Happily married to Engineer Rotimi Benjamin Abitoye, Dr. (Mrs) Olubukola Abitoye is a serial entrepreneur, author and Chief Executive Officer, Digital Space Capital. They have been married for 20 years. On December 18, 2022, the couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and had a vow renewal ceremony with dignitaries present. They share fond memories in this interview with Owambevibes magazine …
Owambevibes: Congratulations on your wedding anniversary. What prompted the vow renewal ceremony after 20 years of marriage?
Bukky: Destiny will always have its course. God’s grace has always worked for me at every stage of my life. One of the best things that has happened to me is my husband. Where people see negativity, my husband would see positivity and push you to do it.
Owambevibes: When did you meet him?
Bukky: I met him as a very young undergraduate. When I fell pregnant, he was ready (he was already working) and then, we got married. I was an undergraduate and most of my friends were saying it was too early. But we went ahead and had our beautiful wedding—most of my friends and course mates were present. I would always give kudos to my husband for the success I experienced in my career as a banker and now that I am into business financing. Most (Nigerian) men would have been skeptical about my transfer to the marketing department due to the negative tales floating around about that department. But, not my husband. He encouraged me all the way. He believed in me more than I believed in myself. He trusts, respects and treats me like a queen. He had and still has my back 100 per cent. These and more are the reasons I walked down the aisle a second time in my wedding gown. As a banker then, I accepted to go to marketing because I knew I was going to be adding value while also building myself. So, my determination, my husband’s encouragement and God’s grace made it smooth sailing for me. I took every opportunity I was given and made something of it. Many didn’t even know I was a youth corper because of the way I carried myself, not waiting to be told what to do before doing it. At the end of my service year, I was the only youth corper that was retained. So that was how I found myself in the banking industry and I would say it is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Banking opened my eyes to other aspects of finance. Within five years in the industry, I was made a manager in the United bank for Africa, UBA. I believe this is what I was destined to do.
Owambevibes: Your growing up must have been interesting
Bukky: Yes, my growing up was beautiful. It was a mix and a blend of all. I was born into wealth. As you can see my name is Olubukola- Olu means a very strong personality in Yorubaland, while Bukola means you are born into wealth. My father was an educationist, and had a publishing firm. I was the favourite of everyone especially my dad and he used to call me ‘Queen’. However, he passed away when I was at age 5.
Owambevibes: What are your fond memories of him?
Yes, very interesting and memorable. When I was in nursery school, my dad would pick me up from school after classes and take me home so I could have a change of cloth. We would then go to a restaurant to eat in the afternoon and go to his office from there. Most of the things I do he used to do them. He paid attention to details. And I can remember vividly that our house was home to everyone. We had a lot of staff in the house. Many people used to come to our house for help. But, along the line when we lost him, the whole thing changed.
Owambevibes: How do you mean?
Having to wake up as the daughter of a billionaire where you have everything going for you and suddenly everything changed. Family came in. My mum had to face everything. I was the only one at home with her. Others were in boarding houses. So, I witnessed a lot of drama. My father died without a will. He died at 49 and the family rushed in. His elder brother came in the very first week he died and went away with his best car. There was a lot of family pressure because they felt oh billionaire huge money must be involved without considering his entrepreneurial life. My Mum had to face six children. At a point, my mother was duped of all her belongings. Trust me! I give it to her. There was no day we asked for something that she won’t provide. No. She would sort everybody out. Amidst all these, she did not remarry. She stood with us to make sure we had quality education, and enviable morals and values.
Owambevibes: How have those experiences shaped you?
Bukky: Those experiences really shaped my life because early enough I saw the good part of life. I knew when we had money and now I had to move into a situation where things were dicey. We could not afford things. I saw my mother struggling. She was into all manner of businesses. But, one thing I noticed about her was that she never failed anyone of us. Honestly, that made me to be so strong. I realised early in life that you are all alone in this journey and that you have to protect your life and your family.
