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‘Learn To Invest In Yourself, In Your Growth And Development. ’’- Nigeria’s Funke Ladimeji

Imagine for a minute, you had the honor of having lunch with a woman who has walked the path you are trying to tow.. Imagine learning from a career woman with over 25 years experience in the corporate world.. Just imagine leaning into her experiences and getting the principles and patterns that has given her the results she has. Well, you do not have to imagine as we have got you covered.  We bring on board Funke Ladimeji COO, Head Technology and Services at FBNQuest Merchant Bank, with over 25 years in the corporate world, with a career spanning quite a number of sectors including both private and public sectors. Funke highlights her journey into the corporate space, while emphasising some key lessons she has learned on her career journey. Lean in, learn, unlearn, connect the dots and apply. Enjoy!

Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?

My name is Funke Ladimeji and I am the COO, Head Technology and Services at FBNQuest Merchant Bank, which is the Merchant Banking and Asset Management Group of FBN Holdings. I am also the executive responsible for Operations, Human Capital etc. I consciously built my career in financial services with strong pillars of support in family, close friends, advisers, and most importantly, God. I am a believer – I believe in myself, believe in others, and strongly believe in the extreme capabilities latent in us as human beings.

Awesome! So, how did you start out in your career, and how long have you been in the ‘corporate world?’

I grew up with a number of very early influencers who informed my predisposition and preferences toward being a career woman. From a very young age, I had strong role models. For example, my mother and father, but in very different ways. Specific uncles and aunts, and specific friends of my Dad, also impacted my view of the world and of myself in it. I grew up with a variety of types and styles of people. One thing they had in common was that they had an occupation – Lawyer x, Architect y, Doctor z, Professor a, Commissioner b, MD of c, Chairman of d, etc. Many of whom fascinated me and, with hindsight, liberated my perspective of ‘normal’.

My career and choices were predominantly based on my interests – I like Economics (from O and A levels) and chose this for my first degree. Interestingly, I decided to become a Chartered Accountant, though my father, also a Chartered Accountant, had a very different aspiration for me.  By the time I completed my first degree, Banking/Financial Services in the UK was changing and it was very exciting – there was huge deregulation of Financial services. As a result of my Economics and Accounting studies and qualifications, I understood what was happening and decided to go into banking. There was excitement and energy – young people like me from different backgrounds, different nationalities, with different accents were working in Investment Banks. We had a diversity of personalities, accents, styles, views, pre-dispositions, and none of which seemed to matter. There seemed to be one overriding requirement – deliver! This suited my personality to a tee.

I have now been in the corporate world for over 25 years, with a career spanning Public Practice, Insurance Sector, then the Banking sector – working for French, British, American and later, Nigerian banks, and in different aspects of Investment banking including Corporate Finance, Trading and Sales, of multiple asset classes, and across different functions across global regions (including North America, Asia Pacific and Europe Middle East and Africa).

What are some of the things you love the most about being a career woman?

One of the most fulfilling experiences in my career to date is seeing my team, my mentees, my friends, my family, blossom and come into their own as well grounded and rounded professionals. Especially seeing women become confident, articulate, strong professionals. It is heart-warming.

A career is essentially a platform and has also facilitated consistent exposure to diverse views and perspectives, as well as an opportunity to consistently impact and influence others, and to challenge and be challenged. It also empowers one’s preferences, facilitates the actualisation of decisions, enables risk taking and so on, thereby resulting in resourcefulness.

And the downsides – what are some of the challenges you’ve faced, and how did you overcome them?

I learnt very early in my career that challenges will come – not if, but when. Some will be, and are hard core challenges, and some are soft challenges. Challenges will come – they are to be surmounted – go round, go over, and go through them. Every career woman must learn, and continue to fine-tune the art of navigating roadblocks.

As a woman in a male dominated environment, the minimum is to speak up. Have and share your perspective. Another essential nugget to navigating / overcoming challenges is a positive mindset – positivity, first about oneself, then about others; while also humbly accepting ones and others’ frailties and imperfections. 

