My First Million: Afua Osei (She Leads Africa)

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Afua Osei moved to Nigeria to take on a role in Consulting. In the years to follow, she’d go co-found a proudly feminist media business. I found this interview interesting because while it focuses less on the money, it offers a portrait into the go-getter mindset that we need to hear now and then as we make our way in the professional world. 

Find below excerpts of our interview;

Did you always think you would get to where you are?

Absolutely not! My life plan was not to be an entrepreneur; my life plan was definitely not to live in Nigeria. I originally thought that I was going to work in public policy or work in Government. That’s what I studied in school, that’s what I worked in after university and I thought that that was the direction I wanted to head in.

I started with a Masters in public policy, got into an MBA program and that’s where I really realized there are many career paths in life. There are so many other options and there are so many other ways you can make an impact on people which is what I am doing today. But I absolutely did not think that I would end up here.

When did you make your first million? What did you do to make it?

I assume we are talking about naira because if we are talking about dollars I am not there yet. My first job was in high school, so in secondary school, I worked at an amusement park, and I worked there as, in one of the games where you had to guess people’s age, weight, or birth month.

It definitely had to be like a little bit fake because they didn’t give me any training, I just kinda had to make it up. So, it was a fun game that people would come up to play and I would try to guess these things and people would pay and if I didn’t win correctly, then they would win a prize.

So, I worked all summer and saved up my money so that I’d be able to buy a laptop when I was going to university.

How did it feel?

Honestly, it felt really great because my parents weren’t going to be able to afford to buy me a new laptop and I wanted to have a computer to take to school with me to be able to do my assignments. So it felt really good to be able to use my skills and put in work to go and earn something that I really needed, so that was fantastic.

What was your best preparation for business?

Honestly, working for somebody else. I encourage as many young people as possible to do this. I do not think that there’s a rush to go and be an entrepreneur. You should absolutely take your time to learn what you can from other people and build your skills.

Another thing from what I’ve seen is that there’s this internal discipline that’s really important and it’s really critical for you to build before you want to go out and run your own business. So while having a boss and a manager is great, it’s really important that you learn and build that internal discipline to help you be able to do the work. Your manager asked you to come up with five answers, can you push yourself and get to seven? You are tired at the end of the night and you don’t want to do more work, can you push yourself to complete that task? You are not doing it for somebody else, and I think from a mindset perspective, a lot of people think “Oh! I’m doing it for this company. I’m doing it for this boss. I’m doing it for this manager”.  Absolutely not! You are doing it for yourself because you are building that skill for you to go and utilize down the line.

So I think that in terms of just preparing for yourself, preparing for business; it’s making sure that you are able to be ready and be able to do the work with integrity, with discipline, with consistency and you can practice that while working for someone else.

What is your business philosophy?

Easy. Go and do the work! It doesn’t matter how sweet your marketing is, how fancy your offices are, how shiny your degrees look on paper if you can’t sit and do the work and deliver something that people actually need and value and care about, then it’s a waste. You are not going to have much traction or much impact in this world.

What was the most challenging period of your career?

Honestly, I think every single transition and every time you move to a new level requires you to step up and really build your skills. As a young entrepreneur, we don’t get much exposure to quality leadership to learn and build from. I think some people are blessed to have great managers and bosses and I definitely was able to get that, but I didn’t have many chances or opportunities to build that skill myself. I definitely found it challenging when I was first starting out to just figure out how do I motivate people that aren’t like me? How do I create a structure where people are feeling encouraged to do the work? How do I manage people who aren’t performing and really push them to do better?

That’s really challenging, you have to figure out what your personal leadership style is going to be. You have to figure out what the company culture is going to be; you have to create those processes in the company and it can be really difficult; and so, that challenge around talent management; it doesn’t go away, you just have to figure out how to continue do better and how to grow and improve in yourself.

Do you believe in retirement?

Absolutely! I’m trying to retire next week, what do you mean? I don’t get this thing about working forever. There’s a season for everything.

So absolutely. Right now, working really hard, working really diligently but I want to be able to transition eventually to do other kinds of work. Maybe it is more creative passions, maybe it’s doing advisory work, maybe it’s doing community service but it’s not my intention to be hustling and doing this kind of work for the rest of my life.

Have you made any pension provision?

Yes, absolutely. So, for the business, we pay pensions for every single person, for every single employee as required by law and so I do have a pension.

Every time I get my pension alert, I am like wow I’m a baller. And then I realize errr….you can maybe live like three, four months off of this so I still have to do a bit more work to get it to that point. But yes, the company has our pension allotment so I get that every single month in the account.

Did you have any mentors?

I think this question around mentorship is really interesting and intriguing. So, there is not one person that I could say oh absolutely this person right here is my mentor, like we’ve hand shook on it and we look at ourselves as “Oh! This person is my person”. Absolutely not. What I do believe is that every single person can teach you something, and you can continue to learn and grow from different people in different areas of your life. So it can be former managers, it can be family members; it can be books that you read. And so I do believe in learning and growing, but I don’t have a particular person that I say this is my assigned and designated mentor that I learn from.

Do you indulge yourself? How?

Pizza! I love pizza, pizza, pizza! I love that. I love to read and I love to sleep. So, when I’m having quiet time, alone time, that’s what you are going to see me doing.

Because I travel a lot for work, traveling at this point isn’t really enjoyable for me, it’s more so duty-bound, (and then) I am going for meetings, I’m trying to develop relationships with new clients, to earn that luxury. So really, chilling and being quiet is how I indulge and relax.

What one thing do you spend on the most?

Thankfully, and I really love this thing about me is that I’m quite frugal with my money. I don’t be spending a lot of money, so I actually think that in bulk, my money actually goes towards travel or rent. Those are probably the two biggest things that I spend money on, everything else I try to keep it lightweight, and I try to keep it chill.

Your most prudent investment?

I am gonna say myself. There’s this wealth coach, Samke Mhlongo based in South Africa and speaking at an event, she said something powerful. She said if you are below a certain threshold, right, you know, in terms of either your age or your wealth background, the single greatest investment you can make is in yourself. Because in yourself; and the skills that you build, and the knowledge that you gain, you are able to use your talents; your knowledge; your expertise; to earn more. You are able to use that to go and invest in more things

So I invested in myself. I have two Master’s degrees. I’ve studied at the London School of Economics and I still take courses. I still read books. I’m always trying to get better because I know that my knowledge about myself is going to be the tool that I use to go and multiply and create wealth and revenue down the line so that is that.