When the Virtue Digest team got the approval to feature Mrs Mavi Isibor as our Gem of the Month, we were ecstatic! Mrs Isibor, The Etiquette Icon, brings her wealth of experience and class to this interview in a down-to-earth manner that makes you feel you are in the same room with her. Enjoy!
Please tell us about yourself, starting from background to present day.
I am the second child of a family of seven children. I had a very humble beginning at Fadeyi, Lagos. As a growing girl, I had many wants and many of my needs went unmet. Our circumstances were harsh and the deprivation glaring. Fortunately, I was blessed with a father who loved education; hence, with what little earnings he made as a civil servant, he ensured that we attended school. However, upon his early retirement, the continuation of our education was threatened and it was left to my mother to bear the heavy burden of providing for our family (which also included extended family members). Even as children, we appreciated the sacrifices and gruelling efforts my mother made to make sure that we remained in school, had food to eat, and clothes to wear. The foundation of who I am today was laid by the ‘never say die’ attitude of my mother. Today, by the grace of God, I am the Group Chief Executive Officer of Poise Nigeria.
What was growing up like? What fond memories do you hold dear?
Growing up was fun, even though we did not have it all. My mother was a disciplinarian and she drilled the importance of good manners into us. She was very particular that the boys respect any lady they came in contact with, and the girls learned the correct attitude of a cultured lady. Her constant words to us were that life was a gift and that good relationships were our most valuable possessions.
What are the major obstacles you overcame in the process of becoming the woman you are today?
I think the first and most important obstacle was fear. Fear of the unknown. I had that for a long time. But through the constant encouragement of my husband and some other people, I overcame that and I think that a lot women and people in general face that as well, fear of leaving the comfort of certainty of today to pursue the unknown. Fear of letting go of the good to pursue the great. Following one’s dream, especially in this part of the world poses a substantial amount of risk and takes tremendous resilience and guts to be able to do. That was my story for a long time, but by the time I crossed that bridge, that was the beginning of great things to come. I learned an important lesson in life; that you can achieve anything if you believe. With hard work and persistence, you will indeed watch your dreams come true.
What brings you fulfilment as a person or a woman?
Our mission statement at Poise Nigeria is ‘Transforming the individual to impact the organization positively’ and that was the vision I had when I started Poise. To see individuals transformed into a better and more productive version of themselves. Whether it be in the corporate world, business or family. It always gives off a good feeling to be able to impact people positively doing what you love. That is the key to a sense of fulfilment and self-actualisation, especially if the purpose is an enduring endeavour that would leave your footprints in the sands of time.
What are your personal values and how have they impacted on your marriage, career, and general way of doing things?
Integrity, honesty, character. It is upon these values that I was brought up. My parents were very strict about values and ethics. My father would beat us mercilessly for lying rather than for fighting or low grades. My mother’s popular adage was “tell the truth and let the devil be ashamed”. So in running Poise Nigeria, we are constantly guided by the strictest ethical values. Many times, we have lost big businesses because we have refused to take part in the corrupt practices; like they say “Play ball”. Our policy has always been that we will work hard to get a job, but we will be courageous to walk away if it involves underhand practices. Engaging in any behaviour that would be seen as unethical or illegal is not acceptable within the organisation. My work and Poise Nigeria is built on strong moral and ethical values and this has shaped my life, family, and business and brought me to where I am today.
What do you do to unwind and recharge your battery?
I am a pastor, reading my bible recharges my batteries. Reality shows depicting competition and some Nigerian soaps are my favourite TV views.
Do you believe that, as a woman, ‘you can have it all?’ Why?
Anybody, not just a woman. Anyone can have it all if you put your mind to it, thriving career, stable family, you really can have it all. There is a misconception in society that one thing has to give for the other to work, especially with women, but that isn’t necessarily so. We have seen women do it. Women like Chief Mrs. Nike Akande, two-time federal minister, current president of LCCI, Mrs. Osaretin Demuren, Chairman of GTB, Former minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala readily come to mind. I think that as with everything else in life, one has to be determined to make it work. So, I believe that with hard work and persistence and the willingness to make sacrifices and adjustments, one can succeed and be the best at every of life’s endeavour.
What causes are you involved in and what impact have they made?
Poise Nigeria, through her Graduate Finishing Academy established a communal support foundation and Making An Impact (MAI) project which has in the last five years impacted numerous communities and individuals, providing relief materials such as school materials, food, clothing, school infrastructure, medical supplies, pipe-borne water as well as scholarships in a bid to empower the underprivileged. We are also currently in partnership with the Netherland government through one of its agencies to set up a school in Nigeria which will train young people between the ages of 18-25 from indigent communities on ICT skills, creative & life skills as well as digital skills. I am also the Vice President of the Christian Women Fellowship International with a member strength of over 35,000 women spread across the globe which is geared towards empowering women, through knowledge & skill acquisition, provision of relief materials for widows and abused women as well as getting them rooted and grounded in Christ.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done better if you were to start your life all over again?
I believe that everything that happens to a person happens for a reason, whether good or bad, it is all part of a master plan to bring you to where you are right now. So, I do not give room for regret. I am grateful for where I am now and I look forward to greater things in the future.
How do you juggle all your numerous responsibilities and still maintain balance?
I have come to adopt the mantra “This too shall pass”. This attitude helps me to maintain balance and good health. Keeping a free mind is key to looking good and living a healthy life.
How has marriage (particularly wifehood and/or motherhood) changed your person and affected your worldview?
Marriage, and motherhood particularly, teaches all women virtues such as patience and sacrifice. When you get married and start to raise a family, you start to see things from a broader and more holistic perspective. You learn to be more patient and more accommodating.
What about your parents? In what ways have they also contributed toward your becoming the woman you are today?
My parents laid the foundation for what I have become today. As I look back today, I realize that the seed of Poise Nigeria was first planted by my parents. My father’s love for the Queen’s English translated to him enacting a law in our household that made it somewhat mandatory for everyone to speak the highest form of the language. As a result, I grew up with an insatiable desire to speak right. My mother was a disciplinarian, and she drilled the importance of good manners to us. She was all for good carriage, the right personality, impeccable behaviour and attitude.
What are the specific words of advice you have for single ladies, married women, and professional women?
My advice to them is that they can be all they want to be. They only have to know what they want, believe it, and work hard at it and they will definitely get to the zenith. Whether in the corporate or business environment or at the home front, keep bettering yourself in every way. Do not be afraid. Pursue your passion fearlessly and the sky will be the limit. Don’t make sacrifices that you will regret later in life.
What counsel do you have for women who have given up on their dreams?
That saying that quitters never win and winners never quit couldn’t ring any truer. Today, when I give talks, especially to young entrepreneurs, I admonish them to endure the period of dryness which I call the wilderness experience. Good things are expensive and don’t come easy. If we run away from the pangs of childbirth, then we would have carried the pregnancy in vain. There is joy and pride in starting and finishing strong. A sage once said, ‘it is the struggle to come out of the cocoon that pumps the blood through its wings when robbed of it, the butterfly dies.’ Endurance is crucial to the growth of any business and the fulfilment of purpose. Even when it seems as if the night is unending, hang in there and believe; it will come to pass. It is never too late to pick up where you left off and tackle your dream once more. Age and time should not discourage you. I started my journey into Poise when I was 43.
What would you like to be remembered for after you have transited?
I would love to be remembered as the engine that drove the much-needed change in the mindset and behavioural pattern of Nigerians and Africans which brought about a better and more exposed society. My legacy should read: Mavi Isibor, The Etiquette Icon, Changed the reputation of Nigeria and Africa.