Of course, we’re going to talk about mentorship – what’s your view on it? Important or not?

My formative years as a professional was marked by mentors, sponsors, advisers – people who simply took the time to show interest, listen, opine, advise, direct, chastise, share their experiences, etc. Strong and formidable men and women who were very kind but gave tough love and cut me little slack.

I also had many years of actively engaging with new entrants – exposure to young graduates and soon to be graduates. I observed that most of the guys were already bold, competitive, opinionated, knowing everything about everything, had and reeled out facts and figures. While most of the ladies had negative perception of banking, of women in banking, of the realities / life style of women in banking and were generally unsure of themselves and their ability to succeed in a career in the financial sector.

As a result, I started mentoring others quite early. Mentoring is a great opportunity to learn through the experiences of others – it is quicker and less expensive. For example, through mentoring, you start to ‘see’ and focus on details which you would otherwise have missed (through inexperience), you learn early-on that competition (overt or covert) is par for the course. It is not always about you; the perspective of another does not invalidate yours and diversity of views is always more enriching. I say – ‘be true to who you are’, ‘respect and embrace your uniqueness’.

So, there are many learning that can be garnered by leveraging the experience and knowledge base of others. This is the beauty of organisations such as the Association of Professional Women Bankers (APWB), which provides a network and a platform for upcoming and discerning junior bankers to leverage senior female bankers and learn from their experiences.

Two things – what have been your best and worst career decision – and what did you learn from each respectively?

I believe one of my most important career decisions was choosing to become a Chartered Accountant. It provided excellent exposure to a diverse range of businesses and professionals across different levels, excellent training on being rigorous. Taking trainees through the grind of learning and understanding large volumes, sharpening your learning skills as well as your general processing skills; while imposing strict time pressure on work and study schedules. Chartered Accountancy remains an excellent tool kit and provides a solid platform to build-on. 

Do you have a “side-hustle” and what’s your view on having other interests outside of work?

Over the years, I have observed that you may be absolutely exhausted from an engagement but exceptionally energized to engage with another. Similar to when you feel very tired from a long day in the office, and decide on your way home, to stop by the gym or at the Lekki link bridge for a jog. You really don’t feel like it, but you feel great after. Or leaving the office after a long tiring day, and heading to your yoga class or to a meeting with your mentor / mentee, or your photography class / piano lesson / the race track, etc. The change tends to be energizing rather than the opposite.

It is great to have a variety of interests. They offer balance and as well as exercise and stretch human capacity.

In what specific ways would you advise women to “lean in” more at work?

A few nuggets on leaning-in – Be at the top of your game, i.e. work hard to be the best in your space. Expect to challenge and be challenged. Have a view, and as a minimum, ask questions. People don’t always have to agree with you. The fact that others have a different view does not make you right or wrong. It means you have a different perspective. Diversity of views is enriching to the discourse.

Be positive – ALWAYS, and be comfortable and confident in your uniqueness

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Forecasting 10 years ahead must be an art. So, I actively keep myself open to ideas. However, in broad terms, I anticipate continued participation in the financial sector, with a lot more time on professional mentoring through organizations such as APWB, as well as engaging with other platforms to share experiences, impart knowledge and leverage others. A lot of charity work across a broad network.

What in your opinion are key success principles for upcoming career women, or those just starting out their careers?

  • Admittedly, this is a lifetime journey, but it is worth starting early – proactively learn to know/understand you – your strengths, weaknesses/developments, your likes/dislikes, how you respond/react in different situations, and most importantly, your uniqueness.
  • Learn to invest in yourself, in your growth and development. If you won’t invest, why should any company or anyone else?
  • Treat people well – be fair, be kind, be honest, be mindful of your words.
  • Challenges are a part of life. Learn to navigate your roadblocks – they will come in different shapes, sizes and guises. Through it all, maintain your positive mind-set.
  • Leverage others. As a young woman banker, use platforms like APWB to connect with seasoned bankers and leverage them.
  • Most importantly, be kind to yourself and treat yourself very well. Value you and embrace the totality of you!
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