Fayola-Maria Yeboah: How to Negotiate A Commercial Contract

Career Insights speaks to Master Negotiator, Fayola-Maria Yeboah, ManpowerGroup's Head of Contracts & Legal, UK & Ireland, on negotiating with purpose, defying social expectations in leadership, and the importance of career sponsorship over mentorship.

Image Source: Fayola-Maria Yeboah

Career Insights speaks to Master Negotiator, Fayola-Maria Yeboah, ManpowerGroup’s Head of Contracts & Legal, UK & Ireland, on negotiating with purpose, defying social expectations in leadership, and the importance of career sponsorship over mentorship.


Age: 30
Country of Origin: St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Caribbean
Current Location: London, United Kingdom

Tell us about your background?
Since the age of 21, I have been leading in-house legal & commercial contracts teams; supporting complex legal matters and negotiating large commercial contracts, such as £50M+ contracts for oil refinery design and engineering build transactions. I have worked for market leaders in various industries – such as the pharmaceutical, oil & gas, aerospace & defence, and automotive industries.

I have studied with a number of institutions, including Oxford University. I’m a qualified Data Protection Practitioner and in addition to Data Protection Law, I have experience in Commercial Law and Employment Law. I’m also a Magistrate and a qualified and accredited Civil & Commercial Mediator to international standards. I have written a number of pieces on commercial contracting and best practice, which have been published globally and cited by organisations such as Contract Logix and Law 360.

I was recognised by the International Association of Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM) in their Global Innovation Awards for personal contributions to the commercial and contracts management profession, alongside other corporate award winners such as Microsoft and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). I was also a finalist in the British Women of the Future Awards.

You have a Nigerian forename, and a Ghanaian surname, do you have mixed heritage?
The countries across the continent of Africa boast an abundance of traditional names which are well known for their rich and powerful meanings. Both of my parents are actually from St. Vincent which is a Caribbean island situated between the north and south of America, however they chose the forename ‘Fayola’, a traditional Yoruba name, because of its meaning. Fayola means ‘good fortune, walks with honour’.

I married a Ghanaian and my 3 children therefore have a mixed heritage, which they are very proud of. I also travel to Ghana frequently, so I have adopted a significant portion of the culture!

As Head of Contracts and Legal at one of the UK’s largest recruitment companies, what exactly is the remit of your role?
I lead a team of In-House Lawyers and Commercial Contracts Managers and, as a team, we ensure that the interests of the various companies within ManpowerGroup are protected. ManpowerGroup is a multi-billion-dollar company and as with any corporate legal function the role is diverse, from negotiating high-value commercial contracts to delivering training to the business, supporting acquisitions and ensuring continued legal compliance across the brand.

When some people think of ManpowerGroup they think ‘recruitment’, however ManpowerGroup offers much more than just recruitment services, and this influences the scope of my role. ManpowerGroup is a world leader in innovative workforce solutions geared towards addressing the complex workforce challenges organisations face today, from contingent and permanent staffing to talent management, outsourcing, and talent development.

You are a specialist in commercial contract negotiation, what are your three top tips in this area?
My three top negotiation tips:

Plan – Particularly with high value negotiations which are of strategic importance, you need to plan. Be aware of the goals and concerns of the person(s) at the other side of the table and keep them in mind throughout the negotiation. Try to anticipate and prepare for any curve balls which may be thrown at you. Ahead of any negotiation, it’s also important to identify all of the contractual risks, prioritise them, have your fall-back positions ready and have a plan for risk mitigation.

Do all you can to encourage a collaborative negotiation – Adversarial negotiation, a battle of brawn & power, is an archaic outdated approach to negotiation and it rarely achieves a good outcome for anyone. A collaborative approach to a negotiation will contribute to a positive commercial relationship, it will speed up agreement on any sticking points and will often enable more balanced contractual terms.

Have the confidence to say no, politely – It’s ok to say no to a bad deal. Always be creative and look for work-arounds, but never be pressured into taking on disproportionate risk which is not in the best interests of the business you are representing. A good negotiator should have the ability to explain their position when challenged; to demonstrate to the other side that they are not deliberately being unreasonable. Without the ability to do this, the dynamic of a negotiation can take a negative shift pretty quickly, with the other side either questioning your competence or branding you as obstructive to the deal.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?
It really does vary and no two days are the same. In between client negotiations, I support a diverse range of matters which my team and people within the business escalate up to me. I try not to exceed a 10-hour work day and I encourage my team to do the same. Individuals perform at their optimum when they are balanced.

