By Agatha Emeadi
Folakemi Fatogbe is the Chief Executive Officer/Founder, De-Risking Lab, and Creative Director/ Founder of Oyaato, an emerging fashion brand. She attained success in Banking and Finance. In the heat of 2008/2009 global financial crises, she was drafted into the dual roles of Special Adviser to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria on Banking Reforms and Risk Management as well as Director of Risk Management. In this interview she talks about her banking experience and sheds light of the establishment of Oyaato, her exquisite fashion brand.
What were the early experiences and growing up like?
I was born in the United Kingdom. My late father was a Quantity Surveyor and my mother a Human Resources Personnel and recently, local government chairman. I am the first of six children. I attended St. Louis Girls Secondary School, Ondo, a school that was very tightly run by Irish nuns and renowned for its academic excellence and strong discipline. The combined education received from my Ekiti parents at home, and school have formed the bedrock of the discipline and ethical values that I still hold firm and stand by today. As the first child of my parents, my father wanted me to be an architect and constantly pushed me to pursue a career in the sciences. He had slight regard for the liberal arts or social sciences. I followed his nudging and started out with sciences at the university.
However, I really did not enjoy it and decided to swap when I moved over to the University of Ibadan to study Communication Arts, and from there to University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. With the change, my father barely spoke to me for a year. However, my mother said that my career objective of becoming a banker was a noble one and that I shouldn’t worry as it was common to see architects, engineers, lawyers and the same quantity surveyors all going to prostrate for bank managers.
So, how did your banking career start?
After graduation, I worked at Owena Bank in the Public Relations department. But because I did not want to be boxed into only PR, I decided to go for an MBA in Finance and International Business at the Cardiff Business School. From there, I went into UK banking and started in financial control and corporate strategy at the NatWest Banking Group, Head Office in the City of London. During my time as a Corporate Banking Strategist at NatWest, I produced a paper on NatWest’s strategic positioning vis a vis its competitors that earned me a call upstairs and special commendation from the Managing Director of Corporate Banking. At that time, NatWest was obsessed with Barclays Bank, its seeming closest rival. In my analysis I told the bank that they were wrong to focus most exclusively on Barclays because by virtue of their service quality and excellent return to shareholders, the significantly much smaller Scottish banks presented a greater competitive threat. Whilst my immediate boss was dismissive, my boss immediately above him was not, hence my unprecedented call upstairs by the Managing Director of Corporate Banking and my special commendation.
A few years down the line, I was proven 100% right when the much smaller Royal Bank of Scotland (NatWest was four times its size), succeeded in its audacious takeover bid of NatWest. Note that the other frontrunner for NatWest’s takeover was the other much smaller Scottish Bank, Bank of Scotland that I had also warned NatWest about in my strategy report less than five years earlier.
I subsequently applied to the Bank of England, where as a senior risk analyst covering emerging markets, I covered African and Gulf banks. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. From there, I moved to work as a Programme Director for Banking at NCR and from there to Lloyds Financial Markets, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Chase Cooper Consulting as a risk consultant. In between, I took my first entrepreneurial foray into property development and trading in order for me to have more time for my children. At the height of my foray into property, the global financial crisis came and the UK property market crashed. Prior to this, a number of my friends who had relocated to Nigeria had been emphatic about the need for me to contribute my skills set to Project Nigeria.
Around this time, my dear father died. During his funeral ceremonies, in Nigeria, my son was the last person on the dance floor and I realised just how much my children loved Nigeria. This made me reassess our continued stay in the UK. I then opened my mind to a possible return to work and live in Nigeria.
While working abroad, did you encounter racism in your banking journey?
Of course, I encountered racism. Too many instances to mention and in different forms and from different channels. However, difficulties or obstacles assume relevance only when you allow them to derail or diminish you. I guess one of the most unpleasant types is where one is treated differently by virtue of one’s gender, race, tribe etc. For example, one of my most unpleasant encounters was when I experienced racism at work. During the course of one of my UK banking roles, I had a boss who asked for a performance report of my time on a secondment posting. He asked if I thought it was necessary, I said that I didn’t think it was but he should go ahead and request for one if he felt it was necessary. He went ahead to request for one and hid it away upon receiving it. Unbeknownst to him, the head of the unit where I served the secondment also sent me a copy of the report. It was excellent. I remember being quite excited about just how good it was. Moreso, that I worked within a highly competitive environment of specially selected bank high-flyers. However, when it came to bonus and assessment time and I asked to see my file, as I was entitled to, I immediately noticed that the said assessment report was nowhere to be found on my file. When I asked my boss about the report he said “don’t you remember that we said we were not going to ask for one?’ I then had to let him know, that I was aware that he had both asked for and received a report. ‘Red-faced’, he opened his drawer and brought it out. Sadly, the bonus decisions had already been made with myself and the only other person of colour coming at the bottom of the payout list, alongside the office coffee-maker. With this additional revelation, I decided that it was time for me to move outwards and upwards.
