A conversation with Olufunke Amobi: Head of Human Capital IBTC Holdings PLC Nigeria

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LM:     Tell us a bit about yourself, who is Olufunke Amobi beyond Stanbic IBTC?

OA:      I am a passionate lady of many moving parts. Outside of work, I am a dedicated wife, mother, Church worker, HR leader, teacher, women advocate and social worker

At home, my siblings describe me a “MotherHen” a role I assumed further to the demise of my parents a few years ago. So my life in this space sees me dotting around my 4 sisters and their children with a myriad of attending social activities. I serve in my local Church TREM as an ordained worker where I sing in the Choir (yes I sing LOL) and serve as chairperson for the TREM Career Academy, a hub for supporting our members to advance their careers and address employability issues. I also lead faculty sessions in Organizational Behavior & Management in a leading University at weekends. I sit on the advisory board of a social enterprise known as WISCAR (Women in successful careers) focused on supporting early and mid-career women to reach their full potential through structured mentoring. I serve on the board of Lancaster University Management School in the UK where I get to make contributions to the strategy of running the School. Professionally, I sit on the strategic planning and implementation committee of our HR professional body; the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management where the strategy of the institute is shaped and cascaded.

Saving the best for the end, I am married to a lovely man of honour who is equally a professional and unequivocally supports my career. We are blessed with a son (turning 6 years soon) who literally makes my world full of energy! Please allow me to answer before you ask, so how do you get to do all these? It’s simply really, God enables the symphony of my many parts!

LM:     What is your current role and what has been your journey to get to this senior leadership role?

OA:      I am currently the Country Head of Human Capital for Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc. As Country Head of Human Capital, I have the responsibility for leading, defining and managing the Nigeria Human Capital strategy and the delivery of HC services, policies and programs across the Nigerian business.  I have a first degree in Economics and an MBA and a couple of post-graduate certification in HR specialist areas.

I have about 25 years’ experience all spent in HR across three major industries in Nigeria namely Oil & Gas, Telecommunications and Banking. I have had the opportunity to hold generalist, specialist and lead HR roles

A few interventions have played key roles in my journey to senior leadership, two of which would be education and mentoring. I have had a number of turning points in my career leading to positive difference facilitated by both interventions. A career turning point for me was when I elected to undertake the Lancaster MBA.  Before I decided to do an MBA I had well over 10 years’ experience in the corporate world and had risen to senior management positions. So I was a fairly well-experienced manager and had been an HR professional all my career life. I had gotten to a point where I wanted to embrace general management in a multinational organization and it was clear to me I needed a different set of skills required to function at that level.

It seemed an MBA was the answer and I decided I would like a full-time experience in the UK which meant I had to quit my job for a year. I won the British Chevening scholarship award (another turning point) and proceeded to the UK.

The Lancaster MBA became a critical part of my career progression to general management. It enabled me to acquire a range of skills from cultural skills by working with team members from different countries. I also learnt strong business skills relating to corporate finance, strategy, marketing, and operations – essentially what it takes to run a business and more importantly leadership skills. The Lancaster MBA strongly also helped me to become a more effective leader. On my return to work, I transitioned rather seamlessly into general management and my career took an upward trajectory.

At other key turning points in my career particularly when I made decisions to change jobs I had the privilege of being guided by mentors who were more senior and with their help, I have made good quality career decisions. Mentors add a lot of value to help navigate the world of work.

Most importantly, I have always worked hard, believed in myself and trusted God and I strongly believed these have helped shape my career journey.

LM:     What persuaded you to choose a career in Human Capital?

OA:      I actually didn’t set out to build a career in HR deliberately, I found myself in HR in the pursuit of playing to my strengths in my career. The things I like to do and things that come to me naturally are the things that are interestingly core to succeeding in HR i.e. Strong communication, engaging others and stakeholder management, developing people, facilitating, problem-solving, harnessing resources achieving a goal etc.

All of these navigated me into a career in HC. Having said that, it was easy to deliberately build a career in HC, given the opportunity it provides to be a strategic contributor to business through people. As an HC professional, you create impact along multiple dimensions i.e. organizational growth, employee career growth and community development just by virtue of the strategic importance of what you do every day, this unique proposition drives me on a daily basis.

 I also like the real involvement with people and the fact that my work has a higher purpose for the overall organization and society. Imagine managing a workforce of 5000 employees, if HR is able to enable all employees to achieve their full potential, then we end up giving several families the potential to achieve their ambitions. Really Profound!!

LM:     What other roles do you play beyond your corporate role and how do you manage to balance all these competing needs?

