LADYBRILLE WOMAN OF THE WEEK: Torera (Tori) Abiola, MD Montgomery West Africa

The ‘Ladybrille Woman of the Week’ is a feature on Ladybrille that celebrates women who empower themselves and others, through their contributions and actions, in their local and international communities. These women are intelligent, courageous, confident, and innovative. They strive for balance in their personal lives (whether emotionally, mentally, and spiritually), are persistent, and when they fall, they get right back up. These women honor and stand in their truths. They are business and community leaders, visionaries, and game changers. They are our sisters, aunties, mothers, friends and so much more. They are “Ladybrille” (brilliant) women.

If you are a woman or know of a woman who should be celebrated as a ‘Ladybrille Woman of the Week,’ please feel free to email (editor@ladybrille.com).

This week, we celebrate Torera (Tori) Abiola, the Managing Director for Montgomery West Africa.

LADYBRILLE: Tell us a bit about yourself and the epiphany that led you to your current career path?
I was born in Nigeria and moved to the UK at the age of ten to attend boarding school and stayed on in the UK for my education and first 7 years of my post-degree career, working predominantly in business to business marketing: I sold and developed conferences, financial training, one to one meetings and major congresses.

My first job after University was in publishing/financial training working for a FTSE 250 company in London, selling financial training to African banks, it was a thoroughly entrepreneurial background and I got a lot of responsibility really quickly, being African in UK, I also felt a bit typecast and I wanted to show that I could excel on any platform irrespective of region, I also reached a certain ceiling and plateau within the organisation, and was quite impatient for more – so I moved on..

I left publishing/financial training and I moved into full events industry developing and selling one to one business meetings for a European and North American target audience and then moved into strategic global congresses – and worked for a thoroughly meritocratic American company where I was able to channel my ambition and energy and did really well in terms of sales revenue.

After about 7 years in the industry, I suffered a personal loss, my younger brother, and it turned my whole world upside down, I realised that life was really short, that we tie ourselves up in things we should do, ways we should behave and live our lives by other people’s expectation of us and that really tomorrow is not a given – that money and the latest designer bags when it comes down to it – don’t really mean much.

After that I decided that I wanted to go back *home* and work and contribute to the development of Nigeria/Africa – I also fell in love with South Africa on various business trips there and wanted very much to experience South Africa.

The next 4 – 6 years after living the UK would be a combination of working on my consultancy in Nigeria and South Africa developing events, with a short stint in branding department of a major global pharmaceutical company.

LADYBRILLE: Share with us some of your accomplishments so far in your career?
Wow – for me every time I finish an event and it runs! It’s a major accomplishment. But if I had to choose it would be the past year or so and my current role as Managing Director for Montgomery West Africa this would be my greatest achievement to date and it really allows me to tap into all the experience I have had in different roles leading up to this.

Through this role I have been able to articulate and live out my passion for Africa’s development by creating events which have a direct impact on the region’s economic development. I am really passionate about learning and giving people the opportunity to go to the next level in their careers, my personal career development has been based on people hiring me and taking a chance on me and allowing me to stretch myself and go to the next career – it’s really important when I work with people that I know that our projects have a career development element. It means that I will also give my colleagues and partners a bit more that what they are comfortable with or used to because I am total believer in the ability of the human spirit to constantly innovate and create

LADYBRILLE: What are the goals you have set for yourself this 2014 and what exactly do you need from the
Ladybrille entrepreneur community to help you accomplish them?

In 2014 we (Montgomery West Africa) are curating Africa Rising Week which is part of the International Festival of Business www.ifb2014.com – an event which is billed as the largest gathering of business people in the world in Liverpool. It is endorsed and has the backing of David Cameron, Liverpool City Council, EU and our media partners include FT and CNN.

I am keen to showcase to a global audience what is great about Africa, Africa’s recently found sense of self-determination and really create a week where everyone who is concerned or has significant interests in the region from a business and creative perspective can connect in one place.

In 2014, we are following up on WOWe (Women of West Africa Entrepreneurship) for the second year and want to create a membership of Women entrepreneurs with interest in West Africa, we are launching WOWe in South Africa, creating a platform for women entrepreneurs from Southern Africa and West Africa to collaborate and learn.

I would love to hear from your entrepreneurial community who are interested in developing women entrepreneurship endeavours in Africa, and also those who are interested in a global African platform to showcase what is great in Africa in terms of trade and investment opportunities, fashion, skills development, entrepreneurship at Liverpool.

I also would love to hear from artisans, event professionals, who have ideas or interests in developing or working on massive exhibitions and conferences in the West African region.

LADYBRILLE: What part of you are you yet to say “yes” to?
I think the part of me which lives to serve and totally transform the lives of Africans who still don’t have access to education – I would really love in the future to dedicate a large part of my life to that endeavour. I pray that through work and hiring we can do more in the skills development area, but I really want to do more around this.
Also the creative academic in me, I still want to pursue further studies in Anthropology and African Literature as well as write more myself in the future, I hope I have time to do this!

LADYBRILLE: Health is so important but often many brilliant women simply neglect self because they are always so busy serving others. How are you taking care of your health?
That is a good question, I make it a point to not over extend myself socially – so I take time for myself in the evenings and weekends to rest, learn, read do the things I love to do, and in my own space.
It means that I am not the social butterfly and often have to say not to social engagements, BUT I feel it gives me that balance to clear my head and recharge. I could definitely improve in terms of physical exercise and that will be a goal for 2014!

LADYBRILLE: What is the conversation you believe that we as women, and particularly African women, need to be having collectively?
The conversation about self-determination – what are the tools we need to have more control over our economic independence and future, what can give us the foundation and confidence to have more control over our financial lives., and create financial legacies for our children and their grandchildren.

LADYBRILLE: What is it you hope, when you look back on your life, you never regret not doing or being?
I hope I never let fear get in the way of me realising my dreams and listening to my instinct, every time I have moved ahead of myself, outside of my comfort zone, totally listening to my instinct and inner voice and chasing my dreams I have had immense sense of personal fulfilment and increasingly support and recognition from others. I hope I lived a fearless but purpose driven life.

LADYBRILLE: How do you define yourself, the Ladybrille (brilliant) woman?
As my mother’s daughter, a lot of what I have achieved is really based on the support and training I received from my family. I always feel that I am not just myself but a reflection of my family their values, struggles, aspirations and success – that is my north star and guiding energy – and I believe that is what makes me brilliant. My mother and members of my family taught me how you can always be so much more that you seem on paper or allegedly know – that with faith, hard work you really can be anything.

LADYBRILLE: What is the most important advice you can give a fellow young woman reading this who is inspired by your accomplishments?
To work hard and to be fearless. I cannot express how much a great work ethic can set you apart from your peers and set a great foundation for you to realise your dreams. irrespective of your personal challenges and obstacles people always respect and recognise hard work. You also have to be fearless and have a trust in God and Universe for whatever dream and passion has been planted in your heart to go for – it is not always clear how this will work out, and it is often not quite how you imagined it – but you just have to hang in there. 70% of success is life is just showing up!

International Festival for Business 2014

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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