Overview

Rolake Akinkugbe

Essential Woman
Written by Essential Woman

1. How have your life experiences made you the leader you are today?

Well I’m not that old, neither am I that young. I’m now in my 30s, and I think the little life experiences and challenges I’ve been through have instilled a degree of personal and professional resilience.

I’m a human being first before anything else. I’ve lived in a few countries (UK, Senegal, Belgium), and travelled around a fair bit. I’ve have had times when I just didn’t really know where I was going professionally, or whether I would get through a lot of hurt and pain personally. All in all It’s been an eclectic and sometimes dramatic mix of experiences. Through it all, I’ve always pulled through, so as hard as things may get, I always have to remind myself that no condition is permanent. I’ve also grown to value the importance of the people you meet along the way. Those personal relationships are probably some of the most enriching aspects of life. Learning not to take people for granted is probably one of my biggest life lessons thus far a lesson that’s so relevant in the corporate space.

2. How has your previous employ-ment experience aided your posi-tion at FBN Quest?

I previously was head of energy, oil and gas research for Ecobank Group in the UK, I did that for 3 years, and it involved a lot of travel, particularly across Africa. It was probably the first truly intense and rigorous role I’ve had since graduating from uni in the early 2000s. It certainly prepared me mentally for a career in Investment Banking and enabled me to deepen my knowledge of the Africa oil and gas. More so, my frequent travels across Africa, also mentally prepared me for my move back to Nigeria in May 2014 to join FBN Quest.

3. What have the highlights and challenges been during your time at FBNQuest?

One major highlight of my FBN Quest career thus has been helping to win a major landmark oil and gas transaction for FBNQ right at the very of 2015, which by most accounts was a tough and difficult year for the energy sector, due to the steep fall in oil prices. Another highlight was in May 2015, when I was nominated for and won a personal award from a US organization for my work on Africa’s oil and gas sector.

I think one major challenge was “learning not to take people for granted is probably one of my biggest life lessons thus far. It’s a lesson that’s so relevant in the corporate space…” making the dual adjustment of moving to a ‘new’ country, and also a new role. The initial months of try-ing to settle back into Nigeria after being away for such a long time (17 years), and also trying to adjust to a new job were at times daunting. In hindsight, I should have given myself a couple of months to set-tle down properly in Lagos before starting work – I started at FBNQ only a couple of days after I moved back.

4. What would you say has been the most important advice you have received over the course of your career?

Think before you send that email!! Sometimes, we fall easily into the trap of wanting to speak our minds all the time, and wanting find a response to everything. But there are times when it pays more to be si-lent, even at work. They say ‘knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad’.

5. What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace today?

Self-Doubt. At least I know I experienced it at various points in my career, and even more recently. It’s not a Nigerian or African thing, it’s even necessarily a female thing, though research does show that in the corporate space, women tend to have it in larger doses. It’s a global phenomenon for some, not all, women.

Self doubt can sometimes influence how far we push with putting ourselves forward for things. But as someone recently told me ‘doubt is a luxury you can’t afford’. I imagine for women with children and families, the challenges may be magnified in terms of striking the right work-life balance. I’m yet to experience how supportive Nigerian employers are of women who want to remain present and committed to their personal lives, but I’d like to think the corporate environment in Nigeria is evolving and becoming more global in outlook, thus creating environments conducive to allowing more women to pursue careers while sustaining healthy and fulfilling personal lives.

6. Has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Sure it has, at least informally. How-ever, I wish I had sought out a men-tor very early on in my career. Even when you think you’re doing well or doing okay, having someone you respect who can provide a check and balance in your decision making, and a voice of reason – some-times a voice admonishment – on your path is invaluable.

Another counter-intuitive way to think about this, is the difference mentoring someone else can also make to your own professional and personal life. Dedicating some of your time to impacting someone else’s life is actually one of the best roads to personal development. Of-ten we’re so caught up in our own world and struggles, that we for-get that giving your time to others may just be the relief and outlet we need.

7. Which female leaders do you admire and why?

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, because she really and truly is in a man’s world, and she’s managed to hold her own in the midst of a major migration crisis in Europe. Most especially she’s taken difficult and at times politically unpopular decisions.

