Olubukola Bolarinde : Helping to grow talents
Olubukola Bolarinde is the Head of Real Estate and Facilities Management (REFM) Nigeria and Regional Head of REFM Performance for Ericsson Limited in Sub-Saharan Africa. Before joining Ericsson in 2012, she was the Managing Director of F. O. Properties Limited, a subsidiary of Zenon Group, a major player in the down-stream sector of the Nigerian oil and gas industry and dynamic Property Development and Management Company, a firm responsible for acquisition, development and management of residential and commercial property in high-brow areas of major cities in Nigeria. She was in charge of the company’s multi-million dollar portfolio. A tested professional with degrees in Architecture, Environmental Design and Engineering, her years of experience traverse architecture, banking, oil and gas, and telecommunications with specialisation in project management. She qualified as an Architect in 1999 with B Sc in Architecture from the Welsh School of Architecture, University of Wales, Cardiff, and later obtained M.Sc Environmental Design and Engineering from the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL). Before qualifying as an architect, she worked as an intern in the offices of Michael Hopkins and Partners, London. She returned to Nigeria in 2002 and joined James Cubitt Architects as a Project Architect working on a variety of commercial, residential and cultural projects. She rose to the rank of a Senior Project Architect and was seconded to Standard Chartered Bank as a Project Manager, where she acquired invaluable skills in construction management and budget monitoring. She successfully managed the construction of new branches for the bank in Lagos and Abuja. She joined Zenon in 2005 as Project/Property Manager, and was responsible for overseeing the construction, monitoring budget, expenditure, programme and co-ordination of all consultants and contractors. In this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, she shares her vision of her new project, Yellow Dot Limited.
Architecture is one field that we have few women Why did you opt to tread this path that is somewhat made for the male folks?
This is one question that was asked before we went to university. When you were in primary or secondary school, people asked what we wanted to be when you grew up. For me, it was the love for arts. I wouldn’t say as a child or a young person, I knew that it was architecture but I knew that I loved to draw and design. That love for drawing and designing also led me to do several different things. Before I went to secondary school, I started thinking of what career the talent would fit into because it was something that I was very passionate about. I started exploring the professions that I could channel my love of arts, drawing and designing into and I came across architecture. The school that I wanted to study architecture asked me for the portfolio of my drawings and the things that I have done. It was on the strength of that portfolio that I got admission into the School of Architecture in Cardiff. Seasoned architects, who were professors, appraised the portfolio. Architecture is something I quite enjoy because it is about creating something out of nothing, the interpretation of drawings, taking into cognisance where the sun rises and sets, where you place windows for cross ventilation, have natural lighting, have aspect view. Summing up this, I vividly say that architecture is art. So, for me, that was a natural progression.
What were the challenges you encountered while working as an architect before you moved into other spheres of your career?
I will say that I have been very fortunate in my career. I have come across individuals (employers) in the past like James Cubitt Architects, the first company I worked with when I came to Nigeria. When I came back, I researched about the people with best architectural practices here, those who were breaking the frontiers and at the forefront of designs and architecture and not backward or doing more traditional stuffs. I wanted to know and see what they did. So I went round Lagos, asked some questions and reached out to some friends, who were in the same profession that studied in University of Lagos (UNILAG) and have more information on ground. One of them, who I think is a very brilliant architect at the time, worked with James Cubitt Architects. I approached them and sent in my curriculum vitae to them and also to a few other architecture practices based on the strength of their portfolio and their work. I had interviews with them and got a placement with a number of them, but I chose James Cubitt because I connected with the Managing Director at the time. He never and I never for one day felt like I’m a woman; I requested to go into the studio when I went round to all these practices to see what the mood and tone of the environment was and it was buzzing at James Cubitt Architects. The ratio of male to female was like 50:50 or 60:40. I didn’t feel like I was in a male dominated environment, and it was extremely liberal as women were given opportunity to man and run projects from start to finish like the men. That for me was sort of a very good environment. I don’t like to think that I’m a feminist or push gender equality and all of that. I believe that talent is innate and whoever can express what they are able to do and bring it to the table; you can be a man, you can be a woman, quality and end product of what you deliver is what matters the most and that is the core value the MD of James Cubitt held at the time. He gave us fantastic opportunities by throwing us into the deep ends.
There was a project I ran for several months with the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), and I remembered then, there was a running joke that says I have to travel by air, land and sea to get to my destination because I will drive to the airport and fly every Tuesday from Lagos to Port Harcourt, and from Port Harcourt I will take a ferry for an hour and half into Bonny Island. I will go in for meetings, thereafter go for site inspections; review the drawings, engage the stakeholders and take all of that resource on Friday same way I came back to Lagos, run down with my MD and on Tuesday I continue the same process cycle. I don’t think any woman who is not up to the task would have been given such project to handle. We couldn’t afford to mess up with the job because it was a potential job that would help open the gates and doors to get more lucrative businesses from the NLNG. I’m happy to say that I delivered by doing my very best and they were pleased at the end of the day.
Tell us about your new company Yellow Dot Limited
Yellow Dot Limited is a company that I incorporated earlier last year, in April precisely, for TV, film production and creation of original African contents. We have an arm that is focused on talent management, and we currently have about 15 talents represented on the brand. It cuts across all forms of artistic expression- actors, producers, cinematographers, writers, directors, visual artists, photographers, professional dancers and choreographers.
How many talents do you currently have under Yellow Dot?
So far, we have 15 talents in both entertainment and art (visual artists, one prolific and two self-taught). One of them is a guru in hyperrealism; her paintings are life-like and look like they are photographs. We have two males, one female artist, different media, one on acrylic on canvass and another on sculpture; they play with different things.
