”The long journey home: the challenges a returnee can face on their way back to Africa”

”The long journey home: the challenges a returnee can face on their way back to Africa”

“Would you consider a role back in Africa?” asked the Executive Search Consultant.  Adeolu couldn’t believe her ears.  Had all her carefully planned career moves finally paid off?

Whilst she was always hearing at conferences that there was high demand for Africans in the Diaspora, especially those with multinational experience, it hadn’t actually been that easy to make the transition in practice.

At the age of 40, Adeolu Adewumi-Zer is a wife and mother, an avid reader and a long-time runner.  In addition, she now works for the world’s largest Financial Services Group as the Senior Advisor for Mergers and Acquisitions in Africa.  With a clear mandate from the top and an urgent mission to help her company build pan-African leadership, hers is a name many African startups have now begun to note.  But she had to work hard to position herself in a role which would give her the right visibility on the continent.

Adeolu began like many potential Diaspora returnees.  Born in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, the home of the Yoruba, Adeolu moved to the USA at a very young age.  In a small university town of less than 40,000 residents, she stood out in every aspect, with her family home as the only Nigerian oasis in the middle of rural America.

Adeolu chose to embrace her uniqueness, blazing her own path home via Actuarial Science and a semester abroad in Japan.  Graduating with dual degrees, she embarked on a 10-year career with Hewitt Associates, a Human Capital and Management Consultancy, where she focused on advising initially American, and later German multinationals.  This proved to be her spring board out of the USA towards Germany where she later joined the Allianz Group.

Her final goal was always to return to Nigeria, but after all the noise about ‘Candidates from the Diaspora coming home’, the reality was that prospective employers on the ground wanted to see that she had ‘existing networks and contacts’ or had demonstrated her ‘ability to be resourceful in another emerging market environment’.  She had neither, and it seemed that her African passport combined with a Blue Chip career background was less in demand than the conferences had suggested.

She was invited to remain at Allianz to drive a major change initiative in one of its global business lines.  This gave her an opportunity to be mentored by a pillar of the European insurance world, as well as diversifying her experience from Consulting and Human Resources to an execution role which would directly impact transformation of the business.  Recognizing that ‘change management’ experience would be a valuable skill in the African markets, despite the fact she was the only woman and by far the youngest on the management team, she took on the role.

Eventually, success in this role led to a critical move for her, taking on a senior strategic leadership role in Turkey.  This role finally, but instantly, granted her credibility with previously skeptical African players who now saw evidence that she could leverage her broad experience in an emerging market.  Interest in her profile elevated immediately.  She had defined every step of her path, both personally and professionally, from Ile-Ife to Chicago, from Chicago to Munich, and from Munich to Istanbul.  Was she finally positioned right to enable her next move to be back to Nigeria?

Whilst Adeolu has yet to identify a suitable CEO or Executive Level role which will enable her to relocate back to Nigeria, it has been a circuitous journey, worth every step.  With this experience behind her, she would advise candidates in a similar position, not to underestimate the importance of ensuring the content of their experience offers relevant skills to this frontier market, and not to assume that an African passport and Multinational Companies on their CV is enough.

Her future has always been clear; Africa is in her blood and Africa has never let Adeolu go, no matter how far away she traveled.  To add to her joy, she will not return “home” alone, but will be accompanied by her family, including the two young boys who provide yet more motivation to get Africa ready.  When she finally reaches her destination, Africa will benefit from her time away.

If you are interested in discussing how Executives in Africa can support you in attracting candidates from the Diaspora to return into a senior management role in Africa, please contact Richard Putley, Managing Director at rp@executivesinafrica.com

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