BusinessDay

TORI ABIOLA, the women empowerment advocate who went through ‘fire’, came out gold

Tori ABIOLA is the Founder, Women Of World Entrepreneurship & Empowerment (WOWEE) and Tori Aduke Agency, a fully integrated sales and marketing agency, with world class talent and global footprint, leveraging her 23+ years’ experience in sales, marketing and business leadership across Europe, Africa, Middle East and North America.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, she spent few years in Port Harcourt before aged 6 where her father was a Petroleum Engineer and her Mum a nurse.

She later moved to Kent College Pembury Kent where she was active in Theatre Studies, English Literature, Poetry, Public Speaking and won the national and regional awards in poetry, verse and prose and English-Speaking Union’s Parliament Cup for Best Speaker.

She went on to France for a few months as part of exchange and work experience and became fluent in French with a passion for French culture, literature and film.

She is a graduate of Economics & Politics from SOAS University of London

University in London, England.

She joined Euromoney Training UK FTSE 250 Company, and was promoted three times, growing their African business for training, for which she had responsibility by 75%, through new product innovation, partnerships and marketing including capital markets course with FCMB, Bond Programme with HSBC and Capital Markets programme with Lusaka Stock Exchange Zambia. In that role, she travelled across Africa and got to know senior level decision makers across the continent.

Tori later went to work with the CEO of Terrappin Global Conference company to launch their Global Telecoms Summit as the world got introduced to VOIP, World Luxury Congress George V Paris, World Low Cost Airlines Amsterdam and World Regional Airports in France.

She joined Pfizer /IQPC South Africa and UK, and then ICAEW Commercial Department for 4 years, where she worked under mentorship and leadership of now COO ICAEW, who was the first woman in ICAEW 100+ history to be elected on the board. Her role involved her commercial partnerships management for the award winning social financial innovation project Finance Innovation Lab, working with WWF, University of Oxford, Oxfam and leading public and private sector, civil society organisations concerned about creating financial systems that serve people and planet. This experience iintroduced her to systems change and social entrepreneurship programmes around gender equity, and also the fact that businesses can run with profit, purpose and passion.

Abiola’s work at the Finance Innovation Lab was transformative and this is where she understood that she had the power to make change and real impact in the world, including understanding what it takes to make such changes.

She launched WOWEE in 2013 with support from Montgomery Group, where she led business in West Africa and went on to become Programme and Brand Lead Unicorn Group, Platform Capital from 2018 – 2019.

In 2019 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she decided to focus on health and recovery with some work on gender empowerment and Fire Sessions.

Now in recovery, she is working, through her Marketing Agency, Tori Aduke Agency in places that include Dubai, London, Lagos, Lusaka and Joburg.

What part of your childhood do you remember and would want to share?

Growing up for me, I now realise as an adult, how invested my parents were in my life, and how much of their energies was invested in us. Both my parents and many of my extended family are all very hard working. I think this is a standard Nigerian thing.

I spent a lot of my weekends before moving to UK at age 10 with my grandma in her house at Agege. I also spent a lot of my childhood in Moshood Abiola Crescent with my cousins, playing, talking, listening to music and learning dance moves. A big part of my childhood was spent learning new dances.

I also spent time in prayers at mosque at home. I was either dancing, praying, listening to older folks debate politics, eating or going to parties, dressing up and all. It was really fun. I remember also being with my mum at her shops in Alade Market, playing in the market, watching my mum engage with customers, and of course there was always school, being good at school was very important.

Read also: Grooming Centre’s storytelling of impact – Women’s success stories well told

In UK, I also loved school but got more into theatre training, poetry, acting, netball and public speaking. It was a very full life outside of academics. I grew up with a lot of love, knowing and experiencing the importance of family. From a very young age, we would visit my great grandma in Abeokuta, my mother made a lot of effort to keep us close to our family.

Share your Euromoney experience and lessons learnt

After 20+ years of experience launching a global marketing agency Tori Aduke, I have to say Euromoney is an amazing template and blue print for successful businesses. A lot of what I learnt came from there. Euromoney was brilliant. I learnt what it takes to launch products and grow in new markets, the fundamentals of sales and marketing, and the importance of data. I also learnt the importance of figures, budgets, forecasts, making targets and margins. I was really ambitious, and I always wanted to learn to progress. It’s an organisation that rewards entrepreneurial spirit, and a lot of work is based on relationships. It was also very rigorous in terms of content and marketing. I started as a Training Manager in Operations but noticed the sales guys. Although they were far less glamorous offices, it was a bit of a boiler room telemarketing set up, they made more than operations, and that got me interested and I moved into sales.

