Career Safari Blog
From Ordinary to Extraordinary
Torchbearer: Olamide Ajibesin. Nigerian-American.
“Finding your inner voice and deciding to be who you are, makes you become extraordinary”, says Olamide. She determined at an early age that she was going to be far from average. And with that determination, she has won numerous awards as a top Mergers & Acquisitions dealmaker.
This is her journey in her own words…
Climbing the Ladder
I worked as an accounting consultant and investment banker in NYC and decided to go to graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin to focus on an MBA in Energy finance. The Energy industry has always been our bread and butter in Nigeria and I thought I could move the needle from that perspective and try to contribute my part to Africa.
Right after business school, I joined KPMG, in the transaction advisory services group. It's now called deal advisory. It was fantastic for me because I could combine my accounting background with deal finance. I was in Houston, which is an energy hub. I worked on a lot of energy deals, like big billion-dollar transactions! It was so exciting be in the US and working on big deals. I think I did really well because I was so passionate and I got promoted very quickly.
My family lived in Brooklyn, New York and I wanted to move back to New York because I'd been in Texas for about six years at that point. I found a boutique company that moved me back to New York and continued doing deal advisory work, working with private equity funds and working with companies, public and private. These were also large companies, which we call middle market transactions. So, I did that for about eight years, worked on amazing deals, met so many wonderful people and a lot of entrepreneurs growing their businesses and brands. That's what I really enjoy about my job…which is just meeting people, hearing their dreams, helping and watching them bring it to life.
About 2.5 years ago, I decided to start a practice at a prestigious accounting firm doing the same kind of work.
I’m the Managing Director and Transaction Advisory Services Leader and it's been amazing.
Being a practice leader is essentially being your own boss, but within the confines of Corporate America.
That's what I've been doing and it's been great!
Why It All Adds Up
I recall growing up and hearing that you should be a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. Your parents usually pick your career for you, but I think my parents did a wonderful job in the sense that they never tried to put me in a box. I've always liked so many things and had so many interests. If you asked me for my favorite color back then, I couldn’t even tell you because I liked all the colors for different reasons. I think variety is the spice of life and my parents really encouraged it.
Growing up, I watched my parents manage their businesses and they were both entrepreneurial. So right from the very beginning, I learned two things. One, you should be able to do things for yourself, meaning it's okay to have a career and be successful at it. Two, make sure that you are making an impact with whatever you do. I think both of them really spurred my decision to be in finance because at end of the day I like making money!
The Finance profession just seemed to be where you can make money and touch lives at the same time.
I also chose an accounting major because I love math and it comes natural to me. When I was in boarding school (in high school), I started out focusing on a science major. I went to visit a friend in her ‘introduction to accounting class’ and as I listened in, I thought to myself, this is very interesting. After that I actually took myself out of science class and enrolled in accounting. My parents didn't know this for the whole semester, so I pretty much advocated for myself and convinced them to let me stay in the class when they found out.
So that’s how it all started.
Know Your Worth
The way we were raised is to work hard and you'll get recognized. It doesn't happen that way. It almost never does. I worked so hard and I remember I learned that very quickly. When I was a senior associate I got passed up on a promotion. They said it was because I didn't document anything about wanting to be promoted. I did say something, but it's very different, it needed to be documented with an action plan. You should always document and create that timeline and hold everybody accountable, including yourself. I think that's the way I've been able to move up. And if I feel like I'm not there, I try to find a way to get myself there.
A Little More Extraordinary
In my career, I'm usually the only black person, female or even immigrant in the room and I never let it get to me.
When I was at The Big Four over a decade ago, there were many African Americans at the firm and most of them were doing back-office support. There were very few people actually doing client facing work. Like every fresh-eyed African, there came a time when it really hit me. I don't think I really understood how I was looked at differently and treated differently by people that are just like me.
I didn't grow up with any kind of racism or pressure, so I didn't have that mentality. It took speaking to other black people at the firm, noticing the way they treated me and understanding what they've been through to really understand what it means to be Black in America. They were always so proud of me. I realized I needed to look out for myself and other people just like me and help them with their careers.
I think it was that defining moment for me that I have to always put up my best self and speak out for other people.
I decided to become even more extraordinary.
The Juggling Act
I have to say being a mom, wife, executive and entrepreneur in the US is very difficult. A lot of my friends in Nigeria have similar jobs but at least they have a chef, a driver, and just so much help! They literally have a village helping them and here, you almost have to do everything yourself. Being a mother is hard enough but being a working mother is definitely challenging. And I think what has helped me is watching some of my mentors and other people going through the same thing and seeing how they manage. I learn by soaking things up, even from movies. I learn everything from everywhere I can find. The main thing that makes a difference is really time management---managing your time and prioritizing what's important. There are moments when being a mother is what's extremely important, such as when they have issues with school. I will focus on that and maybe shift priorities at work and other relationships. I've learned that it's okay.
I can't be perfect at all times. That's just the reality. I try not to be too hard on myself.
Striving for More There's always another level of happiness. I think the key is to be happy in your current situation.
It's having that mindset of constant happiness, but there's always something that surprises you. Using 10 years ago as an example, I felt extremely happy with my life. Later, when I got married to my wonderful husband, had my kids, I got a different kind of happiness. I started getting happier and happier. There's always more to achieve and more fulfilment ahead and honestly, God is good. You shouldn't think that your current state is the end and not strive for anything else, you should always keep striving.
~ Olamide Ajibesin
Enjoyed Olamide's journey? Then let us know! Here are other inspiring moments you can enjoy.
Listen to Lami's Career Safari Podcast Episode HERE
Read: "Powered by Grit & Resilience" - Happiness is what gets you excited to get up in the day! It’s the thing that fulfills you from an internal perspective and sometimes your career and happiness aren’t related.