The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Life Nigeria, Mrs Funmilayo Omo, tells GODFREY GEORGE how she balances work and family life
What kind of home did you grow up in?
I am the first of five children. I recall we had cousins staying with us and it was more like a community. My late father was a reverend. So, we had a lot of church activities. All the churchgoing I should have done in my lifetime, I think I have done in my youth. If I don’t go to church from now till whenever, I think I have marked attendance for all. I grew up having a lot of people around. We grew up in the vicarage, so we would always have people come in with their kids. We always had visitors. We always had to cook, entertain, and always had to take part in church activities.
I remember we used to ride bicycles. When I was learning how to ride a bicycle, I fell. At one point, I almost gave up riding. But my immediate younger brother would ride his bicycle all day. He had friends who had bicycles, so they would ride the bicycle all day. I found myself feeling awkward in the midst of mostly boys. We were three females to two males, until one of the girls passed on. So, now, we have a 2:2 male-female ratio.
Would you say the religious background you had has an influence on the person you grew up to become?
Yes, it almost made me to conform to a particular pattern of living, as expected of a pastor’s daughter. I am sure that my colleagues would say I try to be a conformist because I grew up having to do so. It was more like a stereotype. People would say, “This is what is expected of you. This is what you cannot do. These things are not allowed. That is allowed. This is how you should conduct yourself as the daughter of a clergy.” I think that also shaped my growing up to a large extent. We had to participate in church activities. I was even in the choir and I was also a member of the Guild of Stewards at some point. So, all in all, this helped shape me and contributed to why I am the way I am today. Having to conform was there, but as we grew older, we started to break out of that conformity; in our words, we started ‘gaining our freedom’ as we became more independent.
Being the firstborn instills a sense of responsibility in a child. Does your being a firstborn have any bearing on why you are a CEO today?
I think so. I would say that, when we go into retrospection after many years you begin to wonder how you ended up being the way you are. I think my role being the first of five largely also helped to shape my leadership qualities, because I had to look after my siblings. I had to mentor and lead them, care for them and give them direction. Unconsciously, I was building up these traits of a leader. By and large, that must have helped me begin the journey without realising it. I have had to lead and be a forerunner. As part of my childhood, I recall that my mom had to go to school. So, I was left with the responsibility of having to look after my siblings and dad. So, little wonder that fast-track to today, somehow, I am able to inspire people and lead.
How did you come about the idea of studying insurance?
Just like many other parent at that time, my parents wanted me to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer and the like. I wanted to be an accountant. I found myself in insurance because I fell three points short of the cut-off point for Accounting, so I was offered Insurance. Initially, I was very skeptical. My mom really didn’t know what insurance was all about, but I recall at that time that the Dean of the Faculty said to me, “Funmi, give it a shot. If after your first year you don’t like Insurance, you can switch back to Accounting!” I went to the Department of Insurance and I found it very interesting. Fast-track to today, what would I say? I would say it was destiny. That is the word I would use. By God’s grace, I am where I am today because of that decision even though I didn’t set out to do it. I have enjoyed this space and I am very passionate about it (insurance).
You have had a really successful career. What are some highlights of your journey?
I would say joining Enterprise Life Nigeria Limited as MD/CEO, and I would tell you why. This is because when I was in the African Alliance, where I cut my teeth, I felt that I had seen a lot there and had done a good length of time, almost three decades. For me, I was able to get to the peak of my career and I felt I had done well. I said to myself, “If I had the opportunity to start a company, what would I do or not do?” and that is why one needs to be careful of what one thinks and the prayers one says. Till today, I have had the opportunity of being able to start a company which was the experience I wanted to have that took me to Enterprise Life. That is why I would say this is the highlight of my career. It has been the grace of God and my passion. I am very passionate about what I do. I am a very passionate person. I put my all in what I do. Because I do everything perfectly, I don’t allow the pressure to get to me. The passion in me overrides the pressure. That is the reason I have been able to manage and it appears like I have had it smooth all through.
Before your role as MD/CEO of Enterprise Life Nigeria Limited, you had also led in different companies. How has your experience been as a woman in leadership?
