Dr. Abiola Bashorun is the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ZL Global Alliance Nigeria Limited. She was Assistant General Manager at Access Bank, among other positions she held before leaving the finance industry for waste management. She tells ADEMOLA OLONILUA about her work, career and family
You rose to a relatively enviable position in the finance industry before you left to be on your own. Was that something you had wanted to achieve as a child?
I would say it is a dream that grew out of a knack for business right from an early age and it flourished into the reality of today.
What were some of the toughest challenges you faced as a banker?
One of the toughest challenges, in my opinion, was the general economic environment and the customer’s perception of bankers at the time. This was a restriction to growing banking sectors such as E-business and digital banking.
How would you describe your experience as CEO and MD now?
Being CEO and MD is a constant roller coaster ride of highs and lows, and working and dedication round the clock, but we thank God for our journey so far.
Some people may be surprised that a beautiful woman like you is into waste management business. What led you to that line of business?
I have always been conscious of my surrounding and environment for as long as I can remember. I also studied urban and regional planning at tertiary level, and during my extensive travels, I saw how waste was managed and handled in other developed countries. So, I thought this could also be done in Nigeria, if not on the same scale at least to make a start on it and then get it right over time. I am very passionate about the environment and I want to positively effect change, not only by putting structures in place but changing the mindset of the Nigerian people towards waste management, starting with the youths. That is why we have an empowerment platform, thereby having a ripple effect in other sectors, for example in the health sector by preventing the outbreak of diseases such as cholera, Lassa fever and others.
How do you feel when you hear some people describe that line of business as dirty?
It is a dirty job but somebody has to do it for the sake of the environment and the future of our country.
But some people are of the opinion that the waste management business is largely dominated by males. Is that truly the case?
I don’t encourage this school of thought, not just in waste management. The time for women is now and we have broken ground in every major aspect of business, politics, economic and social sectors to name a few. So I don’t think there is any sector that can be referred to as male-dominated.
How has the experience been for you?
It has its high days and low days, but I have a fantastic team that supports in bringing my vision to reality and I try to maintain an equilibrium between my professional life and my social life. In the course of the year, we launched major projects in all the states we are in partnership with like Kaduna and Ondo and soon, we will break ground in the Federal Capital Territory and others. We are grateful to God for the successes so far.
How would you describe your university days, were you a bookworm or someone who socialised a lot?
I would say I did my best to find a balance and not allow one aspect to outweigh the other parts of my life. There were struggles but by His grace, I succeeded and I am where I am today.
How would you describe your early days as a child?
I grew up in a Yoruba family that emphasised the importance of discipline, obedience and respect and this also applied to my brothers and sisters. I am the last child of my mother so I got sent on errands a lot by my older siblings. I remember playing a lot with my cousins; we had a full house, hence I was always surrounded by people who helped to build my social skills and this taught me to be humble. I learnt a lot from these experiences.
Your job sometimes involves you working under pressure, how do you cope with the tension?
Working under tension is quite frustrating, to be honest, but it keeps me on my toes and my team active. Truthfully, sometimes tension brings out creative ideas and solutions to different problems and it is a constant part of the job so I’m getting used to it.
Are you a party lover?
I indulge myself in attending parties once in a while but I wouldn’t say I’m a party lover.
How do you relax?
I listen to good music, spend time with my family and occasionally see movies. I actually drink a lot of relaxing herbal teas.
How have you been able to maintain your beauty?
I have a daily routine as most women do, but when I get the opportunity, I treat myself to the services of beauty parlours and such.
Do you have time to exercise?
Yes, I do, it is very important for me to stay fit.
Looking at your resume, many would believe you are a workaholic. Is it right to assume such?
I have been called a workaholic by countless number of people, so I guess I am. My friends always say “Biola, you work too much.”
What do you do when you are not working?
I try to relax, have some time for myself and gather my thoughts together. I dance with my team as they teach me all the latest dance moves like the ‘Shaku Shaku dance’. It is like a reboot for my mind and body.
What kind of books do you love to read?
I read books about strategic thinking. I like motivational books and also read history books. Occasionally, I read fictional books like 300.
Are you a music lover?
Yes, I am. I love music a lot and I also love dancing.
What would you consider as your greatest achievement so far?
My greatest achievements are my two children: my amazing son and my company.
What is your greatest fear in life?
My greatest fear would be the fear of failure.
What are some of your unfulfilled desires?
I can’t think of any right now because I believe that anything is possible in the future and by God’s grace, all I desire will come to fruition.
What day would you describe as your happiest day so far?
The happiest day of my life was the day I gave birth to my son.
Would you consider yourself to be a fashionable woman?
Yes, I do. I try to keep up with modern trends and to look good because it makes me feel good.
You seem to love to smile a lot; any reasons for that habit?
I smile a lot because of my mother; she always smiled and looked beautiful, so I picked up the habit. As the saying goes, “A smile is a light in the window of the soul indicating that the heart is at home.”
With your busy schedule, how often do you find time to cook or cater for the family?
I try my best to do the most I can when I can, and I have a very supportive family and get a lot of help from them.
How would you describe being a mother?
Being a mother is the best experience of my life. I truly understand why children are called gifts from God. I was lucky to have a baby with little issues, so it was an overwhelming but joyful experience.
How easy has it been combining the role of a mother and wife with your career?
It is not easy at all; anybody that says otherwise is not human. I am eternally grateful to my family and my team because without them, it would be more chaotic than it is right now. It is a lot of hard work, sleepless nights and compromises but the end result is all worth it.