The WFE's Women Leaders 2021 - Tinuade Awe, Executive Director, Regulation, The Nigerian Stock Exchange

By: The WFE Focus Team Mar 2021

Nominee’s name: Tinuade Awe

Member: The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE)

Nominee’s job title: Executive Director, Regulation


1. - Brief description of nominee’s role/job:

As the Executive Director, Regulation, and member of the Executive Committee of The Nigerian Stock Exchange (the Exchange, or the NSE), I am primarily responsible for the regulation of the two major stakeholder groups of the Exchange, i.e., dealing members that trade on the Exchange and issuers that have securities listed on the Exchange. In this capacity, I lead the Exchange's efforts to provide enterprise-wide regulatory support and guidance to the Management of the Exchange, its National Council, committees and subsidiaries.

I have the responsibility for providing effective leadership to ensure that the Exchange’s policies, business operations, and its relationships with regulators, its members, issuers, and other stakeholders are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. In delivering this task, I provide oversight for the activities of four departments (Listings Regulation, Broker Dealer Regulation, Market Surveillance and Investigation, and Regulatory Technology) and two units (Rules & Interpretation and Disciplinary).

The NSE is at an advanced stage of its demutualisation process, which will culminate in the creation of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group) as a new holding company. NGX Group will have three (3) operating subsidiaries – Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX), the operating exchange; NGX Real Estate Limited (NGX RELCO); and NGX Regulation Limited (NGX REGCO), the independent regulatory arm. I am the CEO Designate of NGX REGCO, subject to approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

2. - Short bio (career highlights, education, interests/hobbies):

I am a high performing, senior level attorney with broad experience in a wide spectrum of legal, regulatory and compliance matters, gained over a 28-year period. I have established a record of accomplishment in delivering results and achieving set targets in highly demanding work environments. I am a widely exposed, intellectually rigorous team player with life, work, and academic experience gained across three continents. Before The NSE, I worked as a Law Clerk to a Judge of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), The Hague, the Netherlands. I also worked with the United Nations Compensation Commission in Geneva, Switzerland, after which I spent seven years as an Associate at a top New York law firm with global presence, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

I have been a member of the Executive Committee (EXCO) of The Exchange since 2012. The EXCO is the highest governance body of management. I sit as a nominee of the Exchange on the Board of the Central Securities Clearing System Plc and the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC). I Chair the Corporate Governance Committee of the FRC Board, which has Board level responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the Nigerian Code of Corporate Governance. I am a Trustee of The NSE’s Investors’ Protection Fund. I am a life member of the Institute of Directors (IoD); and an Associate Member of both the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (ICSAN), and the Institute of Capital Market Registrars (ICMR). Recently, I passed the examinations for membership of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers (CIS). I will be inducted this year.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) as the Best Female Student, Faculty of Law and Best Student, Law of Evidence, from the Obafemi Awolowo University (1991). I finished at the Nigerian Law School with First Class Honours, graduating as Best Overall Student (1992). I hold Master of Laws (LL.M.) Degrees from Harvard Law School (2000), where I was a Landon H. Gammon Fellow, and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) (1994), where I was a British Council Scholar. I am admitted to the Nigerian and New York State Bars. I was honoured to receive the General Counsel of the Year Award at the 2018 African Legal Awards.

My hobbies and interests include education, gender equality and development, African art, music, swimming and traveling.

3. - What were your professional highlights and challenges of 2020?:

Undoubtedly, obtaining the uncontested approval of the members of the NSE for the establishment of a new company, REGCO, to be charged with the independent management of the regulatory functions of the NSE post-demutualisation was a major professional highlight for me in 2020. This approval included my appointment as the CEO of REGCO. To my knowledge, REGCO is the first independent regulatory company of its kind on the African continent.

The approval of my appointment is a validation of my vision to embrace the bold regulatory actions that sustain the integrity of the market. It is a testament to the body of work my team and I have done at the Exchange since 2012.

In the course of 2020, this formidable team worked tirelessly with me to ensure that we overcame the challenges faced by regulators around the world to supervise regulated entities in the face of the unprecedented circumstances occasioned by Covid-19, effectively and efficiently.

