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I like people who are on top of their game – Mayo Akinola

Mayo Akinola is General Manager, DSTV Mobile, Nigeria and Ghana.  He was educated in the United Kingdom and later in the United States.  After working in several companies outside the country as a telecommunication and entertainment expert, he returned home, trying his hands on mobile entertainment and advertising.

In one of his researches, according to him, he discovered a dearth of digital engineers in the country and decided to tackle the problem headlong.  “We will train young men and women in digital engineering.  They will be trained by our guys from South Africa. It is a responsibility I want to champion because we are in dire need of them.”

He spent an afternoon with Ishola Balogun telling the story of his life and why it is better for the younger ones to passionately develop their careers early in life. He is our role model of the week.  Read on.
How did you plan your career or did you stumble on it?

No, I didn’t plan it.  When I was an undergraduate, the idea of telecommunication and entertainment did not come to me.  I think a few years after I graduated, about four to five years after, I was working in a company in 1999, and it is about IT Communication and so on.

Then we began to see the need for its conversion to telecommunication and from my analytical standpoint, it was there we planted the seed.  After that I moved on to one of the Turner’s companies.  Turner has a huge company which turns out $3billion annually, rolled up under Warner, a bigger company which is into media.

Mayo Akinola

At that point it was going through some change. At a point, we were focussing on providing content distribution throughout the country and CNN, as you know is one of the international content providers to other parts of the world.  So the result was the advent of content mobile TV.

That was where I had the rudimentary of Telecommunication and Entertainment. Since then I began to understand many different elements of the job.  That has allowed me to build on the full gamut of the industry.

It is nice coming back home to do just that and nice again talking to my staff and other people who want to learn about telecommunication and entertainment.  My focus now is mobile entertainment and advertising which we are looking at sometime in the nearest future.

Did your parents at any time influence the choice of your career?

They did not.  My father was in Guinness and he spent about 30 years there. My mum was a nurse, so, it was quite different.  My first job after my university education was in a telecommunication company.  But then I was young and didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to do. But as time went on, I began to understand what I wanted to do.

Though some people advised me against it, I thank God I didn’t listen.  I just didn’t want to be a traditional average person in entertainment. I’ve always wanted to be in entertainment, to be somebody who specialises in entertainment of the phone and other devices and so on.   That has really helped me to provide that differentiation.

What’s  your advice for younger Nigerians who want to choose a career?

My advice is that you just have a passion for what you do. Don’t let  money influence you because everyday you have to be at work and seen to be doing your work excellently ,irrespective of money.  Somebody who has passion for the job and does it well has the tendency to excel more than anyone who has no passion for it. So, you’ve got to be passionate about what you do and don’t cut corners.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Yes! Challenges will come but being focussed on your career is one sure way of overcoming your challenges. You do things when you ought to do them.  For me, working in the United States as a black man was a challenge.

I used to tell my friends then that I’m happy seeing success in my career, but sometimes you’ve got to be tired of being a black man in a room.  Being back in Africa, being back in Nigeria, and knowing that you are one of many is a lot better.  It also offers me the opportunity to transact business globally.  Now, I won’t say I don’t have challenges; I have to work even harder like I have never worked before. My family sometimes, likes to see me more, but I try as much as possible to bridge the gap.

What are the lessons you’ve learned in life?

Career developing should be done at an earlier age.  As a young person, the more you can do in the earlier age, the better. Don’t postpone, don’t delay, don’t hesitate and don’t be carried away by fun.  When you make your decision, always think about where it is going to take you next.  Have a career path to follow.  Even if it is not clear, put yourself on the path.

A path to success can be very narrow, but not necessarily as wide as the highway. That narrow path will set you on course and will give you direction.   Sometimes, conflict might come, in terms of walking towards one direction or the other but you have to do what you must do at an earlier age.  Always remain focus on it.

Again, you know most of us will like to work for others but that depends on the choices you make.

How do you intend to affect the lives of others positively?

We’ve discovered that there is a dearth of digital engineers in Nigeria.  I’ve been battling on how we can really focus on some of these problems, but we can’t really do everything.  What we are doing right now is to train and retrain the young ones who are aspiring to be engineers.  But based on the budget we have and what we can offer, we have decided to train young men and women in the field of digital engineering.

And we’ll make sure the training is offered on uninterrupted basis. It is going to be absolutely practical.  May be this will further ignite their passion for the job and create a good opportunity for them to excel. We want to offer an opportunity  for those who want to learn.  We are currently having talks with universities on how we can also introduce digital engineering in the curriculum and how can we help facilitate that.

The unfortunate thing is that we all complain about our problems, but what are we doing about it?  And that is the focus for me and we are on the track.  We ‘re talking with a couple of young students from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, and we hope they will be able to join us soonest.  They will be trained by our guys from South Africa. It is a responsibility I want to champion.

How many are you looking at for the first batch of beneficiaries of this initiative?

Well, we will set criteria for that, although we want to bring as many as possible but it must be through a process.  We can actually focus on say two individuals and take them through their own career, or focus on curriculum of OAU for example and let several students pass through it so that it will not just be theory, it will be practical.  In my mind, I think what they need and that will be very useful to them is practical experience.

Throwing it open will be a bit difficult to handle but care must be taken to ensure that the result is achieved.  I’ll rather open it up to young people throughout the country, but before I do that, I will work with the universities and let them take charge of the administrative elements.  What kind of students are they? Are they good students ready to learn?  Also, it has to be something that will be embedded in the curriculum.

I think that is better.  Let us work hand in hand with the schools.  We know what it means to partner. We have tried it in a different context. You see, when you get thousands of students; there is the likelihood that you start getting disappointments.  It is a conversation I have had with Abuja, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

It is something I’m going to play a major role in.  You’ve got to tidy up all loose ends in terms of administrative elements and resources.

How do you relax?

I play golf.  I started recently though, but I find it very interesting and exhausting. It takes time too.  I disappear for about four hours to play golf.  I love it because it gives me pleasure when I want to be away from work.

Your role model

My late father of course is my role model. He persevered a lot, he worked in Guinness for 30years and he was happy.

As an adult, I imagined how he was able to do that.  You can see how he persevered.  I also look at others in the United States and other parts of the world. I study people a lot and I look at their lives.  We are not perfect anyway; we must continue to build on ourselves. I like people who are on top of their game and who did not cut corners.

NAME: Mayo Akinola
Project: Service to humanity
SCOPE: To give practical training to young undergraduates
in the field of digital engineering and make them employable and self reliant.
BENEFICIARIES: Undergraduates


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