on brands, I’m for pretty things. If it is pretty whether it’s a big brand or unknown brand I’m buying it. I splurge on my shoes.
If you could have a super power which would you choose
I don’t want to see a child cry, so if I could choose a superpower it would be one where I could find any child crying and bring them joy. I would love to spread joy.
This powerhouse is one to watch and I’ve made her promise we’ll be the first to get an exclusive interview when it’s time. You, my people, are my witnesses 😉.
Thank you Stella Duru, I enjoyed every minute of our conversation.
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