Aishetu Fatima Dozie was born in Cambridge, MA, USA and lived there for some years till her family moved back to Nigeria and she was enrolled in Queen’s College in Lagos Her passion for global finance began in the equities division of Goldman Sachs on the international desk in New York. She went on to work for a USAID-funded project with the Nigerian government in its privatization program. She worked closely with President Obasanjo and his economic team of cabinet ministers in crafting the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, which drove several successful reforms including the $18 billion Paris Club debt write-off.
Her passion for demonstrable development impact and understanding the intersection of the public and private sectors ability to stimulate economic growth led her to the World Bank in Washington, DC, where she focused on financing businesses in the manufacturing, infrastructure, and service sectors in regions such as Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and Eastern Africa.
Aishetu has worked for Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered Bank, and Rand Merchant Bank as a senior investment banking executive having closed $130 billion in M&A, financing, and capital markets transactions. Over the past decade, she’s lived in New York, Johannesburg, London, and Lagos.
She founded a first-of-its-kind children’s play and activity center in Lagos and authored a children’s picture book entitled Paloo & Friends in Imaginaria. Aishetu is the founder of African HerStory a series of videos where she showcases the essence of an African woman’s life. She loves writing and is a contributing columnist with Business Day Newspaper.
Aishetu holds a BA from Cornell University, a MBA from the Harvard Business School, and participated in the Leaders in Development Program at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University. Lets get up close and personal with this amazing mom to three superhero sons.
Your CV is pretty impressive and includes a Harvard MBA, how do you think your education has helped you career wise especially being a Harvard Alum
I’ve always been a firm believer in education and the pursuit of learning. I am hugely supportive of people obtaining at least a first degree but it really does depend on your intended career objectives. Harvard Business School (HBS) is an esteemed institution but I also believe that learning occurs within the class environment and very far beyond. I’m still learning and in fact starting a fellowship at Stanford next year for what I believe is my next phase of life. I learned a lot at HBS but mostly I learned how to think strategically. How to connect the dots, often with imperfect information at your disposal. I learned that it’s ok to know a lot about a lot of things and take the time to develop steeped knowledge in only one or two things. That’s what General Management is all about. HBS made me comfortable with knowing that I could develop knowledge in any area that I was interested in and passionate about. I love the world of finance, entrepreneurship, economics, and business in general. These are all pretty broad disciplines and I consider myself able to navigate them effectively and with confidence based on frameworks developed during my time at HBS. I think it’s a place that teaches you how to learn as opposed to what to learn. My HBS education equipped me with the confidence to say that I didn’t know something but could quickly get to the information if given time to do so. It made me understand the value of networks and collaboration as well. It was an honour for me to attend HBS and I believe it is an honour for HBS to call me an alum as well. Especially for professional careers, education provides a good foundation for practical experience to build upon.
Now not everyone can get into an Ivy League college but generally there seems to be a waning focus on more degrees. what advice do you have for a young girl who is looking to strengthen her CV and increase her employability? Are the extra degrees worth it?
This is really driven by personal opinions, beliefs and financial resources. It depends on your career interests as well. Many fields are apprenticeship based so obtaining additional degrees won’t help you climb that specific ladder. I can’t definitely say that if I didn’t have any degrees I wouldn’t be where I am today. The jobs that I got out of HBS I am sure I secured them based on the skills I have developed during my multi-year career in finance. HBS may have played a big role (more from a credentials standpoint) but I don’t want to over emphasize it. You get out of life what you put in. Educational qualifications are key but not the only factors of success. My advice to any young woman looking toward a particular career is to see how those who came before her have done it. I think HBS and Cornell were really helpful to me personally and helped me define how I want to go about distinguishing myself in my career and they completely opened my mind to alternate career options. For everyone it’s different. I am a firm believer in education and I happen to like getting degrees. This is personal for me. I know so many people who are far more successful than I am and they have only one degree or none at all. If you chose to follow a more traditional career path such a law, medicine, banking, etc., you have to obtain those professional qualifications and each additional degree serves as a required credential. There is a reason for that. There are several career fields where formal education isn’t required as well. I have found the two degrees that I have to have been worth the financial investment and time.
You have a wealth of experience in investment banking ,was this a career path you choose or did you somehow find yourself there?
My mom is a banker and has been for a number of years. She steered me in that direction and I’m grateful to her for doing so. In the early days it’s incredibly tough to survive as the hours are insane! Nonetheless, I love the world of global finance and I think bankers often get a bad rap. If you genuinely understand how the financial markets – both private and public – catalyse growth, you will appreciate the critical role that bankers play in our economy. I enjoy working with my clients to solve their financing and strategic needs. I love watching businesses grow from small to medium to large to massive. It’s exhilarating and banking puts you front and centre.
You are also a children’s author which is something I find exciting as I author children’s books as well. What motivated this creative side of you and are we going to get any more books from you in the future?
