Chika Uwazie helps small and medium businesses find the right people and scale up with more sophisticated human resource systems in Nigeria’s booming economy.
Nigeria is projected to add no fewer than 200 million people to its current population of 196 million between 2018 and 2050. The country is also expected to surpass the United States (US), according to a 2019 Nigerian economic outlook report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). With such a swell in its population, the need to find the right talent has become a strategic imperative for organizations.
That is where Chika Uwazie comes in. The 31-year-old tech entrepreneur helps SMEs automate their human resources (HR) tasks to ensure they have the right processes in place to help them scale and be successful. Her own journey to success has been far from easy. The Georgetown University graduate, who spent 10 years as a competitive cheerleader in the US, made the decision to relocate to Nigeria after her little sister died due to complications from sickle cell anemia.
“When everything happened with my sister, I was at a crossroads. I had finished Georgetown and when you finish from a big school like that, you go into consulting with one of the big four. I said I don’t want to do that because that was not enough. I used to always get excited and light up when I spoke to my sister and we spoke about potentially starting something in tech and building a tech company,” says Uwazie.
After her sister’s death, Uwazie decided to take the leap and build a company that was not only profitable but also made an impact. She started a tech company called TalentBase, a HR software company that provides an affordable and easy-to-use HRM platform solution enabling HR managers and growing businesses to simplify and organize their HR processes. Uwazie was determined not to let the vision she shared with her sister die. But first, she needed funding.
“As you know, it is very hard for black people to raise money in the US, the bars are extremely high. I felt it would not necessarily be easier in Africa but I felt I would have more support if I came back to Nigeria to start a tech company and so that is why I came. And I felt like I wanted to have an impact. Tech is so oversaturated in the US and I felt like in Nigeria, there are so many things that need to be done.”
After almost a year of knocking on the doors of prospective investors, Uwazie got her big break through a colleague at Google who connected Uwazie with 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, which provided funding and support. The program required Uwazie to stay in San Francisco for six months, after which she was able to successfully raise more angel investment a year later to scale her business. This year, Uwazie stepped down from the CEO position at TalentBase to move on to her next venture, Career Queen.
“In Africa, and not just Nigeria, there is a human capital problem. Throughout the time I was running TalentBase, everyone kept complaining to me about how it was difficult to find good talent and this is why I started Career Queen, which is my second wind of entrepreneurship. It has been a crazy growth cycle and I didn’t realize how challenging recruitment is in Africa,” says Uwazie.
She spends most of her time recruiting C-suite executives and executive assistants for organizations in Africa, with a particular focus on women. And according to Uwazie, the numbers don’t lie.
“It has been proven, companies that hire women are 30% more profitable than those who do not have women in the team. The aim is to also get women a seat at the board table. A huge part of my vision now is starting this movement among women, making an impact in organizations and finding great talent for organizations.”
Only if there were more who thought like her.
Naomi Osaka Is The Highest-Paid Athlete Ever, Topping Serena Williams
The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player racked up $37 million in earnings in the past year, more than any other female athlete in history.
Naomi Osaka was only a year old when Serena Williams won her first grand slam title in 1999. Nineteen years later, Osaka beat Williams at the U.S. Open finals to win her first grand slam. It was one of the most controversial matches in Open history involving three code violations called against Williams. Now the 22-year-old ace has beaten her legendary rival once again, this time for bragging rights as the highest-paid female athlete in the world.
Osaka earned $37.4 million the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, setting an all-time earnings record for any female athlete in a single year; Maria Sharapova held the prior record with $29.7 million in 2015.
Osaka ranks No. 29 among the 100 highest-paid athletes, while Williams is No. 33. It’s the first time since 2016 that two women have made the ranks of the top 100 highest paid athletes, with the full 2020 list set for release next week.
“To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business. “Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon.”
The ascension puts an end to a decisive winning streak for Williams, who has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete each of the past four years, with annual pre-tax income ranging from $18 million to $29 million. The 23-time grand slam champion has collected almost $300 million during her career from endorsers who have swarmed the 38-year-old star.
Osaka’s rise to the head of the charts was a perfect convergence of several factors. She first proved herself on the court, with back-to-back grand slam titles at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. That plus her heritage—a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father—helped separate her from the pack; at only 20 when she won her Open title, she had a cool factor and engaging personality.
Osaka’s roots are crucial to her endorsement stardom. She was born in Japan. When she was three, she and her family moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island and then heading to Florida; older sister, Mari, also plays on the pro circuit.
She turned pro in 2014, a month before her 16th birthday. She cracked the WTA’s top 40 in 2016 and won her first title in March 2018 at Indian Wells. In the 12 months that followed, she became the first Japanese player to win a slam, and first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.
Osaka maintains dual citizenship but made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead of the since-postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for Olympic sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, who signed endorsement deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games, now scheduled for summer 2021. She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public before the coronavirus.
