We are in the normal bumper to bumper traffic along the busy streets of Lagos. Ayo expertly steers our black KIA around the yellow painted vans crammed with passengers known as Danfo buses. He zips past some equally bright three-wheeled Tuk-Tuks and then outmaneuvers the myriad of mopeds and other assorted cars and SUVs which manage to spread out across every inch of asphalt – all at the same time.
We reach our destination and Ayo turns the KIA off of the clogged street, past a few bored security guards and onto an unpaved road devoid of traffic. Before us: a vast expanse of white sand stretches to the Atlantic coast.
This is not a public beach. It’s a working construction site for a daunting planned development known as Eko Atlantic. Dredgers are working around the clock to fill the area with sand and create a brand new island that – according to its website – will be home and workplace to more than 250,000 people.
The project began in earnest in 2005 and the managing director of South Energyx Nigeria Limited, the firm responsible for the project , predicts the “The first residential tower will open in 2016.”
Design renderings for the completed ten-square kilometer (3.86 sq mi) mixed use development showcase tony waterfronts, leisure facilities, retail shops, upscale offices and “tree-lined streets with efficient transport systems.”
Today in 2014, Ayo and I see signs of underground surface drainage pipes and the beginnings of roadway infrastructure.
We watch a few minutes while gigantic dump trucks move mountains of sand. Then Ayo slowly merges back into the busy streets. These are not lined with trees, but rather teeming with vehicles and people of all shapes and sizes.
I look out of the window as we leave Eko Atlantic. In spite of its present problems, Nigeria is clearly envisioning – and working toward – an improved tomorrow.
Today, after I finished swimming my laps in the hotel’s lovely pool here in Lagos, I relaxed by flipping through the pages of this month’s Harvard Business Review. (What’s your relaxation magazine of choice?)
I usually find all the articles so relevant, but one in particular leaped out of the pages to me.
The CEO of Zoetis (which is a recent spin-off of Pfizer, and now the world’s largest animal health company) gives a compelling first-person account of the two-year preparation and intensive training he undertook before he embarked on his top management role. He paid for a former CEO of a big European company to aggressively mentor him and he paid for two years of communications training.
TWO YEARS OF COMMUNICATIONS TRAINING? Wow. That is real dedication and commitment. I read further.
Juan Ramòn Alaix was already a successful general manager with Pfizer before being tapped to head the animal health business. But he was also self-aware enough to recognize that as CEO, he would have even greater responsibility to communicate strategy to the outside world, “including the media, analysts, and investors.”
The many places where strong communications make the difference
Alaix writes that he had to learn to be comfortable and engaging:
Giving TV interviews
Speaking with the print press
Delivering keynote addresses
Talking with small groups
Meeting one-on-one with key investors
Handling earnings calls
Responding to key stakeholders Q&A
Getting expert feedback is critical
The communications expert Alaix hired sat in on both smaller meetings and larger town hall meetings – and”provided a lot of feedback.” Feedback that Alaix was eager to accept and apply writing that he was “challenged to think differently.”
Don’t forget Non-Verbal
Alaix also applauded the work the trainer providing by focusing on non-verbal communications, speaking simply about complicated uses and paying attention to pacing while speaking. All critically important.
Dedicate time to properly prepare
Not only did Alaix spend two years of his life – on top of his regular Pfizer duties – preparing for his upcoming role as the Zoetis CEO, he also testifies to the amount of time he dedicates to prepare for any significant speaking opportunity:
“Before I did my first TV interview.. I spent more than eight hours doing mock interviews… by the time I gave the first road-show pitch to investors, I’d rehearsed it at least 40 times.”
Incredible. But not surprising. In today’s global marketplace, where almost anything you say can be instantly online and rewatched a thousand times, to NOT be able to communicate engagingly and effectively is a true liability.
This CEO’s embrace of improving communications makes for a terrific lesson. No matter where you are in your career, a commitment to improving and polishing your communication skills is key to you and your organization’s continued success.
