’Ms Ibiyemi Odusi is currently the Country Manager, Nigeria for RwandAir since June 2015. She has a first degree in Chemistry from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and Post- Graduate Diploma in Marketing. She is an Associate Member of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigerian.Her job experience in about 15years has been in the airline industry starting from small beginnings as a Ticketing & Reservations Officer with Space World International Airlines in 2003.In 2005, she proceeded to Virgin Nigeria Airways (which later rebranded as Air Nigeria) as a Ticketing Agent, eaglerflier Product Executive, Lead Agent, Marketing Coordinator and finally as Marketing Communications Manager in 2012.She worked at Arik Air between 2012 and 2015 as Sales Manager Lagos & West and later as Corporate Sales Manager before her present role in RwandAir.Her experience includes Marketing, Ground Operations, Sales and currently General Management.Well-grounded in the operations of the Aviation industry, in this interview with GuardianWoman, she talks about her career projection, activities of RwandAir and what it takes to become a woman at the top.
What does your job entail as the Country Manager of RwandAir in Nigeria?
As Country Manager, I am responsible for the overall commercial viability of RwandAir in Nigeria. I have oversight responsibilities for our Operations, Finance, Sales and Marketing, Human Resources, Legal and Regulatory functions.
How did you manage to clinch such a competitive top job?
Well, I will say it is by the special grace of God, where my preparation jammed the opportunity.
How old is RwandAir in Nigeria?
We are about seven years old in Nigeria, young and still growing.
How has the airline managed to become a name on everybody’s lips given the short time within which it started oprations in Nigeria, and going by the country’s war-torn history?
We have remained focused as an airline. The country Rwanda also transformed and dwelt on the path of growth under the leadership of His Excellency President Paul Kagame and made bygones bygones after the Genocide of 1994. From our airline’s vision, “To become the airline of obvious choice in the markets we serve,” our key values of Customer, Safety and Environment, Integrity, Employees, Corporate Social Responsibility and Profitability & Accountability have put our airline on everyone’s lips.
Women Are Gradually Breaking The Glass Ceilings In Aviation, We Now Have Female Pilots, Engineers And CEOs
How lucrative is the route? Why would you convince or encourage travellers to visit Rwanda or travel with Rwandair? What’s the attraction?
For the airline business as a whole, assessment on being lucrative is more of long-term, slowly but surely. Rwanda is a place to visit, very safe. It is the fastest growing economy in Africa with lots of opportunities for Trade and Investment (Rwanda Development Board), Tourism (Volcanoes National Park for Mountain Gorillas, Rwanda Lakes, Genocide Museum) and so on.
Recent high profile appointments in the airline have favoured women, including yourself. Is it part of the company’s policy and why?
The women appointments in the airline were based on merit. The company has no such policy. The best hands get the jobs but for Rwanda as a country, a large number of women are in governance structures, particularly the Parliament. Rwanda stands out as the model of gender equality.
Some people say that women are needed more in the aviation, tourism and hospitality industries. Is it true? If it’s so, in what ways can more women find their way into the sectors? Kindly advice them.
Haaaaa… As a woman, I believe the female gender has qualities like care, empathy, commitment and focus et al which the service industry in general thrives on. Getting a woman could always be an added advantage especially where she has a passion for such. Women who are interested in Aviation should get trained and obtain necessary skills and certifications and the sky will be their limit…That is my advice.
Tell us about your career progression before landing this big job.
I started off as a Ticketing & Reservations Officer at Space World International Airline in Port Harcourt in the year 2003 after my NYSC. I worked for two interesting years and learnt a whole lot and also had an opportunity to work in Abuja and Lagos. These three major cities excited me as a ‘’JJC’’ in Aviation then and I had a lot to learn from colleagues.
