Former Warri Refinery’s MD, Joseph Akpieyi Relives Life @ 80: ‘My mom’s counsel that scared me off ladies’

In the 80s, Chief Joseph Akpieyi was a Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Petroleum Refining Company (now Port Harcourt Refinery Company) and was also the CEO of Warri Refining and Petrochemicals Company Limited.

Chief Akpieyi turned 80 earlier this year. Now at 80, he is still in boardrooms, notable among them being Arco Group of companies where he is the Chairman.

In an interview with The Nations, Chief Akpieyi reflected on his modest beginning, marriage, stewardship in the oil and gas sector among others, and concludes that his parents and the desire to be successful brought him this far.

Read excerpts below…

How does it feel to be 80?

I am grateful to God for preserving me to 80 in good health.  I feel fulfilled.

When did you turn 80 and how did you celebrate it?

I turned 80 on February 28, 2019.  My family and I went to the 06:30 am Mass to thank God for His manifold blessings upon my life; thereafter, we received family members and some friends at my residence. The formal celebration will take place in early April by the grace of God.

How did your early background influence the person that you are today?

I must confess that my dad was a very strict person. But I did not realise that the strictness inculcated in me the need to always produce quality output. As a young boy, my dad had a white Raleigh Bicycle which was my duty to clean.

After cleaning it, he inspected it to see if it was thoroughly clean. If he found any area of the bicycle dirty, he gave me a very heavy knock on my head. I had to devise my own method of making sure that after washing it, I would inspect it myself to see if he will find any fault. After three or four knocks, he never found any reason to knock me again. He was now saying ‘’your work is very good.’’

Also, he used to send me on errands to my mother in the market place which was about three kilometres from where we lived. Sometimes when he woke up and found me sleeping, he scolded me thinking I had not gone to see my mother.

The training influenced my habit of waking up early. Catholic School, Sapele Road Warri, which is now a cathedral, was where I started getting my religious training. I was a mass server at my tender age. It influenced my religious culture.

I grew up in a much disciplined environment both at home and in Government College Ughelli (GCU). Certain values like honesty, integrity, striving for perfection, hard work as secret of success, punctuality, humility, kindness to family members and neighbours, standing up for your right, protection and preservation of family name in all circumstances, respect for the rule of law and respect for seniors, wife and friends were all inculcated in me at home and GCU.

These values have been the anchor and beacons of my life that have upheld me to being the person that I am today.

SEE ALSO: Comic Actor, Basorge Tariah Jnr. Spills On How His Mom’s Advice Impacted His Marital Life

When you decided to study Chemical Engineering, were you targeting the oil industry?

Truthfully, there was no nexus between the study of Chemical Engineering and working in the oil industry. No Nigerian universities were offering Chemical Engineering in 1962, which was why I first obtained a degree in Chemistry from the University of Ibadan, but was sent on an in-service training by my employers, the Petroleum Division of the Ministry of Mines and Power, to study Chemical Engineering in the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom.

At what point did marriage come in?

The marriage idea came in after three years of graduating from the university, securing a decent job in the public service of the federation and being sent abroad on an in-service training, which meant that my salary was still being paid during the period of the in-service training. I got married when I was 29 years old.

Was it love at first sight?

Yes, it was indeed! I had gone with my elder brother, William, to visit his classmate and friend, Mr Joseph Oroye, who was on vacation from Igbobi College, Lagos.

Mr. Oroye had arranged a luncheon for the lady of his dreams, Janet Otuedon, my cousin, at his father’s sprawling residence on Macpherson Road, when I sighted Joseph’s sister, Mabel, a slim, very beautiful lady. On first sight, I blurted out, “you will be my wife in the future.” How prophetic!!

At 80, are you fulfilled?

Yes, I feel quite fulfilled: I was educated at the prestigious GCU, premier University of Ibadan and the University of Surrey Guildford, U.K. I am an alumnus of Columbia University Graduate School of Business, New York, USA. I served as the CEO of four key NNPC subsidiaries.

I retired voluntarily after 26 years of meritorious service. I have been married to my childhood love for 50 years plus and we are blessed with six lovely children who have in turn given us 14 grandchildren. At 80, I do not suffer from the infirmities of old age and my faculties are still very much intact.

In retirement, I have been gainfully engaged as: the Executive Chairman of TRITHEL International Consulting that has built an impressive client base across corporate Nigeria in the diverse fields of Quality and Environment Management Systems and Services, Human Capacity Building and Executive Search and Selection.

I am the Co – Founder and Chairman of Air Separation Nigeria Limited, a wholly indigenous company, which manufactures industrial and medical gases for industries and health care institutions, and now has incredible reach into 30 states of the Nigerian federation, employing many Nigerians.

President Olusegun Obasanjo then, appointed me  the Chairman of the Interim Technical Board of Port-Harcourt Refinery on May 31, 2004 to prepare the refinery for privatisation. I have been the Chairman of Arco Group Plc family, a leading player in the oil and gas services business to multinational companies since 2008. I once served as the chairman of another reputable company, SOWSCO Well Services Nigeria Limited, that is into well cementation, well head maintenance and repairs, brine filtration, pipeline and industrial cleaning services.

