Oluwatoyin Sanni is the Group CEO of United Capital Plc, a leading African Investment-Banking Group, which provides capital and financing solutions to African governments, companies, and individuals.She was the African Business Woman of the Year at the All African Business Leaders Award (AABLA 2017) and also the first female that won the PEARL Award for the most outstanding CEO the same year. In this interview with KEHINDE OLATUNJI, she speaks on her life as a mother, author, wife, pastor and stockbroker among other things.
You are a notable CEO, author, stockbroker, and chartered secretary among many other things, what drives you?
My driving force is the convictions I have that every human being came to this world for a purpose. I have a very strong sense of purpose and I especially believe that women, aside the fact that we are frequently wives, mothers, sisters which makes the society to rely on us, does not mean we do not have our own individual mission. I believe every woman should take the time to connect with our Maker and confirm what is her purpose in life and set to fulfilling it.
It is often said that irrespective one’s background one could still achieve a lot, how has your background contributed to your success?
I was born into a family of seven, my late father was an accountant and my mother was a businesswoman, I studied Law at the University of Ife and graduated at the age of 18. I worked at the Ministry of Justice as a prosecutor after which I joined the financial industry and I have been in this industry for a couple of decades. I have been in investment banking for about 18 years. I qualified with the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators and also qualified with the Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers, which I am a Fellow. However, I would like to attribute my success to a combination of sources: My Heavenly Father who is the source of all wisdom, my late mother who was a serial entrepreneur and irrepressible survivor, my late father who was a role model when it comes to financial discipline, ethics and governance. The wealth of experience gained from my rich and extensive working career cannot also be left out.
It is said that women are not given enough space in politics, governance, business and other key areas in leadership, do you agree with this?
I totally agree with you that women do not seem to have the same opportunities that men may have had and that is across major areas in leadership and politics. It is also clear in financial inclusion and this narrative has to change. It is especially hard for a woman to achieve much without ambition due to the limiting beliefs and societal bias, which would hardly allow anything to be handed over to her which she had not first actively pursued or striven for.
One of the initiatives I am part of which is Women in Finance is an initiative that engages policy advocacy to ensure that the government put in place policies that would be favourable towards the economic advancement of women. This initiative was established in 2016 with a view to becoming a strong voice for the financial empowerment of women, it is a networking platform for women. Part of its mission is to advance the cause of women, pursue financial inclusion, advance financial literacy, engage policy makers on initiatives that will grow the economy and be favourable to women and promote gender parity in the country.
Having highlighted the mission of Women in Finance can you tell us what steps the organisation is taking to achieve this task?
We develop skills in women and we do this through workshops and seminars for the development of financial skills. Though it is not every woman that will work in the financial industry or be in a finance role, however, I am convinced that every woman should be financially literate. Financial literacy is a passion I have and worked on, both on the platform of Women in Finance, and also in the financial literacy committee which runs across our financial industry where I am the Chair. We also extend the hand of fellowship to the male counterpart; it focuses on creating financial literacy in every Nigerian. I must admit that there is a low level of financial literacy among our women.
It is believed that every woman should understand basic principles of keeping track of their monies, delayed gratification, saving a proportion of their earnings or income, discipline of budget that enables them to know how far they should go in terms of spending so that they can have something put aside for the future. Women should be in control of their financial destiny. It is surprising that some women cannot balance their checkbooks; you will be surprised how many women don’t even know how the bills in the house get paid, I am not suggesting that they should insist on paying the bills where the man can or insist on paying a particular portion of the bill, but it is good for us to have a good understanding of how much is consumed in electricity, water and other things and have an idea on how this bills are settled.
How do you balance work with home and every other thing you are involved in without getting dilapidated?
I guess one of the things that help me is planning; with disciplined planning any woman can multi-task and I believe that every woman should multi-task. Also, I support myself with capable assistance many of which are women and I think that they are good people to work with. Surrounding ourselves with capable people to support us both at work and at home is very important and that has helped me a lot.
