Subomi Plumptre has a two-decade career in brand and marketing, investments, and social entrepreneurship. She is the Co-Founder of Volition Blue LLC (USA) and Volition Capital Investments Limited (Nigeria).
Subomi is a CSC Leader (a global program for exceptional senior leaders), a Forbes Business Council member, a Nigeria Leadership Initiative board member, and a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) mentor. She is also the founder of The Subomi Plumptre Trust, a foundation that addresses challenges in education, health, and culture. She is well-traveled and maintains an open curiosity about new cultures.
“Most people wait for the company to train them instead of training themselves, not realizing that it is personal development that makes you a star in the company, not the training that they’ve given you. A lot of people underemphasize personal development.”
What did you study at university and what influenced the choice?
I studied Microbiology at the University of Ilorin. My dad was a doctor, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, I didn’t attain the “JAMB cut-off mark” (qualifying JAMB points). So, I agreed with my parents to study Microbiology for a year and then transfer to Medicine, but it quickly dawned on me that Medicine wasn’t for me. Even at that, I wouldn’t say I excelled studying Microbiology. University was more of a cultural experience for me rather than an academic one. Till date, I haven’t used my Microbiology degree for anything.
What’s the biggest lesson you left university with, after 4 years?
I learned the power of building relationships. The university was a melting pot of diverse cultural backgrounds and belief systems. Getting to meet and build relationships with some of the most wonderful people on earth, was my biggest lesson.
University was an opportunity for me to discover my talents and gifts. I spent more time volunteering for activities, writing music, and performing all over the city as a rapper and musician. Now I have a blog and I have recorded two singles.
Is there any teacher you remember for being a significant influence on you?
Oh yes, I remember Mr. Ogedengbe from Airforce Secondary School, for giving me the opportunity to exercise leadership very early in life. I was in the school band, and although I could only play the recorder, for some reason, he made me the leader of the band. This was a full brass and drum band. I was also an alto singer in the choir and he made me the overall leader of the choir and the band at such a young age. For me, just that expression of leadership at such a young age set the stage for all the leadership roles I have played thereafter.
Who was the bigger influence on you between your mum and your dad?
It’s hard to choose. I would say both. From my dad, I got my love for knowledge, my intellectual ability, and the ability to stay calm under extreme circumstances. My dad never got ruffled and he was extremely brilliant. From my mum, I got fearlessness and entrepreneurship. My mum was not afraid of anything, she wasn’t afraid of the unfamiliar. She was also a serial entrepreneur; she ran a clinic, a fashion design studio, and a restaurant. So, I got different things from both parents.
When did you leave home for good, and what’s the biggest lesson you took away with you?
I left home as a young professional. Leaving home was just a rite of passage, although I stayed with my sister for a while before getting my place. There wasn’t any earth-shattering lesson. I was firmly middle-class. Unfortunately, I don’t have any horror stories or any stories of struggle. I just got a place of my own in Lagos, on the Island.
What was your first job and what did you learn while doing that job?
My first job was with Mr. Leke Alder at Alder Consulting. I started as a Youth Corps member and then spent 20 years rising through the ranks to the level of being a director and shareholder in the company.
I learned to be dynamic, flexible, and versatile; I learned to take on various challenges and moved across different disciplines. I started by being a researcher and analyst, worked with, then led the consulting team. I started the first digital and social media unit of the company, managed HR and knowledge development, and did a lot of different things as an entrepreneur within the organization.
Also, a mantra I’ve always had through life was one of the greatest pieces of advice that I got from my boss: you need to learn how to do what you need to do until you can afford to do what you want to do. Whatever I need to do, I roll up my sleeves and do it. It may not be enjoyable, it may not be my preference, may not be convenient, but I just do it until I get to a point where I can afford to do what I want.
Could you share with us two or three things that you’ve learned in your career that you don’t think anyone would have gotten on an MBA programme?
The first is the sheer difficulty of entrepreneurship. People have a vague notion that entrepreneurship is hard but usually, they are not quite prepared for it in terms of the multiplicity of tasks to wade through as an entrepreneur. A corporate job would come with a specific job description and specific set of tasks, but an entrepreneur has to do everything across the board until the company comes of age and the business can afford to hire heads of units and the like. So that is one thing that you are not truly prepared for until you experience it.
The second is just how much self-development you need to take on. Most people wait for the company to train them instead of training themselves, not realizing that it is personal development that makes you a star in the company, not the training that they’ve given you. A lot of people underemphasize personal development.
