Aishetu Fatima Dozie is a Finance, banking and entrepreneurship executive. She has worked for Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered Bank and Rand Merchant Bank closing $130billion in Mergers and Acquisitions, financing and capital markets transactions. She worked closely with Nigerian President Obasanjo and his team in crafting the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy which drove successful reforms including $18billion Paris Club debt write-off. Aishetu founded a first-of-its-kind children’s play and activity centre in Lagos, Nigeria and authored a children’s picture book entitled ‘Paloo & Friends in Imaginaria’ She holds a BA from Cornell University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Aishetu currently lives in Nigeria with her husband and 3 superhero sons. More from africanherstory.com
You stumbled on finance and investment banking as a career- how did you take this unplanned route and become so successful at it?
My mother had a hand in my career choice right before college. She was and remains a banker and had thought that my penchant for numbers would place me in good stead in banking. I thought engineering might be a great opportunity for me but my mom was pretty persuasive. When I got to university, I was fortunate to get into a programme that encourages minorities to get prime internships on Wall Street. As soon as I stepped on the trading floor in New York, I was fully sold! The basic philosophy of a career in investment banking is work, work, work, work, work. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve had a broad career though. I’ve done the traditional investment banking work like equity capital markets and mergers & acquisitions in developed markets. I have also been fortunate to work with the International Finance Corporation where I was privileged to work in Central and South America and other developing regions providing much needed financing to private businesses and sub-national governments. To your point about having a successful career, that really depends on how you define success. If you go by titles then perhaps yes but I measure success now more as working while enjoying what I do. In this regard, I am immensely successful.
You have worked in big reputable institutions such as Goldman Sachs. What does it take to be a professional who is competitive in the global marketplace?
Hunger is absolutely critical. Stay hungry. I wasn’t born with Wall Street connections so I had to be self-motivated to get there and remain relevant. Getting the job at Goldman Sachs was the result of myriad factors – where I went to school was a key factor. Getting into the right school got me into the room with the recruiters at the firms I wanted to work for. Getting that internship with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity gave me the initial shot, but my hunger and drive made me laser focused on my target which was to ultimately get an analyst position with a major bulge bracket firm.
I was focused and asked for advice often. I also listened. It’s probably a skill that I need to draw back on! I think I talk way too much these days! I also think that perseverance and resilience are key. There will be ups and downs to a “successful” career so being resilient. I’m still learning and I ask for advice all the time from people that I admire. You are never too successful to not need advice and support. Finally, you’ve always got to be in “learn” mode. The world changes just too quickly so keep learning and stay competitive.
As an Investment banker, you are I guess an adviser CEOs. What would you say CEOs care about that any professional looking to rise should be aware of?
I would say that when you help the CEO sleep well at night, they will appreciate and notice you. CEOs are looking for colleagues who always think about the team before themselves. The best way to get noticed by the CEO is to deliver and go above and beyond in areas that makes the business model and strategy more effective and moves the business forward. If he/she still doesn’t notice you then go to their offices and have a discussion about your contributions and ask for areas where you can support the business better. Go prepared for that meeting and ensure you leave a great impression.
Congratulations on your exciting new venture- African HERstory Inc, a platform showcasing amazing women. What is the story of African women you want to see told/evolve as a result of the impact of this initiative?
Thank you! I’m really enjoying the journey and exploring the lives of African women who are making waves in big and small ways. I just don’t think that the media captures women who are professionals that may not be celebrities but have really great insights to life and career development to share. I was fortunate to have a few role models but I wish I had so many more. I didn’t “see” enough women in varied careers – who looked like me – in order to make the determination about my own options.
My mother was in finance and that’s where I ended up. What if I knew that women could be successful engineers or lawyers, or mathematicians? I didn’t scratch the surface because I thought my path was good enough. I’d love to provide some support in showing the full realm of African women in their professional brilliance. I was convinced that at least one person would appreciate it and it turns out that a few more than that do! I’d like to be able to tell more stories across the continent showcasing women from different socio-economic backgrounds as well. The stories are endless and the impact is immense.
Women are still struggling to gain recognition for their talent and leadership. From your own experience, what can women do to make their mark especially at higher levels?
There is no shortcut but to work hard. Keep working hard and work harder than everyone around you. In finance we often work late nights. It’s what we do but it’s not fun. You have to decide how badly you want something and then decide to commit to doing what it takes to succeed. I never complained about late nights when I was a junior banker. I just wanted to learn and develop a certain degree of excellence in the craft. Make sure the right people see your efforts.
Put your hand up for the assignments that allow your brilliance to show. You need to get a seat at the table and often that starts with getting invited into the right room. Network and figure out what you need to do to get where you want to go. Don’t play politics. I hate that. Just be excellent at what you do and ensure that you take credit for your work. If you’re not getting recognized, find another job. I’m a huge fan of professional mobility. You should work where you’re appreciated and valued.
The tendency these days is people wanting to have a finger in every pie. You pulled back from that. How did you establish a healthier approach to making trade-offs and the right use of your time/energies?
When you burn out and drop all of your balls, you know that something is wrong. I was getting close to that at some time in my past and had to have a tough conversation with myself. I realized that I was trying to be perfect for everyone and in the process was failing myself. Once I came to that realization it was pretty easy for me to make the call to stop. I immediately put myself and my mental/physical health first. This meant that I would say no very often and not let people make me feel bad about it. I dramatically reduced the things that I committed to. People will not like this new you but you need to love her. I knew that I had to choose between being really great to a small number of constituents or below-average to a large group of people. For me, the choice was simple. I’m really happy about those decisions. I take a lot of time for myself now! I am very deliberate about how I spend my time and it’s working for me.
You are a self-proclaimed feminist and mother of 3 sons. No pressure, but what do you think mothers/parents of sons can do to raise strong confident men who will be comfortable living and working alongside equally confident women?
Too early for me to say. My sons are young and I am just trying my best because there are no manuals to parenting. It’s the goal for my husband and I to nurture an equitable family. We are taking decisions everyday and making choices as we go along. I cannot even profess to know the right way. Let’s chat in 20 years and then I should have a bonafide response.
I like your life philosophy of ‘’Leave a mark- not just a resume”. What are the measures by which you assess how/what difference you are making?
If I am blessed to make it to my 80s or 90s, I hope my children and other people will talk about how I touched their lives and gave it meaning. I really hope that I fulfill the purpose that God has designed for me. I am not sure what it is yet but I hope I make it there. It won’t be business or financial accomplishments. Those are by-products and not the main goal of my existence. In short, I don’t quite know yet and I think that’s ok.