Owambevibes: But, you never went out of line despite the challenges
Bukky: Yes, I never did and this was because of the way we were brought up. For the fact that there was no inheritance spelt out somewhere, it made us realise that we were in this journey alone. That is why opportunity is very important to me as an individual. I would tell you that going into primary school I had already made up my mind that I was going to succeed. That whatever it would take considering the opportunities that come my way, I would succeed. Already from day one, I would say to myself this is what I want to do. Back then in school, I told myself I wanted to become the Senior Prefect and I went to science class for this purpose because senior prefect only comes from science class. And I eventually became the senior prefect.
Owambevibes: What are the traits you took from your parents
Bukky: I would say I am blessed. I am not really privileged to know more about my father because I was five years old when he died. As for my mother, I doubt if I can even match her energy. She is going to be 80 this year. She works like a 50-year-old person. She is very industrious. She had a supermarket while we were young. There, we worked like every other person. If I want to spend additional money, I would have to go to there and work. These things really helped us. I only thank God for the grace because there was no father and nobody to guide me.
Owambevibes: You already knew you would be in accounting field?
Initially, I was looking at studying Law but because my mum was duped I got discouraged due to how the system in the country could not help with a quick fix. If not for this, I know I would have become a very good lawyer. Accounting was the only option I saw when I got to Ondo State Polytechnic, with the mindset of going to the university thereafter. From there, I went for my Internship and I was taken to the treasury department, where I was privileged to be going to banks almost everyday. The way bankers were dressed in suit and jacket piqued my interest. When I finished my internship, I crossed over to the University of Ife to study Management and Accounting, which is something I love so much.
Owambevibes: How has the journey been so far?
Bukky: It has been awesome. Even when I left the banking industry, I mean commercial banking for a while, five years ago, I knew I would still remain in the finance industry because like I said before, banking opened my eyes to other areas of the industry. When I was leaving, I was told that if I ever change my mind about returning to banking, I should consider UBA. They saw I was adding value, I was being used to revive moribund branches and I was delivering and getting promoted despite the fact that the bank hardly promotes its staff. No one was influencing my promotion, my work spoke for itself. I won several awards and got recognition.
Owambevibes: Why did you leave?
Bukky: I had a target to leave paid employment at a certain time and set up my own thing. But then an opportunity came to work for Dr Taiwo Afolabi, the chairman of SIFAX Group and I had to put my own dream on hold.
Owambevibes: Was somebody else’s offer more important to you than fulfillment of your own dream?
It wasn’t an offer I wanted to go for initially, but it was a challenging opportunity and being one that loves challenges, I took the offer out of respect for him and to also build my entrepreneurial spirit in me. I was a friend of the family and together we had done some projects in the past, one of which was the Lagos Marriott Hotel. He was like a big uncle to me and we had both supported each other, so I felt obliged when he made me that offer. In fact, I was on my way to Harvard courtesy Keystone bank as one of the best three business managers when he gave me that offer. Besides, I don’t thrive in comfort zones, I like to do things that challenge me. I was beginning to get too comfortable as a banker. And having trained myself to be a solution provider, I saw it as an opportunity to provide a solution where it was most needed. So I started Sky Capital, a finance house for Dr Taiwo Afolabi. I established it from nothing to what it is today. I had an agreement with him to help him build the company for two years by which time I would have clocked 40 and that would be the end of my paid employment. We both agreed on the sharing formula as well even though it was not in black and white. It was a lot of work. I started the company inside a container in one of his buildings in Ikoyi, Lagos. I had no life. I ate, breathed and slept Sky Capital.
I actually formed the name of the company, I did the registration and built the company like mine. I put in my blood and sweat. People say they give 100 percent to a task, I gave it my all. I did jobs that should have been outsourced, free of charge. When I started the company, I told Dr Afolabi not to give me any money. I was able to bring in money from trusted clients I had built over the years while in the bank. One of them gave me $400,000 to go trade with. That is not ordinary. He had immense trust in me. In one year, with what me and my team achieved, you could hardly believe that Sky Capital was just a year old. The growth of the branches in other African countries like Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Sierra Leone was magical. Indeed, people marvelled. After a year, from the money we made, Sky Capital moved into its own building in Victoria Island. At some point, the Nigeria headquarters was making over N100 million monthly and when I was handing over, I declared about N1.5 billion profit.
Owambevibes: Did you complete the two years you agreed with Dr Afolabi?
