Salma Okonkwo is asked which of her titles is most important: Wife, mother, leader, friend? All of them is her immediate answer, but those who know her insist she has several more. Mentor, sister, and passionate listener. Not to mention CEO, entrepreneur, and business principal with an advanced degree in success.
Her method is commitment – a zeal to share the realization that solutions start with challenges, and she knows that women are vast movers and shakers in a world that needs their strengths more than ever.
Joining business savvy with a firm grasp on the willingness to take risks, she gives those around her more ways to describe Salma Okonkwo. Charismatic pioneer. Inspirational supporter. Enthusiastic nation-builder. Her greatest strengths go without saying because her record speaks for itself.
After graduating from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, Salma Okonkwo became the first woman CEO of Sahara Energy in
Ghana. She established the UBI Group in 2008 to close the energy supply gap in Northern Ghana by trading diesel and petroleum wholesale and
operating retail gas stations. In 2013, Puma Energy acquired a 49 percent stake in two of UBI’s Group’s subsidiaries, a business move that
reinforced her reputation as a formidable business strategist. UBI was the first indigenous company to support the oil industry’s upstream
sector. And now Blue Power Energy is building Ghana’s biggest solar farm, half of which will be situated in Okonkwo’s ancestral village,
targeting unemployment and its related poverty. Therein lays a key secret to Okonkwo’s ongoing quest. She weaves philanthropic objectives
into solid business principles – and unhesitatingly seeks women eager to join a mission shared by both men and women in a historically
male-dominated industry. No wonder so many see her as a mentor and role model. Glass ceilings have shattered as Salma Okonkwo quietly moves industry in robust directions.
Salma Okonkwo reels off Ghana’s growth rates and infrastructure shortfalls like her kid’s birthdays and milestones, funneling all the data to just two words. What next? “If we’ve come light years, we’ve only just gotten started.” There’s unquestionable energy behind efforts that don’t come from the sun or the earth – she readily displays from a tireless belief that women have a vital role in shaping a brighter future. And then she sets about proving it, joining with the nation’s oil and gas leaders and leading solar initiatives with the assurance that determination is the greatest power of all. “Women know how to move mountains,” she smiles. “We’re doing so right now.” She cites her approach to investment in both the individual and the community, which she calls Ghana’s “…best natural resource in the world.” She’s demonstrated the success of this strategy in the northern communities and in the thriving southern metropolises. And she is resolute about her conviction. Determination always determines destiny.
Business is about the big picture she says. Salma Okonkwo then slowly spreads her arms wider and wider to encompass what she means by “big.” She further reaches into her understanding of international relations, health care, education, people… on and on. “I know I come across as passionate when I describe what ‘big’ means,” she says. “It’s no secret. I am very passionate about the word.” She notes the reasons Blue Power Energy and UBI Group share common goals. She delves into the details behind UBI’s ascent to the first indigenous company to support the oil industry’s upstream sector. She tells how Blue Energy is building the nation’s largest solar farm. “When people ask me how I can juggle so many balls, I tell them it doesn’t matter how many I can juggle. It only matters that we invest in the individuals who can juggle all of them.” And she shares one more secret: “Women know the power of persistence in doing a lot of things at once.” Which includes public speaking on both a local and international basis. In fact, she has often served as a keynote speaker and sits on many company boards, mastering the small details and the big picture – at the same time.
Am I a mentor? Salma Okonkwo grins at the suggestion. “I would rather stand back from the word and ask my associate: What do you think we should do if success is the only option? When I see the willingness to rise to the challenge, I know how important the individual really is. And how great things can be accomplished and goals can be met.” So the question returns: Are you a mentor? “If I can encourage success, I’ll accept whatever term you apply. I can recognize motivated people. I know what women can do. I’ve seen what they can accomplish. I am determined to make the most of that. With both people and their communities.” And she quickly wants to make a final point: “It is far more important to recognize what people can do when they know I will support them all the way.” Even the children hear the commitment through the work of Mother’s Heart, her own foundation dedicated to helping needy children who have been beset by extreme poverty or completely abandoned. And in rare, quieter moments, she indulges a fascination with interior design – “I love to decorate,” she says modestly – while maintaining a relentless work schedule.
Work with Salma