A Decade Of Highest-Paid Female Athletes
Tennis has been a winning strategy for highest-paid female athletes. Before Naomi Osaka arrived on the scene, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the top earning women of the decade, holding the top spot for five and four years, respectively.
The last top-earning female athlete, outside of Williams and Sharapova, was Serena’s sister Venus in 2003. Tennis remains the only route for women to rank among the top-paid male sports stars. Sharapova, Li Na, Serena, and now Osaka are the only females to rank among the 100 top earners in sports since 2012. The highest-paid female athlete every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990 has been a tennis player, with Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis the top earners most of the 1990s.
Tennis players are walking billboards in the only major global sport where men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments. Prize money at the four grand slam events has been even since 2007, although men still earn more at lower level tourneys.
The demographics of the tennis fan make sponsoring top players attractive for brands. At the U.S. Open last year, attendance skewed in favor of women by a ratio of 56 to 44, a rarity at big time sporting events; 78% held at least a bachelor’s degree versus 35% for the U.S. overall; the average household income was $216,000. This is a group with significant disposable income, ready to buy apparel, sporting equipment, cars, watches and financial services.
Steering Osaka’s brand is tennis powerhouse agency IMG, which leaned on its history with breakout female tennis stars when Osaka started blowing up, having represented Maria Sharapova and Li. Stuart Duguid is her lead agent at IMG.
The apparel deal is almost always the biggest endorsement for tennis stars, and Osaka’s timing was perfect there as well, as she hit the open market just after winning two grand slams. It triggered a free agency bidding war between Nike and Adidas—her previous apparel sponsor. The Swoosh emerged on top and paid her more than $10 million last year in an agreement that runs through 2025.
Osaka secured an extremely rare but lucrative provision in her Nike contract. The sportswear giant always requires its tennis players to be clad in Nike gear from head to toe, without any other logos on their shirts or hats. This is lucrative real estate for marketers, as cameras focus closely on the player as they serve or get set to return serve.
Nike never made an exemption for Serena, Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any of the other marketable tennis stars in their stable. The only exception until last year was China’s Li Na; Osaka was the second, thanks to massive leverage with Sharapova headed for retirement and Williams turning 39 this year. Her “patch” deals are with All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and ramen noodle maker Nissin Foods.
Nike plans to launch an Osaka streetwear line in Japan in the fourth quarter, featuring hoodies, leggings and shirts, as well as a new collection each season. There will not be any tennis apparel.
Osaka now has 15 endorsement partners, including global brands like Nissan Motor, Shiseido and Yonex, whose tennis racquets she has used for more than a decade; almost all are worth seven-figures annually.
Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon crown. IMG quickly mobilized to lock up lucrative long-term deals for the Russian, who ranked as the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years before injuries and a suspension for taking a banned substance dented her earnings.
IMG got an education on marketing a female Asian tennis star with China’s Li. She was the first grand slam singles champion from Asia, man or woman, when she captured the 2011 French Open at age 29. IMG quickly secured seven multi-million deals, pushing her off-court earnings from $2 million to $20 million. She challenged Sharapova as the sport’s top earner until her retirement in 2014.
IMG used its expertise in Japan with Kei Nishikori, who has never won a grand slam but is the most successful Japanese male player ever, resulting in an endorsement portfolio worth $30 million a year.
Sharapova, Li and Nishikori paved the way for Osaka’s marketing breakthrough. “We were fortunate to have a very sophisticated office in Tokyo that already had the experience with Kei,” IMG’s head of tennis Max Eisenbud told Forbes last year. “The relationships in that region are important.”
With plenty of endorsement cash, Osaka partnered with several brands last year, with significant equity components, including emerging sports drink BodyArmor and Hyperice, which makes recovery and movement products.
BodyArmor marketing exec Mike Fedele says Osaka was one of inspirations for its “Only You” ad campaign launched this week. “Naomi is fiercely dedicated to perfecting her game on the court and a huge part of that is what she does off the court with her training, nutrition and hydration,”he says.
“I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” Osaka told Forbes last year. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”
Brands are lining up to get into the Naomi Osaka business.
‘It’s The People-To-People Connections That Make A Lasting Impact’
Sahle-Work Zewde, Ethiopia’s first female president and the only serving female head of state in Africa, tells FORBES AFRICA why more leaders should use soft power to achieve shared growth.
Sahle-Work Zewde has her name etched in political history. A veteran public official having served as an ambassador to Senegal, Djibouti, and France between 1989 and 2006, before her presidency, Zewde was Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union. In an email interview, Zwede, who was also on FORBES AFRICA’s list of ‘Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women’ for its March issue, dwells on why the ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives:
In your position, how are you moving to achieve more gender proportionality in Ethiopian politics?
