The Business Doctor - Omowunmi’s Exciting Journey Solving Business Problems From the Big Four To Startups

After a first class in zoology from the University of Lagos and a post-graduate degree in parasitology, Omowunmi Adenuga-Taiwo looked like she was on her way to becoming an academic. But a search for life outside structured routines saw her chase a fast-paced career first in management consulting at  Accenture and advisory at Deloitte.

Almost a decade later, she has left the bright lights of consulting to focus on helping startups solve operational and strategic problems as they pursue growth. In this interview, the self-described business doctor reflects on her career journey and her first month at Kippa as the Director of Strategy & Operations.

Your story is very fascinating. When I saw you at the office, I asked you what exactly you do. Right? And you said you’re a generalist. Then I checked your LinkedIn to try and find an answer for myself and I came back more confused.

Can you give us some insight? Because there's a lot to know
My name is Omowunmi Adenuga Taiwo. From an educational and employment background. My first degree was in biological sciences, zoology to be specific from the University of Lagos. Then after that, I pursued a postgraduate degree in parasitology. The study of parasites essentially which is typically one of the follow-up courses from Zoology.  

But after a while, I got a job offer with Accenture, a global management consulting firm. Then I became a management consultant. Starting off with HR consulting in several parts where the focus is on talent and organization, change management and the like. And I did a couple of change management-related product projects for FMCG clients like Dangote, Diageo, Guinness, and Reckitt Benckiser.

And after a while, career-wise, my focus started to move towards public sector projects. I did work with the office of the Vice President on strategy-related projects and started moving into business strategies, and business management. After which I left Accenture and moved to Deloitte. Deloitte is also into professional services. But the focus is on audit, tax, advisory and that lane. I was in the advisory lane as a management consultant. But this time as a strategy consulting manager. So I mean, when people introduce themselves and say they were consultants who worked in Accenture or Deloitte. It is not the easiest of things to explain what exactly they do. But I'll try and give a sense of what my work cut across.  

I like to refer to management consultants as business doctors. So we diagnose businesses with problems and we will resolve the problem. So the problems can be starting off problems where the business is trying to enter a market and they are trying to understand what they need to be thinking about market entry, business case, landscape, understanding the customers in the market, and the competitors in that market. So market entry work. Or it can be for running businesses that are trying to solve issues relating to HR, marketing, sales, and technology, and they have particular issues.

We have those that are running and they want things fixed from a process perspective, or people perspective. So my work has taken me around the end to end of what businesses do and I guess that's why I refer to myself as a generalist.

Interesting, I'm just curious before you went into management consulting were you planning to become an academic?
Yes! But I found that line of work a bit slow-paced. I wanted something that was more dynamic. The academic work tends to be predictive, day in, and day out, so I'm doing things like taking lectures, grading scripts, running, and coordinating lab sessions. It was kind of like the same thing they do. So I wanted something more fast-paced and more dynamic.

Interesting. But if you were asked to explain what you currently do to a 5-year-old, how will you explain it?
I think I will still lean in on that business doctor analogy because most five-year-olds know what the doctor is. So it's like, we are doctors but not for people. But for businesses and businesses have different types of problems. Growth problems, transformation problems, people problems, and performance-related problems. And what we do is we diagnose the issues, and we figure out what the business needs to do differently. We build roadmaps to get things done, and we implement them. I'm hoping I didn't use too much big English.

You have moved from management consulting to the big four, and now helping startups build structure and solve problems- what led to this shift?
So I think for me, internally, I wanted to get closer to the outcome. The good thing about working with global professional services firms like Accenture and Deloitte is that they really give you the opportunity to learn the process. They give you access to a structured methodology for doing management consulting and solving business issues.

We're conducting diagnostics for businesses, building roadmaps, and developing implementation plans. But the other side of that is because we're so big, you can end up being at one end of the whole spectrum, and you never really get to see the other end. So you do all the design work, and you never really get to see the implementation of what you designed, or you do implementation work, but you're not connected to the design parts. So after a while, I was not satisfied in the sense that I'm not quite sure whether what I designed really had the intended outcome on the implementation.

You cannot see the impact in real time.
So wanting to see the outcome of what I spent so many hours and so many weeks in design. I put together this deck and everybody just says thank you, you did well, and the customer says great work. But I don't see anything. After that, I'm not able to check back with the customer to see how things are going or things like that. So for me, the fulfilment or that achievement is not complete until I see the actual execution of the work I've done.

So I was looking for career pathways that will get me closer to that. And that was why I knew I had to move away from global services. I moved into my own consulting. After a while, I got a job offer which was essentially consulting, still, program management but at an industry level where I'm in the business and I'm doing the design and I'm doing implementation work. That's kind of what I've been doing since I left Deloitte, at Sigma Pensions, at Sygen and now at Kippa.  

Interesting. So now that you are closer to the action. I am curious. How has that been? Particularly at Kippa where you have resumed as Director of Strategy & Operations?
I have been in for just about a month and there's still a good amount of work that is still at the design stage. But what I am doing to get closer is I get into sessions with customers just to talk to them and understand their experience with our products, so that it is informing the work we're doing on the design side as well.

So, so far so good. It's been one month, and I think I will be able to really reflect on it in maybe three months' time, but yeah, it's exciting work!

I know there are a lot of moving parts but what's like an almost normal day at Kippa for you?
So, in my current role, I have oversight of five different functions, people operations, customer success, agency operations, strategy and Kippa Start as well. It's a mixture of business lines and staff functions.

So what the day looks like is we usually have a combination of team standup sessions or workgroup sessions. So we put together strategic work groups, which are like mini projects around particular areas that we need work to get started on. And the work is a short-term project, where we just need teams, which are separate from our team setups and our squad setup. We need cross-functional teams to come together and design a solution to a problem and implement the solution in under six weeks. So we have our strategic work groups. There are like three of them that have been set up now.

