HOW FAILURE AND ADVERSITY FUELED MIREILLE TOULEKIMA’S ASCENT IN HER INDUSTRY
Mireille Toulekima is a sensational success story as an entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry. Her ascent to the top of a male-dominated field can be attributed to her indomitable spirit and her decision to welcome challenges as opportunities for her growth. She is a self-determined woman with an inspirational and heartbreaking story of triumph.
Mireille’s life is a testimony to how the human spirit can overcome anything in order to thrive again. From ashes, we rise stronger and more resilient.
I interviewed Mireille knowing that her story would encourage many women to realize their hidden treasures of greater potential and inner strength. In my conversations with her, she helped me to embrace this source of power even more. I hope that her story empowers and encourages you as much as it does me.
Mireille, please share your background story and how it helped to develop you into the successful woman you are today:
I was born in the West African country of Gabon. I left in 1984 at 14 years old to attend to school in France.
My father made the decision for me to leave Gabon. He was the Dean of the Technical Engineering school of Libreville at that time and was noticing that the then very competitive school system in was deteriorating. Because he was a strong advocate for education and always wanted the best education for his children, he decided to send me to France to continue my studies.
At first I thought that I would go to boarding school but my mum was totally against it and insisted that I be placed in a proper family setting while abroad. I was then sent to Nantes in the west part of France to live with white French friends of my parents. The family had three girls and had just lost one of their daughters to cancer; she was just 20 years old.
I lived with this family for 5 years until I was 19 years old. During that period, I was only able to see my parents every two years during the summer holidays from school.The only regular contact I had with them was through our weekly phone conversations.
The five years that I had lived with this family was an exceptional experience for me. I learned about race in a very positive way. Even if I was black and they were white, my tutors treated me like their own daughter. They did not differentiate between me and their biological daughters. I felt like I was a replacement daughter to their own, the daughter that they had just lost. They poured so much love into me that it made me realize that love can transcend racial differences. I was home!
This experience was essential to my character and self-esteem building, and it made me open minded about racial relationships. Since then, appreciating diversity has always been a big part of my life. It is embedded in me.
Another formative life experience occurred while I was a university student. After I passed my baccalaureate, I managed to secure a scholarship from the state of Gabon. It was a big relief for my parents back home. For me, it was total financial independence. I could pay for my education. My parents did not have to contribute anything anymore. Everything was perfect.
It was a whole new life for me. I rented a room at the university campus. I felt really comfortable and started to relax. That was it. I had made it. I was less disciplined and focused academically. That’s when the unexpected happened. I failed my first year at the university and eventually lost my scholarship. I was back to square one!
My parents were furious at me and wanted to repatriate me back to Gabon. As a result of all of this I felt like a real failure. I completely lost confidence in myself. I was ashamed of myself. I eventually managed to stay in France but had to fight to be able to finance my education. I started working in different jobs. I worked at McDonalds, babysat, cared for elderly people at night and during the weekends.
I was working very hard and was only sleeping 3 or 4 hours most days. Some of my older siblings and my uncle eventually started helping me finance my studies. This gave me some kind of relief. However on several occasions, I just wanted to give up. But with determination and resilience, I eventually kept going because success was a must for me, I had no other choice.
Failure was not an option at all. The effort and determination eventually paid off and I graduated. A few days after I graduated, I was shocked and heart-broken to learn that my dad had passed away on 2nd August 1995. Exactly two days before my graduation. I learned that dad had been very sick for months but he asked my mum and siblings not to say a word to me as I was working hard toward graduation. I was really devastated by the death of my dad.
He had sacrificed almost everything to give me the best education and yet he did not live long enough to see me graduate! From that day I decided that I was going to honor my dad in everything I do. This has been one of the driving forces and a catalyst in everything I’ve accomplished so far.
The next milestone in my life was my departure from France after my dad passed away. I was leaving a country I’ve called home for ten years but I had to go back to Gabon. Back home, the oil and gas industry was going through a lot of changes and emphasis was put on developing local technical capabilities in most companies exploiting oil in Gabon. I was recruited by one of the oil major and I started what was going to be an accomplished global career in the oil industry in February 1996.
