Compliance Maze Mastermind: Rockstar Uche Osakwe Leads Way in Responsible Energy

When we asked Uche our customary question – describe yourself in one word – she immediately shot out ‘perfection.’ This type of self-assured directness is not easy to pull off without coming across as off-putting, but Uche wears it like a second skin. Genuine charm of this kind is rare and cannot be fabricated: It’s how she rocks compliance with a smile and a contagious ‘can-do’ spirit. It’s how she makes talking about resolute dedication to ethical practices and compliance within the energy sector sound cool. It’s in her attitude and how you are instinctively driven to get her to be interested in you.

To be a leader in a highly demanding role in a core industry facing various pressures to transform rapidly in order to address the urgency of the climate crisis takes serious chops. Recognized as one of the “Top 10 Most Influential People in Risk and Compliance to Follow in 2024,” Uche has proven she has what it takes to navigate this ever-changing environment. Her charisma and vibrant spirit bring about a much needed freshness to inspire her peers to approach the evolving world of regulations with integrity and accountability.

Uche’s ambitions burn bright! Her personal goals blaze a trail of continuous professional and financial growth. What is her ultimate dream? To see her expertise etched amongst the industry’s elite, gracing the hallowed pages of Forbes magazine. This isn’t just about personal recognition; it’s about igniting a spark in others, urging them to chase their ambitious dreams.

The Multifaceted Role of the CCO

As Chief Compliance Officer of an independent energy group at a pivotal moment in the energy transition, Uche plays a versatile and critical role in upholding the organization’s ethical standards, legal adherence, and risk management. This multifaceted role encompasses developing and implementing compliance programs to ensure legal and ethical conduct, establishing internal controls, and monitoring their adherence across various business functions. She also actively drafts and revises policies to align with the rapidly evolving legal requirements. Proactively auditing processes and risk assessments are key aspects of her work, helping mitigate compliance gaps.

When issues arise, she coordinates investigations and collaborates with internal departments to resolve them effectively. Uche provides strategic guidance to the board on compliance matters, supporting business growth while ensuring alignment with relevant regulations. Additionally, Uche spearheads corporate governance, offering support to ESG initiatives and producing annual reports for the board. This dynamic role demands adaptability to changing protocols and guidelines, industry trends, and evolving organizational needs.

Viaro Energy: A Rising Star in North Sea Exploration

Viaro Energy has become a prominent player in North Sea oil and gas exploration and production. It is focused on opportunities in the UK and Europe, particularly within the natural gas sector. With ambitious goals for medium-term growth, the company aims to reach 100,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOEPD) through strategic acquisitions and investments.

Keeping sustainability at the core, Viaro is committed to responsible operations and a sustainable future. The company actively supports the Net-Zero by 2050 initiative and adheres to various environmental, social, and governance (ESG) frameworks, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the NSTA’s principles. Safety remains Viaro’s top priority, with all operations conducted following rigorous ESG standards. These standards are further bolstered by Viaro Energy’s comprehensive sustainability-focused business strategies and internal policies.

Success: Beyond the Glitz and Glamour

While the dictionary might define success as wealth or fame, Uche begs to differ. For her, it represents a multifaceted journey interwoven with personal accomplishment, growth, stability, and a positive impact on others.

Uche sees personal accomplishments as badges of honor we earn throughout our journeys.  They could be career milestones, educational summits, personal bests, or even building a strong support system. Big or small, every achievement counts in Uche’s view, and they are very much defined by each individual’s inherent value system.

For Uche, success is not a destination but rather continuous evolution. She sees growth as a lifelong journey towards constantly expanding our horizons. On a personal level, this can include exploring new interests or nurturing relationships. Professionally, it is about acquiring new skills and knowledge, and generally staying ahead of the curve.

Aligned with Robert Ingersoll’s belief that “We rise by lifting others,” Uche recognizes the enriching power of making a positive impact above all. It’s not just about uplifting others but also about the personal growth and satisfaction that comes from contributing to something larger than oneself. One can make a positive impact, adding an invaluable dimension to their success story, whether by mentoring colleagues, volunteering in the community, or simply inspiring those around them.

Shaped by Challenges, Driven to Grow

Uche observes, “We are remarkably shaped by challenges; they function as molds.” They forge character, build resilience, and ignite personal growth. She’s seen them unlock inner strengths, fostering creativity, adaptation, and problem-solving – each hurdle a launchpad for personal and professional advancement. One such forge was the volatile market during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uche recalls the uncertainty at the onset of the pandemic as a time of unparalleled instability, when significant margin calls and below-zero futures led to clients and her team alike being consumed by panic. This predicament taught a valuable lesson for Uche, highlighting the importance of composure and thoughtful decision-making over knee-jerk reactions, which allowed her to successfully help her clients navigate the crisis.

