Kemi Okusanya is the Vice President at VISA West Africa. She has always led her life by setting goals and going all out to meet them. She shares her story on reaching for the stars as a visionary woman.
I grew up being exposed to innovation and technology at a young age. I usually would set up all the gadgets in the house, change light bulbs, and so on. While this interest may not have directly led me to where I am right now, I’ve always believed that you attract who you are. So, in my role at Visa, I have seen this existing passion come to the fore as we sit at the crossroads of today’s innovation and technology.
One of the things I love about working at VISA is understanding the merchant space and the consumer space and how they relate. That understanding helps me in my current role where I’m able to ensure we bring in the right technology to solve these problems. Technology is about solving things, it’s about finding newer and interesting ways of solving problems.
Having lost my mum at 13 while I was in secondary school, this was one point in my life that seemed like the end. My mum practically formed me – my thinking, my desires and dreams were built around her. She was someone who believed in me, she felt that I was going to conquer the world. That said, I didn’t realise until that moment that there was a strong woman on the inside that saw this hurdle as a step forward. I asked- what would my mum want me to do? Will my dreams just die? I picked myself up and this is where my success story begins. At 13, I began to take charge of my life.
Interestingly, I studied Geography in the university which does not exactly relate with what I currently do at VISA. I remember starting my career in ExxonMobil, shortly before NYSC. From there, I moved on to banking, then, the remittance industry and now technology.
I always had goals for myself which I have built consistently. I started having these goals early on. For example, during my NYSC days at ExxonMobil, it was common knowledge that Youth Corp members are known to only run errands in and out of the office. But I told myself that I was better than that and found that my bosses started giving me more relevant assignments. I give myself targets of what I wanted to achieve which went into my everyday work life.
I have also applied this principle in my current role at Visa. One of our goals is to ensure that more people are financially-included. It is one thing to have a goal and another thing to plan it out and set the path to achieving these goals. An important factor is pretty much how I work and also the efforts of my team.
To My Younger Self
I always assumed that leadership was all about being placed in a position of authority. This isn’t the case. Leadership begins with you leading yourself. I started doing that early on but I didn’t realise it. As early as when I was 13 or 14, I took charge of my life. I didn’t realise when I was doing this. Perhaps, if I had, I would have done more because somehow, I kept waiting for the day when I would be a leader. So, I love to share my experiences with young people to let them know that you don’t have to be a prefect or a team lead to make an impact.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self – There is nothing stopping you. If there is a dream, go for it. I saw certain limitations and didn’t go for some things I wanted. But now, I have learnt you are the only one stopping you. I am happy about where I am but I probably would have achieved more if I knew this earlier.
Peers and Friendships
As an individual, if you really want to be successful, you need to leverage relationships and invest in those relationships as well.
I have friends that we do not get to see each other or talk every day – and I think this is what defines true friendships. These kind of friends will always be there for you when push comes to shove. I believe we all need each other to get to where we need to be.
During one of my previous careers, we had a request we needed to be granted by the CBN. This particular request had been on the pipeline for years, even before I joined the company. We kept on pushing and eventually, we got the approval but it was far from what we had wanted. While my team wanted to relent, I decided we needed to have another meeting, which we did. Long and short, our request was granted. What I learnt from this is how little consistent actions can change an entire industry. Being a significant part of this process, made it a very memorable moment for me.
Changing the Perception of Women
The first thing that needs to be done is to change the mentality of women about themselves. We are the ones who can actually create the change we desire. If as a woman, you want to be an auto-mechanic, why hold back? Who cares if you are the only female student in the class? Women need to start supporting themselves and also engage in conversations where we need to discuss the stereotypes we need to fix.
I know there are societies where women are limited in achieving their full potential. If there is anything that I want changed, it is that policies should not be made to limit women. I believe people should be allowed to compete based on competence, talent and skills.
We never stop learning and for me, beyond the informal skills learnt from our day to day interaction, it is important to invest in continued formal education as much as you can. This allows you see things from different perspectives, it broadens your thought process. When you interact with colleagues from other industries, you find there are certain things you can pull from their industry into yours. I always say that formal education is very key.
I believe so much in education and I believe it is one thing we should all invest in. I believe if you want to upscale in your career as a woman, get education.
Attracting the Right Talent
This is not just about the skills, it is also about attitude. Can this person work in a team? Does this person have the right passion? You need the right people to deliver the right products because you can only attract the right clients with the right product. And it is not about simply bringing them in, it is also about bringing the best out of them. So, a company needs to continue to invest in personnel so they can get better.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.