Dr. (Mrs) Olubukola Abitoye is a serial enterpreneur, author and Chief Executive Officer, Digital Space Capital. In this interview, she shares her growing up experiences, career path and many other issues. SEGUN KASALI brings the excerpts.
Your growing up must have been interesting
Yes, my growing up was beautiful. It was a mix and a blend of all. I was born into wealth. As you can see my name is Olubukola- Olu means a very strong personality in Yorubaland, while Bukola means you are born into wealth. My father was an educationist, and had a publishing firm. I was the favourite of everyone especially my dad and he used to call me ‘Queen’. However, he passed away when I was at age 5.
Your fond memories of him?
Yes, very interesting and memorable. When I was in nursery school, my dad would pick me up from school after classes and take me home so I could have a change of cloth. We would then go to a restaurant to eat in the afternoon and go to his office from there. Most of the things I do he used to do them. He paid attention to details. And I can remember vividly that our house was home to everyone. We had a lot of staff in the house. Many people used to come to our house for help. But, along the line when we lost him, the whole thing changed.
How do you mean?
Having to wake up as the daughter of a billionaire where you have everything going for you and suddenly everything changed. Family came in. My mum had to face everything. I was the only one at home with her. Others were in boarding houses. So, I witnessed a lot of drama. My Father died without a will. He died at 49 and the family rushed in. His elder brother came in the very first week he died and went away with his best car. There was a lot of family pressure because they felt oh billionaire a huge money must be involved without considering his entrepreneurial life. My Mum had to face 6 children. Nobody was there. At a point, my mother was duped of all her belongings. Trust me! I give it to her. There was no day we asked for something that she won’t provide. No. She would sort everybody out. Amidst all these, she did not remarry. She stood with us to make sure we had quality education, and enviable morals and values.
How have those experiences shaped you?
Those experiences really shaped my life because early enough I saw the good part of life. I knew when we had money and now I had to move into a situation where things were dicey. We could not afford things. I saw my mother struggling. She was into all manner of businesses. But, one thing I noticed about her was that she never failed anyone of us. Honestly, that made me to be so strong. I realised early in life that you are all alone in this journey and that you have to protect your life and your family.
But, you never went out of line despite the challenges
Yes, I never did and this was because of the way we were brought up. For the fact that there was no inheritance spelt out somewhere, it made us realise that we were in this journey alone. That is why opportunity is very important to me as an individual. I would tell you that going into primary school I had already made up my mind that I was going to succeed. That whatever it would take considering the opportunities that come my way, I would succeed. Already from day one, I would say to myself this is what I want to do. Back then in school, I told myself I wanted to become the Senior Prefect and I went to science class for this purpose because senior prefect only comes from science class. And I eventually became the senior prefect.
Traits you took from your parents
Hmmm! I would say I am blessed. I am not really privileged to know more about my father because I was 5 years old when he died. As for my mother, I doubt if I can even match her energy. She is going to be 80 next year. She works like a 50 year old person. She is very industrious. She had a supermarket while we were young. There, we worked like every other person. If I want to spend additional money, I would have to go to there and work. These things really helped us. I only thank God for the grace because there was no father and nobody to guide me.
You already knew you would be in accounting field?
Initially, I was looking at studying law but because my mum was duped I got discouraged due to how the system in the country could not help with a quick fix. If not for this, I know I would have become a very good lawyer. Accounting was the only option I saw when I got to Ondo State Polytechnic, with the mindset of going to the university thereafter. From there, I went for my Internship and I was taken to the treasury department, where i was privileged to be going to banks almost everyday. The way bankers were dressed in suit and jacket piqued my interest. When I finished my internship, I crossed over to the University of Ife to study Management and Accounting, which is something I love so much.
At what point did you come up with your company, Digital Space Capital?
Ah! You want to hear story o (laughs). It was UBA that brought out the entrepreneurship spirit in me. Having worked in UBA for a very long time, I would say that the bank built and shaped me. I remember when I was 5 years into the banking industry, I was made to be the branch manager of UCH Ibadan, a branch that was making losses for more than 6 years. So, I was asked to be the manager. For me, it is about result. After one year, we became the best branch in the entire southwest and I was promoted. This success propelled them to bring me to Lagos and the first test-run case was Allen Avenue. Within one year that I assumed office, the branch became profitable. I left the branch with about N6-7 billion. And that was what took me to Ikoyi branch. In fact, I remember then that they used to call me Eagle. In a nutshell, I came up with the name ‘Digital Space’ when I was in UBA. Leaving UBA, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, who was more or less an uncle of mine, advised that it would wise for me to have over a decade experience so that my profile could be rich and thereafter I could leave. He said I should join Keystone bank, where I spent one year and 3 months. Keystone was another sweet place. I also revived the Adeola Odeku branch from N400m balance sheet to N8.8 billion. I enjoyed everything there. But, I had the mindset of leaving. Even everybody around me knew I would do something for myself. And the benchmark I gave myself was 40 years old. And I got that. I started my company when I clocked 39. I was on my way to Harvard, courtesy Keystone bank, when Dr. Afolabi called me to come and help him set up new branches he acquired in African countries. And it was a whole lot on me. We started from a container. The name of the company is Sky Capital. So, it was more like an entrepreneurship startup. I gave it a whole lot not knowing I was preparing myself because it was quite easier for me starting my own company. So, I worked there for one and a half years.
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As a woman, what singled you out in this journey?
I would also say that God’s grace has worked for me in everything that I had done. And I also thank my husband because he is that support engine nobody sees. I remember on several occasions I would even cry that ‘baby I am not meeting my target.’ As a result, he would go out and talk to his friends. There is none of his family members that does not have an account with me. He is someone that believes in me even more than myself. I have that trust and respect for him because I adore him so much. I will forever be grateful to almighty for meeting him. He has been really supportive.
Combining roles as a woman
Women are extra. We have the ability to multitask. For me, home is everything. My home is priority to me because it is the centre piece. I know I am responsible for my children and that is why their care and everything about them is also very important.
How do you relax, Ma?
People very close to me know that I work and play because it must go together if you don’t want to breakdown. I enjoy traveling. I do a lot of exercises. I ride cycles. I play long tennis. I draw and paint. Those are things I do to enjoy myself.
Your passing shots to other ladies out there?
They should know that we are dynamic in nature. God has given us the power to multitask. There is nothing we do that we won’t get it right. In terms of loans, women don’t default. But, we have a problem. The problem is that we don’t support ourselves. That is the only thing that can help us. If we support ourselves, Nigeria will be a better place.
As a beautiful woman, how do you handle men‘s advances?
I have more of male friends than female friends. And I can tell you one of my strengths is management. So, I manage everybody. Funny enough, I enjoy being their friends than being their girlfriends or anything because it makes me understand the way men are structured.