When asked if she herself relied on anyone to guide her through this challenge, she is unmistakably herself in her response. “No one can calm me down unless I decide to do it.” Uche explains that unless internalized, even the best advice in the world is of little use. She does concede that steadfast leadership and a strong support system within the team are invaluable.

According to Uche, this is what initially drew her to Viaro: While oil prices were plummeting and among those facing below-zero futures, Viaro chief executive Francesco Mazzagatti was doing a public takeover of RockRose Energy, the company’s main operating subsidiary, for an incredible $308 million. Uche recalls Francesco being adamant that oil prices will increase exponentially once the market stabilizies despite downright catastrophic prognoses to the contrary at the time.

Eventually, Francesco was proven right and today Viaro Energy is one of the largest investors in the North Sea. Uche remarks that Viaro continues to excel in the market against the odds, as the uncertainties around us have not decreased in the meantime. The patience and long-term vision of Viaro’s chief executive resonate with Uche, as she believes that this kind of leadership breeds a high-performing team focused on optimizing knowledge and experience to be more responsive to opportunities and risks – one she is proud to be a part of.

Cultivating a Culture of Integrity and Innovation at Viaro Energy

Viaro Energy prioritizes fostering a culture of integrity and innovation. And Uche regards it as the cornerstone of her team’s success. This achievement stems from a multi-pronged approach. Firstly, they prioritize the team’s well-being, ensuring everyone feels valued and supported. Secondly, clear communication of the team’s purpose and goals inspires commitment and alignment.

Foundational principles guide decision-making and conduct, ensuring transparency and ethical behavior. Team members actively participate in shaping the culture through annual retreats, and a collaboratively crafted culture statement and core values further solidify these principles. Open and honest discussions, facilitated by a robust whistleblowing platform, nurture trust and transparency.

“At Viaro, we actively cultivate personal and professional growth through skill enhancement opportunities,” emphasizes the CCO, “fostering an environment that attracts inventive minds.” Finally, the company promotes flexibility through work schedules and summer arrangements, empowering employees to manage their time effectively and nurturing both innovation and integrity.

Journey into Compliance: A Spark Ignited by Banking and Fueled by Aspiration

With a banking and finance degree in hand, Uche began her career in the banking sector through an entry-level customer service role. She climbed the ladder, from handling accounts to managing relationships, all while soaking up the intricacies of the banking world. She kept learning, adding an MBA, investment certifications, and even Harvard Business School programs to her toolkit.

But Uche’s ambitions went beyond managing portfolios. She found herself drawn to compliance, where ethics, rules, and risk all come together. Her sharp eye for detail, data skills, and ability to connect with people made her a natural fit. Instead of seeing compliance as a maze, she saw it as a puzzle – figuring out the rules and ensuring everyone plays by them.

Switching to compliance wasn’t a step back but a side-step filled with growth. Whether preventing issues or shaping policies, Uche finds purpose and satisfaction in being a part of this dynamic field, upholding integrity within the organizational framework.

The Best Recognition as a Leader

Uche notes, “One of the most significant recognitions I’ve received as a leader was the Individual Sapphire Award.” She shares her excitement about receiving the bank’s most prestigious award, an honor reserved for only the top 1%. This coveted recognition signifies exceptional dedication, outstanding contributions, and a demonstrably impactful performance. It’s a symbol of excellence, highly valued by every bank member.

The award ceremony itself is a distinguished affair, and the recipient is further celebrated with a stunning real sapphire gemstone, an exclusive meeting with the CEO, and a generous voucher gift. Witnessing this recognition is a powerful motivator for the entire staff, making it a highly sought-after achievement for them.

Strategies to Maintain Compliance in a Rapidly Evolving Regulatory Landscape

Viaro Energy’s CCO emphasizes the need for strategic thinking, agility, and foresight to navigate the ever-evolving regulatory compliance landscape. The frameworks they implement include:

Resilience in Compliance Strategy: It involves establishing robust policies and procedures encompassing people, systems, triggers, and metrics. This foundation enables Viaro Energy’s team to adapt and recover quickly from unforeseen challenges or compliance setbacks.

Risk-Based Approach:  Viaro employs a risk-based approach, meticulously assessing the likelihood and impact of potential risks. It allows them to allocate resources effectively and continuously evaluate compliance initiatives to adapt to the evolving risk landscape.

Collaboration: Viaro Energy’s team promotes teamwork across departments like operations, IT, and legal, internally and externally, ensuring a holistic compliance strategy.

Training and Awareness: Staff are educated on new regulations and compliance protocols through regular training sessions, fostering a culture of accountability and compliance knowledge to enhance adherence to regulatory standards.

Planning for Scenarios: They plan for regulatory changes by developing comprehensive scenarios and action plans, maintaining flexibility to pivot when needed, and ensuring readiness to tackle any new regulatory challenges effectively.

Uche’s Take on Global Compliance Challenges

In Uche’s view, the global business terrain presents a complex web of compliance hurdles. Navigating the diverse regulatory frameworks across various jurisdictions is a constant challenge. Combating corruption and upholding ethical standards require unwavering vigilance. Uche regards ensuring data privacy as paramount in a world increasingly reliant on digital interactions.