On Saturday, when I met a group of impressive ladies from Nigeria’s WISCAR organization (Women In Successful Careers), I spoke that it is never too soon – or too late – to refine these skills.
So, what are you waiting for? There is no time to lose.
I am in Lagos, Nigeria with my local partners Amplio Consulting and SwiftThink Limited for the next three weeks – conducting a series of communications training sessions for leading businesses and other organizations. It is not too late to meet me for a consultation. Please reach out!
I am visiting Lagos for the first time. Working with my local strategic partners, Amplio Consulting and SwiftThink Limited, I’ll be conducting a series of strategic communications training sessions and workshops between now and July 18. We kick-off activities tomorrow with the Find Your Edge Summit here at the Wheatbaker.
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday between 9AM-5PM participants will have an opportunity to practice real hands-on techniques and develop new skills from me, veteran CNN correspondent and international communications consultant, and my new friend and colleague Richie Dayo Johnson, a local and proven leader in communications training, etiquette and business savvy. The Summit is open to the general public and registration is ongoing. Click here to learn more!
This morning, I spoke on Radio Continental to explain why communication counts – especially in the digital age where you can be instantly judged by a global standard. And later, I met the talented hosts of “Your View,” on TVC to share some secrets of better communications to get results. At every place, the people have been warm-hearted and congenial. These first three days have been very rewarding.
Yes, it’s true we have driven through scenes of poverty. And yes, it’s true I have a machine-gun toting federal police officer riding at all times in the front seat of my car to stem off unwarranted stops.
But one by one, individual by individual, I am meeting an incredible number of accomplished people. Nigerians who are proud of their country and are committed to making it a better place.
For the last five days, since we first landed in Cork, Ireland, from our former adopted home-town of Arezzo, Italy – we have been greeted by helpful, warm and chatty people. It was much the same way with the terrific people in Tuscany, but the language hurdles naturally made our adjustment into that region more complicated.
Here, if I soften my “a” when I ask for “to-mah-toes” or bring the American silent “h” to life in “herbs,” I’m pretty much all set. Oh, and they take out the “h” all together and say “tank-you” instead of “thank you.” “Tank you very much.” But, really, it is almost strange to be hearing English everywhere again. I miss Italian with its bright “Buongiorno’s” and “Ciao’s.”
Last night, Lulu turned to me and agreed. “I miss speaking Italian,” she said.
“Well, you can speak to me if you’d like,” I responded in what I thought was a helpful way.
“I miss speaking to my friends who can speak back to me properly,” she countered.
Of course Lulu, after three years in Italian schools, has a point. She and all of her friends spoke Italian every single day fluently. Not the stammering version I utter. It must be hardest on her.
That said, we enjoyed our week here in Ireland. It was surprisingly quite sunny as we toured Scotty’s new university, Lulu’s new elementary school, and strolled along the Lee River that splits in two and runs through Cork.
Cork’s residents are charming and rightfully proud of their heritage. Lulu and I were even given a tour of the city by our new friend Fionnuala Mac Curtain. Her grandfather, Tomás MacCurtain, was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1920, who was horribly killed by the British Army in front of his pregnant wife and their young son who later grew to become Fionnuala’s father. She gave me a copy of the book she wrote about her grandfather. I am honored to receive it and plan to read it on the plane tomorrow to Nigeria.
Yes, Nigeria. I am flying to Lagos tomorrow to conduct a series of communications sessions and seminars for the next six weeks (For more information, check out the Find Your Edge website!).
Many friends have urged me to keep safe as I travel to Africa. I certainly hope to! I’ll be staying at the best hotel in Nigeria: The Wheatbaker (thanks Find Your Edge team!); All vaccinations are in order (thanks Scotty Walsh); and I am registered with the State Department (thanks US Embassy in Nigeria). I hope it will be a valuable experience for the participants, the team and myself!