I worked for various international companies in Gabon, Holland, Malaysia, Australia and South Africa before starting my journey as an oil and gas entrepreneur in January 2016. My journey in the male dominated oil and gas industry has been a challenging but fulfilling one. I experienced racial and gender discrimination but I’ve always been resilient, focused, positive and very optimistic.
I’ve developed a strong self-esteem as a result of the different challenges that I have faced. What I have experienced before entering the oil and gas sector has prepared me for to this amazing professional path and for a wonderful life all together. I thank God for all the people that have ever wronged me. They came into my life so that I could build my character and grow into an exceptional leader and human being.
Ultimately I came to realize that whatever people think of me is none of my business as it is the person’s own self-reflection. Above all I am convinced that people who discriminate do so in fear. We should not allow other people opinions and fears become our reality and deter us from reaching our goals, being our authentic self and living our dreams. We are in control of our own lives. What we focus and think about we will accomplish. It all begins and ends in the mind with our thoughts. What we give power to in our thoughts has power over us if we allow it.
Today I am focused on keeping my authenticity. I fought all of my life to keep it and not trade it for approval or to please people. By being authentic, I’ve been able to proclaim my freedom and be fearless in the pursuit of every outstanding accomplishment in my personal and professional life. This has always been my strength. My authenticity is my true power.
I live in Perth (Australia) with my husband and daughters. I am the founder and managing partner of the oil and gas consultancy start up MT Energy Resources. As mentioned earlier in this interview, before becoming an entrepreneur, I had an accomplished global career in the oil and gas industry working in various technical and leadership roles for major corporations on important projects worldwide. I am a sought after speaker at conferences on Local Content, oil and gas development in emerging and developing markets, diversity and women’s leadership, and empowerment in the oil and gas industry worldwide.
I am a proud published author. My first technical book entitled “Local Content key enabler for oil and gas projects in Emerging Markets” was published last year. My second technical book entitled: “Natural Gas Strategies: the role of Emerging and developing markets” will be published at the end of this year.
I am also a dedicated philanthropist. I started an initiative called “Energy Angels Foundation” to reach out and sponsor under-privileged girls in Africa to study subjects related to the oil and gas and energy sectors in the best schools and institutions worldwide. I plan to officially launch this initiative in 2017 by starting sponsoring five girls.
Mireille’s difficult life experiences built her perseverance and character. She never let adversity control her destiny; instead she wrung out important lessons from each painful challenge to strengthen her. We choose what we do with difficulties; she chose to use every experience as a stepping stone toward her vision of her best life!
She is a formidable woman with big dreams, “to become of the most influential leaders in the oil and gas industry in Australia and globally. I want to be the leader who uses her voice to empower others and champion diversity in the industry.”
Aware of the barriers that women face personally and professionally in life, Mireille works as an advocate of change. She has faced discrimination throughout her career and those experiences have also fueled her to impact change. She sees herself as a leader in a male dominated field, and feels a responsibility to contribute to the elevation of women through leading by example, mentoring, establishing her foundation, speaking, writing, and working with men to help them understand what it’s like for women who face inequity.
When I asked Mireille how she became so self-aware and mentally powerful in her outlook on life, she replied that she is always improving herself through reading self-help books, listening to motivational materials and continues learning. One book that she said has tremendously helped her is Working with the Law, by Raymond Holliwell. In it Holliwell explains that we can change our lives by changing how we think and understanding the “laws of life”, such as “for every action there is a reaction.”
Mireille believes that we choose whom we give our power to, and she chooses to keep hers, by taking responsibility of her thoughts and behaviors. She said that her faith in God is always also a foundational source of strength for her.
When asked what advice she would like to give to women, Mireille encourages women to embrace themselves and be bolder, “The advice I would like to give women is to build their career and life on what they want and not on what others want. Everything is here to serve us. Any challenge is a blessing in disguise when we embrace it and learn from it. Each woman is worthy and deserves the best. They should take advantage of all opportunities and step out of their comfort zone and use their stumbling blocks as stepping stones.”
That is excellent advice!