Mo Abudu is popular for her infotainment talk show,Moments with Mo, but that’s not the only thing going for her. Her entrepreneurial spirit saw her leave the serene security of a corporate job in an oil firm to venture into the media and own her own television station, EbonyLifeTV,in order to tell her own story of Africa.She tells the story of her refreshingly astonishing journey in this piece. Read on..
You are the first African woman to launch a pan-African TV channel. How did you go from HR specialist to media CEO without having worked in that field beforSe?
In my subconscious, I have always had the desire to rewrite the African story. I always wanted to talk about the issues facing our society. Importantly though, I have always been disturbed by portrayals of African life and people’s perception of Africa. I have always believed that despite our challenges, Africans are a breed of gifted and remarkable people.
I sometimes think that growing up in Kent had a part to play in my decision to go into the world of media and entertainment. I had to always defend my identity and my race, and as such I think I felt a subconscious desire to change the narrative about Africa and the black experience. I wanted the world to understand African history, understand our strengths and weaknesses, and understand the real truth about Africa. We are more than how we are portrayed by the rest of the world, so I wanted to tell our story.
Moments with Mo was my first real foray into entertainment. I think that part of the attraction was that it was a new experience, different from my past work, and so I found it very exciting. But I have always felt that the task of projecting a different perspective on Africa required a big platform. This need for a larger platform led me to the establishment of EbonyLife TV. With hindsight, considering how ambitious my dream was, I have to admit that God’s appointed time is always the best. Today, the establishment of EbonyLife TV is a major milestone in my life.
EbonyLife Films was also borne out of the same need I felt to change perceptions of Africa. African films have moved on from focusing on slavery and colonialism; there are a variety of stories and experiences in Africa beyond that. Yet, movies made in the West have a tendency to focus and narrow in on these issues. Such films end up being box office successes and big winners at the Oscars. This has driven the need to spin our own stories that are relevant to us about the realities of today.
Which specific traits do you think have helped you to succeed?
I believe that, before all my personal traits, God is my number one factor for success; with God, all things are possible. I believe in the power of prayer and having integrity. Beyond that, I believe that following your dreams and hard work are necessary ingredients to a successful career. I am also a big planner, and I believe that I must always be adequately prepared before taking on any task.
I also try to always think outside the box, as innovation is important in every industry, but it is especially important in the media. I am also a very focused and disciplined person, and I believe that having a determination to succeed against all odds has helped me achieve my goals.
Forbes named you as one of Africa's most successful women of 2015. It is a real achievement and means that you would have become a role model for many. Who were your role models?
Growing up, my mother was an important role model, and she played a very important role in shaping my worldview. I also grew up in awe of Nelson Mandela and his role in the South African anti-apartheid movement. Recently, I have been inspired by people like Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton who have fought off societal discrimination to reach the highest heights.
With several women leaders in Europe, and Clinton making a bold bid to bethe first female U.S. president, progress has been made in terms of gender equity. Despite this, there are still very few women in the C-Suite. What do you think is holding them back?
I have always believed that people’s dreams, ambitions and aspirations are valid irrespective of their gender. For me, I feel that individuals should stick to what they believe in no matter what society tells them. Yes, in many fields, there is overt discrimination against women, but a lot of the time it is subtle. Society and culture play an important part in determining gender roles, and women sometimes find it hard to break free from such norms.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am very hands on with any business I am involved in. I like to get involved in every aspect of any project I am on. It allows me to keep tabs on everything that is happening, but I also believe that is important for the leader to be visible to the employees.
Three years after the launch of EbonyLife TV, would you say thatit has made progress in line with your vision?
When we started EbonyLife TV, our vision was very clear: we wanted a TV brand that would be the preferred global network for premium African entertainment by creating original, premium and inspiring content with an African soul that showcases the best of the continent for a global black audience.
It’s been a long journey but I am confident that we are still on the right track. We were recently rated as Africa’s most watched entertainment and lifestyle channel by the youth of the continent and we are expanding our distribution exponentially across the globe. The global demand for our channel is growing daily, all thanks to God and our hardworking team.
Again, we are happy to say that, locally, we are also expanding our operations to more Nigerian cities, including Abuja, Lagos and Calabar. Calabar is our home of drama productions; Lagos our home of entertainment and Abuja now hosts our team of correspondents and production crew covering the Presidential Villa, with plans to bring our audiences news and views in and around Nigeria’s centre of power.
So, I think we have come a long way, yet I believe there’s a lot more to achieve. We are very excited about the journey so far and absolutely trust God for the best as the vision further unveils.
What are some of the key lessons that you have learned along your entrepreneurial journey?