I said goodbye to Lulu and Scotty earlier today as they flew back to the US to be with his family in Washington State. It will be the longest time I have been away from our daughter since she was born.
As we trekked to our hotel near the airport yesterday, Lulu stopped to pick a few little flowers growing along the sidewalk.
“These are for you so you won’t forget me while we’re apart.”
I won’t forget you my angel. I also won’t forget all the incredible people we met in Italy – and are now meeting here in Ireland. I look forward to the people I will have the privilege of meeting in Nigeria, too.
Around every bend, and in spite of the differences, the world is filled with promise and adventure.
It doesn’t seem like nearly three years ago, when I, my husband Scotty Walsh, and our then-three-year old daughter, Lulu,stepped off the train for the first time in Arezzo. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday – when I discover something new in Centro Storico I never noticed before. And sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago – as so many places have become more than familiar and so many warm-hearted Aretini have become dear friends.
Piazza Grande, for example, is not only where we have watched the Giostra del Saracino four times sitting in the stands – once as guests of Mayor Giuseppe Fanfani himself. It is also where Lulu plays, where we sip coffee, enjoy aperitivi, where we climb up to the top of the Fraternita dei Laici bell-tower to enjoy the view, and it is what we admire every day as I walk Lulu from our house on Via Fra Le Torri to her elementary school, Aliotti.
Piazza San Francesco is not only famous for the fresco series, The Legend of the True Cross, it is also a vibrant center of night-life as friends spill out from haunts like Caffè dei Costanti – where the proprietors were kind enough to let me rent a table for free where I wrote my book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me, about the adventures Lulu and I have had here in Tuscany. They also graciously provided the room for my book-launch party last year.
Piazza San’Agostino is not only where InformaGiovani helps us find fun things to do over the weekend. It is also now where we meet friends and where, like last year, Lulu is a regular patron of the carousel above the fountain.
We have had dinner at the Mayor’s house, aka, “Zio Beppe” as Lulu calls him. (Honestly, he made the best fritelli de fiore zucchini I have ever tasted.)
I have toured the house of Giorgio Vasari with Aretino journalist, photographer, historian and friend, Gianni Brunacci ,as my very informative guide. Lulu and I were asked to model in last year’s La Notte Rosa by our lovely estetician Simona Giusti, from Estetica Simona. Lulu only has to pop in and say, “Ciao” to Alfredo at Macelleria Gastronomia Bassi Alfredo and she is handed a delicious slice of mortadella.
Massimo over at Bar Stefano gave me eight extra little chocolate eggs to put in her Easter basket. Elena, Nicola and Michele at the personal training gym Moving, have worked hard to help me keep off the kilos I should be putting on because of all the great Tuscan food I keep eating.
We have eaten everything at practically every restaurant in town; there are too many memories to list here. But I can tell you that Mario di Filippo, from one of our favorite places, Buca di San Francesco, has become much more than a friend. He is now Lulu’s official Nonno Italiano.
By the way, for those of you restaurateurs with signs in English declaring, “Typical Tuscan food” – change that to “Authentic Tuscan food.” I promise it is the translation you’re going for.
I can thank Paola di Juliis for helping us find each of the three beautiful apartments we have lived in. She also coordinated my book launch to great success. I also want to thank Francesca Cappelletti for introducing me to Arezzo’s Tourism Department. It was through her that I volunteered to rewrite the English versions of the Giostra brochure and the Benvenuti ad Arezzo website.
I am proud to say they both read so much better than they had before. I only wish I had been asked to do more. I cringe every time I read the new signs around Centro Storico describing the various palazzi and places of interest. They should have at least been better translated and they could have been so much more interesting and compelling. A missed opportunity. I also wrote what I believe is the only article published in an American magazine about last year’s Icastica contemporary art installation. I wish I could have done more.
