It is great to be back with you.
Today, we share our interview with a very rugged Entrepreneur. The hard-working and dynamic Ekundayo Odele provides Consultancy services in the areas of Business Strategy, Marketing, Recruitment and Human Resources. In this interview, she talks about how she started out in the Consulting Industry, what is required to succeed in it and so much more. Coming from someone who has taken a deep-dive into several businesses and has come out with pure value for her clients, she very well knows her onions and has a lot to share.
Find a comfy seat, settle into it and read this exclusive and highly insightful interview. As always, have your pen and notebook handy. You will need them.
Read. Learn. Copy Genius!
Tell us about Ekundayo Odele – family, ethnicity, education…
My family is large, liberal and close knit. We are an exciting and eclectic bunch, probably with Dad being one of the most interesting people ever. I like to define myself as a Nigerian rather than belonging to any particular tribe. We were raised to be tolerant.
My Dad lived in Zaria (Northern Nigeria) as a child and in Port-Harcourt (South-South Nigeria) as a young man, sometime before the Nigerian Civil War. He essentially spoke Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa fluently and helped shape our world view.
My secondary education was in Enugu (South East Nigeria). Then, I went on to study Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Lagos (South West Nigeria).
When and how did you start your career?
That is somewhat difficult to answer as I have largely been focused. I had a general idea about what I wanted to do, So I started building experience as early as when I was seventeen (17) years old. I got a job and spent my holidays working.
The experience I gained working at that age defined my work ethic, etiquette and what acceptable workplace conduct meant for me. I learnt what to do and what not to do. I am appreciative of the people who gave me a chance.
You chose to be an Entrepreneur instead of being an Employee. What informed this decision?
Sometime in my third year at University, I identified that I wanted to proffer solutions to help build sustainable Nigerian and African businesses. I was not sure how to go about it, so I got into the employment market after graduation. However, I chose jobs that were leaning in the direction I wanted to go.
Having worked a few years, I felt under-utilised. This was not informed by money as I was being paid well enough. I realised I could and wanted to do a lot more than I was assigned. I was increasingly frustrated at not being given more responsibilities and concluded the only way to do the volume and type of work I wanted to do was to delve into the world of entrepreneurship.
The Managers and Business Owners I worked with as an Employee mentored me and spurred my decision. Their stories and the way they operated were inspiring and I knew it was time to take the step.
My Dad was also a Manager par excellence, having led companies with hundreds of staff. He encouraged me as did the rest of my family; so I took that somewhat difficult first step and I’m thankful I did.
You provide Consultancy services in the areas of Business Strategy, Marketing, Recruitment and Human Resources. What were your goals when you started out? Looking back, have they been met?
They have largely been met but I believe in continuous improvement. We continue to refine our service offerings and partnerships so that we continue to deliver on our promise to our Clients – a one-stop solution for their business.
This often means collaboration with several service providers, so we have built up a database of IT, Marketing, Legal and Financial Consultants. Our goal is to be a warehouse for the spectrum of business solutions.
What is your typical day like?
There is nothing typical about my days. I have a weekly plan of what to deliver and I try to adhere to set timelines which could include facilitating training sessions, preparing presentations, attending client meetings, playing tennis or going for a swim.
I mix it all up to get some balance. At the moment, I work as long as there’s work to be done and I have adopted Mondays as me days. As a service provider, I find my clients are busy on Mondays and I can become a distraction, so Mondays have transitioned to me days. I have been called to client sites on odd Mondays though. However, I take a break when I need it.
Some people reading this interview may be interested in setting up their business consultancy firms. What advice do you have for them?
Be sure to identify your market,
define your deliverables,
identify and / or build up required competencies,
deliver excellent service, and
just go for it.
Getting clients can be an uphill task for Business consultants. How do you go about overcoming this challenge?
Service can be a tricky sell as it has no direct impact on the bottomline. Fortunately, businesses are beginning to appreciate the need. Once we are able to identify the value proposition, the rest is easy.
