“I am an entrepreneur not a business person. I am more about providing solutions, making impact and changing the world. Making money is secondary and not the direct purpose” __Oma Anona”
“In the midst of changing trends and digital culture, the media icon continues to defy the world of business and social work by pushing herself and her team towards the edge of positive impact. In this interview with Rose Jonathan, she shares her journey into business, social work and the future that lies ahead.”
Tell us about your background and how it might have influenced your business and management skills.:
My name is Marilyn Oma Anona, a native of Abagana in Anambra state. I was born into a family dominated by academicians, civil servants and career professionals. As a matter of fact, I am the first entrepreneur in my extended family. I never had a business background or exposure to business of any sort and I never imagined I would take this path, but then self and purpose discovery happened and well, here we are.
I am the first child in my family and as the first child with inherent academic prowess, everyone expected me to be a medical doctor, but to be very candid despite being a whiz kid, I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. For me, purpose and fulfillment are what truly matters not pleasing anyone, especially when there is so much to life outside academics.
I had a reclusive upbringing where we were not allowed to mingle or socialize. There was no one to learn anything from except from within. Good thing, my dad loves books and would take us to libraries and book shops so I started reading really big books early enough. I remember reading big John Maxwell and Stephen Covey books at 16. At that time, I didn’t understand why I should read such big books but now I do and I appreciate reading them when I did.
In the light of the above, I would say my management skills came as a result of self-discovery and gaining clarity early enough. Furthermore, I am very multitalented. I can do a lot with so much ease, so I thought “why waste all that ability sitting behind a desk doing routine jobs?” So I left my high paying job and wandered off in pursuit of purpose.
About my age, I was born in the late 80s. (Chuckles)
What inspired you to venture into business?
I am an entrepreneur not a business person. I am more about providing solutions, making impact and changing the world. Making money is secondary and not the direct purpose. The desire to make a difference in the world, you know make the world more beautiful than I met it inspired me into the work I do. If you talk to anyone who knows me closely, they will tell you that I value excellent execution and results first before financial rewards. Inevitably, money will come when the impact has yielded fruits.
Ok, please tell us what your work is about and how long has it been on?
OMA LIVING SHOW is a media outfit. The brand started as a talk show on TV, but has since grown wider and bigger to be a media and social brand engaging in real projects aimed at positively transforming and changing our society, by concentrating on the people that live in and make up the society.
Our brand is multi themed and tackles nagging issues, entrepreneurship, celebrating unsung heroes and bringing them to limelight, soft skills inculcation, training and orientation, values, purpose and character orientation; mental health advocacy and awareness; social campaigns; humanitarian activities through a foundation called THE RIGHT STAGE; human capital development, coaching, mentoring and training; entertainment and lots more.
We started in November 2014 and since then, Oma Living Show has produced over 50 episodes in about 4 seasons and is broadcast currently on YouTube. The brand has also successfully carried out several social campaigns such as; The S.A.D campaign (suicide, anxiety and depression) 2018, which provided awareness, education, advocacy and support for listed mental health issues that are the leading causes of suicide; The campaign against jungle justice 2017 to curb the menace and enlighten the public about the need for allowing the police and the legal system do their work and not take laws into their hands; The campaign on sexual assault 2017 to help curb and reduce the high incidence of rape and other sexual offenses that impede human development and endanger lives; The campaign on domestic violence 2016; The campaign on societal vices 2015; and the ongoing campaign on work life balance through the Balance Network.
The Oma Living Show hosts an entrepreneurship award and conference annually. We have done 3 editions already. We are aware that there are people who do great and extraordinary things but somehow are not given enough recognition. In order to combat this, we started the Unsung Heroes Awards. At The Oma Living Show Unsung Heroes Award and Entrepreneurship Conference, we simply celebrate unsung heroes and bring them to the limelight.
It is no doubt that you and your team are working remarkably to enhance the social life of Nigerians. However, we are aware that such work must not be without challenges. Briefly highlight the core challenges you face daily in your work.
To be candid, it’s been one hell of a journey. I am not one of those entrepreneurs who mask their struggles and put up the facade of “I am well and things are smooth.” No! My journey within the first 3 years was hell, no jokes! The challenges are numerous but for want of space, I will summarize them.
First challenge I encountered which led to several others was human resources. The quality of human resources in this clime is poor, and I am not just talking about certificates, hard skills and expertise but soft skills and character.
I started building my brand in November 2014 with the production of my TV talk show. It was the first of its kind in Nigeria at the time. The show was a 5 segment talk show with a live audience and I wanted top quality in everything. I was already very good at what I do having worked at MYTV Africa where I hosted a TV SHOW for close to a year and got many invitations from TV stations to host their shows, but beyond my talent and delivery skills, I wanted to have one of the best TV shows in Nigeria in terms of production. So I and my team set out on the dream. We made enquiries, sought the best but at the end of the day, it turned out to be a terrible experience.
