Don’t call it “networking.” Eunice Omole says she’s been able to successfully hopscotch from sales, private equity and investment banking to real estate and now, media, because she has connected with people. There’s a difference, she insists.
“[‘Networking’] sounds like it’s a transaction,” she explains. “It doesn’t really describe what it means to build a relationship.”
Omole says understanding this nuance was the most profound lesson she learned during her stretch on the inaugural season of The Apprentice Africa. After eluding the dreaded “you’re fired” over 18 episodes, she believes she never ultimately heard “you’re hired” because she was more focused on winning tasks than connecting with people.
It’s an important observation considering the plethora of think pieces about whether or not women can ascend to the highest corporate levels and still be perceived as likable. But as social media and videoconference increasingly become part of business culture, “likability” is becoming a critical component of professional success.
“What made [winner Isaac Dankyi-Koranteng] stand out from the rest was how he interacted with other people,” the University of Virginia grad and Cornell MBA reflects. “Everyone cheered for him, loved him, and they ultimately just decided to acknowledge him as the first place winner of The Apprentice Africa. That was a reality check for me, because I know now the power of relationships and building that.”
Making authentic, powerful connections with people in a position to help you achieve your goals begins with identifying how you can help them, she’s learned. “It can start off with an internship, like I did, or maybe reach out to a nonprofit organization and go there, work on a project.”
Omole says this approach was specifically helpful to her when she decided to stay in Nigeria’s most populous city, Lagos (where The Apprentice Africa was shot) and start the communications agency O&M Media. Though her parents emigrated to the States from Nigeria, and she often visited family there, the Washington, D.C.-born entrepreneur says her stints interning and making contacts on the continent helped smooth her transition. “I learned so much in terms of how to do business on the ground,” she says.
Strong relationships notwithstanding, she won’t sugarcoat the challenges of working in Nigeria.
“[Poor] infrastructure, [slow] Internet speed, traffic congestion for hours, gosh, the list goes on and on,” Omole admits. But she speedily points out that obstacles come with every territory.
“There are challenges here in the U.S., as a woman, as a minority,” says Omole. “Every place in the world has its challenges, and it’s up to you as an entrepreneur, as a business person, as someone who wants to achieve a level of success, it’s up to you to make it happen.”
Omole invested two and a half years building O&M Media in Lagos before pressing pause on the business to formally build her media skills at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
“There are [African] movers and shakers who are out there that,” she says she’s learned from professional and personal experience. “And I want to be able to tell their stories.”
To that end, Omole is executive producer of a show called Footprints and another, Africa’s Top 100 Entrepreneurs. Both series highlight those both on and from the continent overcoming obstacles to make improvements on the ground.
“[There are] Africans and Africans in the diaspora who are doing amazing things, changing the continent for the better,” she says. “Who are either going back [to Africa to help], or even where they are in the West, making an impact. You know, driving support for causes, whether it’s water, power, infrastructure or business. I feel like we should celebrate these people.”
Building relationships takes time, Omole is careful to stress. “My network didn’t just happen overnight. It’s been through years of events, friends of friends, colleagues, organizations that you’re a part of.” In other words, there’s no formula for making a connection except tenacity and thoughtfulness. “You just never know what could get you there or who can get you there,” she says. “Identify what your goals are, figure out the path… and then map it out, and you’ll certainly get there.”
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of Powder Necklace. Named among the 39 most promising African writers under 39, Brew-Hammond’s work will be featured in the forthcoming anthology, Africa39.