Ajibola ‘Ayana’ Olubiyi, Manager Swe Bar & Lounge, LadybrilleNigeria Personality of the Month

Now you have your fashion business. What next? Well, you have to nurture it and brilliantly manage it so it can be successful. How do you do this? Independent of key business skill sets and practices that you already have or should have, you must also have specific management skills or hire someone who does to help you manage your business. What kinds of specific management skills are you required to have? The skills include first, the ability to be a good decision maker, second, the ability to manage employees and third, the ability to market your business i.e. customer service, setting the right price, advertising etc.

Ajibola ‘Ayana’ Olubiyi, our February 2010 LadybrilleNigeria Personality of the Month, is one woman who knows a thing or two about managing a successful business, especially in a tough business climate like Lagos. A passionate fashionista at heart, Olubiyi is the manager at Swe Bar & Lounge, Lagos. Barely two years old and under Olubiyi’s management, Swe Bar & Lounge has become the go to place for fashion and entertainment industry professionals, celebrities and regular Nigerian patrons. LadybrilleNigeria caught up with our very busy Personality of the Month to discuss and provide you tips on how to successfully manage your fashion businesses.

In our interview, Olubiyi discusses the characteristics of sucessful managers: good decision making, ability to successfully manage employees (clearly defined job descriptions, interview process, hiring, firing and dealing with underperforming employees) and marketing, among many. In discussing marketing, Olubiyi places heavy emphasis on customer service i.e. creating a value experience for your clients/customers that elicits an emotional response and keeps them coming back. . .

A Littie Background on Olubiyi

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Ayana, thank you so much for your time and this interview. Let me start first by giving our readers a little information about your background. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Lagos. I was raised in the UK and Nigeria. I attended Corona Primary School in Apapa, went to Federal Government Girls College, Oyo, St Mary & St Anne, Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire for Secondary school and for college, University of Lagos (UNILAG).

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Do you have any siblings?
Yes I do, 2 brothers.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I am always fascinated with names in general and their meanings. For all of us and especially our non-Yoruba speaking readers, what does Ajibola mean?AAO: It means I woke up to meet wealth.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Very intriguing. We hope you share your wealth with us or show us how we too can wake up to wealth. (laughs) Who is Ajibola? Who is Ajibola Ayana Olubiyi? How would you describe yourself?
(laughs) Superwoman . . .(laughs) . . . a woman of many parts, an extrovert and pretty passionate about the arts, fashion and culture.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: (laughs) Superwoman, you seem to be! You do so much which we will get into very soon. But from one busy woman to another, have you figured out how to balance it all?
AAO: (Laughs)
I wish I could tell you that there was a magic formula . . . (laughs) . . . but truly for me it’s all about prioritizing and delegating, because some things deserve less attention than others.

LADYBRILLE.com: Indeed. The balancing act remains tricky, nevertheless, doesn’t it?
It (does).

Olubiyi’s Career Path Before Swe Bar & Lounge + Managing a Business

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Okay, you are a manager at Swe Bar & Lounge. Briefly walk us through your career path before you assumed your current position at Swe?
I started my professional career as a retail banker then went on to investment banking (portfolio management/stock-broking), took a break went to art school to learn how to make jewelry and here I am running a bar/lounge.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: (laughs) Wow. Interesting where life takes us! Let’s talk about managing Swe. You make it look so easy. But, surely it must be a challenge managing any business much less a high pressured job like yours. How do you go about structuring your day in your role as manager? Walk us through a typical day in your life as manager?
A typical day for me usually begins at 12noon, armed with my to-do list, bar-stock management, meetings with suppliers and vendors, meetings with potential clients, event planning and also socializing.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Socializing! When do you have time to do that . . . when do you find time to answer e-mails, return calls . . . ?
I create the time. Like I said, prioritizing is key because quite a few of those calls and e-mails are with regards to the business.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Gotcha. How would you describe your managerial style?
Authoritative and democratic, at the same time, a bit of a contradiction you’d say but in the Nigerian context a firm hand is required (especially being female) in the industry we operate within.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I know you are one of a very few women in the line of work you do. What would you say is your personal management philosophy?
Price is what you pay, value is what you get . . . propounded by Warren Buffet. I’ve lived by this philosophy since my days in banking. The customer who receives value will always come back.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Solid philosophy and so true. Let’s narrow in on the “value” part of your management philosophy. For the many “boss ladies” and “boss men,” especially our fashion entrepreneur readers, who have to wear so many hats including that of managers, what does a well managed business look like? How do they know they are doing it right?
First and foremost a well managed organization’s reputation would speak for itself, this is external but internally a well managed company has good ratios, inventory ratios and the return on equity. These ratios tell you how well management is performing. For instance, (Accounts Receivable) AR Turnover is indicative of management’s collection policies, procedures and ability. Poor AR turnover may lead to cash flow issues, for example. I also rely heavily on client feedback to know if we are on the right track.