Share your CBN journey with us?
One of my friends from Cardiff Business School, Mr Alfa Barry, then a partner at Deloitte Nigeria told me that he had seen my CV and that a number of people were very interested in speaking to me. Mr. Foluso Phillips was also helpful. They sent my CV to six banks and four banks called me within 30 minutes that they wanted to see me. Then another good friend told me to consider CBN, but I declined. A number of my contacts argued that I should give the CBN further consideration particularly as it had a new governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who they felt I would be able to work well with. I came across his interview in the Financial Times and when I saw that his brand of central banking was not going to be just about inflation management but also economic development, my interest was piqued. Unknown to me, a number of friends and business contacts had also mentioned me to the CBN Governor. All of this culminated in my leaving the UK and resuming at the CBN in October 2009 as the Special Adviser to the CBN Governor on Banking Reforms & Risk Management, a role I combined with that of being the bank’s pioneer Director of Risk Management. Aside from the reforms, one of my key roles was to set up a new risk function for the CBN, as approved. The work Governor Sanusi and the team did to mitigate the risks arising from the global financial crisis won the bank considerable acclaim, including an invitation by the United States Congress to share with them how we were able to successfully shield depositors and stave off a financial system meltdown in Nigeria. We did a lot that we can be proud of till date. I had a great team at the CBN. It remains a big family.
How did you get into the world of fashion?
I have always been creative through the mercy of God. I have written a book, done property development and design and also derived a lot of joy from photography. Recently, a childhood friend, Yetunde Kazeem, recently reminded me how I used to design ball/party gowns for a number of our contemporaries, when we were undergraduates in the university. I can trace the biggest influence on turning my passion for fashion into a business to my first visit to China about 15 years ago. That visit was a huge eye-opener for me – it gave me a deep insight into the world of manufacturing and trade in a way that no textbook or lecture theatre could. Upon the end of my tenure in CBN I knew that I would seek to produce something and given my long-standing designing flair, moving into fashion design and becoming a fashion entrepreneur was a natural progression hence the birthing of my fashion brand, Oyaato. I see Oyaato as the proof of concept of my Risk & Opportunity Management skills. Dying empty means that I have to deploy all that is within me. In my banking career, I have typically used the left side of my brain with my fashion business, I predominantly use the right side of my brain. I am highly motivated by the need to positively impact economic growth, job creation and governance. I want to use the skills and talents that I have to contribute meaningfully to humanity.
Regarding Oyaato, how has the journey been so far?
It has been incredibly exciting and fulfilling. It is a business that I am doing with my daughter, who also has a strong creative flair and leanings. We have both been excited and humbled to see how incredibly well received Oyaato has been. We had a fantastic festive season with every single one of our clients giving us positive feedback on how very pleased they were with their items and the extraordinary compliments that they received when wearing them. There is no form of marketing that is as authentic as customer feedback and word of mouth.
At a conference I attended in Kenya recently, the women loved an experimental dress that I wore, to the extent that some of them joked that they would take the dress off my back immediately. We have since christened the dress, the ‘Oyaato Nairobi dress. We were recently asked to close the catwalk at Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL) which we did to great acclaim. As a result of all these, as a brand we are inspired to do more and be more. Nigerian music is excelling on the world stage, we see no reason why Nigerian fashion cannot do the same; for example, if we look at the clothes typically on display at the various international fashion weeks such as the London, Paris and New York fashion weeks our clothes compare very favourably against them, it could actually be argued that our clothes showcase a higher level of creativity, diversity and realism. I hope to use my fashion brand to force some of these barriers to entry down thereby creating jobs for our people and by so doing create jobs and alleviate poverty.
What were your aspirations when you were young?
I was interested in being Nigeria’s president when I was young. I used to review political party manifestos and engage in deep political discussion with my parents and my uncles who were in politics then. At that time, I had two uncles who were gubernatorial candidates in major political parties and they would say, ‘Let’s listen to Kemi.’, even though I was only in form one. I wasn’t brought up in a family where the girls were taught to be seen and not heard so it was par for the course for me to speak my truth and engage in such discussions armed with my facts. Furthermore, our mother was always a working career person, so each of my sisters have followed suit. Each reaching for the stars in their respective fields of endeavour.
Why didn’t you pursue a career in politics?
The Second Republic killed all my political ambitions. Specifically, what played out between the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the old Ondo State and the violence that erupted in the immediate aftermath. We lost a number of family friends to that mindless violence. I swapped my dream of political participation with a dream of contributing my skills to Project Nigeria, hence my time in public service via the CBN and my current reincarnation as an economic gap-filling and job creating double entrepreneur.