Six Figure is a biweekly PiggyVest series that focuses on how real Nigerians achieved dramatic income growth, making them millionaires.
For this week’s episode of Six Figure, we spoke to a project manager who started off his career earning ₦30k a month but now takes home more than ₦5m a month. He shares lessons he has learned across the length of his career, from putting in extra work to demanding what you deserve.
What was your first job?
I’ll start with my internships because they are just as significant. The most important one was an upstream company in the oil and gas industry.
What did you do at this job?
I was an intern, so I was mainly learning from the company’s senior engineers and management team.
How long did it last?
Any other noteworthy internships?
NYSC. I worked with the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources for the entire service year.
How much did you earn at this time?
You know how they pay interns and corpers na. Peanuts. I think it was around ₦30k.
When was this?
That was a while ago. What do you do now?
I work as a project manager with a multinational. My job is to look after all the environmental and sustainability projects that different manufacturing facilities run by the company are involved in — in different countries like China, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.
Seems like a really cool job. What’s your monthly take-home?
I earn about ₦5.5 million monthly.
That’s huge. How did you go from ₦30k to ₦5 million?
At the beginning of my career, I made just enough to pay my bills. But in my first well-paying job, I worked as an environmental engineer for a big construction company handling most of the road and railway constructions in the country. This was in 2019, and my salary was around ₦2.1 million monthly.
A year later, my pay was increased to ₦3.5 million. I worked with different clients and contractors for road construction and maintenance projects across the region.
Six months later, I got another raise that took my salary to ₦4 million. At this time COVID restrictions were almost completely gone. Three months before I left the company, I went to my boss to negotiate another ₦800k – ₦1 million raise.
How did that go?
Well, he negotiated and beat it down to ₦500k. I didn’t make a big deal out of it; I just kept it moving and kept doing my job. But I started to look for an alternative. Because I’m of the belief that if you can’t pay me what I’m worth, it’s up to me to find someone else who will.
What happened next?
I looked for another job and found a company that was willing to pay me ₦5.5 million every month. Then I went back to my boss to resign, and that was when he offered to pay me the amount I initially requested.
Typical. Did you stay?
Nope. I told him I already had a better offer. He offered to match the offer as closely as he could, but at the time I was no longer interested in staying back at the company.
That was quite audacious.
Yes. It is good to have in-depth knowledge of your trade. Even if you’re getting paid peanuts, it’s good to just stick around enough to become great at what you do. This way, when you get to the point where you need to move, you have more bargaining power.
Speaking of bargaining power, there’s more. After you have gained a good grasp of your job and you are sure the company can’t afford to lose you, don’t be afraid to walk up to your bosses and ask for more money. Again, you can only do this once you’re sure the company values you and you bring lots of money to the company.
At the point I resigned, my boss told me that he would be happy to pay me more money than my new company was offering, rather than hire another person to replace me and start afresh. It can be hard to find a good replacement for good staff.
I also honed my negotiation skills. It is important because your bosses will not walk up to you and give you a pat on the back and hand you a raise for a job well done. Most of the time, employers want to pay you the barest minimum for the work you do to maximise profit. If you stay on the wrong end of capitalism, you will suffer for it.
You should put this on a t-shirt.
[Laughs] One more thing I’ll say is, for some specific job sectors, don’t stay with one employer for too long. If you spend 10 years working in one company, you will shortchange yourself. Move around a bit; sometimes, stay for two years max then move on. I don’t think I’ll spend longer than a year with my current employer. No matter how juicy it is, there’s always something better out there.
So how do you get your skill noticed by the right people?
Try to put in extra wherever you work. This might be hard to do, but it’s the best thing for you. What I mean is, if you’re getting paid for 8 hours, you shouldn’t be eager to pack your things at 7 hours 59 minutes to start leaving.
People who get promoted are those who go the extra mile to learn more and connect with their employers and colleagues. Promotions only come when you’re excellent at your level, and to do this you’ll have to do some work outside of what you’re being paid for. Otherwise, there’s a high chance that you will shortchange yourself in the long run.
You’re really inspiring. Who inspires your career?
I’d say my first internship. I became quite close with the general manager of operations. Funnily enough, he’s Australian and studied transportation and logistics, but he found himself in charge of a $4 billion oil and gas company in Nigeria.
He’s inspiring because even though he’s not the most technically gifted person, he’s good at managing people. We connected on that level and I’ve gotten to learn a lot from him. We still stay in touch; I even spoke with him last week.
He’s someone who has the skill I want to hone, so I try to learn as much as I can from him.
Will you say you are good with money?
One of my favourite topics to talk about is money, actually. But I’m not really sure how to answer this question. For most of us, we go to school to learn engineering, medicine and so on. But we’re never really taught about money, and we also don’t take the pain to learn about money. I find all of it a bit troubling, to be honest.
After my master’s degree, I took the time to read loads of books on personal finance; making money, and, importantly, managing money. I know there are extreme circumstances where you can’t do much in the way of savings, but I always tell people, it’s not how much you make, but how much you can set aside from what you make.
I also believe that as a race, black people need to do more to learn about finance. You can go to a place where credit systems work, and you’ll still see black people working very hard to buy things that have no value like designer nonsense. We keep buying things that make us look rich, while others buy houses, stocks and investments.
In order to get good with money, you have to put in the work. You have to have a plan, learn to budget, and live within your means. So the short answer is: Yes, I’m really good with money.
Any other advice for those who want to earn like you?
Ah. My first piece of advice will be to start anywhere. Don’t be afraid to start small, even without pay. When I started looking for a job, a year before I finished university, I was willing to work without pay.
Also, when you finally get a job, don’t have a lackadaisical attitude because it is noticeable. Always go the extra mile at your place of work.
It is also important to learn how to get along with everyone you meet because you never know how far it will take you. I didn’t apply for my previous job. A guy I used to play football with recommended me to his boss when there was an opening. So, no matter how random a place you find yourself, try to be on your best behaviour.
Last, but certainly not least, learn how to negotiate and don’t undersell yourself.
- Financial education should not be taken for granted: Knowledge is power. The more you know about money, the easier it will be to build a path to financial freedom.
- Negotiation is an important skill: When you know the value you bring to your company, it should not be too difficult to request a salary that suits your skills.
- Be personable: Keep a positive attitude at all times. You never know where opportunities will present themselves. Luck, as they say, is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.