After that, I learnt what I needed and from my degree at SOAS, I realised there were elements missing in our offering in developing countries. I was also a very good sales person, so I got a shot at running and growing Africa which I did by 75%. I was in a unique position of understanding the UK / Global context, but also understanding Africa having studied its socio-economic dynamics at SOAS.

Euromoney was really a very great foundation to my career. Their efficiency and business management was really impressive, it’s part of the Daily Mail Group, one of the most successful global media/publishing organisations. I just love their business structure and ethos. They went out to own a segment and were dogmatic in that.

Take us through your SOAS experience, where you studied Economics & Politics
You can imagine from a young age growing up between UK and Nigeria, and seeing the contrast in development, infrastructure and wealth, and the many questions that rose in my mind. At SOAS, I was able to understand why some countries were poorer than others, what it would take to get out of certain development challenges. It basically spoke to my passion which is development. I also learnt critical thinking across various cultural, geographical and political lines. I learnt the ability to analyse and make sound judgement calls based on facts. It also gave me solid grounding in economic and political theory which continues to serve me well. I met incredible people who are still friends till date.

How was your experience working with Pfizer?
I am proud to say that my experience with Pfizer shows that I am a world class, best of breed marketer. We ran a competition in-house across many countries and I won, and was awarded for my campaign ideas and approach.

That gave me a lot of confidence, because I didn’t have formal pharma or marketing training.

I learnt how to market at scale, nationally and regionally. Basically how to run major campaigns like managing significant marketing budgets, engaging with agency and creative, gaining consensus across multiple stake holders and decision makers, solid brand marketing experience, how to operate within an MNC, campaign planning and execution, field marketing, sales, detail aids and product launches.

When and why was WOWEE launched?

I started my career in financial training at Euromoney, where I had responsibility for developing training programmes working with faculty, and I also worked at ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales), and in 2007/8 I was doing a lot of work in management and leadership development for women in SADC region.

So, I have lots of experience in training, capacity building, and also membership/Institutes. At that time in 2013, there wasn’t much for women of African origin and honestly, the lack of service in this area is still huge. 1% of VC funding goes to female CEOs. So I saw a gap.

Imagine bringing world class business education, networking to African women but also delivering that content in a fresh, accessible, fun, glamorous and enjoyable way.

I also learnt the hard way, that no one invites you to the table, most times, you need to build your own. That’s how WOWEE was birthed.

WOWEE provides the world with economic empowerment solutions and systems change interventions that support women of African origin to thrive as professionals and entrepreneurs. We believe the world is better when African women can contribute fully to the economy and society.

Now, there are so many women empowerment programmes and this is great, but we still have a problem with women occupying spaces and securing capital.

Share on discovering you had cancer

I had just returned from an incredible work trip from Cape Town, first night back home, after a couple of intense weeks preparing for the event and organising everyone. So, I was really determined to have a comfortable sleep, and while adjusting, I felt a lump I hadn’t felt before. Somehow, the thought of breast cancer came heavily to my mind and I made a mental note to check it out when next I was in the UK. So, in October, I was asked to organise a workshop in London and it was there that I was diagnosed in October 2019. From there, the process with lots of appointments began. I am now clear and everyday getting stronger and better but mindful of it.

What is it that anyone going through cancer needs to know?

Take a day, a moment at a time, practice mindfulness, advocate for yourself, ask people for help if you need it, don’t blame yourself or feel shame. Also, redefine your sense of self and values so that they can inspire you to remain hopeful.

What is that people who are around survivors need to know?

The level of what I can endure and take is a lot more than before (mentally, spiritually and physically). People need to look at what we can bring and contribute instead of seeing us as somehow broken or unable to fully contribute to society and life. Of course, there are restrictions, but we have learnt to cope with these, manage them and living well mostly.

How important is it to have your mental health in check?

Through my entire process, I knew my mental health had to be in check. This is very crucial to daily living whether you are going through a form of ailment or not. Your mental health is important and so you must guard it jealously. Therapy helped me a great deal. The entire process taught me that self-care is critical.

When you compare the healthcare system you received in the UK and what obtains in Nigeria, what are you hopeful for to change in Nigeria’s healthcare system?

UK is a developed economy, Nigeria is developing but we can do better. There are incredible benefits from having a society which sees healthcare as a fundamental right for everyone, and that has a national health insurance system.

How was Fire Sessions birthed? What is the goal?

Fire Sessions was inspired by my breast cancer survival. I want people to feel that whatever life throws at you, (and will throw so much), it’s worth the battle, commitment, tough times to shine and thrive. The programme is worth looking out for. Information will be available in BusinessDay amongst other places once we are ready.

Final words

Never give up. Understand the importance of faith, prayer and a support system. Mental health and psychological tools are therapies to manage life. Most importantly, women should be given chances to lead.

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