A WOMAN HAS NINE LIVES-DR. TOYIN PHILLIPS
For Dr. Olutoyin Phillips nee Euba, mum's advice is golden if not sacred. Thus one is not surprised at what she's made of her life.
Though an only child, her privileged circumstances rather than get into her head spurred her to make the most of it, such that even when she met Olumide Phillips (her husband of about 30 years) and marriage was on the agenda, the first thing she told him was that she wanted to get her PhD first. And she did, at a time when women that got that far could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Now in her 60s and with a career spanning over three decades in the financial sector, she believes being active keeps one going. In this chat, Phillips shares her wealth of experience on how she has fared on the tough turfs of marriage and career. She also talks about how a woman can lead nine lives and succeed in all.
What was it like growing up, the fond memories you have?
I'm a Lagosian, my great grandfather, Rev Euba founded Eko Boys High School. The school is still there in Mushin. Lagos State gave the school a large piece of land in Lekki.
My father was a lawyer. I grew up in Lafiaji area of Lagos. Lewis Street in the area called Breadfruit. My dad travelled abroad in search of the Golden Fleece as they say. So my mum and I stayed with my maternal grandfather. What I loved to do was to read; I did a lot of that, didn't visit too much. I schooled at Lagos Anglican Primary School, and as an only child, I was privileged to have some first cousins like Auntie Funmi now Mrs. Dada, Mrs Awosika, Mr. George, Dola George, Kehinde George, these were my playmates from time to time.
It was just my mother and I for the major part of my primary school years, so she is my best friend, my confidant. She was very strict and I know I would always treasure the values she gave me.
Please could you elaborate on the values?
She taught me contentment, which does not mean you don't have ambition but at every stage in your life, you love to be content. And then loyalty to people who have helped you, and most importantly the fear of God. That's why I know the verses of so many hymns, because she sings a lot. She was a teacher at Queens College, she loves to play the piano, she still does that once in a while. She doesn't wear glasses even though I don't think her sight is that good but she sees relatively better than many people, even me.
She's a very caring mother, maybe I'm partial. I grew up seeing her pray and pray and pray and sing and sing. When my father came back, the relationship continued, the two of them and I bonded very well with him, and he did his best. He died some years back. I grew up an only child, my mum is still alive and she is 91 years.
You got your Ph.D as far back as the 80s at a time when I'm sure few women in Nigeria did. What inspired you to go that far at a time like that?
I believe so. I guess because I had a mother that was hard working, she did different things apart from playing the piano. She taught for some time and later worked as a cashier in a pharmaceutical outfit, and my father worked with the Lagos State government as a lawyer.
As an only child I believed and felt I could go as far as I needed to go, that was what propelled me. But I started by reading and reading, I read anything. And when I met my husband, the first thing I told him was that I would need to do my Ph.D, and he said we would do it together. He has a Ph.D in Petroleum Engineering.
I had my first degree (Bachelor of Science in Economics) from University of Ibadan, and Masters in Economics from the Pennsylvania State University in the United States. I got my Ph.D in Business Administration with specialization in Finance from the same institution.
My career started with the Lagos State Civil Service, then I moved to the Central Bank of Nigeria, where I rose to the rank of Deputy Director, the first woman to reach the executive cadre in the history of the institution. From there I was seconded to the Security and Exchange Commission as Chief Economist. Then I left for the United Bank of Africa (UBA) where I was an executive director between 1993 and 94. I left UBA and in 1996 became the Managing Director/CEO of defunct Gateway Bank, which I ran until 2000.
I was on a Federal Government committee on indirect tax, value added tax, before they introduced it. I've been on the board of Delta Steel Company and NEPA (National Electric Power Authority).
I'm a member of the governing council of Lagos State University. I chair the Endowment Fund of the University College Hospital. I'm the only non-medical person on the board. I'm there by virtue of being an alumna, others are professors of medicine - we try to raise money for the hospital and the College of Medicine. I'm the chairman of Intercontinental Bank UK, but with the recapitalisation that is going on in the banking sector, Access Bank is acquiring it with 75 per cent equity. And I belong to the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria. I presently consult on Financial Management through my company, Keystone Financial and Management Consultants.
Aside your passion for banking and the financial sector, what other things are you passionate about.
I have a passion for the less privileged. We have a club made up of female professionals, Daisies Club, and we are into philantrophy. I have a passion to help destitutes. I don't have much money but the little I have, I go with a few friends to feed people who we know don't have food. One place we go every month is Owutu Rehabilitation Centre in Ikorodu, which is handled by the Lagos State Government. The inmates there know me and my team. We go there and give them whatever we have. I have an NGO, Abba Father Support Foundation, we are giving scholarships, but we've not given more than five now.
You talked about telling your husband-to-be of your desire to get your doctorate first. So how did you meet him?
He schooled in Ahmadu Bello University. He is a Lagosian and grew up in Okepopo area of Lagos. I had a young friend in the area, who had my photograph, my husband saw it, and from there we met. And you know women, we pretend not to be interested. I did that for quite a while but he was very persistent - actually he is a persistent person by nature.
So what was it about him that made you give him the final nod?
Initially, it was the persistence, I loved that and gradually I saw many other things…
He's very bold, whatever he likes to do, he is passionate about it, he's very caring, very, very caring…
I'm sure he must have told you what it was about you too…
From the first time he met me, he said, I'm going to marry you, and I said this is a joke. That's what he tells people.