Bukky: No. I left a few months before the stipulated time. I walked away with my head held high. I needed to keep my integrity which I don’t joke with and my sanity intact. I didn’t get my entitlements and what we agreed on which was unfortunately not put down in black and white. I had thought that whatever I got at the end of my time with him, including what I had kept aside for my own thing would help me to launch my own thing. But God’s ways are not our ways. I had to let peace reign, I didn’t want to make too much noise because our industry is a very sensitive and highly regulated one and one needs to be very careful in everything one does. Money isn’t everything, with time, you will have it in abundance as long as you keep doing the right thing. Don’t burn bridges, trust God and all will be well. I did get his blessings though.
What did you learn from your time building his business?
Bukky: I discovered that some well-to-do individuals are just not willing to build people. I believe in shared success. If my staff is not looking well, it is a problem for me because I pay them well to look good to project the image of the company. If there is a problem with them, it is a chain reaction, it will affect the business. So I try as much as possible to prevent that from happening. That however does not mean I condone laxity; you can’t work with me and epitomize laxity. Also, I am happy for the experiences I garnered building Sky Capital, whether good or bad. You can’t buy that and that is what helped me to build Digital Space Capital.
Owambevibes: So how did you launch out into your own?
Bukky: It wasn’t easy. I had to sell some of our properties with the consent of my husband who believed so much in my dream. He encouraged me to sell his shares and that of our children just as long as I assured him I will make a success of my own thing. I got a room where I paid a little below N300,000. That was where I started from with just my personal assistant and another staff member. A few months later, I added another room and the number of staff increased to five. In four months, we got two other offices. In six months, we took the entire wing of the building and in one year, the Lord gave us our own building. I have not come to play.The finance industry has not seen anything yet. I plan to become a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
Owambevibes: What is Digital Space all about?
Bukky: It is a finance services company that provides seamless solutions in asset management, corporate finance, and business advisory, on-lending, forex services, brokerage and dealings, crowdfunding and aggregation. We operate a microfinance bank called Olofin Microfinance bank with over 200,000 customer base. Before the end of the year, we would have completed the rebranding to be called Digital Space Microfinance bank.
Owambevibes: What is your vision for it in the next five years?
Bukky: We are a little over two years old but already looking like we have been operational for seven years. In the next three years God willing, we will become the first digital bank in Nigeria, Digital Space Bank. We will do everything that a commercial bank does but without brick and mortar. Our vision cuts across African countries. Sierra Leone has given us a license to operate a bank and that will be one of our first projects this year. We are moving to Senegal and Morocco too.
Owambevibes: In all the years you spent in the banking industry, what is that one thing you found to be the most valuable asset?
Bukky: Relationship. I still do business with my bosses of many years ago because of one thing, trust. While I was in the bank, I gave out close to N40 billion naira in loans and none of the people I gave those loans to defaulted. I had a clean record before I left. Because, in giving out depositors’ money as loan, I am more particular about how the money will be returned. I didn’t give out the loans and went to bed. I worked closely with the recipients to ensure the loans were repaid. Of course, I am not saying it was all smooth sailing, because you would encounter problems, but it is the ability to envisage those problems and work out multiple ways to tackle them that makes you successful.
Owambevibes: You mentioned your love for fashion earlier on. Did you develop this any further than just wearing nice clothes?
Bukky: Well, I am passionate about the arts. I draw. Whenever I am tired, I draw. It sort of revives me and calms me. I am into interior decoration. They are things I do effortlessly. I also have a marketing communication company. I consider it an extension of my father’s business which was printing. That is what sent me and my siblings to school. I remember we used to go to his printing press to do holiday jobs and earn some money.
Owambevibes: Why did you float your foundation?
Bukky: The Florence Modupe Foundation was floated in honour of my mother who single-handedly raised me from the tender age of five, after the demise of my father. The foundation was unveiled on my 40th birthday. The foundation takes care of widows, children.
Owambevibes: You sound like you may consider running for political office in the near future. Is this your plan?
Bukky: Yes, I am looking at running for a political office in the future because I am passionate about people’s welfare but at the moment, I am building a structure that will live after me and stand the test of time. After that phase, I am sure destiny will lead me rightly to my next assignment.