Peter Ntephe has a probing intellect and a limitless appetite for knowledge. He is also an example of the “10,000 – Hour Rule” theory promoted by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time. Appointed Chief Executive Officer of ERHC Energy in April 2010, Ntephe has been involved in the company’s management since 2001.
As Chief Executive Officer, he oversees the executive management of ERHC Energy and its subsidiaries. He is responsible for ensuring the group’s strategic objectives are met. Ntephe holds a Master of Science degree from University of Oxford. He also has three degrees in law and a degree in management from Brunel University, London.
SU: Most CEOs have a winning or a success formula. What is yours?
NTEPHE: I thank God for His Mercies because the formula is God. It’s really been God’s will that some things happened. Certain fundamental steps I’ve taken, if you have told me just a few days that I would have taken them, I would have told you that kind of thing wouldn’t happen. And things just happened in the coincidence of circumstances and I find myself being pushed up in the positive direction.
SU: You talked about a leap of faith. Personally, there must also be a form of strategy like a game plan to say I want to be here in the next five years, ten years, I’m certain inevitably that you must have had a strategy, especially when you took a leap of faith. Something must have informed the leap of faith you took.
NTEPHE: It is always a crazy thing to change residence and go abroad especially when you’re not in your teens, or early twenties. It was a fundamental decision to make, because invariably to make that kind of move, most often, what you find is that you’re going to take some more steps back from where you were, except you’re going to a fixed job. But when you’re going because you want to try new challenges, you’re going to take one or two steps back from where you were. You’re taking two steps back to move forward and you never know what you’re going to meet, no matter how you prepare for that kind of fundamental change in your life. So, you’re just acting in faith that what you project and plan would come to pass. You’ve left behind a lot of things that you can’t go back to, because things move on. So, you’re taking a risk in doing that.
SU: Do you see Nigeria as an investment haven considering some of the challenges here?
NTEPHE: Yes. Nigeria is a risky environment to do business in so many ways and it’s also a very frustrating environment in some ways because things that are taken for granted. Elsewhere, simple things that are easy to achieve for simple infrastructural reasons, that make it easy to do business do not exist in Nigeria. Nigeria, by some measure is a difficult place to do business, but having said that, the rewards and profit margins in Nigeria are vast. Even some of these problems I’ve talked about are investment challenges for people; light, water, roads, communications, each by itself represent investment opportunities for a certain investor and innovator. And we have seen that in telecommunications. What used to be a problem in the telecoms system in Nigeria, what used to be regarded as a problem has now turned out to be a very big investment opportunities for mobile phone companies. So even the problem themselves are opportunities for some savvy investors out there. So I continue to see Nigeria as a place where foreign investment should be much greater. We ourselves should do a lot to attract foreign investors. The world is a global village now. We’ve left the days when we used to be worried about what foreign investment could do. That’s my personal opinion. I think it’s time now. We have a lot of Nigerians in Diaspora. They are foreign investors as well. We should look at it in that context. But, back to your question, is Nigeria something that an investor should look at? I definitely think so and would say that without any hesitation whatsoever.
SU: From your experience, what is more important to a business; capital, human capital or reputation?
NTEPHE: Well, both are equally important. What kind of premium do they place in the reputation of the business? If people want to invest, they would do due diligence, and everything is about reputation. It doesn’t even matter if people have been convicted before. It’s just about the reputation. What are the people saying about this business, about people running this business? Sometimes, huge investment opportunities are lost just because the views about these people or business are not very good and people don’t want to associate with them. And that is becoming even more important on the international stage where you can just type someone’s name on Google and a long list of things comes out, either good or bad. You know, if that first Google page doesn’t say favourable things about a person or business, it’s going to put off investors. But what makes that reputation is the people who run the business, the human capital. In the world of international business, if you don’t have a good reputation, I’m sorry they are going to see that and you are not going to be accepted.
SU: Considering your busy schedule as a CEO, how do you unwind?
NTEPHE: I listen to music a lot and love football, I am an Arsenal fan. With all the highs and lows that Arsenal subjects you to in any season; my blood runs Arsenal (laughs). I’ve followed Arsenal for a long time, long before it became fashionable to become an Arsenal supporter. I’ve been an Arsenal supporter long before Kanu Nwankwo joined them. I love football. I watch it a lot. My TV channel is always set on football. I watch football all day, all night, when I’m not working.
SU: Can you mention a particular book you’ve read and has a made a big impact on you?
NTEPHE: A lot of books, but since you said one book. I remember reading No Longer At Ease as a student and it gripped me by what it captured, the changing era, the transition between colonialism and a new Nigeria, that concept of change gripped me. It’s one of those books I always remember. I don’t know if it’s made a change in my life but it gripped me. I would later read Things Fall Apart and have the same feeling.
SU: Nigeria just celebrated 50 years of independence. Do you see any remarkable difference in the next 50 years?
NTEPHE: Definitely. It’s good to always challenge ourselves to do better, but I think perhaps we look at things a bit too negatively. Don’t misunderstand me; I would be the first to acknowledge that we have a lot of problems. And sometimes I hit my head against the wall that why we even allow some of these things to happen. However, despite ourselves and all the negativity, I think we have come a long way in my lifetime. I’m not even 50 yet, but I think there would be a lot of change in the next 50 years. I remember roughly 10 years ago when to make a phone call between Abuja and Lagos for instance, you have to go to NITEL office and sit down. You would give your number and you wait, then they would call you to make your call. I remember growing up, Soul Train was the in-thing back in the day, and we used to watch Soul Train four years after it was shown live in America. And now, we watch these things live. Despite ourselves, we’ve made progress. I grew up in an era where it was a military regime; I barely saw a civilian regime when growing up. Now we’ve had 11 years of civilian regime, of democracy. And even with all the problems, we have people who are in secondary school now and don’t know what military regime is. They’ve never lived under a military regime and don’t even know what it is. So, I think that is a remarkable difference.
SU: What’s your guiding principle?
NTEPHE: My guiding principle has always been principles I think you would find in the Bible and Koran and all the good books as well. Do things with integrity, do unto others what I would like them to do unto me. And we might not even succeed sometimes. But I think I’ve always tried to do things right, and I believe in integrity. Secondly, a good name is always is better than riches. Also, I do strongly believe in God. I have a strong belief in the Creator.