Growing up as a child, what did you want to be when you got older?
I wanted to be a police officer!

Of the books you have read which would you say has been the most influential on your career, and why?
I read a lot of books, but I would not say that any have been particularly influential on my career. Rather women such as Condoleezza Rice, Isabel dos Santos, Judith Smith and Oprah Winfrey have been an incredibly inspirational part of my professional journey to date. Condoleezza was a Stanford Graduate who had her PhD in political science at just 26 years of age. These women demonstrate how much can be achieved if you are smart and you have the right attitude.

What educational preparation would you advise for someone who wants to advance within commercial law?
That’s an interesting question. Education is very important, however in this era the vast majority of people are on par academically. From my experience, ‘advancing’ is less about educational preparation and more about, ability, strength of character and a good support network. The corporate world will hit you with many challenges and you need the wisdom to know when to push through and when to change course, whilst keeping your end goal in mind.

Have there been any dramatic changes within your industry in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company? Where do you foresee the changes occurring in the next five years?
Of all the industries I have worked in, this industry is the most heavily regulated by legislation. All the dramatic changes to date have been caused by legislation and in the next 5 years I anticipate more of the same. Those familiar with the people resourcing industry will be aware of the host of complex legislation to comply with, such as the Conduct of Business Regulations, the Agency Worker Regulations and Intermediaries Legislation (IR35). HMRC have announced an IR35 reform in April 2017, which will impact the Public Sector; I anticipate this will be the next significant change.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career to date, and how have you overcome it?
Defying social expectations whilst holding positions of leadership has been a notable challenge. There are some females who climb the ranks and feel they need to adopt a stereotypically ‘male’ attitude towards business – forceful, stern, unsympathetic and overly assertive – to fit in within the upper ranks.

As a young female who has operated in senior roles in male-dominated corporate environments, I’ve developed the confidence to rise above preconceived expectations and resist conforming to stereotypical views of what a leader should look and sound like. It’s important to be authentic.

What would you say is the gender balance in the field of commercial law? Do you feel it is more challenging for a woman to do what you have done in ascending to the top of your field?
The gender balance in commercial law is fairly even, until you reach the senior level roles. Women are making large strides in business, but there is still a considerable way to go. Breaking through the corporate ‘glass ceiling’ as a female is hard; even more so as a female from an ethnic background. Women often have the ability, but are not given the opportunity.

In the UK, Lord Davies has been working hard to improve the gender balance on British boards. Since the start of the 5-year national campaign he began in Autumn 2010, women’s representation on boards in the FTSE 100 has more than doubled to 26%. In his final report Lord Davies made it clear that there is still a lot of work to be done however, as there are still companies with all male boards or boards with just one token woman; both of which his report states create an undesirable dynamic. It remains a challenge for females to ascend to the top of their field in any industry.

What advice would you give to other young women trying to carve their path to the top?

Sponsorship! There has always been widespread focus on finding a good mentor, however I firmly believe that all young women trying to carve a career at the top will benefit from a good sponsor. A sponsor is a person in a position of influence who helps you develop, whilst also actively working to open doors for you. The sponsor does not need to be another woman, a male is just as valuable.

I’m passionate about actively facilitating a smoother path for young females in business coming up behind me, through mentoring, sponsorship and talent development initiatives. The ability to make a positive contribution to the success of another person is not only incredibly fulfilling, but I believe it is the responsibility of all good leaders.

What do you love most about what you do?
I love deal shaping – working through not just the legalities, but also the financials and the operational constraints in a deal and ensuring they are accurately captured in the contractual terms. Negotiating complex contracts is both mentally stimulating and rewarding.

What does the future hold for you?
I always keep an open mind when it comes to the future. I potentially have another 30+ years of working life!

I have a keen interest in business because business is essentially about creating and then delivering solutions to address a challenge; some of which are complex and require multifaceted solutions. In my spare time I enjoy reading about new business models which deliver unique commercial solutions and I recently had a go at designing a new business model which serves as an alternative to traditional law firms, enabling smaller businesses to obtain more affordable access to legal support. It turns out family and friends who I have shared the model with think it’s somewhat revolutionary – maybe I have a calling!

I do thoroughly enjoy my current role at ManpowerGroup and whatever path I may take in the future, I want to be utilising my full ability to add value and leave a positive mark.

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