An unplanned career path
When Kelechi was younger, she never imagined she’d end up in accounting. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, she pictured herself becoming a doctor, lawyer or maybe an engineer. While she didn’t get into her chosen program at university, she didn’t dwell on her disappointment. Her father always told her: “As long as you choose something you like and work hard, you’ll be great at it. So don’t worry too much.”
She ended up studying pharmacology and began her career as an environmental toxicologist at a major oil and gas company. But the job wasn’t a good fit: her role was too narrow for her expansive curiosity. “I’m very inquisitive. I want to know how things work,” Kelechi says. “But the culture there was such that you were expected to stay in your own lane.”
Meanwhile, a friend of hers was applying to PwC Nigeria, so she applied as well. When she was offered a role, she decided to take the opportunity. Kelechi started in core audit in the oil and gas industry since that was her background. But the firm encouraged associates to gain experience across industries, so she later moved into retail, then telecommunications and finally financial services, where she decided to stay. During this time, she also completed training to become a chartered accountant.
Like being a detective
Her job as an associate was like being in a detective novel, she says—like being Nancy Drew. “As auditors, we’re asked to validate what we see in financial statements. It’s like a puzzle. At the end of the day, I had to write my little chapter about how I, Nancy Drew, navigated that puzzle.”
After five years at PwC Nigeria, Kelechi had built strong relationships and a reputation for doing quality work. She was identified as demonstrating leadership potential, and so she was offered a two-year secondment in London, United Kingdom. She continued working in financial services, honing her skills in internal controls and leading SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) audits, and her secondment eventually turned into a transfer.
A few years later she was recognized and offered yet another two-year secondment. This time the opportunity was in Toronto at PwC Canada, for an engagement with a major national bank. Joining a team of individuals from across the country, many of whom were also new to Canada, made it easier to develop close friendships. After her secondment was over, she decided to transfer to Toronto permanently.
Honing leadership skills
At various points throughout her career so far, Kelechi has been identified by different people as being a strong candidate for leadership. But what does she feel has consistently set her apart?
“I ask a lot of questions. I think I’m just short of the point of being annoying and making people want to kick me out of the room,” she laughs. Yet it’s by asking questions that she builds solid relationships with her team and her clients and learns about what they do. She also places a strong emphasis on quality work. “It’s important to understand why we’re doing the things we’re doing,” she says. Understanding the bigger picture enables her to make suggestions and explore problems from different angles.
In Canada, Kelechi was nominated to participate in Key Talent Experience, a global PwC program that coaches senior managers and directors to take their leadership skills to the next level. Over the course of a year, she worked alongside individuals from across PwC’s global network to develop her personal leadership style. “We dug deep to understand what we wanted our leadership style to be, how that differed from what it was currently and how to get to where we wanted to be,” she says.
For example, through upward feedback gathered as part of this process, Kelechi realized that her work hours could seem daunting to those trying to emulate her. She often came into the office at 7am and left at 8pm—wrongly sending the message that you have to work overly long hours to progress in your career. “What people didn’t realize was that I wasn’t working 100% that whole time, because it’s important for me to network and have fun during the day.” So she modified her schedule and had conversations with junior staff about setting boundaries and creating their own journeys within PwC.
Over the years, Kelechi has faced some challenges, both as a woman and because of her African origins. But she hasn’t let other people’s comments or attitudes deter her from pursuing her goals.
“Every time someone has told me, ‘You can’t do this,’ I’ve said, ‘You say that, but is it true? Let me figure it out.’ Sometimes it’s true, and sometimes it’s not. Maybe it was true for them, or at that time, but not anymore. If I try and fail, then at least I’ll know personally, and not because someone told me what my limit was.” Kelechi hopes that through her own words and actions, she can pave the way for others. “I’m always trying to ensure there’s at least some progress, to break down barriers for the next person.”
With this in mind, she recently joined PwC Canada’s Black Professionals Inclusion Network—a group dedicated to increasing the support, knowledge and skill development of its members regarding career development and advancement. Having grown up in Nigeria, Kelechi is careful to respect the fact that her experiences as a Black professional in Canada may be different from those of her colleagues. “I have to play my part to share my story,” she says. “If we work hard and plug into our networks, we can achieve our goals.”
Being curious and staying positive
Kelechi considers the provision of professional services to be critical to the economy and, therefore, to modern life. “We’re an integral part of the economy, which is hugely important to the world in which we live.”
She notes that because there is a perception that PwC is highly structured, people coming in may think they have to stay in the industry or field where they’ve been put. However, there are many choices and multiple opportunities, she says, if you’re willing to try new things: “Your career really is in your own hands.”