By Vera Anyangafu and Florence Amagiya
Hilda Manyo Dickson is a finance professional of over two decades and counting and a positive mindset strategist.
Also, a John Maxwell certified speaker and coach, she is a personal finance enthusiast who has harnessed her experience as a chartered accountant to educate other women about their finances and help them multiply their streams of income.
An accounting graduate from University of Calabar, Dickson is a fellow of ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), a global body for professional accountants. In this chat, she talks about life, business and many more.
How did you get into the world of finance?
As a teenager, I had this lofty dream of partnering my brother to own a hospital. His plan was to be a medical doctor, so becoming a pharmacist was a natural choice. Down the line, I realised it was a five-year course and one thing I was certain about was that I couldn’t spend five years in the university. I just could not wait to start working and earning money.
Thankfully, a friend’s sister visited her during one of our visiting days back in Federal Government Girls College Benin; she was beautifully dressed and wore a lovely ‘Anita Baker’ haircut. I was intrigued by her appearance and went on to ask what course she studied in the university. The answer ‘accounting’ changed the trajectory for me. So, you can imagine what I applied for when the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) form was released notwithstanding all the coaching I had gotten from my mum who was a guidance counselor – accounting.
When asked why I switched from pharmacy, I simply said I did not like the smell of medicines. My career kicked off from the banking sector where I worked for six years as an operations staff member. I barely had a life after work, as most times, I did not leave the bank before 9 pm. And all the stress that went with it.
So how were you able to leave the 9am to 9pm job the banking sector provided for?
I had longed to move to the oil and gas sector which, by the way, took me to Port Harcourt where I lived. It took several hits and misses to land a job in the energy sector. As you might have deduced from my introduction, I was interested in being independent, working and making money to cater for life’s needs.
That opened my mind into the world of finance. It evolved from making money, to managing it, multiplying it, and sharing the knowledge with others to help them achieve financial stability. So, yes, like many other young girls imagining what my professional life would look like was relatively easy, the aspects I forgot to plan for were the challenges that I could encounter along the way.
What were the challenges you encountered leaving employment to self-employment?
My tale has not been a plug and play experience but one with several hurdles that have all cumulated into learning expositions for me. Some experiences are not directly linked to work yet are intertwined because irrespective of your many challenges, you have one mind to grapple with them all.
Trying for a baby was one of them as I dealt with infertility for almost five years after marriage. When I eventually got pregnant, my direct boss and another friend all in the same unit were all pregnant; so, you can imagine how convenient that would have been for our male boss (chuckles). Twenty-one months down the line, they diagnosed this same child with cancer.
So what did you do when this happened? I mean having an infant who was diagnosed with cancer is not a pleasant development as it can disrupt anyone’s life?
I had to be out of work for almost a year and even years after, my absence continued to be a sore point during the annual appraisals. Moreover, in a male dominated environment, it’s difficult to do a direct comparison between males and females, which warranted extra work on my side irrespective of the issues I had to deal with. Through it all with the Almighty God guiding me, I juggled all the responsibilities while staying consistent and focused with all my deliverables. Over time, my commitment and consistency paid off.
Share with us the journey your family and you went through when your child was diagnosed with paediatric cancer as a toddler?
This was one challenge I never saw coming. I had heard a few stories about cancer but had never really paid any attention to it. It sounded foreign and like something only adults dealt with, probably because of life-style choices. How naïve I was till it came knocking. We went from hospital to hospital here in Nigeria and could not get a diagnosis. My daughter’s blood level was depleting really fast, and a blood transfusion was recommended. In the process of looking for a suitable blood type, I was a candidate to be considered until the pre-screening test showed I was pregnant.
We eventually travelled out of the country and that was where we got the actual diagnosis of stage 4 neuroblastoma. It was devastating for us as a family. It brought about a separation, as I had to have an extended stay in America. There, I realised why cancer was referred to as a monster. The treatments did not stop at ravaging one’s body but were extremely expensive too. I appreciated the need for good governance as it filtered to every aspect of the system.
You wrote a new book on this story, ‘Osunyameye’. What do you want to achieve with it?
I would say my story and the book has become a ministry (chuckles). I fulfilled my vow to God by chronicling my journey through infertility and childhood cancer in the book. I equally shared my experience of how I had to deal with work pressures through the process, the network I was surrounded with, and the role various people played through the ordeal.
The epilogue is more than just an epilogue but my lesson-plan where I encapsulated the values I held on to through the trials. I have supported several cancer patients or mums going through a similar challenge with my story to give them hope even in dark seasons. I have shared my story in public forums as well however, to reach a wider audience. I equally support cancer causes/organisations as a way of giving back. 100% of profit from sale of the book ‘Osunyameye’ is fully dedicated to supporting paediatric/youth cancer patients and causes.
In the area of infertility and other challenges people come across in life, what other message are you passing with this book and who should read it?
My fertility journey was a faith builder. Let me give specific stories or examples. Sometime in 1999, I had a cervical polyp, and the doctor advised I should date an old man and have a baby, as it might be difficult for me to take in later on in life. That suggestion put me off, and I never went back to him for follow-up checks. So, you can imagine getting married a few years later and being unable to get pregnant. The first year was not a real bother, as my husband and I had agreed to try for a baby a year after our marriage. Subsequently, it became a bit of a concern because I suffered dysmenorrhoea and got teased each month as people always assumed I was pregnant. Somewhere down the line, I got used to it and focused on the Word of God. I did not get irritated when people asked me questions about getting pregnant.
I was comfortable enough to make jokes out of the situation as I just knew it would happen whenever it happened unless it did not feature as God’s plan for me. I remember one of my senior colleagues who casually said something like “keep smiling and twisting your waist, if you like don’t settle down and have a baby”.
Ordinarily, that would have hurt me, but I did not as much as flinch. I just took time out later that day to educate her on how to talk, especially when you are not knowledgeable about a subject. In the fourth year, a doctor categorically told us it was impossible for us to have a child naturally. It reminded me yet again of the Word of God that says, “There shall be none barren in the land, neither male nor female”. I was not perturbed but had a strange kind of peace.
So, what advice do you have for women going through some trying situations and who do not have any idea on what to do about it?
Through my journey, I learned several things that helped in developing my approach to future trials because, let’s face it, it just doesn’t end. There will always be advisors that didn’t need your permission to recommend solutions. There will always be people that would judge you even before they know anything about you. There is always an expectation from people you owe no direct explanation to. Ultimately, the best of man is still a man, so total and complete trust in God is not negotiable.
My book is a must-read especially for parents/adults caring for children diagnosed with paediatric cancer, couples dealing with infertility, cancer patients or critically ill people, singles preparing for marriage, people of faith going through impossible situations and just anyone needing motivation.
What advice do you have for women on financial independence, especially in times like this where cost of living is steadily on the increase?
Be guided by the three mysteries of money: making it, managing it and multiplying it. Knowledge is power. Get financially literate and prepare in advance for when “life happens” because it will certainly happen. Don’t get easily swayed by the fashion trends, but let your heart connect with your head. Make smart money decisions, save, invest and, where possible, live below your means. Frugal living goes a long way in preparing you for eventualities outside your control. Times will keep getting tougher; it’s never been easier as far as I remember. Complaints about money have been a constant. Brace up and, while at it, have a lot of fun creating memories.