Going Independent: From GE to a Drone Start-Up

ILessedjinaAAGFive years ago, Isabelle Lessedjina (39) was working in Dubai for Standard Chartered Bank when a senior executive at General Electric Co. presented her with an offer she couldn’t refuse.

After successfully setting up and managing GE Capital Aviation Services’ first African office, the businesswoman who hales from the DRC is embarking on her next big leadership challenge: starting her own business.

In May 2015, Mrs. Lessedjina resigned from her General Electric Intl. post in Ghana to start a new venture.

One of the new ventures, ‘Infra-Sky,’ focuses on drone technology to improve maintenance and inspection services for power, telecom and mining companies. She hopes to go live by the third quarter of this year.

“The risk is higher but the reward has the potential to be big,” she recently said from her current base in Belgium. “But, it’s a lonely path.”

Q: What leadership lessons have you learned along the way?

They tell you not to change industry, functions and locations at the same time. I did all three! GECAS (Subsidiary of GE) was opening an office in Ghana, and wanted to figure out if there was a market in West and Central Africa for the company. I liked the challenge and accepted the role.

What always made me change jobs was the challenge, the opportunity to do something new, to step out of my comfort zone. That’s what’s driving me now in my new ventures.

Usually people think that the perfect career path includes working in consulting or at a big company. These are recipes that are given to you. But what I learned is that it’s important to follow one’s passion.

The only thing that should drive people is adaptive passion. You need to know yourself very well and step out of your comfort zone. Being comfortable with uncertainty will help you manage in a challenging environment.

GE wasn’t planned but it was a great opportunity and I spent 5 years there. Living in Ghana wasn’t planned, I just followed my passion.

Now I’m following my passion to start something new, something entrepreneurial. That’s harder to do in a big company.

Q: What drives you as a leader?

As a leader it’s not about you but the people you lead. You need to find out what’s important to them and harness their unique skill sets to help them grow and perform. What drives me as a leader is to develop the people I work with.

I became a better leader when I stopped worrying about what I needed and thought about what the team needed.

Q: What leadership issues are you passionate about?

I am passionate about Women empowerment.

There shouldn’t be a difference between women and men leadership but the reality is that there is.

Many things women do as leaders aren’t often perceived the same way as when a man does them. People will treat you differently and judge you differently. We have to be aware of the bias but not let ourselves be defined by it.

At the end of the day be yourself.

Career Highlights:

Treasury Advisor at Virgin Express in Belgium, 2001-2003

Group treasurer at Besins International in Belgium, 2003-2009

IESE Business School in Spain, 2007 to 2009

Associate Director Global Markets at Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai, August 2009-September 2010

Vice President of Sales and Marketing at GE Capital Aviation Services in Ghana, November 2010-May 2015

Currently, developing two start-ups, plans to launch in 3Q 2015

Going Independent is an interview series that follows executives launching their own ventures focused on Africa after having risen to senior positions at major corporations.

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