25 Under 40 Energy Women Rising Stars: Ibilola Akinnola

As Africa’s energy sector expands, innovative approaches to exploring, developing and distributing energy are required. Featured on Africa’s 25 Under 40 Energy Women Rising Stars list is Ibilola Akinnola, who currently serves as an LNG Shipbroker at Maersk. Akinnola spoke with the African Energy Chamber about the industry, some of the challenges she faced and what message she has for young females aspiring to excel in the energy sector.

Please share a brief overview of your journey in the energy industry that led to your current role? What are some key achievements or milestones that you are particularly proud of?

My journey in the energy sector started as a young lawyer in Lagos, Nigeria. After finishing my undergraduate degree in the UK and returning to Nigeria for law school, my interest in corporate law shifted to oil and gas law. As Nigeria remains predominantly an exporting country, oil and gas law ultimately led me to shipping law. My interest in the energy industry was sparked by my work at ACAS-Law (now Dentons ACAS-Law) as an oil and gas solicitor and shipping barrister. Due to the global nature of the shipping business, my experience as both a maritime barrister and oil and gas solicitor involved working on transactions for notable entities such as APM Terminals and NNPC on matters ranging from an arrest of a vessel in Nigerian waters to oil field acquisitions in the Niger Delta region for regional companies such as Seplat Nigeria.

Subsequently, I decide to return to the United Kingdom to further my understanding of the industry, by embarking on a master’s degree in International Shipping Law with a focus on trade disparities in the application of international shipping conventions in developing countries vs developed countries and the goal of specializing in shipping as a commodity. My master’s degree highlighted the need for energy development in developing nations, particularly in African countries. I completed my master’s degree in 2020 and began working as an energy trainee for Energias de Portugal (EDP), a Lisbon-based Portuguese energy company, further expanding my network into European energy. This elevated me into price reporting at S&P Global, where I emerged as the sole market specialist for LNG freight markets in the Atlantic basin. It was here I saw the consolidation of all my contacts in Africa, Europe, and other locations as I analyzed and priced LNG shipping deals done west of the Suez Canal, covering Europe, Africa, and the Americas. This journey paved the way for my current role as an LNG Shipbroker at Maersk Broker.

Over the course of my career, which has covered three major continents, I have achieved a multitude of outstanding feats and pivotal milestones, these achievements include, but are not limited to:

  • Dentons Acas-Law legal team due diligence the oil field acquisition of OPL 276, situated in the eastern Niger Delta region.
  • Pioneering the conceptualization and launch of two first-to-market price assessments during my tenure at S&P Global. The first price assessment for two-stroke ships in the spot market to be assessed and published.
  • Elevated the role of LNG freight market specialist at S&P Global by amplifying visibility and fostering critical engagement on trade flow shifts. Notably, I was invited to present at the 44th Annual Caribbean Energy Conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, January 2023.  Engaging with regional stakeholders to analyse the effect of freight markets and trade dynamics within the Caribbean context.
  • Driving over 30% increase in engagement with African stakeholders in the LNG industry at Maersk Broker, looking to both small-scale LNG and larger scale shipping to ease entry into the global LNG shipping market of African entities.

The energy industry is known for its complexities. What were some significant challenges you faced along the way, and how did you navigate through them to achieve your goals?

Navigating my journey, I encountered pivotal challenges that underscored the importance of access and opportunity. Foremost among these challenges was the perpetual struggle of gaining entry. Whether grappling with visa complexities as an international student seeking work in the UK during the pandemic’s peak or contending with visa delays inherent to my Nigerian passport, my pursuit as an African in a global industry was marked by shut doors. A notable instance materialized in October 2020 when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic not only shuttered international borders but also stagnated economies and hiring processes. This compelled me to depart from my role at EDP, returning to Nigeria and effectively commencing from square one at a juncture when I anticipated my career to flourish.

At the core of my approach lies the fundamental tenet, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Confronting such challenges has honed my capacity to pivot and adapt. During the subsequent four months spent in my parents’ Nigeria home, I dedicated myself to applying for international opportunities in shipping and energy that transcended geographical confines and offered visa sponsorships. I harnessed the power of LinkedIn to cultivate my online network, compensating for my inability to be physically present in London or Lisbon for industry engagement. It was during this phase that and soon thereafter the opportunity at S&P Global came and I was back on a flight to London in February 2021.

Through persistence, adaptability, and a tenacious spirit, I’ve embraced the philosophy that challenges are not barriers but rather pathways to novel opportunities. My journey has reiterated the significance of resourcefulness in carving one’s way forward and leveraging my unique blend of cultures from working and living in different environments as a strength.

What advice would you give to young females aspiring to excel in the energy sector? Are there any specific strategies or mindsets that helped you overcome obstacles and reach your current position?

For young women with aspirations to excel in the dynamic energy sector, I offer the following guidance: embrace the courage to stand out, for it is often in those moments of distinctiveness that we carve our path to success. Allow your curiosity to guide you across diverse industries, as every experience will contribute to your growth and versatility. Don’t be hesitant to welcome new challenges, for it is within these uncharted territories that your greatest innovation and capabilities can flourish. In a traditionally male-dominated field, it’s essential to recognize the power of your uniqueness. Your different perspective, insights, and approaches can yield solutions that may not have been considered before. The energy sector is continuously evolving, demanding fresh perspectives to address complex challenges and drive innovation. By daring to stand out, you not only bring your own voice to the table but also contribute to the transformation of an industry that would only ever thrive on diversity of thought.

A career in energy can be demanding. Could you describe a typical day in your life?

In my role as a shipbroker, my days are a blend of diverse activities. I kickstart with emails, follow up on any ongoing discussions or shipping requirements from the days before and stay updated on the latest market developments. Engaging with clients in chartering discussions and opportunities, ensuring all viable opportunities are maximized. I delve into market research to provide accurate insights while continuously seeking networking opportunities enhances my industry connections.

Guiding clients through decisions and creatively solving problems are fundamental components to the role. As the day winds down, I ensure updates are shared with clients and colleagues alike. It’s a fast-paced, rewarding role that relies on effective communication, thorough research, and adaptability to navigate the dynamic world of LNG shipping.

Looking ahead, what changes or advancements do you hope to see in the energy sector, and how do you envision your role in shaping that future?

Looking ahead, I envision a shift towards sustainable energy sources, driven by renewable technologies and innovative solutions to foster a greener future. In this landscape, I hope to bring a diverse perspective whereby I can merge my cultural insights with global industry trends and foster truly global trade in energy markets- particularly with the goal of maximizing Africa’s full energy potential.

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