OA:      I have a number of passions and interests that take up my time outside of work as I earlier mentioned. I am not one that believes strongly in striving to achieve a balance between work and life. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the fact that it is not essentially a balance that works for me and so over time, I have tried to achieve an integration. I am more of an advocate for what I call “Work-Life integration”.

What I have tried to do as much as possible is to integrate the demands of my work into the demands of my life like spending time with family and attending to my other many roles. What I have done in the past over the years on my official trips when my son was much smaller was to travel with him and a Nanny which enabled me spend some more time with him.

The pressures of juggling a family life and a busy career really and truly can be overwhelming when there is no support so one way in which I have dealt with the pressure factor is to ensure that I have family support that I can always draw on.

Family support has always been a useful piece for me. In fact, my late mother, my sisters and indeed my husband support my career very strongly and that leaves me in a good place. They help to compensate pressures on the work front. 

LM:     What do all the new technologies and the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean for the World of Work?

OA:      The 1st three industrial revolutions hugely impacted the world of work and the fourth revolution brings an even more disruptive but interesting impact on work.

The future of work is already upon us and it is clearly defined by Technology. The digital revolution is characterized and dominated by Robotics, Artificial intelligence AI, Machine learning, Virtual reality VR, Augmented reality AR etc. This implies that the work or jobs of the future belongs to those who can maximize and explore modern technologies to their advantage. By the year 2025, which is just about 8 years from now, a lot of jobs would have been taken over/hugely impacted by technology and interestingly a different set of jobs would be created requiring different capabilities.

I see significant shifts in the way jobs are designed, the demand and supply of talent, employment contracting etc. and all of these will ultimately trigger the re-design of the employee value proposition of most companies. Ways of working will also be significantly impacted, workforce planning will be done differently acknowledging the machine interface. Collaboration would be key to support virtual teams and the man-machine dynamics. We will see more of freelancing and outsourcing arising from an emerging individualistic career patterns as well as technological efficiencies.

These are exciting times ahead for the world of work!

LM:     You are part of a Multinational Company, Standardbank, how do such organizations manage to balance corporate demands with local nuances and preferences?

OA:      Working across geographies as a multinational company like Standard Bank really draws remarkably on the management of diversity and inclusion as well as effective stakeholder management.

It’s more about effectively managing the touch points of diversity which broadly speaking would be i.e. culture, regulation, market nuances & consumer patterns.

A well-structured governance, clarity of mandates and relationship management have proven to be effective tools to help with balancing the sometimes varying preferences.

LM:     Standardbank’s purpose is “Africa is our Home, we drive her growth”, what does this mean for Standardbank employees?

OA:      “Africa is our Home, we drive her growth”, this is Standard Bank’s purpose and to our employees it means much. It points the direction of our energies at work, it fuels our employee’s ownership of our growth agenda as an Organisation and drives our people’s passions.

We live in a world where people now seek a higher purpose for coming to work, so when we tell them coming to work is about doing what’s best for your “home”, they bring their best to the table. Home is where your heart lies, home is where you are always welcome regardless of the circumstance, home is where everyone strives to keep joy unabated.

Furthermore, the promise of Africa is real and this speaks to the stretch of opportunity an employee can aspire to within Standard Bank. It helps our employees feel the strength of our EVP (Employee Value Proposition) as an Organisation, we offer our talent the opportunity to be a part of something big, to experience a world of multiple career opportunities across Africa.

LM:     There is a battle for talent in Nigeria, both those in Nigeria and those abroad, what is Standard bank’s competitive edge to attract that talent?

OA:      The war for talent remains quite compelling particularly in Africa and I dare say even more so in Nigeria where we are always seeking to attract the best of the pack both locally and in diaspora. We have found that our strongest competitive edge has been our strong brand, strong leadership and well-articulated employee value proposition (EVP). Standard Banks’s EVP is experienced along six pillars namely; Market Expertise, Integrity, Growth, Opportunity, Performance and Collaboration.

This really is the edge we have over competition in attracting and retaining our talent. Talent seek to work with us to experience the outlined proposition and to be a part of a lasting success story.

LM:     How should organizations create a conducive space for millennials to thrive and succeed?

OA:      Millennials are a very interesting age group whose impact should be deliberately channeled to bring out the best in them and add value to the Organization. We are going to see more millennials moving into the C-suite, and generational management will become more compelling than ever. Efforts must be made at the corporate level to understand the psychological makeup of the multi generations in the workplace today.

Subsequently creating an agnostic workplace culture which allows millennials to thrive would be a good starting point and this includes but not limited to incorporating a mix of openness, flexibility, engagement at all levels and a drive for innovation into the organization culture.

