Born during the Nigerian Civil War in the late 60s in Ajalli, a village in Anambra State (South-East Nigeria), Okoli-Watson says “one can only imagine what my mother went through at that time. Thankfully we all got through a very difficult period in our history”.
At the age of 14 she moved to the United Kingdom, to attend boarding school and went on to study law at the University of Reading, qualifying as a solicitor.
“Recently, I completed the Oxford University Saïd Business School FinTech programme, because I wanted a deeper appreciation of data analytics, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology vis-à-vis the potential impact on society.”
Early in her career, Okoli-Watson realised that private law practice was not what she wanted. She was keen on a broader role and was certain a career in-house would be the route for her.
“After a fairly short stint in private practice, I discovered that the private practice career ladder was not for me and that I was most fulfilled when I was focusing on intellectual growth and seeking challenges. The decision to move in-house gave me the opportunity to work in different developed and emerging industries such as — Financial Services (Barclays in South Africa for 12 years); Information Technology (Level 3 Communications UK); Telecommunications (Damovo UK Ltd); Business Services (Rentokil UK) and even for a charity (Cancer Research UK).”
Today, she is the Assistant General Counsel at Thomson Reuters - still in the UK. In her current role, Okoli-Watson advises on matters that arise in the nearly 200 locations where Thomson Reuters operates. She is responsible for the legal aspects of all employment matters globally for the news and media business.
“No two days are the same! And this means that I am continually learning, which keeps me motivated and engaged.”
On her overall experience in working with a multinational, she says, “Thomson Reuters provides opportunities for professional and personal growth. I feel lucky to work with and learn from so many great professionals. There is real strength in diversity and I see it first-hand every day. Our industry (news and media) is constantly at the leading edge of the law, human rights, technology and delivery of truth. We stay focused on impartial reporting and intelligence.”
She finds that communication and collaboration are key to successful execution in any organisation.
“It is important to get buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders and that can only happen if you are proactive about engaging them from the outset. This is important. Someone always knows something you don’t, which could make the difference between success and failure. As lawyers, we are often presumed to be the experts in the room, but some things might not come naturally to us. The issues in a large organisation usually have many touchpoints and will often require more than just legal expertise to resolve.”
Okoli-Watson enjoys the challenging nature of her work. “Great journalism has always pushed the boundaries, not to mention a few buttons. We are constantly working hard to support our teams, protecting the business and our staff around the clock”.
She is an avid runner. “I have run several marathons and ultra-marathons, including the world famous Two Oceans ultra-marathon in Cape Town. I am spiritual, so I enjoy studying the Scriptures and the works of theologians like CS Lewis.”
To young lawyers, she says, “I believe the legal profession is entering into a period of accelerating disruption in the coming years. The resulting system will place a premium on the ability to continuously learn new skills and build a range of expertise. Traditional career paths are narrowing, and I think employers of the future will rely on multi-skilled employees. Those who are most likely to survive and thrive will be those who are adaptable, flexible and resilient.”