As a high school student in southern Illinois, Ugwem Eneyo originally planned to study journalism and political science. The daughter of Nigerian-born parents who worked in engineering and computer science, Ugwem had a sudden change of heart during her senior year. “At the last minute I decided that I should stop running away from my destiny, so I applied to Illinois for engineering,” she laughs. While at Illinois, Eneyo has been active in the National Society of Black Engineers, Engineering Council, the Provost’s Student Advisory Board, the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee, the Illinois Student Senate as a member of the Committee for Environmental Sustainability, and significant volunteer work through the Morrill Engineering Program, which serves underrepresented groups in engineering. She is also an Engineering Learning Assistant for a class in clean water access for the Illinois Engineering First-Year Experience program, which targets freshmen for project-based engineering education.

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Ugwem Eneyo is a speaker at the 2017 African Diaspora Investment Symposium.

1. What was your first job?

My first job as an adult was working at a major oil and gas company as an environmental risk advisor. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, it was an interesting experience because I had a vision of what the perfect career for me would be and when I got it, I realised I wanted more.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

Thinking of my team is what truly keeps me up at night. When you have stellar folks working with and for you, there’s certainly pressure to ensure that I am doing everything I can to give them what they deserve, create opportunity and remain committed to our vision. When things are getting tough and may not go as planned, it’s my team that I start thinking about.

3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career?

My father has certainly had the biggest impact on my career, based on his own example. He’s shown me three key values that will always stick with me: humility in all that I do, passion for what I do and integrity above all else.

4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

As a PhD student and an entrepreneur, I’ve been told more than once that whatever I’m doing, there is someone, somewhere in the world with the same idea and the only difference between the two of us is our ability to execute, so execute swiftly and well.

5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?

I wouldn’t say I’ve hit what I define as success yet – but I think that things have gone well for me because I work on issues that I’m passionate about. Starting a business can be extraordinarily difficult and I often see alternative opportunities that would be much easier to handle, but my commitment to solving real-world challenges that I care about keeps me working harder and I think that shows.

6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?

The best place to prepare for leadership is the place where you are most uncomfortable. Whether it’s in life, school or on the job, your opportunity to grow is in times of difficulty and discomfort. My first job was working in corporate America with old white men – it was the perfect opportunity for me to develop as a leader.

7. How do you relax?

Relaxing for me means time with my family, reading or my newest hobby – flying drones. I like electronics and exploring, so flying drones has definitely been a nice outlet.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

I know the saying is the early bird gets the worm – well, I’m not keen on worms. I believe in flexible workplaces and the idea that different people thrive in different ways. I tend to get amazing work done very late in the night.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

My favorite job interview question is likely asking people about what their dream job is. If people are honest, it’s a cool way to learn about what excites them or what they care about.

10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?

“Yet in the end, the Africa our generation desires can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is ours.” – The Harambe Bretton Woods Declaration.

Ugwem I. Eneyo is the co-founder and CEO of Solstice Energy Solutions, a start-up company specialising in leveraging internet of things, software and data-driven approaches to help African homes and small business find reliable, clean and cost-saving energy solutions.

Source: How we made it in Africa