Millennials thrive when and where they are able to find expression in a boundary less manner, accordingly they would thrive when they find avenues to switch their interests frequently through multiple career paths and off course a work environment highly responsive to the digital disruption is naturally enabling for millennials.

LM:     Are organisations in Nigeria effectively addressing the current gender challenges?

OA:      Gender challenges are being addressed at different levels in Nigeria now, at the national level there is a deliberateness around ensuring a good gender balance in representation as well as promoting family based labor policies. Most organisations including regulators are also paying attention to gender based analytics and some regulators make this a point for reporting.

In banking, the Nigeria Sustainable Banking principles provides for “Women’s Economic Empowerment” and seeks to encourage organizations to promote women’s economic empowerment through a gender Inclusive workplace culture as well as in business operations.

At the societal level there is also a myriad of non for profit organizations equipping women to show up in a way that accelerates their progress and careers. I would submit that the subject is receiving more attention than it’s even received in previous years.

LM:     What advice would you give to a young woman battling with bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace?

OA:      I have a strong stance on this and it’s a No No. I tend to be very practical, my advice would simply be, firstly the young lady should reflect inwards and check to be sure she is not doing anything opening her up to sexual harassment, secondly she must report the subject to the appropriate official quarters.

I am not one for advising that the subject should be discussed and the concerned party encouraged to desist from these negative behaviors. My views are that anyone guilty of any of these should be brought to books through the instituted workplace governance.

LM:     How important is cultural and religious diversity in a multi-cultural environment such as Nigeria?

OA:      Nigeria is a very diverse country with about 180 Million people; it is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious and clearly heterogeneous. Our diversity as a matter of fact can be a strength and beauty to behold when properly managed and the reverse can be the same when poorly managed.

The geographical landscape of Nigeria varies, these diversities are evidently manifested in our cultural and religious practices. Culture is expressed in very rich apparel, language as well as dance and choreography.

There are more than 400 documented ethnic groups across Nigeria comprising of millions of people who are adherents of the two major religions i.e. Islam and Christianity, though there is no nationally adopted religion.

It is therefore not surprising that Nigerians are very passionate about culture and religion. Organizations in this market must therefore manage both as part of an overall strategic diversity agenda within the context of the work environment to drive inclusion.

LM:     How do you see the role of Human Capital changing, and how do you see its future?

OA:      Many leading writers in HC have predicted lots of shifts in the future of HC. In line with most views expressed, my thoughts are that the changing global macro landscape and indeed the digital disruption would shape the HC profession of the future. We should expect to see shifts in HC operating models, HC people, process, strategy, and HC careers in general.

High level of automation & technology driven changes in HC processes along the entire value chain from hire to retire will be a key part of the future.

On HC Careers, we should expect to see more fluidity with other disciplines i.e. Finance, Marketing etc finding their way into HC at the senior level.

HC strategy will most likely shift closer to the changing corporate agenda, blurring the lines between the people agenda and the business agenda. Managing the employer brand and employee experience will be critical. HC’s partnership with the business will be even more compelling because of its ability to lead with analytics.

HC Analytics will be leading, HC professionals would have to become more adept at measuring and managing the employee experience in order to track the effectiveness of HC initiatives. Talent management would also be key to ensuring that organizations have the right people/right machines with the right capabilities at the right time to drive the achievement of business objectives.

LM:     What advice would you give to your 25 year self in a corporate environment with a young family?

OA:      Advice to my 25 year old younger self would be a 7 point agenda, hopefully followed in the sequence presented below;

  1. Know God, trust God and follow HIS ways always
  2. Build a career plan, choose your career mentors driven by values & expertise and do these early in the day.
  3. Choose a God fearing, professional man to spend the rest of your life with.
  4. Build a support infrastructure at home to help manage your work pressures and focus on integrating your work & life.
  5. Continuously refresh and follow through on your clearly articulated personal development plans.
  6. Always seek to leave a lasting legacy behind at work through your work and character.
  7. Support other women to climb the ladder as you rise.

LM:     What role does your spiritually play in your life and in your work?

OA:      As a Christian, my life is guided by just one set of principles and values, so work and life for me drives from the same foundation. The foundation of Godly living and a focus on a higher purpose. The purpose of a higher calling, the purpose of seed time and harvest, the purpose of giving account for all your deeds and I could go on and on.

I tend to see this purpose across all I do and it has simply become the only way I know to live and be just “me”. There is a higher purpose for mankind and it helps me to be guided by this when I deliver my daily chores at work and at home. Life is a journey after which there is a destination I long to reach and I look forward to being told “welcome good and faithful servant”. Hmmm, I really have to stop now, before I preach a sermon……LOL