MD/CEO of RMB Nigeria Stockbrokers, Abiola Adekoya sits with Leading Ladies Africa to discuss among other things lessons she has gleaned from the corporate world in two decades, office politics, sponsorship in the corporate space and the importance of having other interests outside of work. Abiola’s perspective on career is a game changer. Lean In!
Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?
I would describe myself as passionate, resilient and impact driven. I currently work as the MD/CEO of RMB Nigeria Stockbrokers Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of FirstRand Group which is a leading financial services group in Africa. In RMB, I crafted the vision of the business and also implemented the strategy which was underpinned by a strong focus on people, processes and differentiation in a highly competitive market.
How did you start out in your career, and how long have you been in the ‘corporate world?’
Thinking of the start of my career brings a smile to my face. In 1999, I walked into a branch of Chartered Bank in Lagos Island filled with traders arranging their stacks of money waiting for it to be counted. This was not the glamourous banking job I hoped for 😊. I was immediately thrown into the deep end as a bulk cashier in that branch. While it was a good starting point for me, I evolved to other roles within the banking sector across various banks.
I’ve spent over 20 years in the corporate world, the first 7 years were in banking, working in retail, commercial and corporate banking before vying into securities trading where I’ve worked for the past 14 years in domestic and global leading firms.
What is your number one hack for dealing with difficult colleagues/bosses?
The first thing I do is to separate the person from the behaviour. I try to unpack who they are and why they are like that. I realise that behaviour is often rooted in experiences and upbringing, so I engage further and ask questions (directly and indirectly) to get more insight. Based on that, I then learn how to approach/engage that person.
For colleagues, depending on how critical they are to my deliverables, I focus on getting along with them to ensure that the work gets done by leveraging my interpersonal skills and also highlighting the importance of their deliverables to achieving the business goals. Also I tend to praise a lot even for small things, I say things like ”rock star” and ”you are the best.” It’s hard to be difficult when someone calls you a rock star! 😊
Within my first month at the start of my career, my aunt and mentor gave me this advice “learn to manage your boss” and it’s a mantra I have always adopted. Though I’ve had a decent set of bosses, not without their own challenges, managing them has helped in shaping my own skills. I do a SWOT analysis on my boss and engage with them to understand their work pressure and deliverables. Once I’ve done this, I focus on ensuring that I deliver on my deliverables as it impacts them and also work on exceeding their expectations. I realise that if my boss looks good, I will also look good.
I also note how they treat others (peers, managers and other direct reports) as it reveals different sides of their character and leadership style, which helps me keep things in professional perspective. While their (in)actions can affect my emotions, I try to keep things professional and not allow my emotions dictate my behaviour. It’s hard enough being a woman in the corporate world so I keep things professional despite how I feel!
2 things you do when you are having a bad day?
Take a walk out of my office to avoid talking to anyone or making a rash decision.
Talk to a friend, usually someone that will allow me to vent and get things in perspective.
When you are creatively stuck, you…?
Take a walk and bounce ideas with my team! Usually I have the solution but I sometimes struggle with articulating it simply!
2 tips for navigating office politics?
Office politics is not carrying your manager’s bag or gossiping about other co-workers to your manager or spreading falsehoods or even passing off someone’s work as you own. It refers to how an organisation is structured, the ease of decision making and execution. For example, is your organisation focused on innovation or are they more relational or perhaps process driven?
Understanding these nuances will help you in engaging better to active results. So my two tips are:
Play it. You ned to know the rules and then learn to play the game.
What’s your take on cliques or “you can’t sit with us groups” at work? How does one navigate such?
Sadly, I don’t do cliques, I really loathe it. It creates an air of I’m better than you or you are not as good as me. I believe everyone has value to add so I make sure I click with everyone. 😊 One minute I am eating boli and epa or puff puff from Ghana High 😊 and next minute it could be coffee and muffins…I will sit with anyone who adds value or who I can imapct. Especially because I realise that there is so much to gain and learn if you just foster relationships with different people.