Having identified operational resilience as critical for our regulated entities even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, my team and I leveraged our offsite regulatory engagement channels to create a seamless and reliable environment; and consistent with our nimble mode of regulation, re-evaluated our supervisory programmes to introduce various initiatives to cope with this Covid-19 era. As part of this effort, we led engagement with relevant stakeholders including government regulators such as the SEC, key Federal Ministries and parastatals, and trade groups. This resulted in the issuance of guidelines, development of dialogue platforms for regulatory updates and providing assistance through regulatory forbearance in order to cushion the economic, financial and operational effects on the businesses of our members and issuers.

In addition, we successfully launched enhanced RegTech tools as part of our efforts to leverage technology to improve disclosures made by our Issuers, and redefine the compliance and regulation experience between the Exchange and its dealing members. Further leveraging on technology and the engagement with stakeholders, Annual General Meetings (AGM) of issuers, examination of dealing members and disciplinary proceedings were conducted virtually. With our market participants able to seamlessly transition into remote operations, The NSE emerged as the best performing index of the 93 global equity indices tracked by Bloomberg in 2020.

I must also mention that the comprehensive review of Nigeria’s basic and foremost companies’ law, which provides the legal framework for the establishment and administration of corporate entities, i.e. the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020. I worked on this review as a member of the Senate’s Technical Advisory Committee on the CAMA Amendment Bill. The bill received Presidential assent on 7 August 2020. CAMA 2020 represents significant progress in our legal framework for companies. It was eagerly anticipated because the prior statute was promulgated in 1990. I am proud to have been actively involved in developing CAMA 2020, which, among many other benefits and improvements, will stimulate more transparency and accountability in corporate entity processes, and enhance the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

4. - What and who inspires/has inspired you to achieve your professional success:

I am not very big on role models. I prefer to pick out character traits to emulate from others. However, my mother, Professor Bolanle Awe, is my first role model. An extremely accomplished woman, she has had a string of firsts in her career, including being the first female academic employed in 1960 by Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan. Armed with a doctorate degree from Oxford University, she built an impressive academic career as a historian. Her prodigious scholarship and advocacy projects to document the role and contributions of women in Nigeria society have been widely acknowledged, and earned her the sobriquet of “matriarch of feminist history”. She contributed her quota to public life and national development in government at all levels.

Notwithstanding my mother’s very busy academic and public life, we have always been close. Without preaching, she modelled to me that I could achieve anything I set my mind on. She showed that excellence is not an option; it is the only choice. Now, at 88, she remains very active and engages productively with society.

During my time at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, I worked with a brilliant Partner, John Walker, who had a great influence on me. Among the lessons John taught me were the importance of always being well prepared, and good client relationship skills. He was always prepared, so he gave sound legal and practical advice. His graciousness and ability to engage fully with clients even when they had acted against his advice to their detriment, taught me memorable lessons in customer centricity. John was a leader who allowed his team to flourish. He consciously sought to break down barriers in the boss/subordinate hierarchy in an effort to get the best out of his team. I have adopted this style and I think it has worked well for me at the NSE.

I admire my current boss, Oscar N. Onyema OON, CEO of the Exchange. He has an uncanny ability to read trends, provide direction and inspire those around him to achieve lofty goals. These admirable traits have been instrumental in securing the significant growth we have achieved at the NSE.

From afar, I also admire Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo.

5. - What advice do you have for other women who aspire to be in leadership positions:

Women should pay attention to acquiring the right skills through structured learning programmes such as graduate trainee programmes and internships. Such programmes help them to navigate the corporate environment appropriately.

It is also important for women to become citizens of their organisations by positioning themselves for multi-disciplinary projects and participating in company-wide tasks. On top of excellence, add visibility; you do not have permission to put your hand down.

If a woman chooses to pursue family life, she must surround herself with the necessary domestic and professional resources that will allow her to maintain a healthy balance between home and work life.

I believe female professionals can have it all but not all at the same time. So, be conscious of this truth: you are not in competition with anyone but your best self. Every woman will chart her own course and reserves the right to make personal and professional choices based on the seasons of her life journey.