Five career tips from Nigeria’s biggest hearted business leader

Olamidun Majekodunmi
11.05.2020·5 min read

With 20+ years of banking experience, Sterling Bank’s CEO, Abubakar Suleiman, shares tips for a  successful career

As CEO of Sterling, one of Nigeria’s biggest banks, Abubakar Suleiman leads with his heart in two ways. One: he’s catalyzing growth for Nigeria with a laser-sharp focus on health, education, agriculture, renewable energy and transportation. Two: for him, humanity always comes first.

Here, Abu – as he’s known to his friends and colleagues – gives his top five tips on how to make it to the top of your chosen career.

1. Decide how to invest your time

Time is your most important commodity. We only have 24 hours a day to spend so we have to decide how to spend it wisely. First, decide what’s important to you. How much time do you want to spend on those things?

You have to prioritize. Do you have enough time to give to all your friends, hobbies and family members? You have to spend some time on rest and exercise, too. Your job takes up a lot of your time.

You can’t improve your skills without time. Time is the single most important thing to invest in your career.

After school, you’ll be forced to make choices between spending time on qualifications or getting work experience. There’s a disconnect today between the skills you get at school and university, and the skills you need in your job.

Our education isn’t giving us what we need to do our jobs well anymore. So, if you have a good first degree, choose work experience. Never turn an internship down because learning how to work in teams and how to collaborate are crucial skills that you can’t learn in school.

Your time is your most valuable asset. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to your career. When I was at the start of my career, I realized I spent about 16 hours a week on football. Not playing football, but watching football, talking about football and researching football players.

I couldn’t give up time with my family and friends, so that had to go if I wanted to invest in my career. That’s the sort of decision and sacrifice you have to make.

The biggest investment you can make in yourself is knowledge.

Commit yourself to learning on a daily basis.

Finding people who are on the same journey as you is a great way to do that.

2. Be good at working with people

Remember that when you’re an intern or at the start of your career, you don’t need to be an expert. People expect you to be passionate and inquisitive, not experienced. If you’re self-motivated and you can work with people with these qualities that will take you far very quickly. These are the major skills you need to be able to succeed in your career. And as you get higher and take on more responsibility, this becomes even more apparent and important.

In the office, you meet all kinds of different people. I wanted to be someone who solved problems and it served me well. If there’s one thing that will endear you to people, it’s that they know they can come to you when they need help. That help can be for absolutely anything: it might be that people know you can help them set up their office space, or recommend a book. It can be that simple. People will always remember and respect someone who solves problems.

You must invest in people, especially the people you collaborate with.

The time that you invest in them is more than worth it because your efforts will come back to you. No matter how junior you, are you must start investing in people now. If there’s an article you want to share, summarize it for your colleagues and send it to them, don’t just send a link!

3. Be an expert in at least one thing

You need to be a mile deep. A lot of people you meet can talk about a lot of things but they don’t have a firm foundation in many of them. The problem with that is that they can’t deal with things when they become complex.

You need deep technical expertise in something. It’s tempting to be a generalist when you start your career, but you need at least one area where you’re a specialist. It could be operations, it could be marketing, legal, or risk management: whatever you’re passionate about. Again, it’s about solving problems. Become the source of knowledge in at least one field so that people know they can come to you to solve their problems in that domain.

4. Always focus on humanity

Numbers don’t make a company. Buildings don’t make a company. I work in a very compassionate workplace and the reason we’re compassionate is because it creates value.

We invest in people.

You can’t run a workplace that claims to be committed to helping humanity without caring about your employees.

We’ve revisited our strategy regularly to make sure that we’re focused on the things that make us human.

Whatever your company is focused on: whether it’s health, education, transport or agriculture, you need to orient your business to focus on humanity. Humane workplaces are essential for the future of mankind.

5. Separate what happens to you from who you are

I have learned to separate everything I do from who I am.

Whatever your successes and failures, you need to define yourself based on who you are not what you do.

Bad things and good things happen to you every day and you go through a lot of positive and negative emotions. You cannot allow yourself to follow those emotions. They are not you. You are what you believe in, what you have committed to and what you follow.

Rejection never ends, unless you stop aspiring. If you stop setting high targets you almost never face rejection. Rejection is proof that you are stretching your limits. Make sure you invest in many things, so a single failure or rejection doesn’t matter among the many things you’re succeeding at or working towards.

Watch the full webinar with Abubakar Suleiman hosted by Nexford.

Excel in your career. Discover Nexford’s programs

About the Author

Olamidun Majekodunmi

Ola is a business development professional and experienced entrepreneur with a demonstrated history of building startups and managing strategic initiatives, particularly in the education and performing arts industries. She is the Country Manager at Nexford.

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