Of course, we’re going to talk about mentorship – what’s your view on it? Important or nah?
I absolutely love mentorship. I have benefitted from so many mentors in my life and I work hard to pay it forward to others. While mentors are important, I’ve realised that in an organisation what you need even more than mentors is a sponsor.
You need someone who has your back in an organisation, who will stick their neck out for you to see you grow and advance in your career, that is what a sponsor can do. So while you engage your mentors you must ensure you leverage your sponsors!
Two things – what have been your best and worst career decision – and what did you learn from each respectively?
My best career decision was switching from banking to securities and investment. So glad I made the move!
My worst career decision was not getting a firm commitment that the company will deliver one of the resources required for the business to be successful. I accepted to manage a sub optimal approach instead of insisting on the best approach. This decision impacted the growth trajectory of the business.
Do you have a “side-hustle” and what’s your view on having other interests outside of work?
While I have dabbled into many side hustles, I haven’t had an active side hustle in years because I have spent the last few years focusing on building my career as a business strategist and management expert.
However, I have been deliberate about focusing on other interests outside of work and I think its important to do that. We are not only our jobs. In fact, our jobs are made better because of our interests. When engaging with new clients, especially offshore, I tend to break the ice using my knowledge of fine dining and also my travel experience. It usually makes for memorable conversations and endears them to me.
How do you advise girls facing harassment in any form, from their superiors at work to handle it?
While different situations will call for different lines of action, the most important point to note is “If it felt inappropriate or made you uncomfortable, then it was inappropriate and no you didn’t imagine it”.
Discuss it with someone immediately preferably outside of work and someone that you trust, maybe your mentor.
Also, engage with your HR in writing, not verbally so you can have documentary evidence. Just detail the experience and express how it made you feel.
Change the way you engage with the superior and keep things professional while HR investigates.
Hopefully, HR is sensitive and proactive but if not it may require a change of department or a move out of the organisation.
3 greatest career lessons you have learnt on your journey?
I am not my circumstance.
The beginning does not determine the end.
I am more resilient and knowledgeable than I realise.
About Abiola Adekoya
Abiola Adekoya is a financial expert with about two decades of experience working in leading financial services firms across the globe. She is currently the MD/CEO of RMB Nigeria Stockbrokers, a subsidiary of the FirstRand Group, a leading financial services group in Africa with global footprints.
In her present role, she managed the establishment of RMBNS in Nigeria ensuring regulatory and global best practices were adopted. She is on track to position the business as a leading equities brokerage house in Nigeria.
Prior to this role, she was MD of FBNQuest Securities, a subsidiary of First Bank of Nigeria Holdings Plc, successfully repositioning the business as a top five stockbroking firm. Within 2006 to 2013, she worked at CSL Stockbrokers and Renaissance Capital – (both top 5 stockbroking firms) and leveraged her knowledge and insight of the capital market and managerial skills to drive product innovation and build a high performing team to position the businesses favourably.
She started out her early years in the banking sector, 1999 – 2006, working in leading banks and serving in various capacities in retail, commercial and corporate banking.
A fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers of Nigeria, she graduated with a B.Sc Economics from University of Lagos (1998) and has an MBA from Lagos Business School.
She has several passions and top on her list is mentoring young professionals and providing finance and investment advice via Instagram
where she provides information on key themes that impact finance and investment underpinned by valuable insight on the Nigerian and global economy.
She engages actively via her page and blog providing in depth analysis on thematic events with #Themarket, wealth creation and preservation information via #Rightvest while chronicling knowledge from life with Wednesday nuggets.
Thursday is dedicated to #AskAbiola which provides relevant information on being an intrapreneur and handling challenging work- related situations.
Abiola is also passionate about her family and food with an online profile on instagram chronicling her cooking adventures and global food experiences.