In the very first #ConversationsWith series for 2021, we speak with Rolake Rosiji, a bright free spirited professional who works hard, and plays hard. She is a business professional with many years under her belt both as a consultant and business leader. She previously led an energy technology company; M-Kopa as the country manager and has now since then taken on another leadership role in technology as CEO of Jobberman, sub Saharan Africa largest online recruiter.
Rolake and i have met, and i would describe her energy as bright! She is fun to be around, so down to earth and always looks good! She is great at what she does, and is definitely an inspirational leader and Jobberman is lucky to have her! It's a pleasure to have Rolake on GlossyWhitePumps today, so let's get right into it.
Maria: Rolake, welcome! Thanks for joining us today. Let's start with this - who is Rolake Rosiji and what inspires you?
Rolake: I’m a free spirit who likes nothing more but to travel, relax on the beach or hang out with friends and my dog. I’m also relentlessly disciplined and always looking for ways to solve big problems like why 70% of Nigerians do no have electricity or why we must import 80% of all dairy products in Nigeria .
I’m inspired most by opportunities to innovate and develop business models that can have a meaningful large scale impact in people’s lives. I don't just want to impact a few people - I’m crazy enough to think I can change the whole world. This could be as diverse as creating a fresh milk business with farmers in Kaduna at a large European dairy company ; to launching a credit based digital payments solar system to provide electricity to low income households across Nigeria . I love to create. I love to solve problems and put my unique spin on things.
Maria: I love it! It is clear that you love to solve difficult problems and use innovation to really create value. You've done that through your career at M-Kopa, Arla Foods, even in consulting. Rolake, tell me what was your professional journey? How did you transition through consulting, to business development and also being a country manager for MKopa and now the CEO of Jobberman?
Rolake: Wow , great question. You know that meme that shows that a career journey to success isn’t a straight line but a squiqqly line? I feel like that was based on my career. I truly believe in reinventing yourself for every season of your life and pursuing roles that fulfil your passions and present skill set.
Trust me, I’ve had many failures, but i believe each one is there to teach you where you should improve and to push you to your next level. I am proudly millennial in how I think of a career journey, I like to be a multi-hyphenate, I get energy and ideas from the different things I do and I plan to keep evolving till I die (or at least till l I retire to a nice beach house in the Bahamas).
So my career started in Management Consulting in London but i only wanted to work on projects that had a global and especially “African” focus.
Having left Nigeria at aged 10 for boarding school in England, I guess I was longing to come home. I studied a Masters in Development Economics at the LSE and my passions was, and still is, to add value to African economies by solving problems through business and trade within and beyond the continent.
This meant that after five years in consulting, I decided to move back to Nigeria. But it was almost impossible for me to find a job at the level I wanted with little experience in the country. I eventually came home for a 9-5 as a Commercial Advisor to Danish businesses at the Danish Consulate - this happened in an extremely serendipitous way - for which I will always be grateful.
After 6 short months, I was headhunted by my main client Arla Foods, as the Africa Head of Strategy. I spent a fantastic 3 years there where I led strategy in Nigeria and market entry and sales partnerships into Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana market and after a brilliant season with them in NIgeria, Denmark and the USA, I was headhunted by M-KOPA, an asset finance and renewable energy business , to set up their Nigeria business. Now, i'm the CEO of Jobberman, sub Saharan Africa largest online recruiter.
Maria: Wow, what a journey! That is a fantastic skill-set. From consulting to partnership and sales, to leading a business! For a young woman who wants to tow a similar career path as yours, what will you say to her?
Rolake: I would say be very bold, never take no for an answer and take every opportunity that comes your way . There is no substitute for having a positive mindset and a great attitude with people.
In my journey so far, there are times i have not realised I was doing anything special , but bosses and colleagues later come and tell me “how they loved my resilience, or my high energy" whilst doing difficult projects or that I bring a joy to the team. Depending on the job you do, You might very well end up spending more time with colleagues than family so it’s important to bring your full self and invest in those relationships.
Maria: Such important nuggets in there. Owning your uniqueness is really what differentiates us, and a positive mindset is not just nice, its almost necessary! Rolake, what was one defining moment/experience/relationship that shaped you into the leader you are today?
