By Ojelu Henry
At a very young age, Adetola Juyitan simply set out to live and express her life fully. By dint of fate, that expression of value, commitment, care and love has bestowed on her, the burden of leading others on different fronts. In this interview, Juyitan who is the current President of Junior Chambers International, JCI, Nigeria, shares her experiences of being a young leader and an entrepreneur.
Share a little about your upbringing with us?
I am from Ondo state but I grew up in Lagos. As a young kid growing up in Nigeria, I didn’t have a lot of things rosy. We had to work really hard as a family to survive. Hustling was the name of the game from a very tender 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.
What memorable childhood experience would you say shaped your personality?
Quite a lot. Okay, this particular one is top of mind. Right from when I was young, I had to do all sorts of businesses that would seem demeaning to someone who grew up in a “rich” family (as perceived on the outside). But those experiences trained me to value money more and made me less dependent from a young age.
You have been involved in youth leadership at a young age. What vital lessons have you learnt as a young leader?
Yes, that is very true. One very important lesson in leadership that has followed me over the years is the importance of being TEAM-centered rather than being ME-centered. The great leaders I know are more ambitious towards a cause and not towards self, so they often do not care who gets the credit as long as the team progresses. It parallels Harry Truman’s quote when he said, ‘it is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit’.
Why are young leaders not given prominent leadership roles in government and top management levels?
I do think the narratives are beginning to change. The common perception has always been that with age come experience and thus the ability to lead. But people are starting to realize that leadership is not as linear as that narrative appears. Though we haven’t even scratched the surface yet, but I am sure as time unfolds we would have more young leaders occupying these roles as people are now realizing the importance of having leaders start early. 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.
As the current JCI President in Nigeria, what do you hope to achieve during your tenure?
This year, we hope to sustain our tradition of excellence and further advance the JCI mission and our mantra of service to humanity is the best work of life to various communities across the country through flagship projects and sustainable partnerships.
You left a very lucrative banking for entrepreneurial pursuit. Why and any regrets?
No regrets at all. 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.
Getting start-up capital for business is usually a challenge. How did you overcome that challenge?
Well, you are right about it being difficult raising start-up capital. But like I said earlier, 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 it was all a bed of roses. It wasn’t. It was just the cumulative result of several years of directional hard work. This is basically emphasizing the importance of being intentional about your dreams.
You have quite a number of successful businesses in the country. How easy was it for you to achieve success as a woman entrepreneur?
Not easy honestly. There are a lot of challenges, but challenges are there for everyone. The key is not to ask for lesser challenges, but to ask for more skills so you can overcome any challenge you face. Skills are permanent, challenges, only temporary. I was never deterred by any of those challenges. The story is always sweeter when you can boldly say, despite all, I was still able to achieve this. Some of the key things that I can say helped me during these difficult times include mentorship and the power of associations. JCI as an organization provides a platform for both and that has helped me a whole lot.
What are some of the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
A couple. Like initially, I had issues with delegating tasks. it seems every time I did delegate a task, something gets messed up and I have to redo it anyway. But overtime I have learnt to get the best people for a job description even if it costs more to do so. In the end, it would be worth it. It also gives an opportunity for others to learn.
What are your guiding principles?
My guiding principles are God-centered. I am a Christian and I believe in aligning my actions with principles stated in the scriptures. 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 my mind and all my heart. These are some of my guiding principles, and they have helped me in navigating through the sometimes-murky waters of life.
Who is your mentor and what role has mentorship played in your success?
Well, I have had so many mentors over the years. And they all have played a huge role 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.
If given the opportunity to lead this country, what would you do differently?
Oh! A whole lot! I’ll run an inclusive government focusing on the most vulnerable group. Knowing that the level of poverty is high, I will focus on interventions that will lift the maximum number of people out of poverty. Youth empowerment, gender-based policies will be my major interest. Nigeria is said to have over 50% of her population below 35years of age, policies that will directly engage and impact this group will have the most effect on the economy. There cannot be sustainable development without peace; the issues threatening the peace of the country will be frontally dealt with.
Why do you think women are not given major leadership role in the country?
It is more about stereotypes cum cultural (especially in this part of the world); as the mindset carried into leadership is that of Women are to be seen and not heard hence women are generally treated as weaker gender and therefore not regarded. This narrative is also changing at a very fast pace. Most companies, corporate bodies, political bodies are not ready to hire women for top executive positions…and this is more as a result of stereotypes and not about what each party can bring to the table. Nothing in our genes favors any gender for leadership positions. Several researches have proven that the female gender can function as well as the male gender in leadership roles. But the reality is, as a society, we are already used to a certain way of life. But then people make culture, and not the other way around. It therefore lies on us to keep this conversation going and rewrite the narratives and ultimately ensure that equality is achieved in all sectors. Also, females who have risen against all odds to attain leadership roles have to act as and remain great ambassadors, embodiments for excellence and most importantly, must not forget to pass down the ladder to deserving younger females so that they also can aspire to break glass ceilings. That way, a cycle begins. That is how old dogmas are unlearned and a new cultural narrative is written.
Until the barriers are pulled down (which may not be very easy), it may remain difficult for women to easily attain certain leadership roles but we’ll keep trying until the glass ceiling is broken.