Office Lives: Antoinette Edodo, Chief Strategy Officer, Heirs Technologies.

Antoinette Edodo is a visionary leader and creative force in IT, business, product management, talent development, and communication. With 16+ years of experience in managing financial industry software products, she is reputed for driving growth and innovation.

 

Antoinette currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Heirs Technologies, where she provides technology advisory and digital evolution initiatives to advance the cause of businesses across Africa.

Antoinette Edodo, Chief Strategy Officer, Heirs Technologies and technology industry leader

Her journey began at SAS, a renowned American multinational developer of analytics and artificial intelligence software, where she rose from regional office administrator to Account Executive within a decade.

 

Guided by the mantras: #GiveValueFirst and Being #GrowthObsessed, Antoinette continues to shape the technology and business landscape. In 2019, she joined Paga as Head of Paycheck, solidifying her reputation as a dynamic fintech leader.

 

“Tayo saw a vision and he was like: “you know what I think?  You’re going to work really well with this”, and I was basically given full charge of the team to create this product for the market in Nigeria and also lead its market penetration.”

 

What did you study at the university?

I studied Estate Management at the University of Lagos.

 

What did you dream of becoming as a child?

Riding BMX bikes and travelling the world. I was really good at many different things so it was difficult to choose which one because I often get along quite easily with different things. Back then, I enjoyed science, I enjoyed the arts, and in fact, I was good at languages so it was a bit difficult to pinpoint which of these things I really wanted. If you ask me, I wanted something that could have bits and pieces of all those things I enjoyed.

Back then, however, such cocktail doesn’t exit. It was either lawyer, doctor, or accounting. It wasn’t what the world is today so I just dreamed about doing the things that I thought I was good at while bringing science to it at any given opportunity. I remember I enjoy experimenting as a child a lot. I used to service cars. I would take out the spark plugs and clean them and put them back even though they didn’t need it. So yeah, I dreamt about many things.

 

How did you go from studying estate management to technology? What informed the change?

I didn’t know a thing like technology existed because this was before mobile phones. This was when the internet was dial up. I don’t know how old you are but we used to literally dial up the internet. Technology seemed so faraway and distant, it wasn’t the way it is in our everyday lives now.

So, going from estate management to technology wasn’t a planned transition, I believe that it was fate. In my 4th year, I knew that having looked at estate management in its theory and practical application, I didn’t enjoy the practical application of estate management.

Maybe it has improved now but it wasn’t something that I enjoyed and I already knew when I graduated that I wouldn’t practice, and that I would deviate, completely. To what, I didn’t know at the time but I knew that I wasn’t going to go into the practice of estate management.

Of course, I did enjoy the diverse disciplines that it exposed me to, and the new perspectives I learnt throughout my education at the university. For my course, we looked at economics, we looked at law, we looked at valuation, we looked at statistics, all in the study of estate management. We also looked at building, structures in terms of building engineering. We looked at architecture. It was so diverse and I enjoyed that because of mental modelling.

Personally, I like to do diverse things, and the course did expose me to loads of it. Talk about its practical application? It bored me, terribly. So, in one of my first jobs, I came across someone, he’s my mentor till today – Mr. Edward Sungura and he said he was looking for someone to join the team of this technology company called SAS Institute. At the time, I had no idea, never heard of them.

Remarkably, they’re one of the largest software holding companies privately held in the world today and a majority of their clients are all fortune 500 companies and that’s what I mean by fate. I really think that the universe just aligned and I was given this opportunity and that’s where I really grew to love technology.

 

You spent over 10 years at SAS. How did your experience there contribute to your subsequent career choices?

I did many different things while I was there for ten years. I wasn’t doing one job for 10 years. Truth is: I get bored a bit easily for that to happen. So, instead I did about 3 or 4 different things in the 10 years stint, spending about 2 or 21/2  years in each of those roles. I didn’t know at the time that it was me looking at a business 360 degrees and trying to see different facets of a business.

