‘Women should endeavour to work extra hard, society doesn’t always give us equal chance’
Adetola Juyitan is an entrepreneur, ex-banker and current national president of Junior Chamber International (JCI). A graduate of accounting from the Ekiti State University and bagging an MBA from Lincoln University, she is a recipient of several awards and has spoken at several national and international events. In this interview, she talks about leaving the corporate world for entrepreneurship, youth leadership, tips for women entrepreneurs, how the government can grow the economy by supporting female-led SMEs amongst other issues.
Take us through your personal and career journey to date?
I am the first of five children and the only daughter of a businesswoman mother (who was recently deceased) and a Chartered Accountant father. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the Ondo State University (now Ekiti State University) in Ekiti State. Between 2008 and 2009, I attended the prestigious Lincoln University, California, USA, where I obtained an MBA.
At different times, I have worked with different companies across myriad of sectors and organisations including Bonne Santè Health Services Limited, Abayomi Ogunjimi & Co. (Chartered Accountants), Betcy Group amongst others. Those experiences helped kick-start my career. I joined Zenith Bank Plc’s sales and marketing as a Youth Corper and was retained after my Youth Service till April 2007 when I left to join Kuramo Group (Metro Urban Homes Limited & Hope Building Society Mortgage Bank) but Zenith Bank recalled me seven months later. In September 2013, I moved to United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc. as the Business Manager of one of the Bank’s “Triple-A-rated” business offices before I left to launch Glitz Occasions Nigeria Limited.
Would you say your upbringing played any part in shaping you to becoming the young leader you are today?
I was raised by disciplinarians who inculcated positive life, cultural and human values in us. Growing up, things weren’t so rosy, we had to work really hard as a family to survive and “hustling” was the name of the game from a young age. The family also took education as a matter of utmost importance because it was our chance to a better life. So there was this combination of practical intelligence, what people would call “street smart” and academic intelligence that the circumstances of my upbringing gave me. So, yes, my upbringing has played and is still playing a very important guide in my life, professionally and as a young leader. I have, in the course of these years, had to make many tough and often seemingly risky decisions, that only an upbringing like mine could have prompted and prepared me for.
You’ve been involved in youth leadership for about a decade now, what are the most important lessons you have learnt?
Actually, I have in one way or the other been involved in youth leadership for the best part of two decades. I have had quite a number of lessons to take out. However, one very important lesson in leadership that particularly strikes and has followed me over the years is the importance of being team-centred rather than being me-centred. I also never hesitate to hammer Harry Truman’s quote that, ‘it is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit’. I picked this lesson at a very young age and it has become a lifelong personal leadership principle, which I never compromise on.
I have also learnt and believe very strongly that “everything rises and falls on Leadership”; this belief helps me learn to take responsibility and ownership for my actions as well as that of team members.
The Not Too Young To Run Bill was signed shortly before this year’s elections, would you say this has had any impact in youth representation during the elections?
Certainly! For one, in the last year or two, the apathy of young people to political affairs reduced significantly. We are gradually becoming mindful of the actions of our leaders and we are now demanding accountability. I think this owes largely to the popular interest, which the Bill generated. We are also witnesses to the unprecedented number of young persons who presented themselves for elective positions. It was reported that the number of young candidates at the 2019 general elections was in excess of 1,500, a figure which can obviously be credited as the effect of the new age qualification laws.
While I believe it is too early to begin to take statistics, we can all acknowledge that young people are willing to take advantage of the development. The excitement that the passing of the Bill alone generated is an indication that youths are becoming interested in. Realistically and for all its worth, I did not envisage that we would see any immediate avalanche of youth takeover.
As young people of Nigeria, we should be proud of how well we fared in the 2019 elections and the far-reaching effects of the clamour for youth inclusion post-election. We did not expect that the Bill would launch a radical paradigm shift in Nigeria’s political system within that short period but of course, something has been triggered and it is only a matter of time till we witness how spectacularly young people will ruffle the old order in subsequent elections.
Some people claim young people are not truly ready for leadership and are only clamouring for political positions to get a piece of the ‘national cake’ and not truly serve like their predecessors. What do you say to this?
I understand that certain people share this concern. But they are not being completely fair in my opinion.
