The journey of a prosperous business traces a nonlinear path from establishing a market presence to driving growth in the competitive market. The path is certainly arbitrary, but the progression is steady, or it is safe to say that it is made sure of so by competent minds backing each and every decision-making process.
Innovative leaders like Toyosi Odukoya have a strong track record of successfully developing, launching, and scaling business transformation functions in various sectors. Toyosi is a strategy, innovation, and digital transformation leader with 15+ years of experience applying insights and analytics to ensure organizations harness their competitive advantage to drive growth and impact. Currently, she works as a Head of Business Intelligence at Mastercard Foundation.
Prevailing Against Odds
She began her career with a Tech start-up where she learned most of the hard-core technical Business Intelligence (BI) skills. After about a year of working for the startup, she transitioned to Multilinks-Telkom, where she worked as a BI specialist for a few years. After that, she briefly worked for Helios Towers.
In 2011, she began working for MTN Nigeria as a Revenue Assurance Analyst. Toyosi moved to Business Intelligence as a BI analyst about 18 months into that role, and then she became the Geo-marketing Manager within the same team structure, where she was responsible for the regional performance, regional insights, and enabling the sales, commercial, and marketing teams to have adequate data & insights in terms of their performances and areas for opportunities, etc. Toyosi was later promoted to the role of Senior Manager, Business Intelligence and Geo-marketing.
As Senior Manager for Business Intelligence and Geo-marketing, Toyosi oversaw all regional strategic insights and data governance. She also led the team that implemented MTN’s Big Data project, which included about ten Advanced Analytics Use Cases to drive business performance, in-depth insight, and improved customer experience.
Soon after, she was hired as the Digital Transformation Director for Coca-Cola (West and Central Africa). At the time, Toyosi led the team that implemented the Big Data & Advanced Analytics Project, Digital & Data strategy while collaborating with partners to deliver increment volume and value through targeted and precise offerings.
As the current Head of Business Intelligence at the Mastercard Foundation, she has been responsible for developing and implementing the BI and Data strategy, ensuring that it has the necessary data insight to support the commitment and vision of the young people it serves.
But it wasn’t always easy for Toyosi. She had to defy all sorts of challenges to stand where she is today. Sharing her experiences, Toyosi says, “When I first started my career, I faced a lot of gender discrimination because some recruiters thought a man would do a better job, and in other cases, some recruiters thought I wasn’t the right fit because I was young and married.”
She continues, “One instance was when I did not get the job I was interviewing for right after school – I was in the process of interviewing for the position of Telecoms Engineer. After passing the tests and interviews, I reached the final stage when the hiring manager mentioned that if he had known I was a woman, he would not have allowed me to come this far because he assumed I wouldn’t always be available to fulfill the job requirements to the best of my ability. I had also been told in another interview that I was not a good fit because I was married.”
Toyosi was disappointed at the time, but today she is glad that she did not allow her gender to be a limiting factor in her career because she best believes it isn’t!
Aside from gender discrimination, another challenge she had to tackle was balancing work commitments with giving back – being a thought leader, supporting other people, and being out there to make an impact. However, with good and deliberate planning, she makes significant impacts by making the most of each phase of her life.
Making Headway with Coherence
Based on her level and role, Toyosi has been able to significantly contribute to organizations in terms of her impact on the data analytics industry. In the last three years, she has been able to build data analytics teams and strategies from the ground up for organizations, improving and enhancing insight generation and positioning data as a strategic asset for better positioning and impact.
In addition to the organizations for which she has worked, Toyosi has had an impact on several others that are not directly related to her. As a speaker and thought leader, she speaks at both international and local conferences, particularly technology conferences, demonstrating her knowledge and experience of how data and analytics should and can be used to drive a variety of outcomes.
Toyosi shares, “I have also received a lot of feedback and reviews from people, individuals, and organizations who have attested to some of the insights they have heard; I have been able to share knowledge and best practices while also learning from some of these platforms.”
Toyosi is also a role model and mentor to many people. And she will continue to encourage people in data analytics to concentrate on the core of their job and purpose, which is to position data as a strategic asset.
Gender equality is something Toyosi is very passionate about. As a result, she also mentors a lot of women, particularly women of color, in data and analytics, encouraging many of them to enter the field as they desire and to learn how to excel and navigate the space.
In addition, Toyosi serves on the board of the WAAW Foundation and a couple of others, where they work to improve STEM education for African women. These are some of the ways in which she has helped to close the gender gap in data analytics. A strong message that she tries to convey at every opportunity is that data should be viewed as a strategic asset to be used for good.
“We will not allow data to be used for exploitation. We must respect data and people’s personal information,” says Toyosi.
Working in the business intelligence or data analytics space allowed Toyosi to gain early access to a wealth of information about how the drivers of organizational performance interact and are linked. Being able to see the big picture is what Toyosi finds the most inspiring about her job.
She adds, “You can also help people make better decisions by providing insights. What inspires me the most is the ability and opportunity to enable key decisions that have an impact and value for any organization.”
