Meet our WTP6 Alumna Tolulope Ayeni, who is Head of eCommerce Product Management at Rexel. In this interview, Tolulope shares her views on maximising potential, mentoring as a management tool and the value of diversity in the workplace.
Interviewed by Juliana Cantin
Your current role at Rexel ranges from ensuring the customer experience to data analytics and management. These responsibilities are all vital and all interlinked. Could you tell us more about your daily responsibilities and how you manage to practically prioritise the different strands without becoming overwhelmed?
My mindset is that I have one job made up of many different aspects. The main job is ensuring our customer experience is top notch and that we are delivering rapid business value to the market. I am in daily contact with my team to achieve this common goal as our constant vision is to ensure that our customers “convert”. This involves managing up, down and horizontally, and so I work with business owners, my peers who are managers of designers and architects and my own team. My work involves numerous meetings cutting across different continents and time zones, ranging from the Pacific, Europe and North America. The thing that holds us together is that we are all working towards the same objective
You specialised in tech at a young age and as your primary degree. What attracted you to the tech industry initially and have you found what you were expecting?
I was introduced to tech by a relative who you could call a “geek”! I became one too as I was interested in the software he was creating for games, and I found this to be a lot of fun. What attracted me is that I was able to look at a problem and find a solution. This is what has kept me going throughout my career. I would say that problems are our friends because they help us innovate and we will never run out of problems that need to be solved! This is what I was looking for initially and this is what I continue to find daily.
You have achieved so much, often managing to study whilst holding down a demanding job. What drives you forward, and do you have a longer-term career objective that you are able to share?
What drives me is that I believe that everyone has a potential in them and if we do not exploit our potential we will always live below this level. I know that I need to continue to learn to maximise my full potential and therefore I am always excited about learning. I learn about other subjects too such as finance, marketing, law and medicine because I believe that is what my brain is for.In terms of career progression, I enjoy management and leadership so I would love to lead larger teams whilst continuing to look for solutions to problems at all levels. Working with a huge number of teams solving problems every day for instance as a CEO or on a board of directors.
I know that I need to continue to learn to maximise my full potential and therefore I am always excited about learning.
Which are the qualities that you consider to be essential to your current role at Rexel and which other ones, more personal to you, do you think have enabled you to excel at your job?
I understand that leadership is important. Sometimes we think that leadership only occurs when we manage people, but I believe we also demonstrate leadership when influencing others. Understanding this has helped my career at Rexel.
I like to recognise the potential in people and help them to be a better version of themselves whilst fulfilling individual, team and company objectives. I mentor my teams and I constantly tell them that they need to grow whatever age they are or whatever stage of their career they are in. I have noticed age and generation do not matter and people can blossom at any time. This continues to propel me as a leader today. A collaborative spirit means working with different kinds of people whilst being ready to work with anyone and using other people’s expertise to create opportunities.
Mentoring is a relatively recently recognised management tool. Did you benefit from any special encouragement whilst moving up the ranks and, if so, how has this influenced the way in which you reach out to those that you now mentor?
I have benefitted from internal and external mentorship. Sometimes I just reach out to people outside the organisation, and some accept whilst others don’t. In these cases, I am ready to pay for the experience because I know the true value of mentorship and understand that it requires time. This has been a game changer for me. I have also had formal and informal mentors. With formal mentors I have had sessions and with informal mentors I have reached out to them on social media referencing a particular challenge. The WTP programme has given me the opportunity to work with great leaders who are on the board of directors or who have worked in politics.
The knowledge and wisdom of these people is incredibly valuable. I have heard you can go far and see far if you stand on the shoulders of giants! And of course, you can go faster if you ask people who have already been in a particular situation. I push people to take advantage of mentorship because you can learn so much in just one session and this can save time and anguish.
I don’t think I will ever get to the end of my mentorship journey as I believe that in life you always need a mentor, a sponsor and a role model. You can learn from different people depending on your stage of life and career so CEOs can still have a need for mentors.
The knowledge and wisdom of people is incredibly valuable. You can go far and see far if you stand on the shoulders of giants!
How has being part of the Women Talent Pool (WTP) leadership programme impacted your way of thinking and management style? And why do you think it is important to network?
It has had a tremendous impact especially because I have understood about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment in which we operate. Deciphering complexities daily requires leadership skills. I didn’t think networking was so important and I now understand why strategic networking is necessary for collaborating and advancing my career by ensuring I have more impact inside and outside of the organisation. Personal relations help you understand why people think the way they do, what they are trying to achieve and how you can work together to achieve common goals.
As a young successful African woman how would you define diversity and how important do you think it is that this subject is actively brought out into the open in the workplace?
I think diversity should be at the forefront and not just be a subject of discussion. Diversity has so many aspects such as gender, race, age, background. It is important for leaders to understand all the different types, not just race and gender. We have been talking about the “Breaking the Bias” and the diversity of gender but as leaders we need to think of diversity of ideas for all our customers. We need to actively include diversity in decision making and to hire with diversity in mind.
In my team I have diverse groups represented. Diversity is a buzzword but there needs to be deliberate action. It can involve setting specific goals and objectives to engage and make diversity a reality. Rexel is very engaged in diversity, and I am proud of this.
Video edited by Tessa Robinson