So, going from inside sales to customer advocacy to core account executive management in very complex, large enterprises. All of those things culminated in giving me a full understanding of a business in many different ways and it’s not until I left SAS and went to Paga to head paycheck, which was a software that they had built 10 years before but couldn’t scale.

Tayo saw a vision and he was like: “you know what I think?  You’re going to work really well with this”, and I was basically given full charge of the team to create this product for the market in Nigeria and also lead its market penetration. There was engineering and product development side of it. There was building the entire business from scratch in terms of: all the sales methodology, all the beta testing, all the market research to even know whether this is feasible, hiring a sales person on the team, and even recruiting for customer experience.

All of that was under my portfolio, building financial models and having to work with the finance team to see how this business was going to become profitable and scale. Basically, I was an intrapreneur while I was at paycheck in that position. Many don’t know it wasn’t a Paga mobile payment focused business at all.

It was a completely separate entity from Paga but was under the Paga Group. So, essentially, I didn’t do mobile payments or agency banking that Paga does today. I was in a payroll software system and we launched this payroll business in COVID-19 which was perfect.

It was the perfect time because nobody could go to the bank to pay salaries during the pandemic, and our target audience was small and mid-size businesses that usually had to liaise with the bank a lot during payroll cycles in order for those salaries to get paid. And, because the world didn’t have that option during the hit of COVID-19 or let’s say it was so limited that it was inefficient, Paycheck launched and recorded its first market success.

So, having an automated payroll system for businesses was a perfect solution, and because that’s what we built and pushed out; we turned in revenue one quarter after launching.  In Q1 of the next year, it recorded a huge milestone and I’m really proud of the achievements that we made. Sincerely, I didn’t realize that I had all those skillsets until I left SAS.

Sometimes, you have to get out of the forest to see the trees. So, until I left, I now realize ‘oh I know how to do this, I understand how to do this, I think I’ve seen this being modelled before in my previous work’ and I brought all of those experiences into the green field I found myself entering without realising I was well armed.

In manifestation, I had a whole arsenal of skills, experiences and ideas. I remember one of my colleagues at Paga saying, “Antoinette has lots of ideas, some of them are wild and some of them are really good” and that statement kind of stuck with me. I had a really good experience with the team while I was there and it really showcased how broad my skillset had become over the 10 years period I was engaged under SAS.

I think it was fate, I always say to my mentees that no knowledge is lost, everything is connected. You just have to find the patterns, always.

 

In your role as Co-host of TAP – The Amplify Podcast, how do you incorporate your professional expertise into the conversations and insights shared on the podcast?

That was something that came to me through a really good friend of mine –I mean a sister soul friend of mine. I believe that human connection is essential in professional settings, and it’s a principle I uphold in my work. I focus on putting people at the centre of everything I do, because ultimately, we’re all human beings with shared experiences and emotions.

By prioritizing this human-centric approach, I strive to create meaningful connections and impact in all my endeavours. So, being able to be on the amplify podcast to share some of those human-centred thoughts also brings a reminder that at the end of the day we’re all just human.

We’re just mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, uncles, aunties, grandparents and regardless of the CEO hat you wear or the engineering hat or the finance manager hat or whatever hat it is that you’re wearing, you’re somebody’s brother, sister, or friend.

For me, the amplify podcast was a way of just navigating the world in whatever hat you’re wearing and just making us human. While it brings that interconnectivity across relationship whether its an employee and employer relationship, or a mentor-mentee thingy, at the end of the day, we are humans.

And that human sense of leadership was something that I learned from my professor in a course I took in 2014 and he just made it so relatable. These are people at Columbia business school doing amazing research. It didn’t feel so farfetched, it felt really human and real, and something very applicable to anyone in any ethnic group. That’s what the amplify podcast tries to do.

Right now, I miss the production. We haven’t been on the podcast for a while because life happens as well and sometimes its okay to take a break. You don’t have to always go, go, and go. You can always start again, the human-centred part of it is always available to tap into. Essentially, that was really what we focused on, on the podcast, just to say that we’re human and part of who we are is that we come with different multifaceted ways of doing things as characters. The production was to bring a layer of empathy to everything. We believe that meaningful dialogues are powerful whether its on a podcast or in you writing papers to share your thoughts.