Olubiyi Speaks on Hiring and Firing of Employees

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Part of being on the right track is having the right team to help you deliver the value you speak of. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has said the best advice he can give entrepreneurs is hire slowly fire quickly. As a manager, what are you looking for when you are hiring a potential employee?
The first thing I look at on a resume or application is length of time at previous jobs. We want someone who is going to be committed to the job we are hiring them for. If they’ve had 5 jobs over the last 6 months, I need to know why. There are always circumstances that lead to people quitting jobs after a month or 6 months. We like to know why so we can determine whether this candidate is probably going to leave in 4 months or will stick it out for the long haul. We also look at reasons for leaving previous jobs. If there was a dispute between the candidate and their former employer, we want to know about it. This too helps determine whether the candidate is going to stick around. We want to hire people that are interested in developing careers with the company, not people who just want part time jobs because they’ve got nothing better to do with their time.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: You’ve done your homework, you hire an employee but then he/she is not quite working out. How have you dealt with, for an example, an employee that is underperforming?
. . . The first step is ensuring that all of (our) employees have clearly defined job descriptions and know what’s expected of them. (Our) policy states one verbal warning, three written ones then termination.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I see the authoritative and democratic management style at play. (laughs) Let me take you a different direction. One of the things I know you have been instrumental in doing at Swe Bar is to create an environment and work culture that is “family,” and it extends to your patrons. Share with our readers tips on how to create a similar work environment and culture while still getting the job done?
It’s pretty simple I put myself in the position of the client and treat them the way I’d want to be treated if I were in an establishment like ours.

Olubiyi Speaks on Leadership & Future Trends on Bar/Lounges in Lagos

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: When I observe you and your work, you appear to have the critical elements of a successful leader in your capacity as manager: trust, care, commitment, communication and confidence- you take too many risks with your costumed themed . . . parties not to be confident (laughs). Explain for us why these key aspects of leadership are important in any business?
Thank you (laughs) . . . It’s important for business (entrepreneurs) to have good leadership qualities because businesses don’t run themselves. I can tell you from personal experience that good leadership skills lead to workers who understand what is expected of them and who are encouraged to meet and exceed those goals. Work flows more smoothly and thus more efficiently. Everyone stays focused on business goals, decreasing lost time and effort and productivity is increased.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Every guest that walks through Swe’s door must leave with a good experience and in your case word on the street is they often walk out with a great experience. With Swe’s many events, everything has to go right and if it goes wrong it falls on your shoulder as the manager. How do you plan for surprises or can you?
I always have a plan B because doing business in Nigeria requires that you may even have to have a plan C . . . ”Be prepared that something may go wrong.”

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: What would you say are the trends for bars/lounges in the next five years in Lagos?
Definitely we will see more bars /lounges coming up in the future and I believe with the emergence of well educated owners, attention to detail, improved customer service and themed bars will be the order of the day. I also believe we will be seeing bar franchises as well.

LADYBRILLENigeria: Interesting. What do you think the future and 2010 in particular holds for you?
I wish I could predict the future but I pray to do bigger and better things within the hospitality industry and develop my jewellery label as well.

Olubiyi Speaks on Swe Bar’s Offerings

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Describe the ambience and aesthetic at Swe?
Swe has a warm and homely feel to it, very comfortable and relaxing. In terms of aesthetics, it’s ethnic mixed with contemporary art décor-a bit of the old and a bit of the new.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: What are its offerings during the day?
A quiet get-away spot during the day that’s WI-FI enabled where you can have lunch with colleagues/friends and hold business meetings

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: At night?
Swe’s versatility is its uniqueness because it can be converted into a night club after hours. The slogan “The weekend begins on Thursdays and it starts at Swe” is no joke, because on Thursday nights with the live band the atmosphere is electric, Friday nights are the club nights with our in-house DJ and celebrity Guest DJs from time to time, Saturday nights are usually when events are held otherwise its old school music night and karaoke on Sunday is the business with a library of over 3000 songs, including Nigerian songs.

LADYBRILENigeria.com: You seem to have an open invitation to artists and fashion designers at Swe; not just the big names but emerging ones too. How important is the presence of a place like Swe Bar & Lounge in Lagos for Nigeria’s fashion and entertainment industries
We’ve positioned ourselves within the top category within bars and clubs in Nigeria and we’ve always supported arts and culture and we pride ourselves on the relationship we’ve been able to develop within that sector with its participants and we place a lot of value on them, likewise we believe they place the same value on us.

Ms. Olubiyi Speaks on Online Marketing & Upcoming Valentine Events at Swe

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: When it comes to social media, especially for a club/lounge in Nigeria, nobody does it as well as Swe and specifically you Ayana. You are on it with Facebook! Tell us how you have been able to use Facebook, for example, for the online marketing of Swe Bar events. How successful have your online marketing efforts been?
Why thank you for the compliment….We created a group page which has over 3000 members and is constantly updated with photographs of our regular nights and also of events and info about happenings at Swe. I must confess the online marketing efforts have proven to be very successful. The feedback is awesome.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: How much of your time goes into mapping out and executing a sales and marketing plan for Swe Bar for each event?
That depends on the various factors required to create the event. If its solely a Swe initiative it usually doesn’t take that long but with regards to external inputs it may take longer as sometimes set deadlines with the externals are not met.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I know you always have so many themed parties whether Halloween, Thanksgiving and so much more. What are Swe’s plan for Valentine’s?
We are hosting a Valentine’s party with a different twist that’s all I can say for now. Don’t want to let the cat out of the bag . . . (laughs)

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: (laughs) Awww! Fine. That’s fair. For our Nigerian fashion industry professionals worldwide who might be interested in renting out your venue for an event, what is the process like?
It’s pretty simple when contact has been established, appointments are scheduled and we meet with the potential client, each event is weighed on its merit and we look to see if it falls in line within our policies and brand.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I like that it at the end of the day events must fit with the Swe brand and company policy. Brand compatibility is so important. Where can they reach you or a Swe representative?
We can be reached via various mediums, facebook, twitter, telephone calls, e-mails and at the bar. Soon it’ll be possible to reach us via our website.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Thank you so much Ayana! Any last pearls of wisdom to those looking to follow your foot steps?
Arm yourself with knowledge about the industry you operate within, that’s pretty important and treat your clients the way you’d want to be treated.

LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Thank you!
Thank you too for the honour

~Interview by Uduak Oduok
~Courtesy Photos

Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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