Would it be right to say now that all these experiences you’ve had in your profession you’re now bringing to bear in Yellow Dot?
It is rare to find somebody who has been fortunate to experience working in these various industries/sectors of the Nigerian economy. I’m talking about traversing from mainstream architecture into banking to the oil and gas and telecom. It is kind of I went full circle, knowing how to adapt to every single environment that I find myself. Definitely, that is an attribute that comes to bear because when you are dealing with divers pool of talents, you must be able to tailor and adapt to the deliverables, expectations, and the talents itself. So, I’m able to deal with each one on the basis of what the output would be eventually. Another thing is the networking and people management.
The basis of architecture like I said earlier begins from designing something from two dimension and take it to three dimension definitely transcends into the very heart and core of what Yellow Dot wants to do- creating African contents, and we are giving out quality output. There are lots of good works out there and I will not dispute that, however, the type of stories we are putting out and the ways in which we are telling them distinguishes us and make us stand out.
The in-thing today is women and youth empowerment. Is Yellow Dot zeroing in on this?
I’m extremely passionate about innate talents and the fact that we have excess pool of talented people in the country. They don’t have a platform. So, they don’t have the right connect and network; they don’t know anybody that can help them. These are some of the values that Yellow Dot stands for. As an entity, we are putting our money where our mouth is. So, we set up a number of platforms. We targeted at giving an enabling environment for people to showcase their talents. I don’t believe in sitting down folding your arms and waiting for opportunities to come up. Although sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, most times, you go knocking on the door and it is not every door that you knock on that opens or gives you an opportunity. You still need to show them what you have done or what you can do sometimes to get people’s attention. So, as an organization, we rolled out some projects in film production and Onidiri was the first, which we released October last year. What this entails is that it will enable cinematographers, directors, producers, and writers in our creative pool to showcase something that we have. It is an original Yellow Dot story.
The second project is art exhibition and that is for the visual artists. When we set up exhibitions, we are giving them the platform to show the world these pieces of arts that they have created, which have not been seen. The third is a dance school, which we are setting up. We are already working on it, though we are still doing the feasibility studies to set up a full fledge dance school, which gives our choreographers and professional dancers a channel to not only showcase their talents but potentially they get seen and invited by musical artistes, who want their services for their music videos and tours. The dance school will focus on Africa contemporary dance. Afrobeat is becoming increasing popular around the world now and superstars like Jada Pinkett, with huge following on the social media are beginning to follow that path.
How do you source these talents? Do you search for them or they come to you?
Actually, the talents come to us. However, in the past three months, we have received several emails from a number of people contacting us through our social media handles, word-of-mouth, referrals and people they know. Whether they are actors, filmmakers, cinematographers, or photographers, they all want to be part of Yellow Dot.
Talking about your film Onidiri, what is the story all about?
It is a movie that highlights importance of the ‘Onidiri’-the traditional name for Yoruba hairstylist or hair-dresser like we popularly call them. The movie spotlights the varieties and specialties of hairdos and highlights the techniques involved making of hair, as it passes from mothers to their children and sister to sister. The movie showcases the hair stylist as a total artist and equates the task of hairdo to the process of a sculpture, where every single process and movement as precise and rapid. The movie goes back in history to bring to the present past values needed now, as some of the special styles seen today date back to 2000 years ago.
Talking about your career trajectory, what was it like transiting from architecture to where you are today?
My background purely is architecture, design, construction and real estate development. As an architect, I had the privilege to be trained at the Welsh School of Architecture, University of Wales, Cardiff. From there, I went on to do my Masters in Environmental Design and Engineering at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL). After my education, I came back to Nigeria and started working as an architect. In the course of working as an architect, I was seconded by the company that I worked with, James Cubitts Architetcs, as a project manager to handle projects on behalf of clients and that started my foray into the banking industry. I worked as a project manager with Standard Chartered Bank for some years before I left to work as a project manager in the oil and gas industry, where I worked with Zenon Petroleum and Gas for about seven years. When I left Zenon, I moved into telecommunications industry, where again I served as the head of real estate for Global Brand.
Apart from being a professional architect, I’m an avid art collector and art lover. I’m a self-taught visual artist with passion for oil on canvass, pencil drawing, acrylic on canvass and all of that. So I have always been a lover of all things artistic and artistic expression. This sparked my interest in talented people but particularly, self-taught artists. I came in contact with some self-taught artists needing to bridge the gap. They have the talent but they don’t have the right connect and leverage in terms of relationship or knowing the right people that they would sort of market their trade to. I bridge the gap in the course of collection by establishing a relationship with Nike Art Gallery in Lekki, Lagos.
I started collecting a particular artwork over a period of time, and the artist reached out, wanting to know who the person that was always buying his works. That was how the representation of talents started in a nutshell. From there, I was able to broker sales on behalf of this artist and went to represent another self-taught artist, who was a colleague that also did not have the networks to sell his works. He made good sales, up to 300 percent from the actual value he wanted to sell. However informal, it was a kind of a gap that I was able to bridge on their behalf. Since then, I have been, though informal, giving my services in terms of career development. People come to me and talk about their plans, and I assist with what to do and how to be strategic with it in terms of direction. That is what I have always done with people that I come in contact with daily. A friend that works with one of the TV networks came to me and said they were looking for fresh faces for an upcoming productions; I made some calls and met some talented people, who were actually looking to work with this network. Talking to a few of them, I got interested in their career and journey so far. I also discovered that all of them were very largely unknown.
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