Earlier this month, on International Women’s Day, Sherisse Alexander, WATT’s Chief Business Officer, spoke to us for the first instalment of our ‘Meet the team’ series. We were excited to ask her about her role at WATT, how she got to where she is now, and why she loves what she does.
Sherisse, you’re Chief Business Officer at WATT. What does the day-to-day activity look like for you?
As CBO at WATT my day-to-day activity really varies. In a lot of ways I would consider myself to be the best supporting actress. I provide oversight and guidance to HR, admin, finance, marketing and most recently, IT. Given how quickly the company is growing and evolving, my activities are generally focused on ensuring that our people have the support, information and guidance that they need in order for us to meet the objectives that we set out for ourselves this year.
At the moment, the largest of those objectives is our current equity raise, ensuring that the work we are doing is being clearly communicated to industry partners and potential investors, and providing our current lending partners with the information that they need to continue to support our growth.
Now that we know a little more about your day job, we’d love to hear about the journey that brought you to WATT in the first place. What is your background and how has your journey helped shape the skills that you bring to the WATT team?
Since my departure from post-secondary my first love was finance. I LOVED the puzzle of how to make a deal work. For me it was a 1000-piece puzzle where you kind of had an idea of what it should look like and the ultimate objective was how to make the picture make sense when you were all done with it. My second love is people, and how to help them achieve their short, mid and long term goals. My initial foray into finance was first consumer then commercial, which eventually led me to the role I play at WATT.
I met our CEO and founder, Oluwole Eweje, when he was on a project in my city, and I was fascinated by the work and his passion for it. I had no idea that introduction would lead me to where I am today. Growing up in Canada, my experience with power was simply that I turned on the switch or plugged in a device and it worked. I had no clue what energy poverty was until I began my travel to Africa. I have been able to experience it to a degree first hand and it has brought me immeasurable gratitude not only for the experience that I grew up with, but also the experience of what it feels like to not have it. It is often difficult to appreciate what we have until we go without.
Taking a step back, what is the overall objective of your role at WATT and what do you enjoy most about it?
I would say the overall objective of my presence here is to bring balance and perspective. Nigeria is as challenging a market to operate in as any in the world, but where there is challenge there is also great opportunity for learning and growth. What I try to bring to the team is training, information, inspiration, guidance, and support. What I enjoy the most about the work that I do is the people I get to work with. From my colleagues to lenders, potential investors, existing clients and potential new clients. The interactions for each of these groups is different based on their objective, but nonetheless I find the varied interaction and the collaboration to be extremely gratifying.
What do you enjoy the most about working in the energy sector?
In Nigeria, things sometimes feel like a bit of a puzzle. A client may approach us with their need of what they want, which is at base, the power. The puzzle is, how do we deliver it? Can we deliver it? There are so many considerations in any deployment, cost, resources, both human and equipment, investor returns, the client; are they credit worthy or bankable; do our business ideologies align, etc. The initial contact with a new client or relationship is exciting for all these reasons. Watching it grow from that initial contact to a fully-fledged relationship is the exciting part. The cycle from start to finish is a lengthy one, given all of the moving parts. However, when we are able to move it along to the contract signing, it is extremely rewarding.
In your opinion, what are the most exciting opportunities coming up for the sector and where and how do you see WATT having the greatest impact?
What I am most excited about is the global focus. Not just at a government level but organizations and citizens alike that have really begun to own sustainable development and alternative energy options to address climate change. We reside in a global village and addressing climate change is one that clearly impacts us all and will require a global effort. Everyone has different motivations around the transition to renewable energy options. For some it is around stable power, for others its around addressing energy poverty.
Regardless of the reason, in my mind whilst we are motivated by different factors it’s the end result that I’m most interested in. With more and more companies bringing sustainable development into their corporate mandate, it increases what the addressable market is. The larger the demand, the more opportunity for funding partners that will inevitably be present to address the market requirement. Furthermore, more individual investors, not even just institutions or private equity firms, are taking a stronger stance in conscious investment. Wanting to know that their money is actually being invested in something that has impact and creates change. Not just for businesses, but right down to the individual. I am excited to be part of the change.
WATT is active across communities in Nigeria, what do you enjoy most about working with people in these social and business communities?
The opportunity to learn. I have had such a gift bestowed upon me to learn in the best way possible….by experience! I’ve learned so much about the African continent, the people, the culture, the mindset, the challenges they face; there is so much work to be done and we are just getting started. There is no shortage of ideas on how to work with people socially and from a business perspective in the communities, the only shortage at this point are time, people and capital.
Now, we know Sherisse a little bit better, here are some of the fun facts.
What did you want to be when you grew up? How is it different from what you do now?
Ha! Believe it or not, I wanted to be a doctor when I was a child. I’ve always had an intense desire to be in service to people. The roles that I have held throughout my working life that have brought me the most joy and gratitude have been around servitude to others. What I do now is clearly quite different from what I wanted to do as a child, but at its core and foundation, the strong intense desire to be of service is still there. What drives me most days is thinking ‘how can I be of service?’
What are your hobbies outside of work?
Outside of work, I enjoy focusing on my yoga practice. I am a certified yoga instructor and currently I’m working on trying to bring more mindfulness and health initiatives to the workplace. My personal practice has been an integral part of creating balance in my personal life and my professional life. It is my sincere hope that I can share the gift with those that are interested.