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How do you balance your roles as Chief Strategy Officer at Heirs Technologies and as a freelance Member at The Angel-A Collective?

I’m gifted with being a mental modeler. Mental modelling is something that allows me to take on many different things at the same time and excel at them but they complement each other. For instance, strategy is quite broad and it can be quite deep as well. It touches on everything. I help curate and facilitate the collective’s massive transformative purpose, moderation of panel sessions that help us to forge what the MTP will be at The Angel A collective and that was wonderful.

There were so many brilliant minds in that session and we all came together and crafted this MTP for the collective, and that takes strategy. It takes skillset from strategy to do those kinds of things as well so they actually compliment each other. I can find patterns in everything. In anything at all, I’m constantly thinking in analogies and patterns and that helps me to navigate a lot of different things or find connections and dots that connect things together.

The Angel A Collective is basically a member body of professionals that are collectively trying to establish new ways or catalytic ways of pushing the technology narrative in the ecosystem, and we do that by lending our skillsets, our expertise to startups, to founders and any of the particular players in the technology ecosystem.

To lend our voice to what they’re doing as we seek to advance the progress of the ecosystem further as a body of specializing generalists, we are able to find many different things to connect together and make meaning out of them and they really complement each other.

Personally, the two roles are really complimentary, as they both help each other. There are times where for instance, I had  just facilitated a panel moderation  at a recently concluded Omni Verse, and the panel consisted of members of the Angel A collective, talking about real-life scenarios of founders and how they have challenges in scaling their business or why they have challenges in scaling their business. At the end, some parts of that include strategy, as well as expertise from other  people that have done it before.

 

Can you share a challenging situation you faced during your career and how you approached it to achieve a successful outcome?

Yeah, they’ve been so many challenges. I guess maybe the most recent challenge is being a change catalyst doesn’t make you very popular. So, before I was a strategy officer, I was in business transformation resource, and I headed business transformation at Africa Prudential which is a 50-year-old registrar company that attempted to do some really great things in technology. But it wasn’t always a great match but being a change catalyst in that role was quite tedious or challenging I would say.

There are so many different things. I mean we had challenges in launching paycheck back in COVID-19 and other things. I guess I’d dwell on maybe one scenario, being a change catalyst was probably one of the most challenging parts of it. How did I approach it? Basically, I think a lot of listening helped. There are a few things that obviously didn’t go well in the beginning and just trying to understand personalities because change management is really behavioural change as it is about managing people.

So, again, back to the human-centred side of it. At the end of the day, you’re getting people to do things differently that they’ve thought that they’ve done quite well for a long time and that takes quite a lot of people management to succeed at. I think what it is, is that you don’t make it personal, about them, you just make it about the work and being able to navigate people on a one-on-one basis really helps.

In that space, you have to make them understand that its not them, its just that there might be a better approach to doing certain things. I think one of the great outcomes would probably be the fact that there were a few converts who were trying to do things so differently. People innocently look to do things radically differently from how work was being done at the time, this attitude and willingness really called on people to learn rapidly.

The point I’m making is that it’s not personal, its really just about doing things differently, unlearning, relearning, better and more optimized ways, more efficient ways. And, yes, people do take it personal – that it’s about them – because that the way they’ve been doing it for years but a growth mind-set is really required for this to work. I guess the biggest achievement there was that we were able to move the organization from one type of performance measurement to another that was a lot more transparent and accurate to show the true picture of where they were and where they needed to be.

Success for me was seeing them adopt the OKR framework which is Objectives and Key Results. It makes things simple and straightforward to show you if you’re actually attaining any strategic goal. Even when I left the company, and they’ve changed senior management, they found it so useful that they stuck to the OKR framework till today and I think that’s a really huge achievement.