Over time, I have realised that your desire for a certain goal is the most important factor in keeping you motivated. Yet, motivation alone is not enough. You must remain determined and committed to the pursuit of your goal if you want to truly succeed. You must remain committed to excellence. Hard work, prayer, focus and dedication are also key success strategies. As I always say, “If you can think it, you can do it!”
What advice would you give to that young lady who has looked at Mo Abudu and decided that she would like to run her own business?
I would tell her that she must keep asking for what she wants, irrespective of the amount of rejections she gets; persistence is key. But also, it is important to always work with passion: let it consumeand drive you; avoid unnecessary distractions. I would also advise her to surround herself with like minds, and she should always bear in mind and take note of the people who have helped her along her journey.
What common challenges do start-ups face and how do you think entrepreneurs can overcome them?
For start-ups, the biggest challenge is finding the right people to work with – people who believe in your vision and willing to go down that path with you. To find such people, the entrepreneurs themselves have to already have a clear picture of what they are trying to achieve. I always advise people to steer clear of those who I commonly refer to as “dream killers”; they have a tendency to test your conviction, your purpose and your passion.
Once you have clear vision and purpose, the people who can help you make your dream a reality become more apparent, and I am glad that God put several people in my path who helped me. These people I call the “dream makers” have been the catalyst to my success. My life is full of so many dream makers and I thank them all.
Given a magic wand to change anything you could about your climb to success, is there anything you would change and why?
I believe that God has an appointed time for everything. Of course, not everything goes exactly as you plan it, but I believe that following whatever path God lays out for you is the only way to achieve true success.
From VLA to Oakwood Park, Moments with Mo to ELTV, you have worn many hats over the years. What would you say have been the high points of your journey?
Before going into the entertainment and media industry, I worked as head of HR and Administration in ExxonMobil for nearly a decade, where I contributed and learnt a great deal about corporate structure and business discipline, aspects that are very crucial to the survival and sustainability of any organisation. After that, I took the plunge into entrepreneurship to set up Vic Lawrence & Associates for (VLA) the purpose of providing HR services to corporate Nigeria.
In the course of business, we discovered a gaping gap - conferencing and training facilities, which led to the creation of Protea Hotel Oakwood Park, an ultra-modern executive training centre as well as first-class residential and recreational facility located on over one hectare of land in Lekki.
The next milestone was starting my talk show,Moments with Mo, which was the first syndicated talk show in Africa, and for which CNN dubbed me the “Oprah of Africa”. The show has had an impressive guest list that includes past and current presidents – OlusegunObasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, MuhammaduBuhari, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, F.W. De Clerk of South Africa; former US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton; managing director of the International Monetary Fund(IMF), Christine Lagarde; Nobel Laureate,Professor Wole Soyinka; Governors -BabatundeFashola,LiyelImoke, RotimiAmaechi, and a host of other influential people globally.
From Moments with Mo came EbonyLife TV, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Where do you see EbonyLife TV in the next few years?
Right now, our focus is expanding our reach and viewership, and we are trying to develop new content and formats. In the next few years, we want to be among the most popular networks in the world on all platforms.
How do you keep yourself centred?
God, family and friends - those are the key to remaining centred. I am always grateful to God for the things He has done for me. My family, especially my children, are also instrumental in keeping me grounded. I am thankful for the friends who have helped me throughout my life and career.
You have been privileged to meet and to interview many influential people over the years. Is there anyone you would really like to meet and why?
I would like to interview Barack Obama as I find his life story fascinating. He became the first black president of the U.S. at a relatively young age. Before that, he had a successful legal career and served as a senator. I find his story, from his birth, his parents, to his experiences in politics, very interesting and I would appreciate the opportunity to speak to him.
Which of the persons you have interviewed left the deepest impressions on you and why?
My interview with Hilary Clinton was one of the most impressive interviews I had. We spoke on many topics, and I found her insights very informative. I was particularly touched when she spokeabout equality being important to democracy. She said that “there has to be the awareness that people inculcate in their hearts and their minds that everyone in the ballot box, everyone in a democracy, is equal.” Her comments resounded with me.
Chimamanda Adichie recently criticised Beyonce over a brand of feminism that relates everything women do to men. Where do you stand?
I’m not going to comment on that issue, but what I will say is that feminism as a philosophy is always developing and there is room for differing views and debate. The most important thing is that we all, both men and women, work to create an equal society for everyone.
What keeps you awake at night?
My work schedule is 24 hours. So if I am awake, I am most likely thinking about work or doing work!
Lastly, please share, if any, three things (or more) on your wish list that you would still like to accomplish
I am always dreaming and I find myself expanding on the dreams that I already have. So I’m sure there are quite a few of my dreams that are yet to be realised.