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Humility as a Management Style

oil and gas business looks like a hard and difficult subject – technology, numbers, etc – for a real life forum, but there is a human angle to every story. There is a lot to learn from a humble, God-fearing man with a steely character, who loses his mother, sister, and a son in quick succession and still keeps his head to follow through a major ‎oil exploration agreement for the country. It is said that a sense of humility is essential to leadership because it authenticates a person’s humanity.

When Dr. Maikanti Kacalla Baru, FNSE, was appointed Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), some people were uncomfortable with it. That is natural. But to some industry insiders who knew him well enough, it was just a confirmation of the fullness of time.

However, to some other people, it was a test of sorts: Do you promote a quiet, humble man who is doing well at his job into a hot seat in the name of a promotion, or leave him to continue his high profile performance in the part of the whole? 

Or do you take a risk on the Peter Principle which suggests that one could fail on his job if his promotion is based solely on his performance on the last job?

One year on

One year on, Baru seems to have successfully allayed the fears by showing that humility is not a sign of weakness, but a rare quality of God-fearing, confident, and purpose – driven people. And that experience, the wider, the better, is very useful in management. Baru comes across as a less talk, more action person.

Until his appointment, he was the Group Executive Director, Exploration & Production of the Corporation, a position key to the growth of the oil and gas industry. He had worked in various capacities in both the upstream and downstream sectors of the industry.

The rumour headwind

Baru assumed office amid heavy rumours of rift between him and his ‎predecessor, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu. Baru would not distracted by the rumours or muddy the water as he got on well with Kachikwu, continuing from where he stopped, although he would make some changes himself.‎

People, who even watched out for tell-tale signs of rift in body language, or optics, as it is now called, were to be disappointed.

Improved brand quality

But giving NNPC a new image was not going to be done only in-house. He backed it with strong internal and external communications, which also carried stakeholders along. Today, the tar on the image of the Corporation is peeling off, thereby giving it a new, reputable look.

The Corporation has a number of awards to show for this. They include the 2016 Phillips Consulting/WebJurists award for the Best Website and Social Media Platforms amongst Federal Government Parastatals; PETAN award at the 2017 OTC in recognition of NNPC’s “aggressive exploration campaign in the Benue Trough and Chad Basin”; and 2017 PENGASSAN award for contribution towards labour and industrial harmony, among others.

There was no industrial action in the year under review and negative press on the Group has reduced considerably, replaced by positive stories almost on a weekly basis. ‎ Only last week, there was the reduction of the price of diesel to a low N155 per litre.

The week before, in a show of strong character, sometimes hidden by his disarming humility, Baru, who was just recovering from the painful loss of three close relations, signed a tripartite agreement with the NNPC/FIRST Exploration & Production Joint Venture and Schlumberger for the development of the Anyalu and Madu fields in the Niger Delta.

Delicate balancing

For the average Nigerian who would not be bothered by the numbers and industry jargons on a scorecard, satisfaction can be found in the uninterrupted supply of fuel at relatively stable price. 

But unknown to many, the cost of fuel importation has increased, making some marketers to withdraw, and leaving NNPC an additional burden of supplying the shortfall at a stable pump price. The delicate balancing of preventing the increased cost to be passed on to consumers in the form higher pump price of petrol and at the same time preventing the subsidy bonanza of the recent past is one of the things the Corporation is doing silently.

Additionally, NNPC has been able to stabilise the market with sufficient product availability across the country through improved refining efforts and the DSDP scheme which has so far saved the nation about N40 billion this year.

It has also commenced the resuscitation of its products transportation pipelines network, thus enabling the Corporation to move products to depots at faster rate and cheaper distribution costs to consumers.

Gas for electricity

The average Nigerian also measures success in electricity supply, the failure of which had been blamed on gas supply to GENCOs. In the past one year, NNPC has significantly increased gas supply to power plants and industries in Nigeria. It has been reported that some GENCOs are even rejecting gas due to the inability of TCN to wheel-out the power generated. 

National Production and Reserve Growth

In 2016, national average daily production of crude oil stood at 1.83 million barrels of oil and condensate. Currently, Year-To-Date 2017 average production hovers around 1.88 mbd. This, Baru says is expected to increase and surpass the 2017 national daily target of 2.2 million barrels of oil and condensate per day with improvement in security and resumption of production operations on the Forcados Oil Terminal and Qua Iboe Terminal pipelines.

In fact, NNPC attained a record peak production of 2.3 million barrels per day on 28th June, 2017 and it has also reduced production cost per barrel by $5.

Away from the Niger Delta, NNPC has been busy in the Benue Trough, and it is “working with the security agencies for an early return to the Chad Basin. Drilling activities will be a priority on resumption while continuing with seismic data acquisition with improved parameters.” Dr. Baru has said.

Humility and firmness

It is a wrong to associate humility with weakness as Baru has shown with firmness. NNPC has within the last one year made significant efforts in debt recovery from traders who owed the Corporation large sums through reconciliations, payments or set offs where necessary and have reviewed its credit policies to protect revenues.

Equally, NNPC has applied appropriate sanctions to erring members of staff who colluded with third-parties and or engaged in malpractices as part of the Corporation’s resolve to institutionalize consequence management culture in the conduct of its operations going forward.

Background

Born in July 1959, Baru is a native of Misau in Bauchi State, who grew up in Jos, Plateau State of Nigeria. He attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he obtained Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) with first class honours. He also holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Mechanical engineering.

He is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (FNSE) and a recipient of the Presidential Merit Award of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers.

Conclusion

There are other achievements, too many to report here, but it is obvious that the robust implementation of his 12 key Business Focus Areas, introduced on assumption of office has been effective. To further improve on the achievements,

Purpose-driven Baru showed his firmess by making the heads of the operating units sign performance bonds.

But there is a lot more work awaiting the Baru touch in the coming years to transform NNPC into the commercial and profit-oriented Corporation of his dreams, and for Nigeria to cease to be the only oil producer/exporter with issues of fuel importation.

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