Women accountants in Nigeria: TGS Taju Audu & Co’s Pelumi OdutolaAfrica Doing business
Pelumi Odutola, woman accountant in Nigeria speaks to TGS Best Practice podcast
From chemistry studies to accountancy qualifications, women accountant in Nigeria, Pelumi Odutola tells her story of becoming managing partner of a progressive accounting firm.
Entrepreneurial and independent, Pelumi describes how she balances leadership skills and life goals to remain energetic while building an accounting firm from scratch. In only 10 years, Pelumi’s results orientation and ‘can do’ attitude have brought TGS firm Taju Audu & Co from start up to member of a top 25 international network providing quality accounting and audit services in Nigeria.
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Episode 2: Pelumi Odutola, women accountants in Nigeria
Who are you, what firm do you work for? Where are you?
My name is Pelumi Odutola. I work with TGS in Nigeria. I work out of our head office in Abuja, Nigeria, the capital city. We joined TGS in 2016.
How did you get into your job?
I joined the firm in 2009. I have worked I’ve just one firm before then. Straight out of University. After graduation I joined another accounting firm and I was there for about nine months and and my current CEO the chairman of companies that work for now, was also working at the firm. I was on his team and he was like, “You know what I’m thinking about starting a practice. Would you like to join something more progressive something fresh?”
I was still very young. I was probably be my early 20s, maybe like 21 to two at the time. So I was like you have something good, something nice, something fresh and I thought, why not?
We started the firm, rented out a place, you know, it was just really interesting for me. So that was how we started the firm but joining the profession itself was pretty accidental. I wanted to be a medical doctor originally but I didn’t like chemistry. So I went to the University my first year and I went to me the Dean of the social sciences department. They looked at my 0-level results and said ‘I think you’ll do great in accounting’. I just signed on my papers for the accounting department. And that was the first time you know I had anything to do with it. But obviously since then, I’ve been more intentional with every other thing, you know, afterwards. So yeah, that’s how I joined the firm.
What do you enjoy most about your job? What when it gets you up in the morning?
I think different things. First of all, working in a leadership position puts you on the edge every time because you you have to be the driver of a lot of things. So I get to be up every morning because I don’t get to depend on people. People depend on me so that gets me up.
Secondly, expectation of clients also because you have to interact with many clients so on my schedule is always full. I have to make different calls. I have to attend different meetings. And just that feeling of being responsible, gets me up every morning. And also, there’s several other commitments in terms of expectations. For my career, meeting of the setting requirements that in professional education, to just many things we need to keep that position. You can’t like sit back on the expectations that people have. So if you if you fall back for like two seconds, so many things have happened that it can be hard from there to catch up.
Have you got any examples of a client where you really felt you made a difference to them?
Yes. I have a couple of clients that call me for every problem they have. So you expect that okay, maybe it has to be the accounting or tax audit, or even if they need like a permit that has nothing to do with the services we offer, and then pick up a call and say, I have this problem. Can you help me out? And even like, I’ll be like, oh, yeah, sure, why not?
Some of the things I’ve never heard of, I have to like Google, how do I get this and then, you know, the satisfaction and the joy they feel afterwards? It just makes all the difference. Obviously feedback where they tell you how grateful they are and thank you for your service. You really helped me there. So yeah, I mean, yeah, a couple of them like that. They called me for any problem. I mean, any problem as long as it’s like in the line of the work or like about the company.
Working in a leadership position puts you on the edge. I get up every morning motivated because people depend on me.
Pelumi Odutola, Managing Partner, TGS Taju Audu & Co
Have you had any mentors along the way that you’ve learned from?
The founder of the firm is one of my mentors. He gave me an opportunity to be leader from the beginning. So and which is very rare in this I mean part of the world.
Developing countries were deeply entrenched in the cultural and religious things. So you hardly find like women doing things like I am. He gave me the opportunity to really develop myself and he challenged me in a lot of ways so there was no room for ‘I can’t do it’. It’s more like, ‘this is it to get it done’. You know, so and that was that was really helpful.
Growing up in this part of the world and really, he challenged me and he told me a lot of things. So for example, if I was going to the meeting, to prep me and say also, consider doing it like this and try saying this and see what comes out. So many people don’t get that kind of opportunity. I got it and I took advantage of it. So he was very instrumental in monetarily like telling me exactly what to do but giving me opportunities to do things which is what a lot of people don’t get.
He was that instrumental in my career, and then my mom as well. She’s an entrepreneur and she works hard. I suppose that kind of example of the hard working movement. My family generally has many hard working elements like my grandmother, who was also in business. So I had that kind of example, right. So everything together just sort of created the kind of background I needed.
What other barriers or challenges have you had in your career?
So for me being a woman, first of all, and then being a young woman. So in this part of the world, it came up sometimes that I should pay attention to like older women, because our respect is there and the thing that they have a lot of experience as well, or being a young person in this industry can be challenging because of the cultural element and the religious elements.
Nigeria is made up of Christians and Muslims. So there’s a lot that women are ‘not supposed to d’o certain things or speak in certain situations, but things are changing gradually.
Earlier in my career, you get to sit in rooms filled with like older men, and then being like a young person, they think that you’re not supposed to be there. Because we are a small firm, we had to divide ourselves any ways to attend to different clients and different meetings. So I got the opportunity to go to meetings where there were many older men very early on my career.
