Happy New Year. Many of us have childhood friends and memories of interacting with these friends. I feel it is a blessing to see these same friends grow up and become successful in their careers. Isi Joan Okogun, Senior Vice President – Global Banking and Markets, was my neighbor on Saunders Road. I literally played in their home four times a week, at the very least. Her older sister, Margaret was my classmate, so interaction was more with her. (In the Nigerian culture, you tend to interact more with your peers, growing up). Then there is Titi Cole (nee Falusi) who is the Head of Legacy Franchises at Citi, spanning responsibility in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Mexico. Again, her older sister, Toyin, a medical doctor was my peer.
So, to bring it home, the second week of this month, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced the appointment of Yetunde Oni, as the new MD/CEO of Union Bank, one of the oldest banks in Nigeria. (Until her appointment, she was the first female Managing Director and CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in Sierra Leone). This appointment has had me excited for a few reasons. We grew up together and she had always been brilliant at school (see where the foundation started). She was diligent and focused but also very sociable. Their home on Alzayatti Crescent on the University of Ibadan Campus, was our unofficial soccer field on some days, as her two brothers were avid soccer players. Union Bank is the second oldest bank in Nigeria. It was established in 1917 as a full-service commercial bank under the name Farmer’s State Bank. It changed its name to Union Bank in 1935.
We attended different Universities, graduated in the same year and she started working for a Merchant Bank at the time, which was THE place to work, in the early 1990’s. I went on a different career path. She had done Economics while I went the way of Communications (and had gotten involved in the Nigerian Satellite TV industry). The Gulf War was on and satellite tv systems was about the hottest thing at the time.
So Yetunde and I have been in constant touch over the years and we even exchanged voice notes in the middle of the month when I congratulated her and conveyed the blessings of my mother to her.
This appointment is a very big deal as one has to understand that being a lady in a male dominated society, such as Nigeria, it is not easy to rise like this. I am not saying it has not been done by others before her, but to see someone you have literally grown up with from Kindergarten days rise to such heights, it is a feeling of excitement. It was just a matter of time.
It just gives me a sense of pride to see that my friend has risen to the highest possible level in her field of banking and that the sky is the limit for her. More importantly, it will help to inspire many other young ladies in the country and show them that hard work does not go unrecognized. There are many other female childhood friends excelling in their own ways here and in other places around the world. It goes to show that with the right foundation, focus and diligence, one can be anything one wants to be in life.
Her late father is looking down at her smiling. Professor Wilson Aiyepeku and my late father were tennis buddies at the University Staff Club. I used to be a ball boy for them. At the end of it all, they would treat me to a chicken pot pie and a soda.
So, parents and grandparents, it is very important to invest in your children from a very young age. Sacrifice if you must, get them into education facilities that will provide them with a firm solid foundation for life. Was Yetunde a book worm? It would be hard to tell as she attended the prestigious Queens College in Lagos, an all-girls school, while I attended the International School, Ibadan. But she surrounded herself with the right friends and all of them are doing very well – lawyers and doctors. They kept together as very tight friends and to this day, they are still like that. Yetunde, I wish you every success in your new role.
To you, my dear reader in Beltsville, my challenge to you is to please take the time to say a prayer for our young people. Help them to stay focused in their educational journey. Donate books to their libraries or even volunteer to go to the schools to speak to them about careers of the future.
It takes a village. You can partner with the Beltsville Library to give career talks for the young ones. Help mold a young person and you may inspire the next great person to emerge from within Beltsville. Nobody knows the future. I will end with this – Chinedu Echeruo. Name sounds familiar, right. In 2013, Apple bought his HopStop app for $1 billion. If you use an iPhone and its navigation, its roots are from here. Chinedu grew up on the street behind us but was always focused. He rarely played soccer with the rest of us. He was focused from a young age. Let’s sow that seed in Beltsville.