It is not often that Inspiration walks in on two legs clad in an elegant boubou with a genial smile that seems to say, “It’s okay, you can trust me!”
The other day, at the Crowne Plaza London Docklands under the auspices of the Great Ife Alumni Association, Ibukun Awosika, the first woman ever to chair the board of a bank in Nigeria, delivered what in my judgement must be one of her most inspirational lectures that commends itself to our young men ad women and indeed to the country at large.
She made it all look so simple that you would think you could have notched up her achievements yourself. In advocating that everyone buys into the spirit of giving back to society, she also did a quick MBA tutorial on the need for givers to remain financially strong through the observance of simple rules which look quite ordinary but have serious implications for the direction anyone’s fortune heads.
Don’t overlook the little details in your quest to implement an idea, she says. Dreams are good, but they are useless unless translated into action. Money spent on frivolities is better deployed in productive areas. Keep a good record of all your business transactions. Pursue business ideas as if your life depends on it. Enjoy your failures and learn from them.
Avoid liaisons that don’t add value or that have the potential to derail you from your dream. Don’t pigeonhole yourself to such an extent as to limit your possibilities – A chemistry graduate today can be a furniture maker tomorrow. Every day doesn’t have to be good, but there’s some good in every day. Endeavour to make your life a story worth telling. Nurture a habit of lifting other people up.
I was reminded of an earlier interview in which Mrs Awosika gave a first=hand account of how she built up her business brick by brick: “I told you the story of how I started small. The first brand new car I used was a gift from my husband. I had got so used to not wasting my money or indulging in any ostentatious thing that pulling out N9m or N10 million Naira to buy a car was big deal….
“I advise you not to eat up your profit. The day you go out for money, they look at the papers. Open an account for every penny that comes through your business. Don’t think about the COT. It will cost you more if you don’t keep your money in a financial institution.
“There’s a whole world waiting for you. I never wished to be a Beninoise, Togolese or Ghanaian or South African. Tell me how many countries have a population of 150 million? That’s what they call market. It’s not only the 150 million Nigerians; you are looking at the whole of West Africa. That gives you like 280 million. These smaller countries have less than the size of Nigeria; just add them to what you have. They don’t have your production capacity either. Go out there and conquer the world.”
Awosika’s message is just what the doctor ordered for Nigeria at this time. The culture of taking and grabbing has held sway for so long, especially since the military rudely interrupted our democratic march. Delivered on a day when the major television networks in the world were beaming scenes from the funeral of Aretha Franklin, it was somehow comforting that our own female voices were rising up to the challenge of national development by sheer force of personal example.
Mrs Awosika would be the first to tell you that there was nothing special about her. She is just like the girl next door. Born Bilkisu Abiodun Motunrayo Omobolanle Adekola on December 24, 1962, Ibukun attended St. Paul’s African Church Primary School, Lagos and Methodist Girls’ High School, Yaba, before she proceeded to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where she graduated with a B.Sc in Chemistry. She is also an alumna of the Lagos Business School and IESE Business School.
She is the Founder and Chairperson of The Chair Centre Ltd which later went into a joint venture with Sokoa S.A of France and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc to set up Sokoa Chair Centre Ltd, and she was appointed the MD/CEO of the joint-venture company. She was the Guest Lecturer at the Second Convocation Ceremony of the Entrepreneurship Development Centre, Lagos. She is the author of ‘The Girl Entrepreneurs’ and ‘Business His Way’.
A fellow of the African Leadership Initiative and Aspen Global Leadership Network, Ibukun is a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and also of the board of the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund. In 2011, she co-founded the Afterschool Graduate Development Centre, a career centre established to tackle the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria by imparting new skills in trainees to open new opportunities for them.
On September 7, 2015, Ibukun became the first woman to be appointed Chairman of one of the country’s oldest banks, First Bank of Nigeria.
Her story deserves to be told and retold to young Nigerians so that they can be guided early in life to invest their energy and time on things that endure.
“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honour your calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.” – Oprah Winfrey
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