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‘Passion propels successful women’

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Amina Oyagbola. PHOTO: Youtube

Amina Oyagbola. PHOTO: Youtube

Amina Oyagbola is a highly skilled corporate executive and versatile business leader with many years experience, who has made her mark working in various sectors of the economy including, legal consulting, banking and finance, oil and gas, telecommunications and business administration. She is the founder of Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR). She is also the Human Resources and Corporate Services Executive at MTN Nigeria. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, she shares her life experience.

What is WISCAR all about and how long have you been running it?
WISCAR is a non-governmental organisation set up in 2008 to help professional career women to achieve their full potential. This was achieved by providing a practical and structured mentoring programme, conducted by a group of successful and experienced professionals, while the selection process is carried out using a stern measure. WISCAR thus provides a framework for strategic guidance to engender in women the essential elements for success, to make informed career choices and to tackle professional challenges in a constructive manner designed to add value to their organisations and society at large. Our aim is to help build the next generation of women leaders in Nigeria through intelligent planning and focused effort and the required support to professional women through mentoring.

What were your initial challenges and how were you able to surmount them?
Sustainable funding has been a major challenge. We require funds to run the WIN-WITH-WISCAR programme and pay all operating costs, including the cost of the mentoring centre. WISCAR is a not a profit making organisation and depends on the support it receives from international donors, organisations and individuals who identify with its objectives.

Who is eligible to be a member?
Entry point is for mid-level career women who have chosen to pursue a career and aspire to be successful. Women in successful careers who want to help other women and be part of a strong support network/group of women. Women who want to build the good society and contribute to nation building through the empowerment of women. Successful women who want to help to build the next generation of women leaders

What’s the secret to your successful career?
Hard work and analytical thinking. It was Socrates who was reported to have said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. So, in everything that I do and at every stage of my doing it, I examine my motives (reasons for doing it), whether I am doing it the optimal way, and, whether the end result will be what I set out to achieve. One more thing I always examine is what the impact of anything I do will be on all the people around me (my people). These are the things that ensure coherence, teamwork and problem solving. I would sum it all up as smart, rational, compassionate, hard work. Trying to ensure the good in all interactions not just for myself but also for others.

Tell us about your growing up years
I will break that up into three parts with considerable overlaps. They are family, education and professional. I am lucky to have been born into a family that greatly values education and that had the opportunity and reasonable wherewithal to pursue it. My father, a scion of the princely Atta family of Okene, was a Foreign Service officer who rose to the pinnacle of his career. He retired several years ago and he and my mother are enjoying their golden years. They gave me an exemplary up-bringing. Although they were strict disciplinarians and ensured their children were taught good ethics, morals and manners, they never stinted in their love and affection for us and support for our dreams and aspirations.

That outstanding approach to parenting gave me the right balance between a strong work ethic and an abiding belief in self-help, on the one hand, and a deep and egalitarian sense of compassion, coupled with a steadfast support for social justice, on the other.

Moving on to education, my father’s several foreign postings resulted in the bulk of my education being outside Nigeria, mostly in the United Kingdom. He nevertheless insisted that I return to Nigeria, to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), for my first degree. His unimpeachable reasoning was that returning home for my university degree will be the optimal opportunity for me to get to know and understand Nigeria. He was right.

After ABU, where I graduated with an LL.B (Law) degree, I attended the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Bar before proceeding to Cambridge University for a Masters degree (LL.M). It was after my LL.M that I formally entered the work place in Nigeria. That, however, was not the end of my educational journey. During the course of my career, I have attended more training courses than I could possibly recount. Most of them were in the top institutions in the world and each one added, tangibly, to my ever growing store of knowledge. It is, however, pertinent to mention that in 1999, I returned, for one whole calendar year, to a full-time educational curriculum. At that time I had come to believe that I had reached the pinnacle in my career. I, therefore, applied for and secured a Chevening Scholarship which took me to The Lancaster University Management School to study for a Masters’ Degree in Business Administration (MBA).

My career has spanned several sectors of the Nigerian economy. I started working life as a legal practitioner in the respected Chambers of the late Chief F. R. A. Williams. For several decades, Chief Williams was widely acclaimed as the leading legal practitioner in Nigeria. It was from those Chambers that I moved into banking, first as a legal adviser and, subsequently, I moved into main stream banking.

In 2000, after my MBA at Lancaster, I had my first taste of the human resources environment at United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) where I had previously been legal adviser. The training courses I undertook while functioning as Head of Human Resources at UBA was what ultimately led me into Shell Petroleum Development Company (Shell). Shell head-hunted me to fill a strategic role in its Human Relations Department. My work in Shell was very fulfilling but I decided to move again when Shell decided to move the bulk of its staff to Port Harcourt, out of Lagos. That is how I arrived at MTN.

I have been lucky and privileged at MTN to have been called upon to play pivotal and transformational roles. One of these was in helping to nurture the growth of the MTN Foundation, under my first watch as Corporate Services Executive.

What was the important thing you learnt during your growing up days and how has it impacted on your life?
I learnt that you reap what you sow. I also learnt to be prepared to make sacrifices and undergo some pains to achieve. Life taught me that it is important to build lasting relationships and to strive to do good, be helpful to others and that help will come your way from the most unlikely places when you need help as well. My parents are my role models.

As a career woman, balancing work and home front could be tough, how do you cope?
The pursuit of career advancement and/or building and development of a business while managing a home is no mean feat. It is a Herculean task indeed. No woman can hope to juggle career and family without carefully cultivating and appreciating her entire family and friends’ network. These would include both male and female. That support network group is the invaluable aid and comfort of every successful woman. Work and family are two core aspects of our lives and contrary to the general belief that they are different aspects of life; these domains are in reality, inter-related. The key is to develop a framework for effectively integrating your personal and professional life. There is, however, no single formula for attaining an integrated or balanced life. It is a personal decision how one combines these domains and each woman must devise her own unique solutions and find an equilibrium that they can live with.

How can women be successful entrepreneurs?
If there’s one thing that propels successful business women, it is passion. Successful women entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do and that’s why they build a business around what they love to do best. Oprah Winfrey became the richest black woman with her passion for public speaking. So if you have a passion; believe in it, strive to be the best in it and you will emerge a success. Entrepreneurship is a lifelong process.

What is your philosophy of life?
To do to others as I would want them do unto me. Essentially, to be fair and objective in my dealings with people and to be happy and content with what I have and my accomplishments. To cherish my family and friends and contribute in some way to making the world a better place.

What is your advice to women who want to make a success out of their career?
Every young African woman who wants to grow and succeed must understand the value of personal development, must nurture relationships, have emotional intelligence, be focused, committed, loyal, have a volunteering spirit, be open to new ideas, be prepared to make certain sacrifices and seize opportunities, be ready to work hard and make a unique contribution.


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Amina OyagbolaWISCAR
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