Olatorera Oniru, the Chief Executive Officer of Dressmeoutlet.com worked with companies like Bank of America Merrill Lynch, General Electric and telecoms giant, Lars Magnus Ericsson, before she decided to pursue passion, leadership and entrepreneurship. In this interview with TAYO GESINDE, the recipient of the 2016 Commonwealth Africa Awards, Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship, Forbes Most Promising Africans, Africa.com’s Top 5 Youngest Entrepreneurs and African Achievers Awards, shares her success story.
You have an intimidating profile, how were you able to achieve this feat?
I thoroughly enjoy what I do now and everything I’ve worked hard for over the years. I generally enjoy working hard and I enjoy seeing results. I believe when we find our truest of passions, it becomes easy and fun and worthy at excelling in life. We enjoy every single day while making a difference in the world. When we love and enjoy what we do, it becomes a part of us. I’ve always enjoyed working and learning. We can’t know enough. Every opportunity to learn, I grab it. Every opportunity to make a difference, I grab it.
You worked in many top companies. What informed your decision to go into entrepreneurship?
I felt like it was time. I had attained a senior management level in my career and I have gained years of knowledge from top business schools around the world. I have seen great processes and countries where systems are built to work. I yearned to do much more for Nigeria and Africa. I still yearn to see our continent transformed into one of the world’s greatest and I still believe in all the possibilities. I have always had the yearn to lead, to create, to innovate and to help. I constantly yearn to do much more. It’s difficult to have leadership skills and be comfortable in an employed role. Leaders want to break out and do great things, leaders want to build, leaders want to create jobs, leaders want to reduce the poverty rate, leaders want to see the world grow stronger and get better. I wanted to do much more than I was able to within my leadership roles as an employee.
What were the challenges you faced as a career woman?
Challenges are meant to be overcome and thus I tend not to focus on challenges. I focus on the great times, the achievables and the results. It takes too much energy to think about challenges. I’d rather focus on results and growth plans. When I do encounter challenges, I chat with mentors and research to learn from other people’s experiences.
How were you able to juggle your career with the home front?
My family means the world to me and they are my constant drive to be the best I can be at home and at work. They are my biggest supporters and vice versa. We also have employees who have become family members and assist with ensuring things are run smoothly especially on my busiest of days. No one can succeed alone, we need each other.
Why did you start Dress Me Outlet?
I have a passion for creativity and retail. I also love shopping. I came to the realisation once that 99.9 per cent of products I loved buying from my bags to shoes to lingerie to beauty products are manufactured outside of Africa. I did a ton of research and discovered that even our cultural and religious necessities are not locally made. Practically everything is imported. We must change this, we need to also earn foreign currencies and increase the world’s appreciation of made in Africa products. We must leverage on our strengths, natural resources and human capabilities. We are blessed but we aren’t maximising our blessings. Dressmeoutlet.com aims to retail the very best of made in Africa fashion, beauty and home goods to individuals globally with the use of technology and efficient logistics.
You are a woman of many parts, what is your driving force?
Results drive me. Positive developments drive me. Happy people drive me. We love testimonials. We love good feedback. We love when our customers are happy with their packages. We love vendors that make amazing things and customers that give them amazing feedback and support. We want to see Africa develop greatly and strongly and with that in mind, we are constantly working hard and innovating to yield greatness in Africa.
What will you say is the most defining moment of your career so far?
The defining moments are still ahead. I’m grateful for every success and growth point achieved thus far and I recognise that there’s a lot more ahead. There’s so much more I want to and need to do within the fashion, retail, e-commerce and manufacturing sectors in Nigeria. As a leader, advisor and investor, there’s also a ton more that I look forward to accomplishing by impacting lives and enacting positive changes. We will all know that defining moment comes. Many excellent moments have come and continue to come daily but greater moments lie ahead and that’s what I look forward to.
What do you think people can do to survive recession?
I’d say go back to the basics. Start from somewhere, anywhere. Gather natural resources, innovate, create, build, utilize what’s within your reach and capabilities. Strive for more, strive for better but more importantly strive for happiness. Don’t do what will not make you happy. Crime is not the way to go in times like that. I understand how heart-breaking it can be when things get difficult but we must keep pushing. If you’re pushing and not getting results, go back to the basics and find your true path to life. You need to be happy. Only then can you succeed and maintain the success.
Women bosses are said to be difficult to work with. What do you have to say about this?
I wouldn’t say that. I have a hard time grouping people based on race, religion, age, gender or geographic location. I believe everyone and each person has his or her own strong points. There may be some difficult women bosses same way there are some difficult men bosses. There are some great American leaders same way there are some great African leaders. At Dressmeoutlet.com, we have a flat organisational structure which is slowly and gradually changing into a hierarchical structure. We lead by results and not by managing. Employees are very independent, armed with the trainings, laws and resources they need to excel and be their very best with or without a direct manager.
You have worked in different parts of the world, were you at any time discriminated against because of your gender?
None that I can remember and if I ever was, I probably would not dwell on it. I am not sure I can stop anyone from discriminating, but I’m sure I can work on being my very best and hopefully that would prove to them that their discrimination bears no ground. I’m truly a strong believer in looking forward and focusing on the positives, the results and the achievable.
What are the goals you will still like to work on?
Everything. We never stop learning, we never stop growing, we never stop having fun and being happy. As long as we are living, we continue to have goals and grow. There is so much more ahead. This is only the beginning. I want to witness Africa transformed into one of the world’s greatest continents. We may die trying or we may succeed in no time. Either way, we keep growing, we keep learning.
What lessons has life taught you?
Be strong, be you, be great and love deeply. Beyond all, be happy; live your passion, push for your greatest dreams and be the best you can be. If that means hair braiding, great! If that means farming, great! Whatever your calling is, live for it, enjoy it and be great at it.
Is it true that doing business in Nigeria is difficult and discouraging?
It can be but then remember I said, I’d rather we don’t focus on negatives. We must focus on the can-be(s) and the achievable(s) and push our dreams. I’m not sure life is meant to be difficult. I’m not sure it will be considered difficult if you are happy doing what you are doing. Nonetheless, learn, grow, excel and live everyday for what it’s worth and you are perfectly worthy of being happy. Even if it means going back to the basics, let’s grow a day at a time, excelling at every milestone required to grow businesses in Nigeria.
What advice do you have for young women out there?
Find the passion that makes you smile and eliminate the negativities that bring you down. I’m currently completing my non-fiction book that will translate my decade of MBA and global knowledge into quotes that will inspire and motivate women to achieve their greatest potentials in life.