I was the National President of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers from 1999 to 2000. My period witnessed the transformation of the society to position it to meet the challenges of the new millennium and successfully integrated the society into the Nigerian Society of Engineers.

I was the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers’ Foundation. I have given back to my Alma Materby serving it as president in two branches and as its President – General from 2011 – 2015. I definitely feel fulfilled. I give God all the glory.

SEE ALSO: “I owe my very existence to you” -Gospel Singer, Neon Adejo Reminisces On His Mom’s Sacrifices 

People don’t retire voluntarily in such lucrative sectors as the oil and gas industry. Why did you leave?

I agree that it is not usual for people in the oil and gas industry to retire voluntarily in such a lucrative sector unless pushed to do so. As I had stated earlier, I think what is responsible for that situation is the fear of the unknown.

In the Military Governments’ culture of “retirement with immediate effect,” it was evident that one could be retired arbitrarily with no notice for drummed up charges of inefficiency, lack of integrity, lack of productivity and so on.

The staff would have to face the unknown with the stain of the cooked up reasons for the sudden retirement. I thought it was by far better to face the unknown with one’s integrity intact. Hence, I opted to retire voluntarily. If I had allowed myself to be retired suddenly, the undertones beneath the retirement would have crushed my spirit and probably hastened my demise.

You retired early but went back to work again, so when will you retire finally?

I will do that now that I have attained 80 years in good health.

Secret of his success

Cutting grass was a routine to keep the environment clean. The effect on me is that I never looked down on anyone involved in manual labour activities because we were all taught to do such works. Most college boys of my time, were very law-abiding because, for those schooling years, we were under strict control. It also instilled time management in us. The Ughelli boys of my generation placed a lot of importance on time.

In our days, if you were not punctual, you would be detained. Those things instilled in us good time management skills, obedience to the law, and value of hard work as the secret of success. I have been living in a disciplined environment. To a large extent, I would say that most of those principles guided me. I can say that for the 26 years I was in service, I did not get to work late any day, even when I was chief executive at the organisation.

How are you spending the latter part of your life?

You mean how I intend to spend the remaining part of my life after 80? Well, I will now really retire from active consultancy works but not from chairmanship that demands my service only once a quarter. I shall plan more holidays internally and abroad to the extent possible. I shall also spend more time with my grandchildren. Thank God we have many internet communication facilities that make contacts so easy.

In your youthful days, were you a lady’s man?

No, I was not. In fact, GCU taught me to be decent in relationships with the female sex. My mother also preached the need for me not to ruin the lives of young females. I guess that I grew up avoiding the ladies.

Beyond your success in the civil service and boardroom, were there goals you set for yourself that have not been achieved?

My driving force was to be successful, and to provide effective leadership. I was always sent to trouble spots when I was in service in NNPC. I always held positions which were two to three grade higher than my substantive position.

For example, when I was asked to go to Port Harcourt Refinery to be the Chief Executive Officer in 1980, there was trouble at the time. The union had said they will not allow the CEO to enter the refinery, my bosses decided they will send me. Then I was a Deputy Manager and saw it as a challenge. I held meetings with them monthly to proactively make an inquest if there was anything in their mind.

I saw it as a challenge to prove to my superiors that I could deliver. I was supposed to stay there for three months. I ended up staying five years. And there was no union action, because of the strategy I applied. When I was pulled out from there, I was again redeployed to the pipeline sector which was a problem spot at the time. Before a year, it became a division where people wanted to come to serve.

I utilised what they called management by objective. At the beginning of every year, I sat with my immediate lieutenants to discuss what to achieve in the year. We also went into each person’s area of responsibilities and set goals to achieve.

I did it quarterly by calling the lieutenant s to give an account of their stewardship based on those objectives. With that, they knew that my leadership style was impartial. My style of leadership was based on objective and participation.

Any regrets or pains at 80?

If I had any weakness, I will say it is being too blunt. I was blunt to my superiors and they do not like it. I got knocks several times by my superiors because of that. Maybe in my next life, I will acquire emotional intelligence. If I had emotional intelligence during my days, I probably would have done my things differently.

Superior officers anywhere in the world do not like their subordinate officers speaking too frankly. They like people who are subservient, who flatters them. But for me, I preferred that colleagues spoke frankly to me. I hate being subservient. If I had this during my career then, I would not have suffered the way I did, like being denied promotions when I was due for it.

What is the secret of your longevity?

I think it is genetic inheritance. My dad passed to the great beyond at 103 and my mother at 92.

Are you on special diet or sports or exercise?

I am not on special diet, although my wife ensures that I always have balanced meals. I exercise by walking once a week in our estate, doing exercise on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in my bathroom.

What makes you still stylish and fashionable at 80 and what kind of clothes appeal to you to wear these days?

Thank you for your generous comments. I wear clothes that I am comfortable in and project the positive image of someone who is not oblivious of his environment.

Do you take time off for holidays?

Yes I do. Throughout my 26 years career in the public service, I always made sure that I went on vacation. I never accumulated any leave because I was very mindful of the principle of balanced self-renewal and the fact that no one is indispensable.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.