Nobody has a smooth journey. I don’t think so. Even men don’t have their journeys smooth. Life is not a straight line. Life is more of a curve. I would say that in my journey through life, it hasn’t been smooth, for two basic reasons. Firstly, as I said, nobody has a smooth journey. Secondly, there is always that piece of being a woman, whether it is written boldly or just there within the lines very blurred. Prior to my role as the MD/CEO of Enterprise Life, I used to also lead a company, African Alliance. I have also had to take various leadership roles in various capacities, not just work. The truth is that there have been challenges. In some cases, I have had to work twice as hard as my male counterparts just to prove myself. I have also had to balance all this with my home and some social commitments and expectations of the society. You cannot be in a society like ours and be socially deaf to what happens within that place. Balancing it, especially as a woman, has been challenging. That is why I said we have to do more work that men would have to do.
How exactly have you been able to, in your role as MD/CEO, balance work and family lives?
I would say that, first, there is a God factor. I always say to people that there is nothing you can do on your own. You can only do and achieve so much with the grace and by the help of God. When you say ‘balancing’, the way and manner to balance is circumstantial. It depends on the situation and seasons. There are seasons where you have to give more attention to work. At such times, you’d find out that the home would feel the brunt but you require having a supportive family. If the family is not supportive, there would be an imbalance. That is the truth. There are times when the demands of the work are not as much as the demands of the home. At such times, you are able to prioritise home and still pay attention to work. The amount of time devoted to work is then toned down. You have to give that attention. So, you see that this depends solely on the situation. At this point, I say, thankfully, that my kids are grown up. But they didn’t grow up overnight. In the course of having to nurture them and build a career, I have had to find balance by paying less attention to certain things. So, when I need to give attention to the children, my social life becomes zero. It is the children, work and zero social life. When the children are in school or they have a holiday, then, I gave more time to work; I have some time for socials and then I spend some time with them. In the midst of all these, I must also make sure to create an oasis of sanity for myself; this is what you would call ‘me time’. Here, I am able to catch my breath and think through issues. That ‘me time’ happens, sometimes, when everyone is asleep. I would say that finding a balance is determining how you want to prioritise depending on the situation and season.
Do you identify as a feminist?
To be honest, with you, I don’t. I am bold to say I am not a feminist. I believe that we all have our places and we need to know our places. We are all unique. We all have our space and we all deserve to thrive, depending on where we find ourselves and what we feel is our calling.
Will you say Nigerian women are being given enough opportunities to take the lead in nation building?
From my perspective, I would say that Nigerian women haven’t had enough opportunities to lead. I think they can do better. They can do more. You would always see that space. If you go back in time, you would see that we had more Nigerian women excelling, leading and managing better. If more women are given opportunity, I think that you would have them do much more and excel far beyond what we have now. I think that the platform must be there for more women to thrive and take the lead.
You are involved in so much philanthropy and giving back; what inspires you to do this?
I think one of things we need to learn as human beings created by God is that we are here for a purpose. This purpose is not about us alone and what we want. Life and success are not measured by what you accomplish. I say to people that we all have to define what success means to us. Strictly speaking, the level of success of any individual is measured by the level of impact that person has made. A life without impact has not added any value to this earth. You come to this world and accomplish all you want, and it is all to yourself and you have not impacted anybody, you have not fulfilled your purpose or added value. That is why I do what I do. That is why I am who I am.
Was this why you started the Funmi Omo Foundation where you are the promoter?
The foundation is as a result of wanting to impact lives and not the other way round. Part of what I owe my society is to be able to give back. So, I must also be able to give back because of the grace I have enjoyed.
Why do you think Nigerians find it very difficult to insure their property?
First, I would say that they find it difficult because they have not come to the full understanding of the value that insurance brings to the table. When you don’t fully understand something, you cannot be fully involved. Another reason for a general apathy towards insurance is trust issues. A bit of a misconception is there. Misconception can also be linked to not being too educated or aware.
How can insurance firms help build this trust in Nigerians?
We have to continue to educate and create awareness. We would continue to build confidence. The way by which we can build confidence is to ensure that obligations are honoured and when there are claims, they should be honoured. When there are enquiries, the response time has to be good. When payments need to be made, they should be made in a manner that is convenient to the customers. The combination of these would help to increase consciousness and appreciation of insurance, and of course, increase patronage of insurance.