Interview with A Veteran Business Woman – Mrs Abolaji Osime
Meet our very own Mrs Abolaji Osime.
She is an accomplished Educationist and a Social entrepreneur.
She is the CEO and owner of Global International College. She is also the Director of British Education Consultants, Lagos. She sits as Director of several Boards of Trustees including JAKIN ministries. She has worked with government both at the state levels (Kwara, Lagos, Bayelsa, Cross River and Ogun) and the Federal level, consulting as part of the transformation team set up by the former Minister of Education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili.
She has received many awards including the Woman of Merit Gold Award in 2005.
I met her during the LagosMums Conference and she handled the session on Balancing Work with Children. When she spoke, her deep passion for the welfare was clearly evident as she stood to advocate for more time with the children.
I asked for an interview which she graciously granted. Get some popcorn and enjoy!
Hello ma, let’s hear your story, how did you start?
When I started, it was in response apart from being a lawyer doing legal work, but in terms of the business I wanted to do, it was in response to something that wasn’t existing when my son was to have his birthday, his 1st birthday. You know, I discovered that I couldn’t get everything in one place. I had to go get rental here, that one there then I said to myself, why don’t I do everything under one roof, and that’s how I started Party Planners.
In response to a need…
Yes, because there was a huge need and young mothers then who were working, they wanted to do a wonderful party but they had to go everywhere you know, to put it together. Of course, I was young, vibrant, plenty of energy and so all my weekends were always full organising parties. Then we didn’t have the social media to blast out what we were doing, so we had to rely on word of mouth and fliers to get word around. It was a totally different ball game doing business back then.
What did you study and how does it relate to what you do now?
I am a lawyer but my calling really wasn’t law. I did not find fulfilment in Law and I had plenty of energy. And that meant I needed to do a lot of things to dissipate it. So from the legal office at Western House, I sold properties in addition to doing legal work.
I moved into a whole floor (Ibile holdings) and opened a business centre. I had printers, computers and all that. I was just interested in doing business and getting turnovers.
From there I moved to Norma Williams and took a whole house. SO I moved from a small office, to a whole floor and then a whole house. And as I expand in size, I expand my businesses too. So there, I had a business centre, job centre, computer centre. Every single square metre must make money. Then the idea of party planners came.
And I derived so much joy from doing that. Even though the real estate was pricey, God gave me the idea to sublet the place (with the permission of the landlord) and so I was able to run the business without having huge debts to pay.
What was the turning point in your life?
In 1999, my dad died all of a sudden, for me it was a very depressing time since we were very close and I managed all his businesses. And so I had to launch myself into business big time, to get over the sadness and all that.
Because by that time, armed robberies were becoming rampant, people were not doing parties in their houses as much. So I set up World of Fun. And so whenever I traveled with my kids, it was a business trip. We went to Disney, and I imagined that I was going to set up something like that. I went to the amusement parks, seeing what people did and how I could bring it back to Nigeria. Disney was a nightmare, but I still did it because it was my passion. So my children really enjoyed themselves.
So World of Fun was set up. It was an indoor entertainment area. It had indoor play game areas. Parents loved it so much. They brought their kids in the morning and picked them up in the evening. The kids would just sleep off when they got home. It was just ideal for parents. And it was very safe but when the rent was due, and they increased it, I had applied to the bank with a proposal to fund me so I could do an amusement park but they said they didn’t have money so I had to let it go and focus on Global.
Starting Global was really God bringing me through the back door into education. Because I never thought I’d be in education ever. It was my brother’s former head of school in England who told him that he had a lot of Nigerians who wanted to study abroad So he said, “talk to your sister and let us set up something”.
And then we realized that a lot of people were at home because they couldn’t enter the university because of JAMB and so we decided to start a Pre Degree Foundation Program which is the alternative to A Levels, so we started that and a lot of people were happy with it. Because before then, it was very difficult getting admission in the UK, because of the need for A levels. So we introduced that alternative. That was good.
A lot of things I do comes from an opening in the market,
an opportunity in the market that is not tapped.
Tell us a little about Global
Global International started as a Sixth form preparatory College but has now expanded into Secondary Schools both here in Lagos and in Abuja.
The mission of Global is to educate and develop the whole child. A place where students are equipped to become transformational leaders, living ethical, useful and fulfilling lives with a strong sense of purpose and responsibility.
In the beginning, we started by placing them in Universities and then we saw that they couldn’t go because they didn’t have the requirements so we set up the school the next year. We had to prepare them because they couldn’t get the admission using WAEC. They had to have A levels.
Going personal, how many kids do you have?
The oldest is 23 and the youngest Is 18 going on 19.
So how did you cope with them when they were very young, Did you have help?
Plenty. I had plenty of help. I’ve always had help. When I met my husband, he already had a cook in the house, so he was already used to a cook cooking his food, and he doesn’t mind a cook.
By the time I had my son, I needed to get a nanny. I remember I had to go through 16 nannies in the first 2, 3 months. Hmmm. This was a different ball game. Some terrible people, some stealing, lying, lazy. Then one day, I prayed God send me a good nanny, a good person. I don’t want to be changing nannies.
And God sent me a good nanny. And she was with Osahon for nearly 10 years. Since then all my nannies stay with me for a very long time. One of them even got married from my house. That prayer changed things for me. They are very nice. I have 2 now. They stay with me until they are ready to get married.
Wow, you must have a good relationship with them…..
A very good one. I don’t stress people. Even with my employees here at Global, I’m not the typical Female boss/employer. I have an Open Office system.
Once you know me as a workaholic, you have to work. All I demand of you is work. As long as you do your work, you won’t have problems with me. If you are lazy, there is no way you can work with me.