The common perception has always been that with age comes experience and thus the ability to lead, but people are starting to realise that leadership is not as linear as that narrative appears. Though we haven’t even scratched the surface yet, I am sure that as time unfolds we would have more young leaders occupying these roles.
As young leaders also, we need to prepare ourselves for these roles; being young is not enough, we need to convert the advantages of being young for the benefit of the different opportunities that may come our way or the different leadership positions that we strive for. It is up to us to put our best hands and our best brains forward, young people who are genuinely concerned and competent enough to take the rein of affairs.
As current JCI president, what are some changes you have carried out and still hope to do?
Something I believe we are doing differently and successfully this year is our approach to partnerships and we’ve established strong, strategic, sustainable and beneficial partnerships across all levels. One novel achievement we have had this year is the International Youth Day Summit. Also, we have also been able to run an all-inclusive administration, one in which every individual member of JCI Nigeria has been affected or involved, directly or indirectly.
You left a lucrative career for entrepreneurship; why and do you regret it?
No regrets. I left with my head held high to pursue my passion, I am a better person today and I am enjoying every bit of it. I love what I do; I am doing what I love.
Getting startup capital can be tough, how did you get funds to start out?
Well, you are right about it being difficult raising start-up capital. But as I said, I had always known I was going to start a business of my own. So everything I did prior to that contributed to my idea gaining traction the moment I decided to start taking action on it. I had my savings and I had built solid relationships over the years that I was able to leverage on when it was time to begin to look for business partnership and investment opportunities; all these played a role in making that challenge of startup capital less of a challenge for me. This is not to say that it was all a bed of roses. It wasn’t. This is basically emphasizing the importance of being intentional and deliberate about one’s dreams.
Tell us some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome?
Initially, I had issues with delegating tasks. It seems every time I delegated a task, something gets messed up and I had to redo it. But over time, I have learnt to get the best people for a job even if it costs more to do so. As much as I make an attempt to demand the best in people, I have also learnt to live with the best that the different individuals can offer; this also gives an opportunity for others to learn, unlearn, relearn, master, get better at their roles and grow.
Many women have started/are in business and are struggling, what three tips would you recommend they do?
Prepare: Doing business is a process; it is not a decision you make overnight. Before you get into it, make sure to have done your homework. Be sure that it is viable, profitable and sustainable. Many businesses have failed because they were not rooted in strong foundations. You are doing yourself and your hard-earned money grievous harm by becoming an emergency entrepreneur.
Keep learning: I always tell people it is never too late to get knowledge. Equip yourself with more skills and get more proficient in your business ventures.
Inculcate the right values and stand out: It is very important that your business is grounded on strong and positive values. Nobody will patronize you simply because you are a woman. Make yourself and your business attractive to customers. Once people identify you as a unique, reliable and outstanding brand with admirable professional ethics and enviable business standard, you are destined for greatness.
How can the government assist more women-owned SMEs, so they can scale and grow?
The government has, at different times, introduced loans to SMEs but there have not been many of them. The length and interest rates sometimes make these loans unattractive to small businesses. The Government does very little to support women in business. Instituting or sponsoring grant schemes is a huge arm of assistance that the government can lend to SMEs. Business owners would not have to worry about refinancing, interest rates, length or look over their shoulders all the time. Let female entrepreneurs apply for business grants to be awarded to deserving applicants only and the application of the grant money monitored by the government or its agency. We are not only talking about women empowerment here but growing the economy of the country as well. The government also still has a lot to do in terms of creating an enabling environment for business investments to thrive in Nigeria. The state of the economy is not encouraging investment in businesses.
Has mentoring played a strong role in your growth? If so who are your mentors and would you recommend mentoring for female entrepreneurs?
I have had quite a number of mentors over the years and they all have played huge roles in my life. The importance of mentorship cannot be overemphasized. It is a competitive edge. It is a head-start. It gives you an unusual sight, as mentorship is an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants as you journey through life. I have definitely had mentors and I have mentees, and the results are often profound. So I would definitely recommend mentorship to any young fellow out there. So 10 times out of 10, I would recommend mentoring for female entrepreneurs, the budding ones and the established crop alike. Get a mentor that understands your aspirations and share the same or similar career path. There’s nothing like “too much mentoring”.