How long have you been married to him?
I'm not going to give you the exact date, it's over thirty years.
Being a high flier, he's also a highflyer, how have you two been able to cope?
Hmm…career women, I believe we have to be of many parts. For a career woman to keep a home, if anyone says it's easy, I will not agree. It's only God that helps to build a home. Like I had some offers that would have taken me out of Lagos or out of the country, I could not take some of them, especially when our children were very young. He has also been very mindful of that, and it's been a good relationship by the grace of God. And we have support from the two sides, his parents and my parents.
Did you ever have issues that threatened your marriage?
No, because he is a family man. If you're lucky to marry a man who is a family man, who cares a lot about the children, no matter the other shortcomings, the woman would have little or no problems. I believe I'm a family woman, I can say that because I watched my mother and I think that greatly influenced me. She would know that my father had gone to the Yoruba Tennis Club to enjoy with the boys, my mother won't sleep. I used to be very angry. She would sit and start praying, and I would say, but you know he's gone to enjoy himself, so why are you sitting down, anxious. And the minute he comes home, she would go to sleep. And I thought to myself, I don't wanna live this way.
So did you have to be doing that for your husband?
His late outings were very few, so I didn't have to sit on any staircase. And then this is the age of mobile phones, if there's anything there would be a text.
That you would not get, just say around 60.
With your fast paced life, how do you cope at your age?
I think God gives women nine lives, because you have to take care of the home, take care of the children, take care of the extended family and also do your thing - follow your dream. But I believe that if a woman is active, that keeps her busy, she doesn't worry about too many things and just does what she likes to do.
You've mostly been in management. People say women wear their emotion on the sleeves, what has been your management style?
It's a collaborative type of leadership and management, that is, those working with you know your goals, they share those goals, and you let them know how things are moving, they cooperate. Occasionally you have one or two lazy people and I don't hesitate to tell them, so I dispense with them, either they are transferred elsewhere or you let them go but not without counselling, because you never know, somebody may be facing a challenge in the home or a health challenge in which case one has to empathise and assist. But I haven't had any major issue along that line.
Does your CV intimidate some other women even men that you come across?
I don't know, once they see that you have a warm disposition wherever you find yourself and it's a team kind of work, it's not as if I know everything because nobody knows everything, no matter how many doctorates you have, there is always something to learn, even from somebody sometimes, whether very, very young or very, very naÃ¯ve because they see things from different angles. We all keep learning till the day we die whether we live to be 120 or not, we keep learning, and I am eager to learn. I've worked more with men than women, and it's been very exciting.
Looking at the array of androids, iPads, Blackberry, and such other high tech gadgets that we have these days, as a grandmother have you been able to embrace them considering your age and generation.
You can't but use them - one just has to keep up with these things.
Considering your hectic schedule, are you able to do the 'grandma' beat for your children?
I give them needed support.
Do you wish you had more time for your grandkids?
Hmmmm, I do my best. And God forbid, in cases of urgent attention, my family is always first.
When your daughter was getting married, what was the advice you gave her?
Fear of God and making the family a priority, and the way the children are brought up. It's been a very close-knit family, so I know that whatever is happening, each of them will do his or her best. Thank God that's how it's been so far. I believe one major cause is the high rate of unemployment or what you can call disguised employment. One of such is the so many able bodied men selling things on the road. I feel for them, they are on the road, Monday to Monday, 24/7, and you look at what they are selling, it's not enough to feed them.
And that gives a picture of what's happening in the society. I have an office in Victoria Island, there was a day I counted the number of hawkers I saw till I climbed the bridge, the number exceeded 300 all under 10 minutes, able-bodied men. There was a day I had to buy a photo-frame. It was a Thursday. The man told me he had been on the road from Monday and had not sold anything. Well, I didn't exactly need the photo-frame, but I thought to myself, if he doesn't sell anything, what will he eat?
What's your take on the state of the nation?
Some of the problems existing in the country are highly correlated with the high level of unemployment, and in Nigeria we have a Land Use Decree that is not helping too many people. You want to buy a property, a piece of land, the process is very cumbersome unlike in other countries. The government has to do something in that area, maybe give out pieces of land, not permanently but rent it out.
You and your husband are both involved in the education sector (running two different schools) and the sector ails, why do you think this is so.
The two of us are in the two, one in Central Lagos (Keystone College) and one in Lekki (Dowen College), simply because there is a gap in the educational system. It is good to have a relatively low teacher-student ratio. If you have a class where there is one teacher to 60 or 100 students, you cannot give good attention, the teacher would not be able to mark properly. And that doesn't work well. It is because of this gap that you see private schools springing up everywhere.
You talked about unemployment, could this be a consequence of the state of our education?
It's not everyone that has to go to the university, everybody should be literate but there are many unemployed undergraduates. I have lots of CVs with me trying to see who will employ A or B, and I don't run an employment agency.
Many of them were in the market selling various little stuff and some of them are very smart. Those people doing yahoo-yahoo, I understand they are graduates, so we have to channel the energy and the skills of our young people properly. I'm not sure we have done well in that area.
How do we go about doing that?
We can start by creating a database. I know different states are doing different things, because from time to time I give lectures on entrepreneurship and other things. And I found out that it's relatively difficult for the up and coming entrepreneur to access funds.