Be what you sell, deliver your promise, find relevant collaborations, ask for referrals and just keep defining and refining yourself.
After about five years of doing your thing, what are the challenges you have encountered thus far?
I wanted to be everything to my clients. It’s easy to be when you have one client but when that one becomes several, scalability becomes an issue. The mission to solve that problem became the ability to replicate what I could deliver in others.
Pricing seemed to be a contentious issue but having seen the value we can deliver, that is no longer as big an issue as it once was. This means I am also much kinder when negotiating with my fellow consultants – I know where the shoe keeps pinching.
A third challenge was streamlining service offerings. I needed to agree criteria for what we could deliver and what needed to be put on the back burner or outsourced.
What is your inspiration? What keeps you going?
My chief inspiration is my passion is for the growth of the Nigerian business and the Nigerian employee and employer. There is so much to do to bring us to global standards and we cannot rest until we get there. Even when we think we are there, we must continue to better ourselves.
I am also inspired when my clients are happy with the quality of service they receive. I get inspired to be better when I get constructive criticism.
I am encouraged by my colleagues, friends and family.
What do you enjoy most about being a Consultant?
I love learning. I have to learn about the business of my client as much as possible. This exposes me to many things.
I love that I am doing the type and volume of work I want to do and I am actually being a solution provider.
I like my unstructured working hours.
You are also a Public Speaker and you facilitate at Speaking Seminars. Can anyone be a Speaker?
I would say yes. As I have told several classes, find your ‘’voice’’; your voice being what you are passionate about. Find it, develop it and sell your message. Your passion shines through your message and that is a critical component of being a speaker.
What is the biggest challenge you faced while you honed your Public Speaking skills?
I think being clear about what I wanted to talk about. Sometimes, facing an audience that appears to be better qualified can be a huge challenge. The knowledge that your message helps you fight and win that mental battle, is required to keep getting up on the stage. I have also learnt to have fun in the process.
What words of wisdom do you have for that young person reading this interview who are considering Public Speaking?
I have already mentioned finding your ‘voice’. Be the go-to person on your message. Have fun in the process of passionately delivering your message.
Last year, you returned to your Alma mater to facilitate a Career and Teachers’ Workshop. Tell us about it and why it was important for you to make that trip.
Going back to Federal Government College, Enugu is actually an annual event although we only started our Career workshop four (4) years ago.
The school is part of the person I am today and as you know, our Unity Schools are not what they once were. What has changed is not the facilities (a lot are actually better than when I was a student), but that people have sort of settled into some sort of limbo. It was necessary to reignite the passion for teaching and learning.
The students were able to identify with us, ask questions and understand that anything is possible if they are willing to do the work. The teachers could see their former students and were encouraged to do whatever extra they needed to stand out.
It was a bittersweet experience, more than usual because this was the first time we included a teachers’ workshop. I am looking forward to the 2015 edition.
How do you relax?
This is another difficult question as I enjoy a myriad of activities. I love travelling, seeing new places, learning about new cultures and enjoying different cuisines. I love reading and have books across several genres. I cycle, swim and play tennis. I enjoy good music and art. Sometimes, relaxation is just being away from it all.
Oh yes, I think everyone should have some kind of mentor. Two previous employers, a client and an older colleague in the industry. I also try to draw inspiration from others.
Where do you see yourself in another 5 years?
Being a better human being, a desired service provider and an inspiration to millions of African youths.
For you, Life is….
Africa will rise when…..
we are all selflessly driving towards a better tomorrow.
What is that one thing you would like every African youth to know? Inspire a young African in a sentence
Be the best possible version of yourself and just do it….
Many thanks for sharing with us.
You are most welcome.
You can connect with Ekundayo Odele on twitter @ekundayoodele
Do you have any question(s) you would like to ask her? You can do so cheerfully in the comments section below. Many thanks for reading.