And so it’s just basically being kind and nice to them, not complaining all the time about what they do, identifying their strengths, paying more attention to their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Just making them relaxed and part of family. And they also relate with me in that way.
And of course, I pray a lot. I don’t leave my house until I’ve done an hour of prayer, worship and reading the bible. All my phones are off until about 11am unless I have a meeting and I’m going. I must read my bible, pray, worship, before anything else. I’ve done that now, going to 20 years.
What are your core values for yourself and business?
Hard work, Integrity, Honesty, Respect for each other (both students and teachers alike), Fairness &Justice, Uprightness and Truth. I live like this because you are looking after other people’s children so you have to be a good role model. You can’t be seen to say one thing and be doing another.
What are your thoughts on the Educational System in Nigeria?
The educational system of course has gradually deteriorated over the years from the time when we went to school because it hasn’t been properly maintained. And the training of teachers also has been neglected.
I guess the explosion of the population has not helped.
Education is very technical as well. The people who manage education have to be good at what they do and understand what it takes to have a good educational system. Because you are talking about 21st century, the way things are done now, with the internet and social media. These young ones are the digital age and you find that the people who manage it are not from the same generation so there is a huge gap already. You find some who have not even used laptops, and so there’s a lot of work to be done.
You talked about Educational Reforms, are there Bodies for that?
A couple of years ago, 2007 I consulted for Dr Ezekwesili in the Federal Ministry of Education, so I was able to see big time what the needs were in the education sector, from the Federal level. That was what actually kick-started my passion for education reforms.
When I came to Lagos I joined DFID, British organisation they are involved in education reforms. I worked with a friend of mine who started the Education hub in city hall.
We are a gathering of people who are reform minded to try to look at solutions, rather than talking about the problems so we looked at a few areas, decided to get partners to proffer these solutions. So we have partners who are consultants and technological people who can be solution providers. That’s what we have done for the last 4-5 years now.
What will you say to the woman who aspires for leadership roles in career and business?
I think and know that everyone has their own destiny. You can be a top CEO in the house. If you are called to be in the house and called to look after your children for that period and that’s what God has said and that’s what it is. It’s not everyone that is destined to be a CEO of a company. No, not everyone. I have a parent who resigned to look after her children. So I know investing in the children, having time for them, building the lives of these children, it is so powerful in the sense that they would grow up into powerful children for themselves, less trouble for everybody in the long run, because some mother had taken the time to invest. It is not only the CEO that has a part to play in the society.
I think success begins at home, with your husband and the children. A lot of CEOs have given up marriage, either not been married or married and separated.
CEOs that have a family have found a way to balance their lives with work.
As an educator, the family unit is very important to me. Maybe if I was in the banking industry, I might have seen things differently.
I, personally do not look at having a top position that is in the public eye as that is something to aspire for. I would not naturally aspire for it.
If I’d risk public glare, it must be that I am impacting lives.
What if you are appointed as the Minister of Education?
That’s not a problem. That is impacting lives. I don’t like to do anything that doesn’t have to do with impacting lives.
I’m not about money or the glare or achievements. I might have been about that, growing up, wanting my business to grow and be the most successful. God has taught me a lot of things, I’m extremely sober now. So what I term success might not be what the average person would say.
How do you balance being a wife, mum, proprietress
I have energy, (she laughs). Once I’m here I’m working. When I get home, my husband is a quiet person too so I just keep busy and read.
The good thing about having your own business is that it gives you the freedom to be independent.
If you were to do everything all over again, what would you do differently?
Maybe I’d certainly have looked at getting a qualification in Education early enough.
I’d maybe not been as much as a workaholic as I am. Because I work hard. Although it didn’t affect my health, I knew how to slow down when it was getting to me and I also knew how to delegate duties.
Getting into education earlier, most definitely.
Maybe one more child too. But then again, ahhhh, school fees. And even looking after the two. My mother had 6, I wanted 6 too but after the 2, I said no way. Because I liked children. I couldn’t have had them all, so adoption was something I would have loved to do, but I don’t have the time. I like children around me.
What were the mistakes you learned from?
I take too many risks. I’m a risk taker . I have learnt to hold back and not take so much risks.
Being a workaholic. So I have to learn to have fun.
What has been your most fulfilling achievements?
What makes Global Stand out?
It’s the impact on lives of young people, being able to impact them spiritually, emotionally physically, and morally. I can do my ministry here. I’m impacted by God a lot, I love God a lot. I’m a God chaser, but I’m not a pastor, so I’m able to do my ministry here.
All the parts of one’s existence I’m able to achieve it here, Body, soul and spirit. In terms of im doing the physical, mental work, spiritually I minister to the children, emotionally I can counsel them.
I like to help people.
I was born to help, make an impact. So short of being a pastor’s wife, this is the next best.(laughs)
Any book recommendations, or your favourite reads…….
Dani Johnson’s Grooming the next Generation, business books, from Good to Great, Christian books .
Other lifestyle habits you have that have helped you
Every night I read before I sleep. At least a chapter of spiritual book before sleeping.
I also chose my friends carefully. If I had chosen party-going friends, I wouldn’t have gotten half of the things done.
Is it okay if I have multiple passions as a young woman?
Yes it is. Everybody has such. After a while it zeros down, to that one thing that gives you fulfilment.
There are different phases of life, for example you would have now will have to do with mummy, having children, etc
It grows with the phases. For example, I wouldn’t run a blog a bog for mums, but more of what legacy are you leaving, impact of lives, Post50 issues and things like that.
Thank you so much ma for your time.
You are welcome, Ruth.
If you have read this through, huge applause. If you scanned, all well. You can agree with me that she’s awesome. And showed the gradual change in her life over time.
So do you have questions? I’d be sure to relay them back to her.