By Juliet Ebirim
Omolara Awoyemi is the new Managing Director of SureGroup. Prior to her recent appointment last month, she was the Country Manager, JumiaPay Nigeria. In this interview, she talks about her plans, vision and challenges in a male dominated environment.
What is it like being the Managing Director of SureGroup?
It feels great to lead a dynamic set of young people and building solutions that will change the way Nigerians and Africans transfer non-cash value to one another in the form of gifts, rewards and loyalty. I wake up every day with a passion to drive the adoption of giving and gifting through gift cards in Africa, build an industry pace-setter, and set Africa on a pedestal like other developed regions.
When you began your career many years ago, did you imagine that you would get to this level?
Growing up, I had clear dreams of what I wanted to do, the person I wanted to be and the kind of level I wanted to operate. All my educational and career moves have been targeted at this direction. However, even though I always prepared and invested in myself to be at least one step ahead of my peers, I would say it was God’s divine arrangement to get me to this point. So yes I did imagine I would get to this level, but I didn’t imagine it would be this fast. I spent only 6 years from Entry level to C-Level.
What are your plans and vision for SureGroup and how do you intend to achieve them?
My plan is to grow our businesses to become the first and top of mind platforms people visit when they want to send value to their loved ones across the globe. We want to build a phenomenal rewards and gifting platform that will revolutionise the way Nigerians and Africans at large give, share and celebrate each other. My vision is for us to become the leading global platform for non-cash value transfers. To achieve this vision, we will take some industry knowledge from developed countries, listen to our own market and tailor our products to fit and work with respective brands and partners for collaborations. We will also invest largely in constantly educating Africans on this new phenomenon and the benefits to individuals, corporates, business owners, etc.
What major challenges/threats do you see in the Fintech industry and how can they be addressed?
The first are collaborations and partnerships. The essence of Fintech is to drive solutions that are adaptive to customer demands, as against what traditional banks, for example, will offer. Financial institutions and other Fintech companies need to learn to work together to build a stronger eco-system of financial inclusion in Africa. The second is funding. Seed funding is relatively easy to obtain, largely from external (Non-Nigerian/African) investors, but scale funding is quite difficult. There needs to be more investment in our own local startups, especially in local currencies. Following funding as a challenge is winning customer trust and access to talent. Nigerians remain sceptical about the adoption of new products. Even though our business is globally adopted, it takes a lot of time to drive trust in Nigeria.
What makes your company’s approach to Fintech different from that of other companies and do you believe that to be a competitive advantage for your company?
Our angle to financial inclusion is actually trading via platforms that involve non-cash transfers. You buy a gift card for a loved one, your loved one takes the gift card to a store and purchases an item. You don’t need to worry about having enough cash in your account, or as a store owner, you won’t need to worry about giving out change in cash. Store owners also don’t need to worry about uptime or downtime on card processing networks.
What’s the most challenging part about running this kind of business in Nigeria?
The biggest challenge is the amount of time and investment it takes to drive an adoption. Because it’s the first of its kind in Nigeria, we have to consistently educate customers.
What are the challenges you encounter being in a male-dominated environment?
A few times, I’ve been in situations where I had to try extra hard to convince the other person at the end of the table to listen and trust my leadership, skills and knowledge on a subject matter. Some men still struggle to accept that we are in a knowledge-based revolution and women are equally included. I overcome this by painfully taking the time to let things work their natural course. One thing is certain, if you are good, you are good. No one can fault that.
Do you experience resistance when you’re leading men?
Occasionally. But I personally have a charm that I think works on everyone, both men and women. Don’t you agree?
What have you sacrificed to achieve career success and how do you feel about the sacrifices today?
Making sacrifices is essential to success. Burning the midnight oil, studying, spending late hours researching etc. It’s all about hard work and determination. I’ve had to pay for courses to boost my knowledge and be broke for a while. I believe money will always come, but you have to invest in yourself first.
What are the challenges to female leadership?
From my perspective, one of the challenges is some men are still very stuck with patriarchy. For that reason, they are reluctant to follow or take instructions from a woman. However, it takes wisdom, humility and firmness to conquer such. Another challenge is the unconscious gender bias the society creates when it comes to showcasing women leaders. For example, a woman is being interviewed for her achievements and success, and all the questions keep revolving around how she’s managed to succeed as a woman, managing children and the home. Such questions are never addressed at men. I think while keeping a home front is ultimately a great achievement, it should never outshine the achievements of professional and career success. Everything should be placed side by side and one does not outweigh the other.
How do you balance your job and personal/family life?
Managing work and personal life is relatively easy. Four things I ensure to put in place: Planning, Hardwork, Having a supportive partner, Having a strong support network of family and friends
As a leader, who is your role model and what is your definition of success?
I have a lot of role models, but for the sake of the time, I will mention a few: Sheryl Sandberg, Ibukun Awosika, Opeyemi Awoyemi, Michelle Obama. Success for me is really an accomplishment of whatever goal you set for yourself. If you set a goal to fly 1,000 feet and you accomplish it, that is success. It is wrong to define success using the yardstick of another person. We all need to learn to define what success is for ourselves.
What advice do you have for women who find themselves in a male-dominated industry?
Stay focused and prove your worth. Devote yourself to being knowledgeable, especially on trends and new disruptions. Find your passion. You will be successful in your field as long as you have a real passion for it. Be open – open to new ideas and open to change. Plan and always be available. You want to have a career plan but sometimes an opportunity will arise that you didn’t expect and you hadn’t considered. When that opportunity comes, grab it!
Also, get mentors! It’s a blessing to have people you can look up to, and also shape your career after. You can learn from their own past struggles and mistakes, and equally, take great advise that will stir you in the right directions.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
I would say I am most proud of how my work has immensely impacted the e-commerce industry in Nigeria. It’s amazing to see how millions of Nigerians and Africans at large have embraced e-commerce. Ten years ago, there was almost no existence of such. I have led projects and business deals that have had direct impact on consumer satisfaction. E.g. Browsing Jumia site/app data free on the largest Telecom in Nigeria. Now I am very proud to be building the first and largest platform in Africa that will revolutionize the way people gift and send value across the globe.
I am equally very proud of the ability to give back – creating a platform where I can empower young girls and women to be great leaders in Tech. With Girls In Technology, the results have been positively overwhelming and I sincerely look forward to getting more girls on board. On a personal level, I consider my greatest achievement as being able to raise two beautiful children and combining this with managerial work and professional life.