Passionate about people

Olufunke Amobi

27 September 2016

Human dynamo Olufunke Amobi - affectionately known as Funke - talks about her experience as an MBA alumna and the newest member of LUMS Advisory Board.

Based in Nigeria, where she is Head of Human Capital for Stanbic IBTC Holdings, Funke explains why Lancaster University means so much to her and how it has helped transform her global view.

As Head of Human Capital for Stanbic IBTC Holdings, what can a typical day’s work look like for you?

It’s full of meetings, teleconferences and a great deal of people engagement, as you would expect working for an organisation like Stanbic IBTC Holdings, which is part of Standard Bank Group (SBG) South Africa - Africa’s largest Banking Group. I also mentor and coach the people who report directly to me. Of course, you always have to be ready to deal with unexpected people issues.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?

I like the real involvement with people and the fact that my work has a higher purpose for the overall organisation and its staff of approximately 5000 employees. If I enable employees to achieve their full potential, I give families the potential to achieve their ambitions.

How about the challenges?

Three things challenge me – stakeholder management, the sensitivity of HR-related issues and external affairs. Effective stakeholder management depends on careful balancing of various interests - shareholders, management, employees and regulators. On people-related issues, I’m always aware that a decision on an employee can have far-reaching implications for families and beyond. Looking outside the company, I grapple with attracting critical talent in Nigeria, which faces so many socio-economic issues and an educational system that struggles to produce the right quality of graduates in the numbers required.

How do you balance a high-pressure role with family life?

My husband Fred is Group Executive Director of Operations for Coscharis Group in Nigeria and we have a three-year-old son called Chimnedum. I prefer the idea of what I call ‘Work-Life integration’ to bring together the competing demands. I often travel with my family and my son so that I can spend some more time with him. The pressures of juggling a family life and a busy career really can be overwhelming, but I have support from my family and from Fred.

What do you do to relax?

I unwind by singing in my local church choir and by participating in musical activities. I am also passionate about supporting young women to succeed and in 2007 I was appointed to the board of Woman in Successful Careers (WISCAR) focused on mentoring young career women.

What you learned on your Lancaster MBA programme must be an ongoing help. 

The Lancaster MBA is a critical part of my career progression. It taught me to be highly adaptable in a multi-cultural environment. It also gave me robust business skills in corporate finance, strategy, and marketing – essentially what it takes to run a business.  More importantly, the Lancaster MBA helped me to become a more effective leader. The Mindful Manager module in the MBA, with its emphasis on the power of reflection, is something I still draw on regularly.

Why did you decide to do an MBA and why Lancaster?

Following my first degree in Economics from the University of Lagos Nigeria, I had some 13 years’ experience, including on the senior management teams of both the oil and gas and the telecoms industries in Nigeria, but I wanted to move into general management. I realised I needed new skills to function at that level. I wanted to do an MBA in a developed economy and to be able immediately to translate its learning to the world of work, which Lancaster’s course offered through the three business consultancies students had to do. The British Council awarded me a British Chevening Award and they recommended the Lancaster MBA.

What do you remember about your first week as a student at Lancaster?

Previous holidays and business trips to the UK ensured there were no shocks about the culture and the weather! I realised the class had 75 students from 25 different nationalities which gave my class an eclectic mix. I knew I would love the learning. When I was handed my box of books and my laptop I was even more excited – because I could see that my expectations were being exceeded.                                                                                                                                                                       

It’s a very practical course, with opportunities to work in industry, isn’t it?

It was very demanding, informative and highly professional. I could tell I was learning from the best lecturers and professors from the faculty. We also had industry experts so it was top notch. Working on the three consulting interventions - Cancer Care UK, the Royal Bank of Scotland and with Allianz Group SE in Munich, Germany – gave me an idea of whether I would succeed when back at the workplace.  I worked hard and won the Dean’s Award for best Dissertation/Project in 2008.

University is not all about work, is it? What were the social highlights?

Church was very important for me. I found Kings Church in the city, where I worshipped every Sunday. The MBA class itself had its social side. I belonged to the Skiddaw group and number of us got together regularly to cook and share delicacies from our respective countries. It was a good experience.

Did you develop a taste for any UK delicacies or habits (English beer, watching football, certain music)?

I became a tea-drinker. It grew on me during the Lancaster MBA - perhaps because of the weather.

What did your UK experience make you do differently back home in Nigeria?

I was already a successful HR practitioner but what the MBA did was to transform me into a successful business general manager with the ability to look beyond HR implications to include strategy, finance, people and operations in my work. Experience in three international firms as part of my course exposed me to best practice which I used myself when I returned to work.

How did you enjoy attending your first meeting of the LUMS Advisory Board?

It provided me with an excellent opportunity to understand how academic institutions run which, interestingly, is very much like the way businesses run. It was also very humbling to be sitting down with individuals who had been my lecturers, and with senior academic staff including the Dean.

What would you like to contribute to the University as a member of the Advisory Board?

On top of the ‘customer’ perspective I bring to the table having studied at LUMS, and that of an HR practitioner, I also bring insight into an emerging market for LUMS – Africa. I am passionate about Africa and I work for Standard Bank, which is passionate about driving the growth of the continent. I would like to persuade the Advisory Board of the value of doing business with Africa.

What can Nigeria teach the UK business world?

It can offer insights on how to survive and build a thriving business in a volatile and uncertain environment. Nigerians are highly industrious and resilient and can offer good insights about how to build an economy focused on the bottom of the economic pyramid. The country has a great deal of potential, a huge population, and a vast array of opportunities for companies and industries.