Marie-Therese Phido: Having more women at the table aids problem-solving

Marie-Therese Phido

The journey from being a military brat to starting a job at 21 and pioneering the Sales and Marketing Unit of KPMG Professional Services, where she also served as the lead and afterwards Clients & Industries leader, West Africa for Deloitte were aspirations Marie-Therese Phido strategically planned. Being the first of five girls and no brother and having two daughters and no son was not only enough for Phido to accept as true the fact that women can do anything they decide to put their minds to, she is committed to making women balance their career and home. Phido currently manages a group called Hannah’s Handmaiden, an initiative that empowers women with equipment and funds to start or improve their businesses. She shares her plans with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH

Kindly tell us about your growing up, education, family etc?
I am the first of five girls, born in Ibadan, from Edo State and married to an Urhobo man, who is more like a Hausa man since that is the only language he speaks.
Being a military brat, I had the privilege of living in many states in Nigeria.For example, part of my primary education was in Zaria, when we lived in the Nigeria Military School (NMS).

After NMS, my father was transferred to the United States, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I attended middle school, then back to Nigeria.  In Nigeria, my dad was posted to Ilorin.  In Ilorin, I finished my secondary school and attended the University of Ilorin and majored in Linguistics. In continuation of my education, I obtained a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Lagos. I am an Alumnus of the Lagos Business School and have attended several management development programs from the London Business School and other notable business institutions.

After my first degree, I moved to Lagos, where I served in Arthur Andersen as an Executive/Research Assistant and was retained. Arthur Andersen transitioned to KPMG Professional Services in 2002 where I then headed the Information Management unit and moved on to Sales & Marketing as a pioneer staff of the unit.  I grew the unit to a 20-man team covering Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.  I rose to the position of Associate Director before moving to Deloitte.  In Deloitte, I was the Clients & Industries Leader for West Africa.  My role was to lead the firm to help grow the business, lead the firm to C-level Executives, as well as improve its brand in the business community and society at large.

Tell us about your journey into the business world?
My journey into the business world started when I left Deloitte.  I had come to a point in my life where I needed to do new things and stand on my own.  I started working at the age of 21 after leaving university and had worked for over 25 years. I wanted to do new things and create something of my own. I felt it was auspicious to do something for myself instead of continuing to work for other people.  I then did an introspection of my capabilities and came to the conclusion that if I could do what I was doing for other people and doing it well, I could as well do the same for myself. I knew I could make a bigger impact in the sales and marketing, and human capacity development space than my job at that time permitted.

You manage a number of businesses, tell us about them and what you hope to achieve through the firms?
I manage Elevato a Sales, Marketing and People Development business, Boundless a thematic business magazine and Holler! a consumer review website.  The inspiration behind each of my businesses can be gleaned from their names.  Elevato, means to Elevate to, with a tagline, elevating you to the next level.  Elevato’s objective is to move organizations and people to the next level.  We help organizations define their strategies and work with them to activate this strategy to grow their business and help them grow revenue and profit.  We also ensure that the people within these organizations have the requisite knowledge and coaching to actualise the organization’s strategic objectives.  We have been able to help organizations in Nigeria and other African countries grow their businesses by working with them to craft their strategies and staying with them every step of the way.

Boundless Magazine is a thematic business magazine.  I looked at the Nigerian magazine landscape and discovered there was no magazine focused on the business environment.  In view of this, Boundless was borne to address this gap.  The magazine is largely an online magazine focused on trending themes that are not time-bound. The output of the magazine is well researched and many have said using its content is very enriching.

In addition to Elevato and Boundless, again, I looked at the Nigerian consumer landscape and discovered there was no consumer review platform at the fingertips of the common man and everyday consumers.  We buy products and services and do not have where to either praise the organization on give comments about poor service.  To address this gap, I set up Holler! (www.holleri.com) an online consumer review platform to give consumers a voice across all sectors from the formal to the informal.

How are you able to manage your home despite your tight schedule?
The work-life balance is a challenging reality for so many women, who are compelled daily to make difficult choices. It was Hillary Clinton who said, “Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” So early in my career I figured what my priorities are and set goals around what I value highly.I will say my husband was a great backbone and support when my children were growing up at the start of my career.  He has been very supportive of my aspirations and encouraged me to achieve my objectives.  I also had to use several assistants to help at home to ensure that the home was efficiently run.

What’s behind your clamour for women empowerment in Nigeria and what are you actually doing to empower women?
You will recall at the beginning of this interview, I said I am the first of five girls and no brother.  I also have two daughters and no son.  You can now start to see why women empowerment is important to me.  My motto in life is you can do anything you put your mind to irrespective of whether you are a boy or a girl.  This value was instilled in me and I constantly instill this value in my children and all women I come in contact with.

I started a group called Hannah’s Handmaiden where we empower women with equipment and funds to start or improve their business.  I am the lead assistant for women empowerment in my local church and outside of this to umbrella’s I counsel women to be ambitious and ensure they leave their footprints and succeed in the ventures they decide to embark upon.

From the government to the individual, what really needs to change for women to contribute to the meaningful development of the country?
One thing that really needs to change is the attitude towards women.  While I agree that women should be supportive of their husbands, they also need to be respected for the unique value they bring to the table.  It is known that having more women at the table aids problem solving.  When people of different genders collaborate we all do well, especially as women are said to be more collaborative and less competitive.  In addition to the fact that women make great mentors because people find it easier to relate and talk with women.

A notable trend these days is the fact that organisations are beginning to see women doing better at entrance interviews and in some instances becoming better educated than men.  In fact a 2016 survey of 21,980 publicly traded companies in 91 countries concluded that, “the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of these companies.”  Study after study for more than a decade have found that having increased female leadership on your team or board leads to increased financial results.

Being an international business coach, what do you think Nigerian businesses must focus on to compete at the international level to become a global brand?
First things first, plan your strategy and prepare a business plan to determine whether your business idea will be viable where you are going.  Use this plan to evaluate your needs and set your goals.  Secondly, conduct a foreign market research to identify your market and segments for your service.  Determine how you will sell your service or distribute your products.  You can decide to open a subsidiary, work with agents, representatives, and distributors or set up joint ventures.  Figure out your financing and ensure that your services and goods comply with the regulatory standards of the country you plan to go into.

Another important aspect is that you understand the culture of the local you are looking to expand to. Do your research on the culture, learn the language, use an interpreter if necessary, understand body language and dress with respect and authority.In addition, build relationships and leverage others relationships to enter into this new market.  I always tell people that relationships are like currency or business capital.  Leverage them well.

Do you have any personal experiences in life that propelled you to where you are now?
My career in Andersen and KPMG honed my skills and helped me get to where I am today.  I will like to specially thank the following people, because they were pivotal to who I am today by instilling excellence and values as a way of life, which has been extremely beneficial to my business.  These are: Dotun Sulaiman, Seyi Bickersteth, Ifueko Omoigui, Kunle Elebute, Victor Onyenkpa from a career perspective.  My wonderful husband from the home perspective.  I will not be who I am today without his support and encouragement.

What’s your philosophy of life and who are your role models? 
My philosophy in life is that I can do anything I decide to put my mind to.  Nothing deters me.I also believe in doing my best in whatever assignment I am given.I usually try to be a valuable member of any team I am assigned to.

What are your words of encouragement to women?
Do not let anybody tell you it cannot be done or you cannot do it.  Remember that everything you do is uniquely yours, do it excellently and keep doing you!



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