But, heck, we’re not moving back to the United States. We’re only moving “down the street” to Ireland. Not so far away at all. If anyone would like me to help out with some marketing copy or a communications outreach strategy, I will still be close by.
I only recently discovered that the break-down of the word “Arrivederci” means to “re-see one another.” I had mistakenly thought it was simply the same as the English word, “Goodbye.” But, in what I believe is the more friendly Italian way, the word implies a desire to see each other again. And that is truly my hope. This summer, Ryan Air begins direct flights between Cork and Arezzo, so I plan to “re-see” you all again soon.
Thank you, Arezzo. You have made my life, and the lives of my husband and our daughter, so much richer.
When you first walk into a crowded coffee shop, or “bar” as they are referred to here in Italy – you are likely to be overwhelmed. They’re often packed with people crowding around the “bar” – hence the name, ma certo – loudly calling out for their pastry or espresso “caffe normale.” Many of these hang-outs are so small and busy – you may be tempted to turn and leave before bellying up to the bar to select an item for yourself from behind the glass.
That’s how it first seemed for me at Arezzo’s Bar il Duomo. As its name implies, the bar is located just steps away from Arezzo’s cathedral, or duomo, along Via Ricasoli. It is a very popular place – especially in the mornings when locals jam in to slam a coffee and a pastry, or pasta, which makes for the standard breakfast, or colazione, for most Italians.
But the 500-year-old building Bar il Duomo is nestled in is so charming with its high arches and stone cornices, that Lulu and I braved the crowds and fell in love. Not only with the pastries – (and for Lulu, the ice cream) but also because Bar il Duomo doesn’t only open its imposing wooden doors each morning, the Rossi family that runs it: (Giancarlo, wife Lucia and their grown-son Andrea -along with his girlfriend Franci) – also open their hearts.
While we lived next door to the bar, at Via Ricasoli 2, we were more than neighbors, we became like family. Lulu and I popped in practically every morning before school for a small pastry (order a little sacchetino and you won’t be disappointed). And after school for an ice cream. They kindly lent Scotty a gigantic wrench when the ancient radiators at our palazzo were leaking last winter.
And I couldn’t let Christmas-time go by without snapping a photo of their awesome Nativity-Scene-in-a-Wine-Cask that Lucia proudly displayed on the bar. Baby Gesu in a wine bottle. Now, that’s Italian!
Their tremendous kindness, the great coffee and snacks, plus the extra bonus of a splendid open-air courtyard in the back, made for another home-away-from-home for us during out stay here in Arezzo.
As I type this, I have just dropped Lulu off at her last day of school at Aliotti. We stopped in (as usual) for a “treccia di cioccolato” – Lulu’s favorite- and Arezzo’s mayor, Giuseppe Fanfani, who was in the bar at the time, hugged Lulu and wouldn’t let me pay for the treat. Now I am back in the back on my computer – looking out at the bright red geraniums that Lucia lovingly cared for all winter and are now filling the courtyard with happy color.
I am filled with happiness too, as I look back on the many Aretini who welcomed us into our lives during our three years in Arezzo. To them, like the family at Bar il Duomo, thank you for making us feel like family.
This weekend marked another of Arezzo’s awesome attractions: the monthly Fiera Antiquaria. It is Italy’s oldest and largest antiques fair with the entire center of town – like here in Piazza Grande – transformed into a gigantic open air market.
Merchants sell everything from vintage jewelry, books, paintings, furniture and linens.
We have never bought anything of substance really. A Pinocchio wood-block print here, an antique toy there, a vintage deck of playing cards for Scotty. The giant armoires, tables and bronze statues will have to wait.
Although yesterday, Lulu really thought she needed a spare part for a chandelier. You never know.
So, while we leave for Ireland just six short days from today, perhaps this fall, we will come back to Arezzo during the first weekend of the month. And pick up something old for our new place.
Maybe an antique mirror. To reflect our new adventures.
Because, in life, as with chandelier bobbles, you just never know.