I’m not sure I enjoyed anything more than I did writing Paloo & Friends in Imaginaria! I locked myself in a room for weeks, writing and editing mock-ups from the illustrators. I loved every moment of it. I loved crafting the story and then seeing it come to life on my computer screen. It made me seriously question whether I was truly an extrovert. I loved those hours alone in my tiny office! I love writing. I started writing fiction when I graduated from college in 1997. However, I am completely intimidated by the whole process. I love reading just as much as writing and each time I read a good book I tell myself how I could never create something that good. Not a great habit but I am honest at least! I currently write articles and opinion pieces. I’d love to write a book and a TV series or short movie one day. Who knows?
Tell us about Herstory and what inspired that? How has it been so far?
I can say that 2016 was a very tough year for me. I think I was running too fast on the treadmill and didn’t see any movement in my life. I started to reflect and talk to my friends. Many of us felt the same way. Two steps forward and two steps back. Busy being moms, wives, daughters, bosses, friends, etc. It was exhausting yet we felt such a privilege! The dichotomy was puzzling and I wanted to capture the full spectrum of women that I saw – professionally accomplished regular women. I thought that we weren’t represented well enough in the media or in the consciousness of young girls. I wanted to showcase women who were hardworking and were climbing their way up the ladders of life and work. It was this balance which I had hoped to show to be utilized as a learning mechanism. It’s so much easier to aspire when you see that it has been done before.
I’m so thankful to each of the women who have participated in the project. I can’t thank them enough. To partner with a banker on a digital media project is certainly a leap of faith and trust! I’ve received such encouraging feedback from women and men who have been inspired by the women we’ve featured. I’ve enjoyed the entire process and I’m looking forward to delving deeper as we progress. I’m really grateful to everyone who has supported me in this endeavour. I’m just going along as I choose. I thought it would be pure if I didn’t have a plan but just kept stepping out in faith and saw where I was guided. So I can’t tell you where I’m going with this because I don’t know.
Now you seem to have our hands full, mum, wife, banker , story teller! How on earth do you do it all ?
I don’t know – is the short answer. I am winging it as I go along. It’s not easy at all though. I am often tired and so I put myself at the top of my “care” list. Mental, physical, emotional, etc. I need to be healthy to do all the other stuff that is required of me.
Essentialism is something I talk about often. You can’t say yes to everything or everyone. I decidedly have less friends and confidantes because there isn’t enough time in the day to be “good enough” for everyone. I say NO a lot. To myself, my children, my work, etc. I just take each day as it comes and prioritize. My husband is great at reminding me that if it’s not “hell yes, then it’s hell no.” That’s my philosophy. I am far from perfect and drop balls all the time but I focus on the glass balls and keep those in the air. I let the rubber balls drop when necessary and then pick them back up again when I have the capacity.
Up close and personal! you are in an intertribal marriage and as a detribalised Nigerian I love the idea of marrying across the nation. How has it been learning about a different culture ? Also tell us a funny remark that has been elicited from hearing your name
My Father is from Niger and my mother is from Edo and Osun states. I was raised as a Nigerian and don’t have an affinity to any particular tribe to be honest. My husband is 100% Igbo and in this fact he is proud. His parents are also 100% Igbo but they have love for all tribes. I have an in-law who is Esan and Yoruba and then there is me the mutt. I have never felt “different” or other in our family. I’ve just been one of the daughters welcomed into a tribe of five men! We have recently started spending our end of year holidays in the East and I really love the time that we spend there. It is clearly different from Lagos but I love that my children get the opportunity to connect with “home.” I have to say that it’s non-family members that remind me constantly that I’m “Hausa” (I’m actually Nupe from Niger state) and not Igbo. Every time people hear my full name I get this quizzical look. The other day I was in the supermarket and I called out to one of my sons and the lady at the cash register was shocked that they were Igbo. I don’t understand the surprise and each time I laugh at it. I didn’t marry my husband because he’s Igbo but what it has done is make me more curious and empathetic to some of the issues Igbo people have tackled over the past decades in Nigeria. I get it and I feel it too. One day I was at the international airport and the immigration officer asked me why I had a name like Aisha alongside an Igbo name. I explained the obvious to him. He said he had never met a Hausa girl who was married to an Igbo man before. I told him that I wasn’t in fact Hausa but Nupe and he said “stop trying to exonerate yourself from your actions.” I was bemused and kept silent. He didn’t want to hear what I had to say and I didn’t want to educate him. I thought it was funny yet sad.
With your busy life how do you relax and have me time ?
Like I said earlier I put caring for myself on top of the list and one way I do this is through my love to travel. It’s my single greatest hobby. I am most relaxed when I am somewhere beautiful with my family.
Thanks so much Aisha, wish your all the best in your future endeavours.
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