Folasade Odunaiya is the Chief Responsibility Officer of Inventivo Professional Services and also serves as a non-executive director of IBFC Alliance Limited, FMS Group and Precision Logistics Limited. She tells Ademola Olonilua about her career and love life
One would hardly believe that you are above fifty years old, what has been the secret of your youthfulness?
I don’t know what to say about the secret of youthfulness but basically, I try to be young at heart. I believe that if you are young at heart, it would show in the way you carry yourself. I like to play with young people and I think that is part of it.
What exactly do you do to remain young at heart?
I enjoy the company of young people and when they do new things, I try to learn as well, though within the limit of what I can physically cope with. Also, I think what has helped is the fact that I am the last child out of six children and has always been treated like the little one. Till date, I am still treated as the little one and I am usually the last person they ask for opinions. This just makes me think like a young person, in fact, I find it strange when people use ‘ma’ to address me.
The first place I worked after my university education at the University, Arthur Anderson (now KPMG), helped shape my thinking as well because we addressed one another using our first name names. We would play and when it was time to work we put in all our effort, however, this made us relate like family. I play with my children a lot and I like them to see me as a friend and not a typical mother, this would help them to be free with me and I can help direct their lives well. All of these things put together make me become young at heart.
You have a small physique, has it always worked to your advantage?
I would say that it has worked to my advantage in terms of what I am trying to put out as someone who is young at heart. If I were to be someone who likes to make respect an issue, it would have worked against me. I like to relate with people and I always tell them that I do not want to be remembered for what I look like instead, I would want to be remembered for the impact I made through conversations or guidance.
What were some turning points in your life that you would never forget?
Being the last child, I practically grew up alone as everyone had gone to the boarding school. I am quite used to being by myself and I can play all alone. I went to secondary school and I was an introvert. One day I was enrolled for confirmation classes in the church and there were about 12 of us. I realised that I did not talk to anybody from the beginning of the programme until the end. It dawned on me that it was not a good way to live, so I started making an effort to relate to people better. That was about the first turning point in my life because I realised that even though I was alone, I did not have to be alone. I began to go out more and I think I overdid it; I moved from one extreme to the other.
I went to the university at 16 when I was not ready. I took the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination like everyone else in my house. I thought I did it for fun but I passed my exams and all of a sudden, my mother packed my load and took me to school without seeking my opinion. I had been a day student all my life and all of a sudden, I was all alone in the university without the supervision of my parents. I began to attend parties and make a lot of friends. Back then in Ife when going for a party, you would definitely hitch a ride but to get back to school was your business. One early morning, after partying, I was waiting for a bus to take me back to school and it dawned on me that what I was doing was not right because if my mother had seen me at that spot that early in the morning, she would probably had fainted. That was another reawakening for me. I had to withdraw from all the friends that I went partying with. It was also coincidental with the end of the first semester and when the results were out, most of the people I went partying with had carry-overs while I managed to scale through. That incident made me affirm that I needed to change. I decided to have new sets of friends and interestingly, those people are still my best friends to date. That was another turning point.
I actually went to the university to study civil engineering even though I did not have an idea what it was about at the time. When my friends and I were debating what to fill in our Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board form, I just opted for civil engineering because my brother was studying it in the university as well. Besides, I did not know that I would go to the university at the time. The image I had in my head about civil engineers at the time was that of someone who would go to the forest to cut wood. Thinking back, I just laugh at how naïve I was but I do not blame myself because there was no career counselling then. When I eventually got to school, I went to the admissions office to change my course but the lady that attended to me advised that I remain in that department or re-take JAMB so I left distraught. Luckily, our department gave us a form to fill in which we were to put our desired discipline; so I opted for computer science as my first choice. I was so happy when I was given computer science. I did not tell my father till after my second year in the university and he was upset but there was nothing he could do about it. That was another defining point in my life.
The very first lecture I had in my second year was another defining moment because the lecturer, Dr Daini, detailed how we would be graded after our programme; first class, second class upper, second class lower, third class and pass. He also told us how they calculate where you belong and that was an eye-opener for me. When he left, I calculated where I was at that point and I was not happy; so I started working purposefully and vowed I would leave the school with good grades. God being on my side, I finished with a first class and till today, I do not know how I made that happen.
One would have assumed you were a bookworm to finish with a first class…
I really do not know how I did it; I just know that the lecturer made such an impact on me that I started thinking. I finished secondary school with a distinction and I felt that I should also make a mark in Ife but it was not as if I was always reading. Interestingly, I do not know how to read in the night and I do not know how to cram. I am a slow and steady kind of person when it comes to learning and I do not think I learn that fast. I take my time; I must comprehend the course before it becomes a part of me, so I learn, I do not know how to cram. I would read very early in the morning and by 8 pm, I am asleep. After school, I had made up my mind that I would do something other than computer science and I knew my father would not sponsor me abroad at the time because he was a civil servant. I could not do my master’s degree in computer science in Nigeria because it would not make sense because back then, laptops were not in vogue and even the desktop we had were hardly being used. I opted for accounting because I had a brother-in-law who was an accountant. I served with Shell Petroleum and I remember telling the person in charge that I did not want to serve in Shell because I already had a place where I wanted to do my National Youth Source Corps programme. The guy asked me what I graduated with and when I said first class, he said he would not reject me and that was how I spent a year in Shell. From Shell, I got a job with Arthur Anderson which was filled with smart people. Working there was fun despite the hard work and there was so much to learn there. The only reason I left Arthur Anderson is because I got married and had a child. I could not cope with balancing my work schedule with my new life. I joined a few friends who started a consulting business and that is how I became a consultant.
It was easy for me because I did not have to work late hours and I could look after my family. It also afforded me the opportunity to learn more. I was in the office one day when my colleague came to tell me about the CFA exam, after researching about it, I went for the exam and passed. After the CFA, I decided to stop studying but I could not cope with the decision so I took a coaching course, a coaching certification for the International Coaching Federation and I decided to focus on Business Coaching.
Despite the way you studied, how were you able to build a love life?
My love life is very interesting and I think I was lucky to meet someone who is not very forceful in terms of a lot of things like working late. I had also reached a certain level before I went into a relationship. It helped because I had a level maturity and had also learnt to manage my time. I met my husband at a friend’s place. Later on, he came after me and told me that when he saw me that day, he knew that there was something about me that he wanted to discover. We were dating while I was in the university but we had a break and by that time, I was doing my exams. When we came back together, everything just fell into place and we got married.
How do you relax?
I take a walk and once in a while, I go to swim even though I have been inside the water only once this year. I told someone recently that I would love to learn how to dance just to entertain myself. One thing I enjoy doing which is funny is to dance. I use it as a form of relaxation and when I am all alone, I play music and dance alone. I have a trampoline, so I jump on it especially when it is wet so I opt for the trampoline instead of walking in the cold. Sometimes I eat and listen to people discussing on the television but I am not a big fan of the television because I may not put it on for three days.
Do you still enjoy partying?
Not really. I am not a party person. I hate parties where the music is too loud, I do not stay long there. I believe if I am reuniting with a friend I have not seen for a decade at a party, we should talk and catch up on old times. The loud music does not allow you to do that. I have made it a pledge that the day I am doing my party, the disc jockey would not be paid if the music is too loud. I do not mind attending parties but I do not like dressing up.
I would feel very uncomfortable. If you really want me to attend your party, allow me to come the way I fell like. I do not like to tie the headgear, I have some headgears but I tie one only when it is absolutely necessary. If you really want me to be in my element in your party, let me come the way I want to because I would feel at home.
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