My work is to set up the work groups and then check in on the champions or the leads on those work groups to see how things are going. In addition to team stand-up sessions, that, is of course our own way of keeping up with what the team is working on, understanding if there are any issues, any blockers that need to be addressed, and ensuring that there is an action plan to resolve any issues that have come up.

That usually takes up most of my morning. In the afternoon I am usually in sessions with leadership that's Kennedy or Duke to catch up on what I am doing or clarification meetings with my team members if there's something that has been raised as an action to be done, and they need clarity on how to go about it. The meetings are usually around- here's how it's done. And if there are any questions we trash out, and at midnight, I get into design.

At midnight!
Hopefully, my schedule stabilizes by December. But that's how it is right now.

So what work tools help you make sense of your very hectic schedule?
So this is the first workplace that I will be using Google workspace. I've used Google workspace for one of my consulting clients, but this is the first one in which I'm getting into that suite.
And from a planning perspective, I make frequent use of notes, I use the old school paper and biro at times if that helps me from a workflow perspective, get ideas out faster. And then I just do snapshots. I send it to the team. I'm hoping they don't hate me for that. But that's how I do it just to make things move faster. Most of the time, a lot of notes.

I'm very fond of my note-taking apps because it has helped me dump my ideas very quickly. And then if I share it with the team, they're able to make sense of it. So I use Google keep. I use the Apple note-taking app as well.

From a task allocation, task management and task tracking perspective. What usually happens is once I realized we are using Google workspace and we are using Slack. I try to explore those kinds of tools to the maximum. So on Slack, I'm searching through the bots to see if there are any bots that can help me automate the allocation of tasks or tracking tasks.

Similar to Google workspace. I've not found any good bots during my free time. That’s what I usually do on weekends when I don't have any events to go to. I just scan the internet to find new tools or new productivity hacks to make things move faster. So that's what I do. I'm still in scanning mode. I wish I had a couple of interesting things to share right now. I'm still in scanning mode.

What do you do to relax?
Relax? I take walks actually. Because we are doing half remote, half in the office.I live in an estate that allows me to take walks in the evening. That really helps me relax beyond other things. I try to stay away from things that simulate like television or social media. Those things don't help me relax, they just do the opposite. They spike my energy levels and all of that.

Your role is very interesting. Because a lot of generalists struggle. They feel like, where is the career mobility? I feel stuck. I feel underappreciated. I feel overworked. What is your advice for people who are building careers as generalists across startups and bigger organizations?
Yeah. I remember having this struggle as well because at the time I left school, and you know, what happens when you leave school, people start sending you to apply for this job or go for this interview. And a good number of what was coming was banks, the banking sector. I wanted to do many things, but I knew I didn't want to work in a bank. So I had that confusion that there are a lot of things that interest me,  I'm creative. I like exploring creative things. I do creative writing, I maintain a blog, I sketch, I paint  I have a whole creative side that I explore. But I also like analytical work. Like I get into Excel, I build financial models, Excel models, explore data science, and data modelling.

I like doing a lot of things. I also like the managerial side of things when it comes to people development and coaching people, planning, delegating, and task management. So yes, this was a point of confusion for me at some point in time in my life. What I think helped me through that phase was that it was just really beneficial that I got into a company that allowed me to explore. As a management consultant, you are really not stuck to anything because we had generalist and specialist tracks. I was on the generalist track so I never felt that pressure to quickly fit into one place.

So it gave me the opportunity to test a lot of things. I tested financial processes, marketing processes, and HR. I was just fiddling around to understand them. It gave me a sense of what I really enjoy doing. The funny thing is, even after all my exploration, I still ended up being a generalist.

But my sojourn career-wise is 10 years. Cumulatively it will be 10 years May next year (2023)

Major Milestone!

My advice to everyone is, we are all individuals with a very unique sense of strength. If there's an area that you that working in that stimulates you, it doesn't drain you, you enjoy the work, you enjoy uncovering new information, you enjoy solving problems in that area, just keep moving down that track, keep deepening that track. Don't be caught up in what people are saying. Oh, this track is not so profitable. There aren't a lot of things in there. I've seen people that took the decision to deepen specialization on tracks that people felt there was nothing there. And at the end of the day, they're able to make good careers out of it. Because it turned out that they were able to build a niche for themselves. They were doing things that nobody else had the skills to do but people wanted to be done.

They were in high demand and they were in that niche. So take time and enjoy the journey. Understand that there is a learning curve to this, be comfortable being a fish out of the water. Be comfortable with what we term the imposter syndrome. Impostor syndrome is not you, it's just your brain telling you that it's time for growth. Because imposter syndrome is saying I don't know anything and I don't know anything is the first stage in realizing that there is room to grow. There's something I need to know.

So embrace that whole journey, embrace not knowing how to do things and getting into the process of learning how to do it, because, by the time you step back after it and look back, you'll be able to reflect and realize okay, there are some areas that I enjoy there are some areas that I don't enjoy. But if after like me, you do all of that and you reflect and you realize you still enjoy doing everything, don't worry there's lots of room in the world for generalists like us. I have seen people that have risen to the very top of their career still in generalist mode.  There is always a space for anyone that is a perpetual generalist.

Any final words?
There was something else I wanted to add. Generalists should not feel the pressure to force themselves into specialist roles. Because at your general level you're delivering value. What tends to happen in a business that is full of specialists is that people start to think like silos and there's nobody thinking about the big picture. So specialists are delivering based on their own limited level of understanding, but because you have a broader view, you're able to think of what the business needs end to end and you're delivering very significant value as a generalist.

*This interview has been edited for clarity

Solomon Nzere

Solomon Nzere