Managing complex supply chains ethically and transparently presents its own set of challenges. She underlines that adhering to sanctions and export controls adds another layer of complexity, while cultural differences necessitate a nuanced approach to compliance implementation.

Mitigating ever-evolving cybersecurity threats and staying abreast of shifting legislation and emerging risks further complicate the compliance landscape. This experienced executive emphasizes the need for a comprehensive and adaptable approach to navigate these pressing challenges and ensure responsible and sustainable global operations.

The Formula for Shaping Future Leaders 

Forget charisma and power suits! Uche has a unique formula for influencing the next generation of leaders. This veteran believes it’s a potent mix of intentional mentoring, genuine leadership, and cultivating a growth mindset.

In her perspective, effective mentors become guiding lights, offering advice, sharing experiences, and leading by example. But leadership goes beyond just the title; Uche underscores authenticity, transparency, and integrity, building trust and inspiring teams through genuine actions.

The final component? Cultivating a growth mindset! This senior professional believes leaders can empower the next generation to become unstoppable forces for positive change by encouraging constant learning and experimentation, and by fostering resilience.

A Typical Work Day in the Life of a Chief Compliance Officer

The alarm pierces the pre-dawn silence, a jarring reminder that the dynamic world of compliance never truly sleeps. Uche, CCO, is already alert, the weight of responsibility a familiar companion. Today, like every day, she stands as the guardian, the unwavering sentinel protecting the organization’s integrity in a world fraught with ethical complexities and regulatory labyrinths. Her day unfolds not in the sterile confines of an office but on the ever-shifting territory of compliance, where vigilance is the only currency and missteps can have far-reaching consequences.

Mornings begin with reviewing overnight alerts and strategizing with her team. Throughout the day, she tackles a multifaceted role: staying abreast of regulatory updates, reviewing and refining policies, collaborating with internal teams to assess risks, and keeping the board informed. Promoting a culture of compliance is key, so she oversees training programs and swiftly addresses any incidents. Collaborating with external stakeholders and ensuring vendor due diligence are crucial aspects of her role. As the day winds down, Uche reflects, readies for the next challenge, and ensures the organization remains firmly anchored in a sea of protean protocols.

Work-Life Harmony

Uche juggles motherhood, career, and personal life like a pro. Striking a balance is climactic; she achieves it through prioritization, delegation, and clear boundaries. Self-care, open communication, and a flexible approach are her secret weapons. Quality over quantity is her mantra, focusing on meaningful moments and experiences rather than just ticking boxes. Being fully present during family time is her recipe for building strong bonds. This combination allows Uche to thrive in all her roles while taking care of herself.

Message to Aspiring Leaders in This Field

This doyen extends her wisdom to aspiring leaders, urging them to nurture a growth mindset and embrace lifelong learning. In a world of constant change, staying adaptable and continuously seeking knowledge is paramount. She emphasizes the importance of leading with integrity, setting a strong moral compass that inspires trust and fosters a positive work environment.

Furthermore, Uche stresses the significance of proactive thinking and strategic planning, nudging leaders to anticipate challenges and chart a clear course for success. Building great connections and practicing collaboration are also essential aspects of her leadership philosophy, as teamwork and effective communication are vital for navigating complex situations. Uche highlights the importance of demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. Finally, this seasoned executive underscores the power of leading by example.

Vision for Viaro Energy

The CCO at Viaro Energy envisions a future for the company defined by responsible energy investment, environmental sustainability, and ethical practices. This vision is multifaceted, containing various key areas.

Firstly, Viaro Energy strives for sustainable growth, aiming to lead North Sea exploration and production while balancing profitability with environmental stewardship. This commitment is further solidified by their adherence to the Net-Zero by 2050 initiative, actively working to minimize their carbon footprint.

Internally, Uche underlines the importance of a robust compliance framework, achieved through continuous monitoring, risk assessments, and comprehensive employee training. Fostering an ethical culture, where integrity and responsibility guide every decision, is non-negotiable.

Transparency and reporting are crucial for building trust and accountability. Viaro Energy communicates openly with regulators, stakeholders, and the public through accurate reporting. Furthermore, collaboration and partnerships are seen as key drivers of positive change. The company facilitates collective progress by strengthening relationships with industry peers, regulatory bodies, and NGOs.

Uche acknowledges the requirement for resilience and adaptability in an evolving energy landscape. ESG integration is woven into Viaro Energy’s compliance programs, reflecting their commitment to environmental, social, and governance factors.

Driven by a vision for responsible energy investments, Viaro Energy strives to leave a lasting legacy that benefits both the environment and the communities it serves. As a company leader, Uche eloquently states, “Our vision for Viaro Energy entails ethical leadership, sustainability, and compliance excellence in a dynamic industry landscape.”