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Sarah Romain: Seychellois woman leading SEYPEC - "I am excited about the future"

Victoria, Seychelles | March 8, 2024, Friday @ 10:13 in Editorial » THE INTERVIEW | By: Sharon Ernesta | Views: 5301
Sarah Romain: Seychellois woman leading SEYPEC - "I am excited about the future"

Romain became the CEO of SEYPEC in February 2023 and is the first woman to take leadership of the company. (Seychelles Nation)

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(Seychelles News Agency) - March is dedicated to women: celebrating their achievements, highlighting their plight, sharing their success stories to inspire other women, and creating awareness on issues affecting women such as health, wellness, wellbeing, empowerment, and economic justice.

For this year's International Women's Day on March 6, SNA brings you the success story of Sarah Romain (née Afif). She is the daughter of exiled former Maldivian President Abdullah Afif Didi, who was brought with his family by a British warship to Seychelles in 1963. Romain was later born in her new homeland. The Afif family is well-known in Seychelles, especially the current Vice President Ahmed Afif.

Romain started her career in the health sector, however today she is the chief executive of Seychelles Petroleum Company (SEYPEC) – a state company whose mandate is to ensure the security of petroleum supply to meet Seychelles' energy needs.

Romain, who assumed office in 2023, is the first woman to take leadership of SEYPEC, which was incorporated in April 1985, following the closure of the then Shell Oil Company, with operations revolving around the supplying of fuel to the domestic market, bunkering of vessels, aviation refueling activities and the management of its shipping arm comprising of five tankers.

She joined SEYPEC in 2010, as assistant commercial manager and, over the next 12 years, held several leadership positions before assuming the role of CEO.

One year into her mandate at the head of a company that in 2022 recorded a turnover of US $480.3 million, with a net operating profit of $46.4 million, SNA caught up with Romain, who shared her life journey from her education, her professional development, her family and her work at the head of a male-dominated company.


SNA: Please tell us your life story.

SR: I was born on July 12, 1971, in Seychelles, and was brought up in a supportive family that emphasised the value of hard work and determination. My parents, originally from the Maldives, had relocated to Seychelles seven years before my birth. Growing up as the youngest of six siblings - four brothers and one sister - in Foret Noire in the central district of Mont Fleuri, on the main island of Mahe.

Driven by a passion for health, I ventured to the UK from 1992 to 1996 to pursue a degree in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Surrey, after which I joined the Ministry of Health. In 2003, I was honored with a Chevening Scholarship from the British Council, enabling me to pursue a master's degree in public health nutrition at the University of Southampton, UK. In 2010, I chose to further my education by obtaining a professional diploma in marketing from CIM [The Chartered Institute of Marketing] UK through online studies, which led me to a change of career path.

Throughout my career, I have supplemented my academic qualifications with various training programmes in business development, leadership, and financial management as I love to learn and expand my knowledge in various fields. Outside of my professional endeavours, I have been happily married to my husband, George, for 28 years and I am blessed with two children, Malika, aged 27, and Tariq, aged 22. I have been residing at Anse Etoile for the past 10 years.


SNA: How has your professional career developed?

SR: My professional career commenced in 1996, when I joined the Ministry of Health as a nutritionist after completing my bachelor's degree in nutrition and dietetics. Over the years, I progressed within the ministry, eventually assuming the role of head of the unit in 2001, where my responsibilities included overseeing various other family health programmes.

In 2009, seeking new challenges outside of the health sector, I pursued studies in marketing to enhance my skill set. I had an opportunity to work for a short while at the Seychelles Institute of Management, where I assumed a leadership role in their business development and marketing unit. In 2010, I transitioned to SEYPEC, initially joining as an assistant commercial manager. Through dedication and diligence, I ascended the ranks, being appointed commercial manager in 2015 and subsequently general manager for commercial in 2017, overseeing all product sales and the SEYPEC shipping fleet. I was successfully appointed CEO of SEYPEC on February 1, 2023, marking a significant milestone in my career.

Romain with the Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC) in the National Assembly. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY


SNA: Can you tell us about your journey with SEYPEC?