Toyosi is a visionary leader, and she is very particular about being clear about the team’s goal and purpose. Everyone on her team must understand the team’s purpose and strategic priorities. Why are we doing what we doing? and how does it fit into the bigger picture? That is extremely important to her.
Toyosi emphasizes that once that is clear, one can focus on delivering impact and value. This also provides more opportunities for advancement, which is another fundamental of her leadership philosophy. She believes the foundation of all of this is inclusivity and that everyone should have a seat at the table and that no one should be left out.
When it comes to diversity in data analytics, Toyosi believes demographic diversity is crucial. For her, it is critical to have fair gender representation, a wide age group, and a good race & ethnicity mix where the opportunity exists; and when it comes to data analytics, a balanced team requires people from various generations. This is because the approaches for different age groups differ in terms of problem-solving, analytics skills, tools adoption, and so on. Toyosi thinks the key message here is that everyone on the team doesn’t have to look alike or be alike to be a team, but the most important thing is to have an aligned team vision and purpose.
“When evaluating your team, consider what skills are required. Consider the various skills required and ensure that you have the appropriate mix of skills and expertise. A mix of Data Scientists, Data Engineers, Reports Developers/Visualizers, Data Governance Specialists, Database Administrators (DBAs), Data Communications Experts, Project Managers, Business Analysts, Data & Analytics Strategy Consultants, etc.,” explains Toyosi.
Toyosi also thinks technology is critical because it is a key enabler for everything, whether they are processes, system services, product delivery, operations, and so on. Technology has the potential to improve every aspect of running a business or an organization, while also increasing efficiency. However, she exclaims that technology should not be at the forefront of the organization or business.
She says, “Sometimes we put technology first, believing that technology by itself is the solution. The best approach to deploying technology is to first be clear about our organization’s purpose and vision, the processes, services, and products to achieve this purpose, as well as what we want to achieve in terms of efficiency. Once that is completed, technology can be used to enable and make it happen. So, while technology is a key enabler in driving efficiency, it cannot give birth to processes or cultures. However, it is a critical enabler in delivering on the processes, operations, and culture that we have defined for increased profitability and impact.”
Purveying Perspective for the Future
Toyosi believes there will be a lot of big shifts and trends in the data and analytics industry. Starting with the rising adoption of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (A/I). According to her, enterprises will want better data for smarter and data-centric AI. She says when it comes to data-centric AI, it implies that they would need the correct data and stronger data management technology.
This means that the technology used to handle data will evolve as well. Data fabrics, which listen to, learn from, and act on metadata, are expected to gain traction. All the above will also accelerate the adoption of Decision Intelligence which will be a huge development in the coming years, as she sees it.
Believing that Data Democratization will continue to gain momentum; Toyosi says we can expect it to continue and accelerate since the necessity for developing static dashboards will decrease. Following that, she says business users will want more empowerment when it comes to data, analytics & insights; there will be more demand for data and insight democratization, data sharing, and so on. In all of these, Data Governance and Data Privacy will become more important.
She also anticipates the possibility of skills and talent shortages as remote and global opportunities compete for data & analytics Talents.
But Toyosi is already prepared for the said changes, by being aware of some of these trends, and constantly reflecting and reassessing the possible implications and opportunities for her as a person and for the organization for which she works. She constantly challenges herself to see how she can leverage the strengths and value of some of these emerging technologies.
So, in terms of preparation, Toyosi says that one must continue to engage thought leaders, industry experts, internal stakeholders, and even the team, and begin to look at some of these opportunities and work very closely with the technology team to see what it means and how one can leverage them to their advantage.
Also, her objectives for the coming year are straightforward. She wishes to first keep up with data & analytics trends as she continues to participate in many communities: industry communities, data leadership communities, business leaders’ communities, etc. It will be important for her to continuously analyze and reevaluate what the trends mean for her as an individual, the organization she works for, her team, and the industry.
She says, “I will keep reimagining how we work to deliver incremental value to the organization and enable the vision through data and analytics. I will also maintain my commitment to mentoring the next generation of data and analytics leaders and offering accessibility wherever and whenever needed.”
But being a thought leader will also remain her focus as she continues to share her experiences and expertise on as many platforms as she can within fair limits. She further states that her participation as a speaker will continue, as will her learning from peers and industry professionals.
But as of now, Toyosi’s advice to all prospective leaders, particularly business leaders and data and analytics leaders, is to be captivated by the vision of your firm while focusing on understanding the key performance drivers. She believes few impactful initiatives are better than many initiatives with little impact.
Also, she asks them to make sure to show interest in critical business discussions; listen and truly understand people’s pain points, what they’re struggling with; where they need support and assistance; and identify how you can proffer solutions to their pain points.
Lastly, she emphasized the fact that if one needs help, one should ask for it.
Toyosi ends with, “Always learn to ask for assistance. Always ensure you have a sponsor and mentors both within and externally; be open to feedback. Stay connected with people and keep networking right.”