After this I was recruited by Virgin Nigeria Airways, VNA (which later rebranded as Air Nigeria) and this was where my phenomenal career advancement began. I joined as a Ticketing & Reservations Agent in 2005 and later got a new role through an internal advert as eagleflier Executive. Eagleflier was our Frequent Flyer Loyalty Program (it was a sub-function of Marketing), after which I had a stint of about a year and a half, as a Lead Agent (supervisor) in Ground Services. While in Ground Service, I learnt some core operations, other than the commercial aspect that I had been used to. In 2010, I went back to Marketing as a Marketing Co-ordinator and got promoted as Marketing Communications Manager, after a year. I was there until Air Nigeria ceased to exist.
While at Virgin Nigeria/Air Nigeria, I registered as a student at National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, (NIMN) in year 2006 and got my Chartered Postgraduate Diploma in 2011 and became an Associate member in the year 2012. While taking these exams, I also registered for quite a number of International Air Transport Association (IATA) examinations/trainings in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Ground Operations, Cargo, General Management etc to mention a few to equip me in my career.
After the demise of Air Nigeria in 2012 , I got another job as Sales Manager, Lagos with Arik Air Limited through an external advert. I was responsible for retail and trade sales in Lagos and West of Ibadan. After this, I got promoted to the role of Corporate Sales Manager in 2014 and had primary responsibilities for all Corporate Sales in Nigeria and Ghana, at some point. In 2015, I left Arik through another external advert to RwandAir, where I am now into General Management, as Country Manager, in the last three years.
Which routes is RwandAir taking Nigerian travellers for now?
We have 26 destinations in our network at the moment. Kigali, Dubai, Johannesburg, London Gatwick, Brussels, Mumbai, Nairobi, Mombasa, Entebbe, Bujumbura, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Juba, Harare, Lusaka, Cape-town, Accra, Douala, Cotonou, Abidjan, Dakar, Libreville, Brazzaville, Kamembe. Of course daily flights out of Lagos and flights out of Abuja are four times in a week, operating independently.
What are the highs and lows of being a woman at the top, especially in your highly competitive aviation industry?
Women give their best and take full control and ownership of every situation. People tend to undermine female leaders, but that is if the leaders themselves allow this to happen. Women are gradually breaking the glass ceilings in Aviation, we now have female pilots, female engineers, female CEOs etc.
How do you manage the male folk working under you?
Very easy. For me at work, there is no man, there is no woman. We are all human beings. You keep the gender thing at home.
What new offers should we expect from RwandAir?
We have plans for Guangzhou, New York et al in the Financial Year. Nigerians and the rest of the world would continue enjoying our excellent services to these routes and more.
What’s your advice for other women aiming for the top?
Be focused, be knowledgeable in the field/career you are pursuing and give your best at all times. It is usually helpful when you have a mentor.
Have you joined any organisation that is helping to groom and raise younger women to project their careers?
Not formally but I do this at all levels. Home, religious gatherings, office and every association that I am involved in.
Tell us about education, growing up and family life.
I schooled in Nigeria. From Mary Magdalene Nursery School and Omoleye Children’s School (primary) to Abeokuta Grammar School (secondary) in 1995. Afterwards, I went to Yaba College of Technology for a National Diploma in Science Laboratory Technology, bagged in 1998 and then got a direct entry into the University to study Chemical Sciences at Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta where I got a degree in Chemistry in year 2002. And that was the beginning of the whole journey.Growing up was good, my parents were both civil servants and we were in the middle-class of the society. They still offer their parental guidance till date.
What has life’s lessons taught you?
Life has taught me the magic words below Please. Thank you. I am sorry.
How do you relax outside your busy high-flying job?
I take time to rest very well especially when on holiday, socialise a bit and always more than happy listening to R& B music.
Any female role models for you?
I do not have any particular one but I have picked so much from quite a number of women in different aspects of life.
What are your life’s mantras?
“When you believe in your dream and your vision, then it begins to attract its own resources. No one was born to be a failure’’
‘’You will when you believe.’’
‘’Do unto others as you wish to be done unto you.”
Mention your favourite travel destinations.
Paris and Miami.
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