By MOSES NOSIKE
Kemi Otegbade is a woman with a man’s heart. This could be the reason why she sees no difference between men and women in terms of intellectual achievements, even though she accords them due respect.
She has a character for quality and standards, and she is passionate about counseling youths on rightful career and skill development. In this interview with Woman in her Prime, the CEO, Heartlink Group advises women to build a good career that could help their families. Excerpts:
Heartlink is playing a lot of roles in Nigeria. We started with recruitment (HR) 10 years ago which we still do. From there, we ventured into publishing business directory and we have published four of that till date. We have published over ten thousand businesses active in Nigeria.
We also do media and public relations for companies and of course, most people know that we do events and work on special projects with people – we are consultants. More to that, we develop good ideas and can turn it to fruition, add value so that parties involved can benefit from it. So, if you want to classify what we do in nutshell, I will say events, public and media relations, HR and project.
One can see from your profile that you are passionate about creating employment for the youth and skill counseling. What has been the achievement so far?
Well, we have made some achievements to some extent. Unfortunately, the state of the economy has not been encouraging. But when I started recruitment, I was still a banker. So what we usually do then was to place advert on newspapers to collect a lot of vacancies, because relations, friends and many others out there kept complaining to me. They are looking for work.
All the complaints were about employment. I also realised that some managing directors approached me and said, please I need workers. Do you know anybody who has skill on a particular discipline? At that point, I realised that Team A needs Team B and vice versa but they don’t know.
So I said to myself, why don’t you become the middle person for both teams? So we started placing adverts with a subject: “Do you need staff?Talk to us.” We have a larger data bank. “Do you need a job? Bring your CV. We will shortlist you for the most suitable jobs .” That was how we started.
So it was serving a purpose and we became very popular and a lot of people got employed. Even in three days, if you ask us to give you professionals for some projects for some industries, we just send four for you and you select.
Why do we have a lot of women in our society today with few achievers among them?
I will not be the only person that would
answer this question, but I will tell in my own opinion that it could be the economy that has held them back, or lack of confidence, or other factors. For me, I’m not held back and I have confidence. And it is difficult to make me think I’m small, hence I know if you can think of something and actualise it, your gender doesn’t matter. I have a lot of male professionals working together with me and they tell me there is no difference between me and them. If you want us to work seven hours, I’m there. If you want us to have long meeting, I’m ready. If we set targets for ourselves, we both achieve them same way. So, it is the women that think we can’t achieve it. If you can think it, you can achieve it. I don’t see any difference. I see my male counterparts as equals. I don’t think there is any difference. When I was a banker, I worked with men and women and there was no difference. I relate very well with both parties as employer of labour and when I was an employee.
Employers are complaining of the quality of graduates which makes recruitment difficult in Nigeria. What is your take?
It has been a big challenge and I would like to contribute to the society because this challenge had almost made me give up on recruitment. For instance, if you need ten workers, you have to interview eighty or hundred people to get qualified ones and by the time you finished, you are almost fainting. The reason is simple. Most graduates can’t defend their certificates.
It’s a big challenge in Nigeria. We need re-orientation. We have lecturers who would encourage girls not to read and meet them outside and give them marks. Such a person is not employeable. That person collected certificate he or she cannot defend. So, it’s a collective problem.
We don’t have facilities or amenities on the part of government. We don’t have decent men, women and students. As a result, 85% of our graduates, especially the federal institutions, can’t defend their certificates. Unlike when we went to school, I can still recollect and defend what I learnt in school since 1988 I finished.
Today, most graduates can’t defend what they learnt and that is why we are working extra hard. I used to have a larger number of staff but I reduced because even with such large number, you still do the work yourself. They are just show glass. Most of them can’t write letters. Let’s forget about proposals, they have not been trained to draw proposals.
It is a societal problem and it is sad. That is why most Nigerian graduates go abroad and end up washing toilets, becoming nannies because we are not fit until we go back to their own standards. We’ve all failed completely – the government, the teachers because they are frustrated and are not well paid. They vent it out. The ladies have understood they can pay their way in kind to pass. Even the men also pay cash to pass. So, you can see that the country is collapsing, total failure. When we ignore things and expect it to work out, it will backfire. If we want to change for the next generation, we can start now.
Coping with CEO challenges and home management…
I have taken time to master it now. I
don’t have problem because sometimes I take some jobs home. It’s possible if you plan yourself well and people around you show understanding.
Your understanding of womanhood in this part of the world…
May be I’m lucky coming from my kind of family background. I don’t see woman as a second class. In fact, we have more girls in my immediate family than boys, and the women are more aggressive than the men with all respect to them.
This is one of the reasons I’m not happy about the recent abduction of Chibok girls. In that part of the country, they are being oppressed and incidentally I schooled in the north, old Plateau State, and most of the women there were from the South. Most males there were forced to attend school.
Here, we are not oppressed. It is only a lazy woman that wouldn’t like to go to school. It is only a lazy woman that would wait for a man to bring money before she could feed. I think it is the culture there that restricts women, probably because they are given out in marriage too early. I would not be able to speak from that side even though I schooled in the North, I didn’t really mingle with their culture. Doors open for women if we are determined without selling what God has given to us. So we should keep working.
What is your take on the abduction of Chibok girls?
It is the saddest thing I’m thinking of now. The situation is beyond Nigeria, even though Nigeria allowed it to get this far. If this was handled initially, those girls would not have been abducted. You don’t say you have unwanted pregnancy and you ignore it.
It will keep growing and you face the pregnancy and the child. That is what I feel about the Chibok case. The Chibok case is not the problem. The Boko Harram issue ,whether political or not , has been stirring at us in the face but we ignore it believing it will go away. As it is now, we need God and other world powers to help us because it’s getting out of hands.