Toyin Odutayo, an Information Technology executive, who had her postgraduate studies in the UK, shares her inspiring story with The Nation News.
JOURNEY to the UK in search of knowledge
What I did differently
Programming Experience in the UK
Returning to Nigeria, a sanity break
Going into business school was also my turning point. So when I left Nigeria in 1989, I left with the mind of going for five years, but five years became 12 years. The reasons why that was is because it was just very easy to go into the UK and fit since I had lots of Nigerian friends. Although that ‘fit’ will always be fit in quote, because you look at your skin, you are a black person. No matter how English you try to sound, you are still a Nigerian.
That realization hit me when I did business school, because there were many of us who came from Ghana, Namibia and other African countries. The kind of things they were talking about going to do back home prompted me, and I was like oh my God, I need to go back home and do something too. That was the turning point really.
I wanted to make a difference and I know that would not be made working in the UK. I was brought home by the late Osaze Osifo, former MD of FBN Capital. I knew that after spending so many years in the UK, I would need the sanity break, and that sanity break was coming home to Nigeria.
My experience coming back home
I turned my back on the UK and came to live in Nigeria, and I have no regrets. I moved into Oando as the head of IT. It was extremely challenging. I would go in and talk the talk, but I am actually a leader by example. I strongly believe that your followers will have confidence in you if they see that you have proven experience and you are not afraid to get your hands dirty if you have to. I am an ED now but I still get my hands dirty. Not everyone has to be a leader that leads by example, but I think for me, that is what works and that is what has always worked.
On the cultural shock when I came back, I am a Nigerian at heart. I may speak English in quote because the first 12 years of my life I spent in the UK, then I came back to spend another 10 years of my life and I went back to the UK. Coming home, I was not expecting 22/7 power. I was not expecting the roads to be fantastic. In fact, I think one of the turning points was when I came for my mum’s 60th birthday and that was when I was like you know what, Nigeria is not so bad, because we were trying telecoms wise.
The biggest challenge for me with Nigeria was more communication rather than the power sector. In my own case, I was pleasantly surprised because when I came home, I was able to get a flat that didn’t have a 24 hours light but I was able to have light most evenings. This is the thing that I tell people that want to relocate. When you left Nigeria, how was Nigeria? Yes, you may have risen to a level where you can stay in an estate that has 24 hours power, but that is not reality. That is not how Nigeria is. So if you can just get your head around that.
Career transitions and challenges in the IT field
From Oando, I was approached to go to Virgin Nigeria, and that was like to be one of the pioneer people. I always like startups. Yes, I want to do things for myself, but I also want to make a difference in Nigeria. It is good to be part of a movement, pretty much like what we are doing in Wakanow. In the whole of my career, I have been a techie person; the only things that are challenging are the materials things. We need power to run. And again, because I’ve got varied experiences, I tend not to have people challenges. I think it’s because I am a reader. If I have a challenge, the first thing I will do is pray and then there is a book where somebody has gone through that challenge. So by the time I read how somebody overcame that challenge, it is usually very easy to resolve.
When you build up to a level that people have confidence in you and they know that when you go to complain or talk about a challenge, everyone knows that the challenge is genuine. When I was younger in my career, if I had a challenge, would rather go and meet my mentor. Before I take up the challenge of heading an organization, I have mentors who I could talk to and ask questions. It is all about what I call effective networking. I may never have met someone before, but I will look for someone who knows that person and say look, this is the role that I am going to take, I need help. I just need someone to sound me out.
Wife, mother, woman
I honestly don’t believe these days that Nigerians believe it is a big deal for a woman to be something. I have gone to so many women conferences and I see so many amazing women around. I think it is now becoming the run of the mill for women to succeed in their careers and businesses. You just need to look at Ibukun Awosika for instance. She is a major role model. Some of these things were instilled in me when I was growing up. You can still manage your home, be a good wife and a good mother. Not everybody has the same resources, but there.