If you had the opportunity to change things for Nigerian women today, what would you do?
I’ll get them better empowered. Empowerment does not mean them giving them handouts or money but giving them better opportunities to grow, develop their skills and show that if given a chance, they can perform excellently.
If you became president of this country, what are the top three things you would focus on?
I’ll run an inclusive government focusing on the most vulnerable group. The level of poverty is high; I will focus on interventions that will lift people out of poverty. Youth empowerment and gender-based policies will be a major interest.
Nigeria is said to have over 50 per cent of her population below the age of 35, policies that will directly engage, empower and impact this group will have the most effect on the economy. Third and most importantly, there cannot be sustainable development without peace; the issues threatening the peace of the country will be dealt with.
How can we guide more women into leadership and political roles in our present clime?
What is most important, for me, is that we place emphasis on competency. That means we begin to groom women to have the necessary qualification, skills, knowledge, experience and expertise to handle the roles that they aspire to. You cannot be overwhelmingly qualified for a role and be easily overlooked. The kind of society we belong has made it harder for women to break through, so, while we work on changing that mindset and overcoming stereotypes against women, we should start by giving a compelling account of ourselves. Women should not be given political positions in order to complete a quota or merely satisfy a gender-romancing policy. I believe these things should be about merit. So how can we build the capacity of women? Learning and priming. Learning by ensuring that we help women acquire the needed skill and knowledge. Priming is more practical. It is about preparing and promoting women for the roles intended and we can do this by proper grooming and mentoring. Let us mentor our young women and create for them an enabling environment to aspire for leadership and political roles.
You lead a busy jet-setting life with your hands in several pies, how do you make all of it work?
It could be tiresome and you can’t always have it all sorted but I have found simple solutions to it. Most importantly, I surround myself with people who are self-driven, share my visions and understand my goals. So, if I am not there, nothing changes. Sometimes, it is very difficult finding the right persons but when you do, your life becomes easier. I have also learnt the art of delegating. Like I said earlier, I struggled with it earlier but it has become pretty natural. Also, I am privileged to be part of an organization that is uniquely and systematically structured.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what do you think you would have been?
I would probably have remained in the corporate world.
What guiding principles do you live your life by?
I am a Christian so my guiding principles are God-centered. I believe in aligning my actions with principles stated in the scriptures. Several principles guide different spheres of my life. However, the demands of my faith are a thread that cuts through all of them and has remained abiding. I believe that wisdom is supreme and that we should, in all our getting, get understanding. I believe in living a life of integrity and that character makes a person. I believe that whatever my hands find to do, I should do it with all of my mind and all my heart. I believe very strongly in excellence.
Tell us what your typical day looks like?
Each day comes with its distinct demands. One thing that is undeniable is that it is now hugely different from when it was always 9 am to 5 pm. As you said, I have my hands in several pies now so before the end of a typical day, I must have had a bite of all the different pies. I must have caught up with all of the different parts of my life, Businesses, JCI, Family, Social Network, Events and all. So if a business requires me to be at work, I am there. If JCI requires me to be on the road, I am on the move. Whether I attend to them physically or virtually, I never let anything get past me each day.
Describe your personal style, what do you like and what wouldn’t you be caught in?
I like to go simple and fit for the occasion. I would say that my style is a combination of simplicity and comfortability. I want to appear classy yet simple, distinct yet comfortable. I wouldn’t ever be caught in anything that would make me feel uncomfortable.
What last words do you want to leave with women that are looking up to you?
I grew up believing that I could get anything I wanted if I worked hard and empowered myself enough in advance of when the opportunity eventually comes. Hard work and diligence have their gains. Moreover, women should endeavour to work extra hard because we are naturally disadvantaged, as society does not always give us an equal chance. Also, having the right attitude will get you far. A lot of people have thrown away opportunities or destroyed what they built with the wrong attitudes.
Finally, women should stop seeking handouts and courting positions on the basis of the fact that they are women. If we continue this culture, we continue to sell ourselves short, demean the womenfolk and do much to advance stereotypes against us. Many women are fast succeeding in male-dominated industries and sectors and it was not by cutting corners.