By FEYI BANKOLE
Her diminutive but elegant frame which could pass her for a young lady in her 20s bellies her intelligence and experience. “I spent 19 years in the banking industry before resigning as a Deputy General Manager a couple of years ago!”, she revealed as we went on talking, and this fuelled my curiosity.
I was soon to find out that I was chatting with the younger sister of one of Nigeria’s most successful women entrepreneurs, Mrs.Ibukun Awosika of Sokoa Chair Centre Limited. In this interview, the CEO of TCC Homes & Kitchens, an interior decoration outfit in Lagos, Mrs.Funmi Adeyemi, reveals how she left the banking industry for her first love- decoration, her involvement in the After-school Graduate Development Centre- AGDC which is currently being heavily championed by Mrs.Awosika and her life in the banking industry which she had joined at age 20, among sundry issues.
Enjoy our chat with this graduate of History who holds a MBA in Marketing!
I learn you’re one of the Directors at AGDC…
Yes. We were three that started the organisation. I was actually working in the bank at that time; I was there for 19 years until a couple of years ago. The whole idea was to give back to the Nigerian society. The three of us are graduates of Nigerian universities, but unfortunately, today’s graduates of Nigerian universities lack so many things by no fault of theirs.
You would want to cry when you sit in an interview panel! You almost feel like they never went to school when you hear them talk! Recently, from one of the trainings we did for Lagos State, I sent six graduates to one of the top three banks in Nigeria, and after two weeks, the bank called me to say they were going to employ four of them!
I mean, these were unemployed graduates searching endlessly for jobs hitherto! But the intelligence in them was only seen after we had tutored them! There are so many of them like that with brilliant minds, but because of the disadvantages in our educational system, some of them lack confidence, many are unable to express themselves and a lot of them do not even know what to say in an interview or what to write in a CV.
The few that even get jobs lose their jobs because they know nothing about comportment and workplace ethics. When I started my career in banking, fortunately for me, my employers put me on training for six weeks, even before I started work. But today, such opportunities are rare! We just felt we had to do something; which was why AGDC which is chaired by one of us, Mrs.Ibukun Awosika, was set up.
You worked in the bank for 19 years, yet you look very young; at what age did you graduate from university?
(Laughs) I’m a mother of four and I graduated from the university at age 20 in 1989. But I don’t think that was too young because there are people who even graduate as early as 18, 19 years of age.
So, why did you leave the bank?
I actually felt I needed to do something for myself. I started-off in Guarantee Trust Bank-GTB and then I went to the United Bank for Africa-UBA. I however finished-up at Skye Bank where I was a Deputy General Manager.
You mean you left such a mouth-watering position for AGDC?
No, I actually left the bank two years ago to set up my own business- interior decoration. AGDC is five years old, and like I said, we were three that founded it. One of us, Mrs.Detoun Ogwo, was actually running it full-time. The only reason why I’m running it right now is because she is on study leave. Like I noted earlier, AGDC is just a give-back venture, so, we all have our own businesses.
It sounds like the business of interior decoration is more rewarding than working as a Deputy General Manager in a bank?
Interior decoration is just something I enjoy doing. Eventually, it happened that my older sister, Mrs.Ibukun Awosika, didn’t have the time to do the home part of her office furnishing business. So, because my children were growing older and I wanted more time for myself and family, I felt encouraged to venture into interior decoration which I’ve actually always loved.
People who know me would tell you they’ve always known me to have an eye for interiors. So, a lot of my friends were not surprise when I made known my intention to go into decoration. It’s something I did for people free of charge because I enjoyed doing it. I’ve always done it in church, homes, etc.
How has your sister’s life of success robbed-off on you as her younger sister?
We’re six children, and I’m the fifth while Mrs.Ibukun Awosika is the second. For a long time, I actually didn’t want to do business because of her. When I saw what business took out of her, I thought I wasn’t ready to give up such. She’s very strong, and I must say I’m not half as strong as she is. She’s what you’d call a super woman, and that’s the truth. She can combine ten to twenty things, and I really do not know how she does it.
Has this craze for interior decoration got something to do with your childhood?
I’ve always loved fashion; not just interior decoration. I’ve always like to put things together, dress people up, dress things up, etc. I’m always the first person friends consult when they have to pick colours for weddings and all sorts of events. Even before I’m asked, I would volunteer myself! While in the bank, I was always the one to be consulted when we needed to buy presents for customers.
Was venturing into an all-new terrain quite difficult since you’ve always been in the bank?
That’s the beauty of banking- you get trained so well that you’re never afraid of rejection or starting something new! When you work in the bank, you get rejected so many times when you’re looking for customers. It actually makes you resistant to ‘NO’. You learn not to give up even when people turn down your request, and it makes you more determined. That was one of the things I took away in my years in banking. I got so much training- local and abroad, got the confidence to talk to people, to sell, etc.
How did you cope with sexual harassment in your early years as a marketer?
That’s the irony of it all. I think it’s really the way you comport yourself. I did marketing for years, and frankly, maybe I was only approached once by a man for sexual affair! The way you comport yourself really matters. I was extremely polite but formal with all my customers. I was always saying ‘Yes sir’ to them all, and it got to a point where they personally noted my difference.
The way I would dress for a party is different from the way I would dress going to work! The hairstyle also has to be different because the way and manner you look would really determine how people assess you. So, when I was in the bank, I was actually very strict. There was a time I was Head of Customer Service in a bank, and I absolutely banned people using coloured weave-on! I also banned them chewing gums because I observed that people easily forget themselves and become rude when they chew gum. Those that worked with me can attest to these.