Mrs Ibukun Awosika. Former FBN Capital chair and now chair of First,Bank of Nigeria ltd, the first woman to hold that position. Well need I say more? Inspiration, grace, intelligence, and warmth all in one pack-age. The funny thing is that it’s not like I know her or ever really had a conversation with her, but I’ve followed her career for a while, and regardless of what she’s done or attained she seems to have found a way to make and sustain personal relationships with a lot of people, and connect with people. During Have realistic expectations. A career in finance is intense, demanding but can also be rewarding. Have in mind that you will seek to live a balanced life from the outset, otherwise you’re likely to find it more difficult to make any personal adjustments later on once you get into the swing of things. her period as chair of FBN Capital, she was fondly called ‘the people’s chairman”. I think that says a lot Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s President. Just because she was Africa’s first female head of state, Imagine how far Africa has come! Those who understand, understand. Until recently it was hard to imagine a female state governor in Nigeria, not to talk of head of state of a West African country. Fair enough, Liberia is much smaller than Nigeria, and the political environment is not the same, but frankly, Sirleaf has paved the way for others.

8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I have a few interests outside work. I have an artistic side and play the piano regularly as part of a jazz ensemble and at church, so I guess you could say it’s a natural balance to an otherwise busy schedule. Having music as a serious hubby also instills discipline across my daily life. I also recently took up running several times a week in the early mornings and I’ve since found that my energy levels are up. All of these combined create a balance that I’m currently happy with.

9. What three people have made the biggest impact in your life?

My mum and my dad, purely for the inspiration to keep going and both the personal (mostly sacrificial) and financial investments they’ve made in my early life. The third person I would say is my late friend and BBC TV journalist Komla Dumor, who left a large whole in all our hearts and many across the continent, but lived a full and inspiring life. There are a few opportunities I would have missed in the last few years, if not for Komla’s wisdom, personal in-sights, encouragement, support and his belief in me.

10. What inspires you?

Music does; good music to be precise, and people who’ve overcome incredible challenges to succeed.

11. Name three books that have influenced you It really is hard to think of books as things that influence.

I see them more as a way of gaining knowledge and understanding. So if I had to pick I would pick The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It is easily one of the best faith-based books I’ve ready in recent years. I don’t read many faith books, but this one was simple, straightforward and relevant. The other one is The Quest: Energy Security and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin. Yergin is a superstar writer, and America’s most influential energy expert. He understands the industry like the shirt on his back. I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants a modern take on the energy and oil sector globally and all the intriguing geo-political dynamics that come with it. My third pick is a book given to me last year by Aunty Helen, a mentor. It’s called ‘How Remarkable Women Lead’ by Barsh, Cranston and Lewis. I often cringe at the thought of reading such self-help books, and I’m particularly suspicious of books that I think have a feminist agenda, but this one was actually surprising as it was full of personal stories which I could relate to and very realistic. I actually found it moving.

12. What advice would you of-fer women seeking a career in fi-nance?

Have realistic expectations. A career in finance is intense, demanding but can also be rewarding. Have in mind that you will seek to live a balanced life from the outset, otherwise you’re likely to find it more difficult to make any personal adjustments later on once you get into the swing of things. Finally seek a mentor, and perhaps find a niche in finance that you can make your own, or develop a particular industry expertise within finance that you can make your own.

That’s what I’ve sought to do with my energy/oil and gas focus in finance.

Never stop learning. I still read a lot. Changing global economic dynamics mean you constantly have to re-main professionally relevant as the years go by.

Essential Woman

Essential Woman is a magazine that spotlights women on top, upwardly mobile women and women who desire to be upwardly mobile. We believe in ourselves and in each other, we believe in Corporate Social responsibility and continuous growth on all areas of our lives. We wanted it all and now we are doing it all and reaching all those previously unattainable heights with no apologies.

About the author

Essential Woman

Essential Woman

Essential Woman is a magazine that spotlights women on top, upwardly mobile women and women who desire to be upwardly mobile. We believe in ourselves and in each other, we believe in Corporate Social responsibility and continuous growth on all areas of our lives. We wanted it all and now we are doing it all and reaching all those previously unattainable heights with no apologies.

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