Rolake: It’s tough to pick just one but when I was part of the Corporate Strategy team at Arla Foods, I got the opportunity to work in New York for 9 months. It is an incredible city - and i honestly believe living in New York awakened a fun, creative side of me that had been dormant for a few years. I would set out on a Wednesday night for dinner in Soho and find myself at an African night club in Williamsburg. The energy, self belief, openness and dynamism of people there is excellent.
Back to the question - Although my background was in strategy and consulting, my role in New York was to be a Brand Manager and the goal was for me to bring across learnings from the HQ in Denmark in new product launches and e-commerce to help streamline global processes. I initially felt like a fish out of water as I had no experience working in the USA. However I had a fantastic boss, team and also a wonderful team in Denmark who I could turn to when I was stuck. This meant that I quickly got up to speed and was successful in leading a cross functional team to adopt a new process that led to more effective product launches and in strengthening e-commerce partnerships and analytics.
This has defined how I view new challenges - there is nothing you cannot learn and succeed at with determination and a good team.
Maria: Phew! Tell us, from your experience what is one leadership mistake/pitfall you see is very common from your experience, and how can one avoid it?
Rolake: One pitfall is getting stuck on strategy and plans and the expense of getting your hands dirty by spending time with teams at all levels and customers to truly understand present challenges and opportunities.
Board level pressure can mean leaders are constantly focused on reporting upwards and ticking goals in the strategy - but from my experience getting involved in the operations frequently and listening to insight from even junior employers, especially the customer facing ones, gives you the best ideas of how to move forward.
Maria: +1! If there is one leadership lesson, you wish you’d learnt sooner rather than later, what is it, and why?
Rolake: Communicate just as much when things are going badly as when they’re going well. You can find solutions from those you expect it least or from those who you are shy to share with. Your managers are there to help.
Also when managing others, give very clear goals and regularly check that your team is on track and has the help they need. These are both to do with communication so another way to say this, is get out of your own head and into solution mode by sharing more.
Maria: Couldn't agree more! Communicating when things aren't going great builds trust, an important part of being a leader. Rolake - being a leader is tough and support systems and coping mechanisms are important. What is your go to activity of rest, and chill? How do you de-stress?
Rolake: I pray every morning and it gives me clarity, strength and so much more, I also have two workout sessions a week scheduled and paid for in advance so I am forced to go. I love being in nature or on the beach so it’s normal for someone to ring me on a Sunday and i won’t pick up because I’m on the beach.
I also love escapism through reading - i look for fiction that transports me far from my current reality - my recent favourite books are Girl, Women, Other and Love in Colour. And Netflix and Apple tv- what on earth did we do before Netflix? I loved Succession, Killing Eve, the Morning Show, Big Little Lies and Emily in Paris.
Maria: I haven't read Girl, Women, Other! I'm going to get a copy, thanks for the rec! Love that you find what gives you joy and use it to refresh, soo critical to avoid burnout. Rolake, we are getting to the end. Tell us what will you leave with us as your parting word, a favorite quote or something you find profound?
Rolake: You miss 100% of the chances you don't take. Start with what you have.
Maria: Oh i love it! "If you don't bet on yourself who will?". One final plug for something close to your heart?
Rolake: Tune into my podcast - The Otherside of the Atlantic on this link or on Spotify or Apple podcasts. Here me and my good friend Shade talk about all things frivolous, silly and fun - and occasionally serious. We give our perspectives from the other side of the atlantic, she’s in the US and I’m in Nigeria. Or come volunteer with my initiative www.neighbourlink.ng - we are trying to create a community across Lagos across different stratas of society- where value is transferred by money, skills training , volunteering or even food . For example a friend of mine is a fashion designer and she is offering tailoring skills to underprivileged girls using my platform.
Maria: I'm a fan of the podcast and i 100% recommend. Thanks for sharing your time with us, Rolake.
Rolake: Thank you for having me, Maria!
Connect with Rolake on Linkedin here:
..and that's it for this session folks! Keep your eyes peeled for the next interview and share this with your friends, especially that young aspiring woman leader around you! To catch up on other interviews with amazing leaders click here:
Till next time.