The first day of work can be daunting for anyone. Especially if you are a fresh behind the ears undergrad looking for a bit of work experience before you even graduate and your boss is one who believes in giving the help a hard time. For many the experience could be scarring. Some would even quit. But not if you are Mabel Nana Nyarkoa Porbley. For her, nothing could have been more motivating than that very first day at the “Banful Institute of Management Studies (BIMS)” – the irreverent but affectionate description given to working at Ghana Social Marketing Foundation under said boss.
Then a third year student at the University of Cape Coast, Mabel resolved to prove her boss and anyone with the limited insight to doubt her that she could be the best and expunge the word impossible from her dictionary.
Today, from her corner office at the Ridge Towers, running the leading private insurer in the country, Momentum Health, local subsidiaries of South African behemoth Momentum Africa, not even the slightest doubt can be entertained that the Wesley Girls old girl has learnt her lessons well, applied herself and is now very near the top of her game, if not already there.
Not that you would get that from here. Mabel is a driven performer who you suspect will never be satisfied where others would be popping the champagne in celebration.
Take her rise through the GSMF.
After that first internship, she impressed enough to be offered a job as Personal Assistant to the Chief Executive even before she wrote her last university exam. For many, getting a job in Ghana’s notoriously unkind employment market is the height of achievement. Not Mabel. Dissatisfied with what she felt was an underutilisation of her provable talents, she approached her boss and asked for more responsibility. Increased duties running the adolescent campaign was the result and soon she would be running the H.I.V campaign.
What followed was a prodigious rise that would see her as deputy chief in charge of programmes, sales and marketing within a decade after 1998, when she first took her seat as the boss’ assistant.
Success begets success and upon prompting from her husband, she applied to be chief executive officer of the then new entrants, Momentum health, who wisely took her on.
Nearly three years since, she has repaid the confidence of her employers with stunning results. From 450 policy holders when she took over, Momentum now has some 20,000!
How has she done this?
Customer service and satisfaction, she says without a moment’s hesitation. “I believe everything we do is about the individual. Our primary target is the happiness of the customer.”
The merits of this approach are evident in not only the exponential rise in policy holders but also the fact that they are now approached by prospective clients upon referrals by existing customers.
As a manager, Mabel is not your stereotypical boss. On first name terms with her staff, she insists that she allows them to play as hard as she expects them to work. She balances her perfectionist instincts – a description she rejects – with a relaxed approach that while not micro-managing keeps a close eye to ensure that results are delivered. She maintains an open and approachable arrangement that allows staff to come to her when there are difficulties at which point she’ll be glad to offer assistance.
At 37, Ghana Institute of Management and Professional Administration Executive Masters’ holder is undoubtedly one of Ghana’s youngest CEOs. Speaking to her, you catch glimpses of the tough personality, boldness and affable personality that must surely have contributed to her meteoric rise. But to her, it has been her inexorable quest for excellence and unwillingness to be stopped by challenges that has brought her this far. “Anything is possible”, she repeats more than once. “Challenges shouldn’t stop you” seems to be another of her guiding aphorisms.
She shares an interesting analogy: when you are going home and you come across a road block, you don’t just stay there; you find another way to get home because you must. That is how I see challenges.
Challenges of course, abound in her chosen industry.
A relatively new industry in the Ghanaian market, private health insurance has to contend with not only the National Health Insurance but also an environment in which regulations are barely enforced. To get around this road block, Mabel, who is also vice president of the Ghana-South Africa Business Chamber is trying to rally around into a strong grouping that will give them a single and difficult to ignore voice.
The good news though is that despite the industry’s infancy, the prospects are good. Companies are now warming to the idea of providing insurance for their workers and it is now not uncommon for them to approach insurance companies asking them to bid for the contract to provide insurance for their employees.
She wouldn’t say this, but somehow, one feels that the innovative products and services that Momentum has been turning out under Mrs Porbley may have something to do with this new refreshing attitude.
What has never been a road block to her is her feminity. Mabel refuses to be defined by her chromosome. She says she has never waited to be given anything. “When I want something, I just go ahead and take it”. And for young ladies out there, that is an approach she recommends.
So where does all this lead her? Eons of experience in both the non-profit and for-profit corporate world; a good education; undoubted talent; a can-do attitude and provable managerial ability? Disappointingly, this is where she gets coy. Mabel won’t tell what she will do next though she assures us that it will be something dramatic.
So that sound you hear is of us drawing our seats closer because whatever she does, you can be rest assured it will be huge and we wouldn’t want to miss it. We suggest you don’t either.