Sometimes the first impression is that when they see you, as a young woman, they see me and they think, oh, you know, what does she have to offer that look, they don’t state or they keep that loop or they don’t give you opportunity to even speak. When I do get the opportunity to speak, I make sure that I make an impression. Petty quickly they realise that I’ve got some substance. That also gave me the confidence boost that I needed.
Also getting my professional certification also gave me the confidence boost that I needed, because the thing is, if you are a professional accountant and as I mentioned at the conference as well, we have the same pedigree so to speak. So that really gave me also the confidence that I needed, knowing that I’m a professional.
I’ve got my degrees, and I have experience as well. So sitting around a table with older men. You think that maybe they’re going to be smarter, but sometimes you realise that you are you know, kind of like at par or even sometimes you have better ideas. So being in that kind of situation, obviously was challenging at first, but most of the time when you get to express yourself you see that people actually value what you say or what you bring to the table to pay attention to you. It gives you that confidence to go out the next time and then from there on.
Pelumi Odutola, woman accountant in Nigeria features in the current TGS Brochure.
Download the TGS Brochure here.
Is International Women’s Day important to you?
It is important to me and I think it should be important to everyone because it’s an opportunity to bring to the fore the discussion about gender equality, gender parity. I think I like to say gender equity, or equity in things.
Sometimes when you say equality a lot of people brings mundane things to mind so it’s good to define equality. So if you’re a woman, do you want to do this, you want to do that as well, but I feel like equity sort of just catches it more holistically. So for me, being a woman it is very dear to my heart, the conversation about equity.
The challenges that women face in life, in the workplace, in the society at large. I mean, we do play a very important role, even starting from like the home the family unit and talking about the workplace and even in government. And I think more and more people are beginning to realise that women can no longer be marginalised. They have to be involved. So for me, the International Women’s Day is just another day to focus on all these issues and have a discussion around them and the way forward. So it’s not a days dedicated to it, it’s a conversation that must continue. I think it’s going to happen for decades to come till we get to the level where we feel like it’s no longer an issue.
What is one piece of advice you give to your younger self? If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
The most important thing is to not stress the small stuff and take each day at a time. Some of the things that I worried about, then I realise how silly they are now, you know, because I think that’s the most important thing is that with time you get there.
Many young people want to skip the steps and they want to get results quickly. I don’t blame them because I mean, the way the world is now, it puts a lot of pressure on young people to do things but the truth is, there are certain things that will just take time.
For example, experience takes time before you get to sit in certain rooms. It takes time. You can’t get experience of four years in four days or four weeks. So certain things just require time. I need to give you that time and if you pay attention to the things that you should get attention like to get your qualification and gain experience. Jump into projects and put yourself out there. Most important thing is that you should apply yourself, because we can all go through the same education and all go through the same firm and not turn out to be the same way. It depends on how we apply ourselves.
I tell people that work with me. ‘I’m not going to chase you for projects’. For example, if you apply yourself and if you show that you are very good and you’re willing to put in the work, then many doors will open for you. So I wish I told myself that because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be this and be that but the fact was just doing the things I was doing without really stressing too long to stand out was a great way to progress.
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Listen to an excerpt of Pelumi’s podcast:
Video edited on Kapwing
What what keeps you strong Pelumi? How do you keep your energy up?
Honestly, it’s hard to keep the energy up with like the kind of information is out there these days. What I embraced more recently is yoga. And I do 10 minutes yoga in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. I also limit the kind of information that I digest really, there’s so much negativity out there. And if you’re not like strong mentally, it just keeps you down.
I was having a discussion with a friend this morning. And I was saying you know what, like you don’t have to listen to everything. You can decide to limit your screen time and that works for me. You know, once I said that time is 30 minutes to social media or one hour. By the time I go through all of it. I don’t have to ingest everything. So for me that’s what works and I’m also spiritual. So I pray and meditate. Take each day one at a time.
It’s a long time to sort of just let your body relax and focus your energy on your mind. And just honestly, it does a lot of things for for me and when 10 minutes is like, stretches out my muscles. I just get back calmness to like, go into the day. Yeah, I noticed that it’s made a lot of difference in the mornings, particularly and in the evenings. Again, I’ll say my prayer and just do the yoga. It makes a lot of difference.
Imagine we are sending you away to desert island and you can only take one thing with you. What would you take?
I’m going to ask before and I don’t know if there’s one thing. It’s a very difficult question because you think should I take a bottle of water or should I take a boat? Survival stuff? Maybe a couple of books, or maybe a really big book.
What song would you be listening to on your desert island?
I’m not really a music person. But I probably would have spa music. Or like raindrops music. Sometimes I listen to those in YouTube. You find everything on YouTube. It’s dry season here now. And sometimes I just play like one hour two hours of rain sounds. I like rain sounds because it’s really, really soothing. When you’re just listening to like, oh, maybe like sounds of a stream and you get hours without interruption or ads of that on YouTube.
Honestly, different things like help different people and it’s just interesting that everything is out there. So it’s just totally how you find it.
Pelumi, thank you very much for coming to speak to us. We’ll have to have you back on the TGS best practice podcast when it gets up and running.
Thank you very much for taking the time. It’s always a pleasure to speak to you, Andrew.
TGS Best Practice Podcast
The TGS Best Practice Podcast is a series of podcasts to share best practice, inspiration and innovation for audit, accounting, advisory, audit, tax and commercial legal service providers.
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