It’s basically one of the things I’m really proud of because that’s a really difficult shift. To actually sell an idea and get people to buy into it and adopt it, embrace it and then use that to transform their business. That’s very powerful, and I’m indeed proud of that, and it did come with a lot of challenges but the successful outcome is there for all to see.

 

Can you discuss a project or initiative you led that resulted in significant business growth or transformation?

There is a lot of them. I mean one of them is the one I just spoke about, the OKR Framework at Africa Prudential. Also, I remember long ago when I was still working at SAS and we had one of the top three banks as a client of ours and they had a dilemma. It’s kind of similar to what we are having now with forex issues and it was such a big problem for the company and for my employer to figure out how we were e going to navigate it.

I came up with an idea. I had gone to my boss and said look ‘why don’t we look at it in terms of trying to tie back into multi-earning and change a few things in the legal documentation. I discussed it with the CTO at the bank at the time and they got the idea, they thought it was great, and it resulted in us changing the legal requirements but at least it worked so much that we now got a multiyear deal with the bank as opposed to having a year on year deal. This singular idea tied in some revenue upfront for at least 2 years for my company.

Another one is the one I spoke about in terms of Paycheck, I really think that in COVID-19, there was a lot of struggles in order for projects to keep going or even conclude successfully but we were able to do that. I think that business growth and transformation, a large part of it is even the work that went into getting Heirs Technologies to be born.

Because we saw that the potential was very huge, so there are a lot of significant business transformative initiatives. But maybe Paycheck was big because not everybody sees their product launch and we saw a product launch. Not only did we see it launch, we saw it bringing revenue.

The business strategy direction changed for Paga and that’s why we didn’t get funding but we got businesses who have gone on to generate millions in funding running on Paycheck so that’s something we are really proud of – the entire team that worked on paycheck at the time – we are really proud of the growth that we brought to that product line.

Even with the OKRs at AP, it helped us to save millions in projects that were not strategically aligned to what the business was doing. It led to the sunset of two products, it led to the accelerated launch of two other products, one of those products went on to launch in march 2023, it saw us transform the AGM industry and take on AGM remotely completely.

We had clients like Transcorp, UBA, and other top banks and Oil & Gas organizations running their AGMs completely remotely, they would have otherwise spent millions of naira to run those AGMs onsite. Now they can run their AGMs transparently, pull reports etc. and these are all huge when it comes to significant business growth attainment.

So yeah, I have so many examples I could go on but these are some of the larger ones. Meanwhile, I think I feel like my one biggest achievement to my professional career is really my mentees. Honestly, I mean, put aside all the other stuff, I really think it’s my mentees. I have over a dozen of them. Yeah, over a dozen of them so far, and just going on to see how well they’ve excelled and the great professionals and human beings that they’ve gone on to become. That, by large is my greatest professional achievement, quite frankly.

I never was able to do any of those things by myself anyway and everything I learned, I pass it on to the mentees, and they take it on really well and use that to excel in their own way and it’s just really great to see them grow. Yeah, that’s my greatest achievement.

 

How do you approach building and nurturing strategic partnerships, both within and outside your organization?

I mean, you see, partnerships are very tough, we had a debate recently at a strategy session around these partnerships. I mean, we ended up just saying, you know what partnerships versus collaborations. Partnerships require one vision, you both have to be working towards one and the same goal. That’s what partnerships are made of and it’s difficult to find that.

So, in order to look for those types of partnerships, I’m constantly looking for aligned vision, and values. If we don’t have the same aligned vision and values, that partnership is going to fail. It may be a collaboration, collaborations are individual efforts that are brought separately, and you can collaborate together on something but, a partnership is like, one or two notches higher than that.

So, my approach basically, is aligned visions, and aligned values. Does this partner or potential partner share the same vision that I do, you know, if you come into a partnership with very self-centred views, that’s not going to work and this happens with even relationships. It is never going to work, you have to actually be working towards a common goal to record success.

You have to have shared values, whether it’s like a business relationship, they still have values that you can share in that partnership. and that’s what we must constantly look for, when we go within the organization or outside of the organization.

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