SR: My journey with SEYPEC has been both challenging and rewarding. Stepping into the petroleum industry, which is predominantly male-dominated, presented its own set of hurdles. Coming from a background in health, I initially encountered scepticism and resistance, needing to prove my capabilities repeatedly to earn respect in the industry.

Learning the ropes of a new industry was not easy, but I approached it with determination and resilience, as is my nature. Fortunately, SEYPEC is a very inclusive company, and it allowed me to undertake short courses in the petroleum sector, which allowed me to gain knowledge, better understand the industry, and integrate with the team. Not to mention that I had the support and good teamwork of those with experience and knowledge in the petroleum field.

Despite the initial scepticism of some, I persevered and embraced the challenges to learn and grow. It was a huge learning curve for me, which I enjoyed, and through hard work and dedication, I gradually earned the respect of my peers and colleagues. When I joined SEYPEC, I felt part of a large family and had the privilege of meeting and working with great people who are not just colleagues but are now valuable friends.

I firmly believe that our potential is not confined to our existing knowledge. Still, rather, we can continue to expand our horizons and strive to do better even in unfamiliar territories. My journey with SEYPEC has taught me invaluable lessons about perseverance, adaptability, and the limitless potential for personal and professional growth. It's a testament to the fact that with determination and a willingness to learn, we can defy expectations and reach greater heights than we ever imagined. One should not let oneself be restricted to specific areas of the field of work but rather be ready and willing to expand one's horizon and learn about other interesting avenues that can lead to new career paths.

Leading a male-dominated company at SEYPEC has been a surprisingly positive experience. While initially anticipating challenges, I've found that SEYPEC is a remarkable company with supportive staff and a unified team. I've been fortunate to work alongside colleagues who complement each other's strengths, which has helped create a collaborative environment. Overall, it's been a great experience, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to lead such a dynamic team.


SNAWhat were the constraints or challenges you faced?

SR: In every career, obstacles are inevitable; mine was no different. However, I've always viewed challenges as opportunities for personal and professional growth. My most significant challenge was transitioning into a new industry when I joined SEYPEC, particularly one dominated by men, all while balancing the responsibilities of a young family – at the time, my kids were 9 and 13. Prioritising learning was essential to ensure I could effectively integrate into SEYPEC and earn the respect of my colleagues. I was fortunate to join a company that placed a lot of value in staff development and was therefore able to overcome the hurdles. I also have a helpful husband, without whose support I would not have progressed in my career choices.


SNA: How long did it take for you to achieve this milestone as CEO?

SR: My initial plan wasn't to ascend to the CEO position after 13 years in SEYPEC. However, I embraced the opportunity when I was appointed acting CEO a year before my official appointment. Taking on the role on an interim basis allowed me to test my capabilities and leadership skills. I found fulfillment in leading the team and discovered that we had a cohesive management team that understood each other well.


SNA: What is or what will you say is your biggest accomplishment so far?

SR: My biggest accomplishment so far has been successfully transitioning from my background in health to the petroleum industry and ultimately reaching the position of CEO at SEYPEC. It's been a journey filled with challenges and learning opportunities, and I'm grateful for the experiences that have shaped me along the way. In addition to my professional achievements, I consider getting married and raising two wonderful children to be among my greatest accomplishments. Building a loving family and providing a nurturing environment for my children have been fulfilling and significantly contributed to my personal growth and happiness.


SNA: How do you see your future as a Seychellois woman leading a dynamic company such as SEYPEC?

SR: As a Seychellois woman leading SEYPEC, I am excited about the future and its opportunities. My focus is on driving positive change within the company, ensuring that we deliver on the company's mandate, and also being a source of inspiration for other women leaders. I believe in women's empowerment and want to do my part in supporting and uplifting others in their careers. Too often we hold ourselves back due to fear of failure or self-doubt, but we need to break free from those limitations and encourage others to do the same. I think empowering each other to overcome these barriers and reach our full potential is important. 

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Tags: International Women's Day, Seypec, Seychelles Petroleum Company

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