I have never involved myself in anything I don’t believe is part of my mission in life. This gives me the drive, commitment and willingness to sacrifice and enables me to keep doing what I do without regrets. I love and enjoy every part of my life. My work is not a chore or job to me, it is a big part of my mission, my life’s work. It all fits together nicely. Also, being a pastor enables me to fulfill my goal of helping others maximise their lives and being a wife and mother is not only a joy, it also helps to demonstrate to younger women that they, too, can combine all these roles and maximise their lives.
Writing books, articles and posts closes the gap by providing a platform for remote mentoring. Beyond the above, I enjoy tremendous support, encouragement and understanding from my husband and children who are all equally purpose-minded. Finally, I have amazing assistants at home, work and in church to whom I delegate everything not requiring my personal attention and who are also growing and learning from me so that they, too, can lead people in the future. It’s an entire ecosystem.
How do you relax and what time do you devote to writing?
When I am working on a book project I set aside time everyday to work on the project. My writing desk is very close to my bed, when I am working on a project I will not go to bed until I have put in a number of hours that I have committed to work on it. I read a lot. I love to watch movies and, as I raise my children, we get used to going to the cinema together, sometimes we stay at home to watch the movies together. I enjoy music a lot, I listen to music, I sing and I jog and walk for exercise.
In 2017, you got the award for the most outstanding CEO, what are the criteria for winning this award?
The award is a recognised Capital Market Award that reviews and gives award to private companies across the country. It was the first time in the 22 years history of the award that a female CEO would emerge as the CEO of the Year. The Pearl Award committee have a highly respected board which comprises of former SEC DGs. They have a very credible award committee which reviews the performance of Nigerian CEOs year after year, they look at the financial performance of the company, the brand perception of the company, the returns of the company, they rank the CEO across all these different areas, they also rank within the sector which you operate and based on these different rankings a winner emerges.
In that particular year, United Capital which I run won five awards, we won the best Corporate Governance Awards, Sectorial Awards for Financial Services, the Highest Dividend Yields award, the CEO of The Year award and the Most Outstanding Company of the Year award. I believe that rating my performance and the performance of the company across all those indices earned us the awards.
Advise to women aspiring to achieve great things
The first thing to every young woman is to believe in yourself, don’t let anybody put you down or underestimate what you are capable of. I tell women that there is no female brain and there is no female spirit, so the person on the inside of you is as brilliant, capable and powerful than anybody could imagine. Against the background of your confidence in yourself and what has been put in you, work as hard as you possible can, demonstrate to everybody that you are not asking for special favours.
I like one of the things that Meghan Markle said recently. She said: “Women deserve a seat at the table and, if that is taking time coming, create your own table.” So I tell any young person to do the best to get a seat at the table and peradventure the seat is slow in coming consider inventing your own table. Change the game if you need to in order to win. People usually say that all that is needed to do is to play hard at the game, but if you play hard and you are not winning, perhaps you are playing the wrong game and you should play the game in which you are equipped to win; there are always alternative games.
As you climb the ladder of success what is your advise to companies who think less of women?
Companies need to understand that there are hidden treasures in the other 50 per cent of the population that they often do not consider when they are recruiting. Women are skilled and increasingly better equipped in terms of education, professional qualifications. They are a flexible band and they possess lots of leadership and management skills. Companies should give women the opportunities to prove themselves, they won’t disappoint them on the contrary we will pleasantly surprise them.
What role do you think the government can play in this?
We have to start from the protection of the girl child. Government needs to ensure that our schools are safe for the girl child and the community is also safe for them. The should provide adequate security for them and make sure that our daughters are not kidnapped, abused or prevented from going to school because that is where it starts. They should make sure that employment practices are fair and not discriminating also, the judiciary needs to protect women who have been discriminated against and our laws must be fair and even- minded all the time.
In closing, I will like to encourage all of us to believe in Nigeria and recognise that there is plenty of room for our dreams to be fulfilled even in this nation and to understand that our economy can grow again and women have a big part to play in the development.