I see my being in this position as both an opportunity and responsibility. I know that it is political will that has opened the way for me and many other women to assume positions of power and influence in the Presidency and the ministerial cabinet in Ethiopia. This stride is a major step forward for Ethiopia as a nation and also for the continent. However, things can regress and go back to how they were unless we take strategic and intentional action to build on the momentum. For me, the way forward is using my platform to empower and embolden the women coming after me. This can occur in two ways. The first is working on empowering the women who are in the workforce and especially in positions of leadership to reach their full potential and engage in activities that provide opportunities for the next generation of women leaders. The second is helping female students at both the university and high school levels to ensure that we have a steady stream of competent, educated and confident women ready to take over. As women in power, we have a responsibility to all the women that will come after us to ensure that their trajectory is easier than ours.
How must Africa change in this regard?
Although more progress has been achieved in terms of delivering on our promise to provide support towards women’s education, health services, access to finance and political participation in a growing number of African countries, much more needs to be done. As a continent, we must go beyond the rhetoric and provide tangible solutions for African women in all sectors. The ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives and the extent of their participation in all walks of life.
What do the words ‘power’ and ‘soft power’ mean to you?
There is a clear distinction between ‘power’ and ‘soft power’. While the first uses any means to achieve a goal, the latter relies on influence through communication, understanding and healthy discourse. Soft power does not resort to violence or coercive methods to achieve the results sought. Serving as a diplomat for a quarter century and at the United Nations for over a decade, I became very knowledgeable of the utility of soft power to reach consensus and effectuate change.
For me, the idea of soft power is what we need to promote as a continent. For decades, our continent has been ravaged by civil war, ethnic conflict and infighting.
However, Africa is now enjoying more economic growth than it has ever had. What we need now is more leaders to exercise soft power, finding what unites us to achieve a vision of shared growth. Traditional governance sees the government as the sole owner and executer of international relations. However, with our increasingly globalized world, it’s the people-to-people connections that make a true and lasting impact and bond. Leaders of today have to detach from traditional views and adopt the more global perspective the times require.
– Interviewed by Renuka Methil
The Afro-Optimist: This UK-Based CEO On Her Passion For Africa And Its Resilient, Entrepreneurial Mind-Set
Cheryl Buss, the UK-based CEO of Absa International, on her passion for Africa and its resilient, entrepreneurial mind-set.
Cheryl Buss lives by the mantra “smooth seas don’t make for good sailors”.
It was a quote she first heard Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s former CEO Arno van der Merwe use and one that has helped her navigate countries where populism, polarization and Brexit are rife.
It is a saying that will no doubt help the CEO of Absa International deal with one of the biggest challenges the world is facing – Covid-19, a deadly virus that is sending shivers down the spines of economies around the globe.
But for now, Buss is using her mantra to gain business in the United Kingdom and the United States.
The UK-based career banker wants to take Africa to Absa’s clients in the UK and the US and bring the bank’s clients to Africa, a continent she is very passionate about.
She is working hard to convince businesses that want to invest in Africa, to bank with Absa on the continent.
Her passion for both the continent and her job is driving her success in this endeavor.
“I’m passionate about the business in which we work and I am passionate about the opportunity for Absa and for Africa. I think that if you are passionate about what you do and you show up positive, that tends to hopefully spread around and is hopefully catchy,” says Buss, dressed in an elegant dark blue dress.
As she explains her passion for Africa to FORBES AFRICA, Buss’s eyes light up. The continent offers experience, diversity, opportunity in agriculture, farming and the provision of food supply, she says.
Excitedly, she adds it has the world’s biggest population of youth that if harnessed correctly will see the continent beaming with new ideas and new thoughts.
Africa’s people are another element that makes her an Afro-optimist.
Explaining, she says: “It struck me going into Zimbabwe a couple of years ago… this was probably three, four years ago, just a load of poverty, you can just see the roads are in bad shape, everywhere you look, you see people with beaming smiles. You think ‘God, what are you smiling at?’. But it is just African people, we are taught to be resilient, we are taught to come back and I think that is part of the excitement through which you see this entrepreneurial development and mind-set.”
But Buss does not just plan to take the conversation about Africa to the UK and the US, where the bank recently received regulatory approval to operate and has started engaging with clients, but also to Asia.
Confidently, she says “you would have seen Charles Russon, who is our CEO of Corporate and Investment Banking, alluding to the fact that we would be, we are considering what the China strategy would be like, that would be rather our next port of call… China is our first consideration that we are working with our strategy team to see and understand what that would look like and then there is the Middle East-Asia consideration as well, so we would look to kind of have the four corners.”
High in emotional intelligence, a trait the charismatic leader believes she picked up by being open to change, resilient to failure and open to learn, she says she wants to build the international business to be in the best place ever.
“For me, I want it to be ‘wow, that business didn’t actually have a blip it carried on’.”
How does she plan to get there?
“It is about that close personal touch, I like to have close personal relationships with my teams, with the people I deal with and the people I mentor and make sure I am offering guidance at the right level and I like to build close relationships with my clients as well…
“Banks are a commodity so the real differentiator is the people you employ in the bank and how they show up to our clients.”
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