C-Suite Mentoring

Adebola Williams, one of our Editors had a chance to engage Kunbi Adeoti on her professional journey. Omokunbi Adeoti is a Strategic HR leader brings over 19 years of transforming the human resources function for various organizations ranging from start-ups to big conglomerate across various industries in Sub-Sharan Africa. Currently, she is the Divisional Director, Human Resources at Leadway Assurance responsible for Leadway Assurance, Leadway Hotels, Leadway Capital & Trusts, Leadway Asset Management, Leadway Properties and Leadway Vie in Côte d’Ivoire.

TWM: Thank you for speaking to The Workbooth Magazine, this is an honour for us. Kindly take us through your professional journey? At what point did you know that you wanted to develop a career as an HR professional? 

KA: I have always had a keen interest in teaching and nurturing people. I always want to positively impact people’s lives. During my youth service, I did a lot of research work for papers and workshops. This helped to develop a strong passion for training. 

In 2001, Econnet came into Nigeria, and I joined as a customer service personnel. I continued to research and gave constant feedback to the team. Econnet grew by the day, and it became apparent that we needed a training team and this led to the consolidation of human resource practice across the organization. I moved into training and subsequently people development. Then I ventured fully into human resources, the experience was mind blowing. From day one I was passionate about it and I have never looked back.

TWM: What are some of the unforgettable moments of your career? Moments that you can describe as turning points? 

KA: Hmm, first the more I developed, the more I engaged. I registered for the GPHR examination, took all the classes, and read intensively. Yet I failed, I missed the cut-off by 3 marks. I became almost depressed. Yet I took my development in my hands. I gathered all the necessary things, travelled to attend classes, retook and passed the examination. This for me was a turning point. When failure happens, you need to ask yourself what can be done to make a difference. Sometimes what you need to do is step out of the comfort zone.

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Another turning point, was surviving through all the transitions from Econnet to Celtel to Zain, and now Airtel. People will come and go, so you must ensure that you’re making a difference. The extent of the value that you can deliver in an organization will determine how well you can fly. You must continue to grow.

Another key moment was when I had to do a job evaluation across 16 African countries. Prior to this I had been working with executives across the world. It struck me that learning is continuous and every connection you have is absolutely important. We must take the world of interaction seriously.

I’ve had to handle the Ericsson Managed Services, when there wasn’t any blueprint, and it was the first of such. This meant that self-development was key to achieving any success. You must be willing to learn continuously, as you do so you will find that you have become a knowledgeable person who can hold intelligible conversations on various subject matters.

TWM: With the benefit of hindsight, what things would you do differently if you were to start afresh?

KA: Early in my career I was bold but I don’t think I was tactful enough, and I think I must have come across as aggressive to some people. So I would be more tactful.

I would travel more. I became aware later in my career that I was responsible for my development, and learning is a lifelong skill. However this only comes with experience.

I would do a Masters or PhD on organizational development. I hope I can still do this, as I currently have a lot on my plate.

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TWM: You currently function at an executive level, please share with us how you prepared for this role and what critical skills upcoming professionals require to transit to C-suite? 

KA: I started working directly with C-suite when I became a Human Resource Business Partner at Airtel. On this role I had to work with CIA. It changed my work dynamics; I learned the 3 R’s – Recognize, Reconcile & Respect, and this has greatly helped me to work with people.

You need to be perceptive, business minded, speak the language of the business and understand context. You must have the ability to navigate and add value. Business analytics is key but you need to be flexible & understand the language of the space you’re in. Self-development, as I said earlier, is also important.

TWM: Technology is disrupting businesses across different verticals. How do you think African businesses should respond to this disruption? Can you share some of the ways your organization is responding to this?

KA: Our culture in Africa is one of the barriers to technological growth. For instance you often hear elders tell a child that you can’t be speaking when an elder is speaking, how is that child supposed to be innovative? How can they come up with ideas? Our culture is beautiful, and I advocate for it, but are there barriers in our culture which are detrimental to growth. We need to start rethinking some of these things.

There’s a lot of plagiarism in our space. We need to start encouraging originality by giving people a voice, and enabling their capacity by allowing them to ask critical questions. Technology is something we need to focus on. We have the capacity to do so, Nigerians are doing great things around the world, but there needs to be an enabling environment for more people to soar.

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My organization recognizes that without technology you may not have a business. Digitization is priority for us. As a matter of fact, our Cote d’Ivoire business (Leadway Vie) is fully digital. How do we enable and empower our people? We use top notch technology, and we encourage ideation and co-creation.

TWM: What do you predict as some of the challenges that African professionals will face in the next decade? 

KA: Commitment to see things through. I may be wrong, but I think commitment and envisioning must go hand in hand. We are great at planning but weak in execution. We need to redefine our approach to time management to add value to our organizations. This I see as a challenge in the next 30 – 40 years.

TWM: What kind of legacy would you like to have? 

KA: I think about this often. I want to be remembered as someone who lightened the path for others to walk on. 

I also want to enable organizations to fulfill their visions and enable the employees to attain exponential heights in their careers.

Finally, I want to be remembered as a transformation agent; as a world influencer.

TWM: As a female executive, what advice would you give to upcoming female professionals about aspiring for greatness and advancing in their careers? 

KA: As a woman, the society tries to place a lot of labels on you. My advice is that the labels on you should be the ones that you have accepted, and it starts with your mind. Don’t place a ceiling beneath what you can become; the day your mind sees greatness is the day your journey to greatness begins. If you can see it, you can be it. It’s not an easy world out there but one needs to brace up. You must learn how to shake things off because there will be distractions, discouragement and challenges.

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