We paid for 5 cameras (all 5D mac 111) which was the best at that time, a well-designed stage, all equipment needed, but unknown to me, the Director of Photography (DOP) planned on using inferior cameras. Not just that, he was using apprentices and I paid for professionals in that field. The production was met with all sorts of haphazard experiences that left me in tears for the 21 days we spent in Lagos producing. For starters, I didn’t need to go to Lagos to produce but I was lured to do so and I caught the hook because I was young and inexperienced. It was sad that I had to experience firsthand how gross the quality of Human Resources in my country is. especially when I was just starting out.
I can’t use this interview space to recount all that happened because that will be too lengthy, but the summary is that the production was below required standard. I didn’t even know how bad it was until I took it to TV stations to broadcast and they kept complaining about the quality. It was a bad start that would have ended my brand. I was affected mentally and otherwise. I mean coming from a background where entrepreneurship was new and I adamantly insisted that I wanted to do this, the setbacks shattered my whole being. Then again, there is the challenge of nepotism, sexual harassment and no fair playing ground for people in terms of getting corporate sponsorship. I mean, my brand has made so much visible impacts. At this stage, we shouldn’t sweat for some things but oh well, you know our society. Guess what though, these challenges have strengthened my purpose and exposed more pressing issues that are in dire need of solution to me. That’s why my major focus is human capital development. As for daily challenges, I see none. Every hurdle just exposes the need for me to buckle up. Life is not a bed of roses and even roses have thorns.
How did you access funding for your business?
My funding is 100% personal. The business grows itself.
People say it is difficult to develop a business in Nigeria, as a Nigerian who has successfully done this, what would you say about this?
I do not consider myself successful yet even though I know that success is an estimation. For me, I am still in the early stage of my process. I like to refer to myself as a child. I haven’t started. I am even still playing. As per difficulties, I won’t describe the situation as regards building business in Nigeria as very difficult. I just think that as a developing country, many of us are just laying the foundation for a better tomorrow. For me, this is the stage where and when we should be giving to the country to grow it. Our children will enjoy the Nigeria of our dream. So I see Nigeria as green and prospective. The multiple problems we have is proof that there are tons of opportunities that need exploitation. Problems need solutions, don’t they?
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing really. I love the organic process of growth. The mistakes shape us better and make us more grounded. Without them, the process would be weak.
In your tough days especially during losses, what inspires you to keep pushing?
The person I want to be inspires me, and then my father, I really want to make him proud. I want him to see me become reasonably great and enjoy my fruits now that is alive and healthy. My mother is no more and didn’t see us grow, so it’s all my father. Any time I am feeling low, I remember him and sob a little then I stand up and decide to try again.
Looking at the nature of your work, would you say your work has alleviated unemployment in Nigeria?
Before I answer this, I will like to mention that I have won so many awards which are organic recognition for the work that I do, and these awards are from prestigious and reputable African platforms.
OMA LIVING SHOW through entrepreneurship sessions, conferences, TV show and social media contents has inspired over 50,000 young Nigerians directly and indirectly to start their own brands and businesses. An arm of the brand does training as a human performance coach, and we also run recruitment for organizations.
Let’s talk about the internet and how it has helped your work. These days, it is almost impossible for businesses to thrive without a strong internet presence. How does this apply to your work?
The internet and the new media (social media) have helped me build my brand 100%. I use YouTube to share my videos, promote them on Instagram and so on. Doing these would have been near impossible without the internet.
What business management skills do you think makes business success easy?
Every skill is important but do not joke with soft skills. A person who lacks the essential soft skills will not succeed in business even if they have all the money. So we all need to build on the soft skills relevant to our niches to be able to succeed.
As a woman in business, how has it been for you especially when some people still believe it is difficult to do business as a woman?
I do not listen to such things. Being a woman is not any kind of handicap. I was born in a family of 6 girls before my only brother came. I was also raised by a man who saw us as limitless beings, people who can be and achieve whatever they wanted. He calls us soldiers (laughs). So there is no special challenge for me that comes because I am a woman. If I face sexual harassment, it’s not because I am a woman but because I unfortunately had to meet an irresponsible person and so on.
Tell us how mentorship might have helped in your work
I do not have a mentor. I have never had one. But I mentor 100s people directly.
Could you paint a clear picture of when you have exhibited leadership in your business?
Every incident in my business is about leadership. I am the founder of my brand and as such the head. I also work with a tech company called ABiT NETWORK as the HR/Overseer and a lot of leadership is required to handle such positions.
The business environment in Nigeria is changing, this means that in order to sail through, you would have to consistently upgrade your knowledge. What management or business trainings do you subscribe to and what is the frequency of your training?
I train myself daily. I read, I attend quality events, I attend trainings, but what has shaped me more is experience and informal learning.
How about staff training?
Being a trainer, I always train the people I work with and also encourage them to not joke with personal development. We should all make efforts to consistently grow and invest in our growth.
What is the biggest business mistake you’ve ever made?
I don’t exalt or dwell on mistakes and as such I don’t calculate or check their weight. Every experience good or bad broadens our view and part of the process.
Did you start off working for yourself or you worked for someone before establishing your own business?
I believe in learning and serving before leading and teaching. I spent time working for people and serving before I decided to be on my own. And the irony is, I am on my own but still serving because a leader is a perpetual servant.
Finally, a word of advice to upcoming CEOs
Embrace the process, you must count 1 before 2. Build your character. Be patient. Keep learning.