Meet Onyinye Ikenna – Emeka, General Manager, Enterprise Marketing at MTN Nigeria. This driven African woman played a pivotal role in the MTN Man-in-the box initiative and her expertise traverses Marketing, sales and customer management. In this inspiring SCHICK at work interview, we chat with Onyinye about equal opportunities in the workplace, MTN’s enterprise business unit and challenges along the way. Enjoy!
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Onyinye Ikenna –Emeka, a driven African woman committed to excellence, technology and innovation, I am a business leader. My expertise traverses Marketing, Sales and customer management. I currently serve as the General Manager, Enterprise Marketing at MTN Nigeria. A wife and mother of four lovely children.
Almost all my non-work time is spent with my family; getting to keep up with what’s going on in their lives. My husband and I do quite a bit together to keep us constantly in tune with each other as we both lead very busy lives. In my spare time, I love to travel and read books. For therapy, I like to spend time at our country home or doing some shopping.
Q: As part of senior management within MTN, would you say MTN provides an enabling environment for women to thrive?
Yes! most definitely. MTN creates an enabling environment for women to sustain healthy growth for the overall benefit of the industry and also to serve as a springboard to overcome cultural and social barriers that may prevent them from accessing life-changing opportunities
Q: Do you think that more women on board equal better performing companies?
Yes, indeed. Women have demonstrated commendable ability to steer the affairs of great businesses in the right direction all over the world. With the tenacious nature of women in mastering different roles- mother, wife, daughter, sister, business owner, etc.- it is no wonder women are able to thrive in the corporate world. Take mentorship, for example, mentorship is something that women have done in many cultures. I recall my mother, grandmother, my aunties and their peers, taking it upon themselves to gently guide me in making choices. As I grew older, the group became smaller and now I am reminded of some real friends from different generations who have walked with me over the course of my leadership journey. I believe these experiences that women have gone through need to be studied and given their place in the global hub of knowledge.
Q: Why is diversity important when it comes to decision making?
Because of the human differences in nature and worldview, diversity helps to harness different perspectives and ideas, which when filtered, would enrich decision making. I do believe that diverse groups perform better and make more accurate decisions than non-diverse groups. Diversity in decision making will further reduce risks as one would have to view and analyse the risks from all angles. If everyone involved has a similar perspective, the chance of overlooking key information is far too high. Having one or more stakeholders dedicated to evaluating, criticizing, and challenging plans is an effective way to make sure you’re considering all the options and avoiding unnecessary risks
Q: How does MTN’s Enterprise Business Unit support woman entrepreneurs?
According to BBC, 40% of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs, this is the highest in Africa and cannot be overlooked for economic growth and health therefore, MTN Enterprise Business Unit supports women entrepreneurs by listening and consulting with them to gain a clear understanding of what keeps them up, their circumstances, pain-points, ambitions and priorities. Helping them to become more agile and efficient, expanding market access and making them more competitive. This was evident in our just-concluded Man-In-The-Box initiative. Most of the SME business owners that we showcased were women, as a larger percentage of businesses that applied were women. We also work to provide bespoke solutions that totally align with their business objectives keeping them one step ahead at all times.
Q: You were a key member of the team that launched the captivating MTN Man-in-the-Box campaign. Please tell us about your role in the making of Man in the Box.
As the head of Enterprise marketing, I led the team that executed the Man-In-The-Box Initiative, playing a pivotal role in overseeing the project from ideation to execution. I provided direction and guidance to my team and the creative agencies, keeping abreast of project updates and issues and making recommendations. It was quite exciting, challenging and humbling to have been part of the team responsible for such a laudable initiative.
Q: We know that the Man-In-The-Box campaign has ended, but we have begun to see the #ManInTheBoxTheSequel hashtag. What should we expect?
For us at MTN, this is just the start of an exciting, evolving journey. Our long-term goal is to work collaboratively with businesses in Nigeria- whether small or large and even the public sector- hear them out, identify areas of shared aims and pain points and come up together with business-impacting solutions. We also believe that SMEs are the bedrock of the economy, and as a leading catalyst for economic development, MTN is poised to employ its state-of-the-art technology in making a huge difference. Among other things we will be doing, is our new partnership journey that will not only ensure smoother business relationships with enterprises but will also build an ecosystem of like-minded businesses focused on consistently igniting the Nigerian economy.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
My advice to young women is for them to be focused, dedicated and aspiring in the desire to be leaders in the workplace and society. I will also advise that they be risk-takers and to make risk-taking easier, you have to adjust your attitude towards failure. Failure happens all the time and it should not scare us. It teaches us what doesn’t work so we can be more successful on the next try. We can gain a certain amount of knowledge from books, but nothing replaces on the job experience in getting you ready for the next career stage. Also, they have to be clear at all times what their personal brand stands for and be deliberate about building it.
Q: What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?
I’ve learnt, especially from our customers, that entrepreneurship is combining your passion with the tenacity for solving problems and the fearlessness to fail. You might have to assume that things are not always going to go the way you intended. But somehow, you have to adopt an unyielding sense of optimism with the elasticity to manage changes required.
As a mentor, one should make it a point to facilitate her mentees’ growth by sharing her own resources and networks. I look for opportunities to challenge a mentee to move beyond his or her comfort zone. The picture of success in this is that each mentor should focus on his or her mentee’s total development. This closely ties with leadership as a leader creates a vision and successfully gets others to work toward achieving that goal. They can do this by providing direction and inspiring others to want to succeed in achieving the end result. I am able to motivate my team to work toward the vision and I believe that this marks a true leader.
Q: What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced during your career?
Having to prove that I am just as good or even better than my male colleagues. It is a constant battle.
Q: How do you achieve work-life balance?
I have been able to achieve work-life balance by deciding what my values are — and which ones take precedence, I focus on the things that are really important, doing fewer things well and delegating the less prioritized tasks effectively. Also, I have an amazing support system.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I see myself as a more accomplished leader who is established in providing impact to the society not just in the corporate space but also within my larger ecosystem.
Q: Who is someone you admire, and why?
I admire Mrs Omobola Johnson, the former Minister for Communications, she is a woman whose career I have followed over the years and I am greatly inspired by her simplicity and professionalism. Also, I love the way she moved from the corporate into the political world and seamlessly back into the private world without much ado. The lady after my heart.
Major feats she accomplished as Minister of Information & Communications, driving digital and financial inclusion across the educational and technological sectors through collaborations with World Bank, Nokia, National Universities Commission (NUC) are all worthy of mention.
Q: What are your go-to brands for work? Do you have a few that you adore?
Actually, I am more about fit and alignment with my personal brand which I like to view as a classic. So I shop a variety of brands, for clothes Reiss, Coast, Karen Millen, Mango, Isi Brown, Ejiro Amos Tafiri, Alter Ego, Tahari and Zara. Paphelia Brown is another upcoming local brand; I love their kaftans. For all other accessories, I also stick to the classic theme so it could be a known designer or otherwise as long as it fits the bill.
Q: What positive words/mantras/attitudes keep you going when things get hard?
I believe What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I would also generally call myself a fastidious person and that probably hasn’t changed. I really feel like over the course of the past 20 years I’ve actually learned that the leadership mantra I should be following — and I try my best to follow it — is, in fact, you’re not in control of the outcome. You’re only in control of the input.