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Adebola Ataiyero-Adefila: ‘It’s important for women to know their worth and claim it’

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Adebola Ataiyero-Adefila has been an entrepreneur for over 19 years, 13 of which have been in the manufacturing sector. The COO of Banrut Rolls Nigeria, her expertise cuts across business development, marketing and operations. She holds a Bsc. (Hons) in Business Administration from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, an MBA from the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK and a certificate in Entrepreneurship Management from the Pan African University, Lagos. An associate member of WIMBIZ, she’s the founder of The Profiting Hub, a platform where people get the know-how on running business properly and ultimately profitably. When she’s not working, she’s speaking at events or helping manufacturers solve business problems via her live classes, coaching sessions and master classes. In 2019, she founded IreDire, an indigenous adire ready to wear brand for today’s modern woman and has since built clientele in Nigeria, UK, Canada and the US and is also a published author. In his interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about rising from marketer to becoming COO, how businesses can rebound and thrive in these uncertain times, getting more women into core manufacturing amongst other issues.

Take us through your growing up years?
I was born in Abuja, the first of four children and had my early education at the Therbow Nursery and Primary School, Zaria and Jabi Primary School, Abuja. My secondary education was at Federal Government Girls College, Akure, Ondo State and from there, proceeded to A.B.U Zaria to obtain my first degree in Business Administration and an MBA from the university of Kent in the UK.

I grew up in a home anchored on love and discipline and being responsible was a key part of my upbringing. As the first child, the natural expectation of leadership comes with the territory, which I believe I was able to fill. Growing up in the north gave me the privilege to infuse two cultures together and a deeper understanding of the northern way of life. In business, having the northern orientation has also given me the mileage for market penetration. I have been married to my best friend for 15 years and I’m blessed with two beautiful daughters aged 14 and 12.

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Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Growing up in a business-oriented family, in a way made my entrepreneurial journey unavoidable. Unconsciously, I was imbibing the knowledge of enterprise, which all the more made business attractive. I recall in the 90s, holidays outside the country always turned out to be a business trip, as my mum would always include her business itinerary with our holiday, which changed the dynamics of a fun trip.

As a child, imagine looking forward to having fun, only to be bored with following and watching your mum go from company to another negotiating and carrying on with business. As bored as it was, I believe I unknowingly picked interest and garnered lessons from these activities. So, wanting to do business and being business minded just fused together.

As COO, what does this role entail and how would you say the journey has been like for you?
As COO, I coordinate the operational, financial and administrative activities of Banrut. The journey has been both challenging and rewarding as business decisions that can make or mar our operations stops at my desk. It will interest you to note that my journey to being COO started has a marketer where I had to interface, convert potential customers and manage the value chain of the company. This I still do, but at a higher level. From marketing, I moved up to become the operations officer where I had the responsibility of overseeing the production, administration and sales department.

Some years down the line, I became the General Manager before I became COO till date; many still refer to me as GM. I believe the title stuck because it was a position I held for a while. For all the stages, there are had been a potpourri of events, daunting, but all surmountable. In general, it has been an eye opener; a leader must always commit words to actions daily for the ongoing interest of the company. So far, it has also been a fulfilling journey.

Running a business of this size can’t be without its challenges, how do you deal with challenges?
I have come to realise that your presence in your business and being actively involved allows you to get familiar with common problems which invariably prepares you to be more proactive than reactive. The bigger a business gets, the more challenging it is. A standardised approach is required to run any business as it grows, as size won’t allow you to see all the angles and technology has helped in this regard.

With the help of tech, I have been able to deploy and create solutions for challenges in logistics and data coalition, which has made decision making for some part of operations easy. By and large, there are some challenges that are totally out of your control like policies regarding your industry, infrastructure and general economic down turn. Handling these challenges requires you finding ways and means to absorb, adapt and weather the disruption. Sometimes, with policy issues, I find ways to lobby and influence decisions through associations like Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Chambers of Commerce and so on. All in all, running a business of any size requires sacrifice and commitment.

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You founded The Profiting Hub, what is about and whom does it cater to?
The Profiting hub is an offshoot of my live, online classes and one on one consulting sessions where I offer to teach and guide start-ups and existing entrepreneurs in the manufacturing space. It’s a platform where you get the know-how on running business properly and ultimately profitably. The testament received from all these have elated my spirit as I’ve seen birth of new ventures, growth in existing business and sustenance of albeit businesses that were on shaky grounds.

I recall engaging one of the entrepreneurs on a one-on-one basis who had earlier been to one of my live classes; he was on the verge of shutting down his business. But with my help, he was able to get his business back on track. I will call it my own little way of giving back and making impact.

COVID-19 has dealt a serious blow to many businesses, especially in the manufacturing sector, how can businesses rebound and flourish?
Despite COVID dealing a hard blow on businesses across the world, it has also created an opportunity for businesses to reengineer their processes for flexibility and adaptability. Crisis management in this pandemic has been novel with a bitter taste. To rebound and flourish at this time requires a lot of thinking.

First, businesses must understand that this is a season of survival so your decisions and activities must be geared towards weathering the storm and keeping afloat. Businesses must also continue to improve on their strengths and competitive advantage. It’s important for the business owner at this time to continuously create a balance and alignment between income and expenditure.

