VISION FOR THE FUTURE
My vision of the future was to be in a role that allowed me to give back and influence our society. I always thought that I would be speaking or doing something that helped to make life better – better for the less privileged and better for women in particular.
Before I started my career and leadership journey, I was certain I would become a politician or social activist. And then I got my first job with Nigerian International Bank (now Citibank) as a junior in the Cash Management and e-Solutions team and I was hooked. I was working in a team that was at the center of banking and electronic payment innovation and I was hooked. I saw that I could make a difference in the world just by doing my role and I had an amazing group of people I worked with. It was a joy going to work each day. Through that job and the many others I have done over the years, I have met a wide range of people, learnt to appreciate and adapt to new technology, manage people, embrace diversity and think creatively.
I have always known that I needed to put in my best at whatever I did and wherever I found myself. Did I specifically think I will be sitting here today as the Chairperson of the WimBiz Executive Council or the Head of Coverage at Rand Merchant Bank? In a sense, yes and no. When I daydream, I often imagine my future and I’ve always seen myself growing and taking on bigger roles. At the same time with any role I have taken, I have always focused on the “now” and tasked myself with staying grounded and maintaining success in that particular space. So what’s the next? I don’t know? I am a willing vessel. Eager to pour out as much of myself as I can and ultimately to do the best that I can with what I have. That’s my everyday goal and life mantra.
Have I reached the pinnacle? No I’m still on a journey of self-discovery and impact. It is about waking up each day, being intentional, putting in my best and believing that all things work together for good.
I studied Combined Social Sciences, Economic Philosophy and Politics at the University of Durham in the UK. It was a great opportunity to be inquisitive and open minded and the perfect foundation for my career in financial services. I have a very curious mind and curiosity, willingness and openness to learn, ability to see things from different perspectives and respect for diversity has helped me think outside the box and build lasting relationships.
I started off my career working with Nigerian International Bank (now Citibank) as a junior in the Cash Management and e-Solutions team, handling collections across the nation. We had to use partner banks and I had to travel around Nigeria reconciling our collections and meeting our clients and their distributors. That experience gave me first hand insight into the world of female entrepreneurs and SMEs. As I grew in my career, I transitioned into a number of other roles across a wide range of functions including, Corporate Relationship Management, Sales, Credit, Transaction Banking, Remedial Account Management and Risk.
As I have transitioned, what has always kept me focused and helped me to grow is benchmarking myself with my peers in the industry and with what my supervisors and clients’ expectations are. I have realized that ultimately, what they all want is someone who is knowledgeable and provides value.
I am still very passionate about Nigeria, economic growth, improvement in living standards and quality of life.
From a leadership perspective, I have always tried to be as authentic as I can and to develop a leadership style that comes from within and is consistent. I have also tried to be firm, fair and to lead by example. I show the team that I deeply care, communicate a vision that we are all aligned towards and work to leverage their individual strengths and unique skills.
I try to connect with my team on a personal level and push each person to contribute. I value diversity and I know it is important that we have people who see things from different perspectives. This has helped us keep our ideas fresh, avoid potential bad situations and brought us together as a family. That I believe has been the driver for success.
ON BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
Relationship building is an art and a science. Clearly you need to have trust, be knowledgeable, have empathy, intuition and be vulnerable when getting to know people. My style of relationship building has always been seeking first to understand before I am understood. This involves my clients, stakeholders, colleagues, regulators and investors. I try to pinpoint what’s driving the different segments I deal with, what they would like to see and then I try to understand their perspectives while still being firm and pushing through what I want to achieve.
It has always been a bit of give and take, a bit of push and pull, and always going back to reflect on the day to see where you have erred, where you need to mend, where you have done well and where you can replicate the next day. It’s just about waking up every morning and making an effort to be better than you were the day before.
THE WOMEN EMPOWERMENT JOURNEY
I’m the first from a family of three girls, but growing up, I never saw a difference between men and women. My parents pushed each of us to achieve. I didn’t really see restrictions on what I could do as a woman. As I grew older, it became clear that not everybody had the same opportunity and background.
I really believe I was put on the earth to do my best to reduce inequality. Even if it’s only by using my voice to speak up for what’s right. Every day I see women doing amazing things. I see phenomenal entrepreneurs. I see women in my field who, despite the odds against them, have risen to top positions.
I see young women who are doing it afraid. I see women building companies. I see the struggles they go through but I also see their triumphs. I see them climb, pushing against the odds and that makes me smile. It makes me so happy and so proud to see these tribe of women pushing, pulling each other and standing in the gap just helping, supporting, providing capital and sometimes just showing up. They serve as role models and other women can look up to them.
I have to admit, balance is very difficult. I have two daughters, a 10-year-old and a 4-year-old. I have been married for 16 years and I have worked right through it. I have been very fortunate to have an amazing husband, Nnamdi, who has been my biggest Cheerleader, Voltron and fiercest Critic. So the days when I am giving up or not giving it my best, he calls me out and forces me to be a better person. He steps in to handle some areas that I am not able to. My parents are also very supportive and provide help and guidance. I have two amazing sisters who also support me and I have a phenomenal tribe of women around me who I can cry to, laugh with, bounce ideas with and just hang out with.
I make out time to be present with my family. I love to bake and our weekends are filled with baking experiments. But I admit, it is tough. It’s hard to miss out on achievements, school sports days and milestones and not feel guilty. I can’t get up and go and I’m not able to support my extended family and friends and show up for events as often as I would like to. But it is a choice that I have willingly made. I appreciate the benefits that my job brings and I manage the trade-offs. I recognize that it is tough, so I want to encourage everyone who is dealing with the same situation to stay in the game. Create a network that supports and loves you. Reach out to friends, family and colleagues. Leverage the help and support your network brings. Outsource as much as you can and use technology to stay on top of schedules and tasks. Don’t feel you have to do it on your own. And if you have to take a break, to think, breathe and recalibrate, by all means do it. Love yourself and do what works for you. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
My schedule has been quite interesting particularly over the past few months and it makes leisure time almost impossible. But, again I have a really phenomenal partner who almost mandates that we take time away. I also try to keep part of my weekends free so I can be at home because I really need that time to de-stress and use my phone. I try to take breaks from my devices particularly on the weekend so I can think and be still. I try to commune with God through quality time, praying, reflecting, thinking and I find that God has been awesome. I know it’s cliché but He has honestly been awesome to me, helping me find time when I thought I didn’t, creating space when it looked impossible, giving me opportunities to travel for work but still have time to breathe and reflect.
ON BECOMING A WONDER WOMAN
For other wonder women aspiring to build their careers, give it your best every day. Make your performance count because you need to deliver. You need to be deliberate about what you want to do and what your brand is. Your brand is exceptional performance, integrity and all the qualities that you will want an employee to exhibit. Be clear on where you want to go, where you see yourself and how you want to grow your business.
Be deliberate, take the baby steps, seek as much help as possible, read as widely as possible, ask questions, put yourself out there, join networks. By all means join WimBiz, take advantage of the things we do; we have mentorship programs, masterclasses, the woman on board program for women who want to get into board positions. For almost every level of your career and business, WimBiz has programs that you can be a part of. If you feel you have reached a level and you want to give back, WimBiz also gives the opportunity to volunteer and give back.
I would say make sure your performance is topnotch. Be clear about where you want to go, set a path for yourself and be true to that path. Take advantage of the resources available to you. Create lasting networks, reach out to people, support them and they will also support you.