As a seasoned business coach, what five things would you tell women that want to go into business in order to be successful?
Avoid following the bandwagon, don’t judge the viability of a business from a superficial point. Always research thoroughly the sector you are venturing into so as to have a holistic point of view. Avoid being a lame duck, focus on capacity building in the field you want to venture into. No man is an island; relationship building and networking is a key part of running business successfully, be deliberate about establishing strong contacts and network. Trust and integrity are necessary pillars to keep these relationships. Have financial understanding, as this is the lifeline of any business, avoid borrowing from the onset if you can.
Avoid ostentatious lifestyle; frugality is key. Be ready for a life of sacrifice and delayed gratification.

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You founded IreDire two years ago, how and why did you decide to delve into indigenous fashion?
I’ve always loved fashion, particularly African prints. IreDire is a ready to wear fashion line that mainly utilises Adire fabrics and a bit of Aso Oke, which speaks to my heritage. Because of my love for prints, I want adire to be embraced as a regular everyday wear. With IreDire, I’ve been able to change the way adire is viewed among women to being something that is stylish, classy, dressy and comfortable.

You’re also an established author, what kind of lessons does your book seek to impart?
My book Profit is a guide aimed at despairing the fear of starting and showing that manufacturing is doable and profitable, even in an environment like ours. Truth be told, there are many business books out there that anyone can learn from, but what makes Profit different is that, it speaks to our immediate environment, making it relatable to any entrepreneur in Nigeria and Africa at large. Another interesting thing about Profit is that it highlights the success and failure stories of entrepreneurs in our locality, as you readily will not find these stories being told here. Further, it aims to show that despite our unforgiving environment, businesses can still thrive and be done better.

How important is mentors in helping women to succeed especially in this field?
Mentoring is key in this space as it helps navigate murky waters. It is even more daunting for women who are given little or no opportunity, so having a mentor will help make the journey easier. I also have mentors who have pointed me in the right direction and help my entrepreneurial journey. It’s important to find mentors who have gone ahead and walked the path that you’re in or hope to venture in as this makes the handholding experience worthwhile.

How can we get more women to the top of the ladder, especially in an area such as manufacturing?
From the get go, girls should be brought up with the mindset that they can fit into any space they desire and make their mark. Growing up, my parents didn’t differentiate between what a female or male child can or cannot do. Advocating and collaborating with other women will go a long way, I believe giving women more representation will further permit and encourage growth. Players in the manufacturing sectors should avail more leading roles to women and trust their capacity to achieve and deliver. I recall men mainly dominated my production floor; I was quick to reverse this by making training available to the women and later even offering leading roles to some of the women. Some times, you never know what you can do until you’re given the opportunity to face the challenge.
What more can the government and private bodies do to support and encourage more SMEs, seeing how important they are to the economy?
It is known that the total aggregate of SMEs makes up the economy of a country, so having infrastructures that supports the SMEs vision will manifest in growth. So, it’s a win-win on all sides; growth for the business and growth for the country. All available enablers of doing business in terms of finance, infrastructure and taxation should be given actionable priorities that translate. Most of the times, we have policies that are only good on paper but not pragmatic enough. Putting all these in place will allow for SMEs to thrive and continue to be the job creators they are.

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Being involved in so many things can be very tasking, how do you make everything work?
It’s challenging juggling work, family and social commitment, but flexibility helps as I’m always deliberate about prioritising and delegating. Not being rigid helps to create time and balance where and when possible though it’s still a tall order. I’m quick to accept that I’m not a superwoman, but I’m focused on the needful while alternating between roles. What keeps me going is that I have a legacy mindset; I’m running a business that I want to outlive my children and me. This keeps me grounded; it’s my staying power.

How would you describe your personal style?
My mood and work dictate what I wear, although you will mostly find me in jeans and African prints. Fashion for me has to be easy, comfortable and decent. One thing you will never catch me in is a six-inch heel. No matter how gorgeous or expensive an outfit is, if it’s not comfortable, I’m not wearing it. I also believe you can never go wrong dressing your size; wear what suits your body type and size. I’m a big lover of African prints.

What are your final words to women reading this who have been inspired by you?
Women naturally are gifted with creative thinking which is the bedrock of manufacturing. I’m I saying all women are made of this? No, but for those who venture and dare the possibilities, they should know they’ve got it in them. Women mentors abound everywhere who are ready, willing to help and guide. I’m grateful that I can inspire and influence other women. If I can, they can and can even do better. Limiting beliefs have held many women back; once you’ve garnered knowledge and done adequate research, don’t be fixated on the how just go for it. It’s encouraging to see women shattering ceilings these days but I won’t say we’re there yet; a lot still has to be done. I believe families are primary agents in this regard; the first place of education is the home.

Parents play a prominent role in building the confidence and resilience in any child, so it’s important to raise the female child to be assertive and bold. Deliberately ditch the stereotyped mentality; parents should encourage their female children to go into male dominated fields early. Just because the industry has always been occupied by the male gender does not mean it must remain so. It’s important for women to know their worth and claim it, it’s not enough to complain about the male getting higher pay or having more access to resources. A woman I admire said ‘Life will only give you what you demand from it.’ It is also important for the women who are breaking the glass ceilings to pull up and affirm other women. This way, we are able to keep the tempo going.

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