For instance, everything I know about technology is self-taught. I had no prior idea about technology when I joined Alder Consulting. I put myself through a crash course in technology by reading through the tech sections of business magazines. When I joined Alder Consulting, there was a compulsory reading list comprising Fortune Magazine, Forbes, Business Week, Vogue, GQ, etc. I made copies of the back issues of Fortune Magazine going back about three years and I read the tech section every day for a year. On NYSC CDS days, I would read these photocopies in the long queues because I might as well learn something.
What best defines your journey in Alder Consulting? Is it advertising, brand management, or strategy?
It would be strategy and marketing communications. Now I’m an SEC-licensed fund manager. I run an asset management company as one of the very few female CEOs of an asset management company. So, I transitioned from strategy and marketing communications to finance and wealth management. My career progression in Alder Consulting would be strategy, marketing communications, digital communications, social media, and now, fund management, asset management, and wealth management.
What explains your passion for tech? Is there anything in your role at Alder that led you to become interested in finance, and who now works the top of the industry?
My interest in tech was sparked by the dotcom boom at the time. Technology and e-commerce were buzzwords then, the same way AI and chatbots are buzzwords now. I felt there was a gap in my knowledge and I wanted to learn about where the world was heading, and it’s the skills that I picked up that helped me to set up the digital unit of Alder Consulting which became the highest-grossing unit at the time.
In terms of finance, I grew up middle class and I realized that if I ever stopped working and earning a disposable income, I would be poor because Nigeria does have a social safety net. I had no savings plan or backup plan. So, I went on a journey of discovery. Reading, and interviewing asset managers, I spent a year knocking on doors. Now, that course is offered for free and about 10 thousand people have gone through it.
From curating that investment course, I decided to help other people create wealth. So that’s the drive. Everything I do now is about championing middle-class wealth in Africa or the diaspora. That’s my current mission.
What were the first things you invested in if you remember?
I first invested in some traditional assets like mutual funds, I also invested in some cryptocurrency and then aggrotech. Unfortunately, aggrotech has imploded.
What was the highlight of your career doing strategy and media communications?
I would say that the highlight of my career was setting up a digital unit at Alder Consulting. I’m always excited about new things. I have learned about finance and investment the same way I learned about technology and digital media.
I love learning about new things. As social media became big, everybody was trying to leverage it for marketing and business. I learned about it fast enough to be able to set up what became the highest-grossing unit at Alder Consulting. Being at the edge of innovation and doing a lot of new things was the highlight of my strategy and media communications career.
Could you explain a bit about what you do at Volition Capital?
Volition Cap is an SEC-licensed asset management firm. Our main mission is to help middle-class Africans and Africans in the diaspora create wealth. We do that through wealth management. We design custom wealth plans for individuals, families, businesses, cooperatives, and family offices. We also have a vibrant cooperative where we set up private funds for entrepreneurs, families and their friends so they can invest in different assets. We are also in the process of rolling out a retail app.
We’re supporting a leading movie about to be released by Anakle Films featuring Richard Mofe-Damijo. That was an interesting experiment for us because we believe that the movie/entertainment industry is underfunded. If we want our movies to meet up with the same level of high-budget Hollywood blockbusters, we need to support the goal with funds.
These are some of the things we will be doing in the future to help middle-class Africans and diasporans create wealth.
Where did you source the capital to invest in the film and how much was it?
We raise capital in two ways. For specialized funds and industry-specific projects, we focus on limited partners to pool together the required. For our media fund, we raised an initial capital of about USD $250,000. We’re hoping to increase it to $1,000,000 to enable us invest in other projects.
These limited partners are curated and accredited from private entities interested in sponsoring or funding specific or time-based projects. However, our retail funds and cooperatives are open to the public.
What’s the best investment call judgment you have ever made?
The best investment judgment call was to get out of the debt finance space in Nigeria. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a very low-trust environment. This explains why a lot of banks find it difficult to lend businesses money. We suffer a lack of underlying structures or support.
One of these necessary structures is an efficient national identity system which would make it difficult for borrowers to default across stateliness and country lines. We also lack a robust debt recovery system. Going through Nigerian law enforcement or the Nigerian legal system can take years and very often, the victims are sometimes treated as perpetrators. These make debt financing in Nigeria extremely challenging.
So, we pivoted to venture debt, where we are physically involved in the daily execution of the project. We embed our project managers and oversee the financial activities of the business entity.
So, pivoting from a debt finance model to a venture debt model was one of the best decisions we made. There are a lot of credible entrepreneurs out there. But until those structural issues are resolved, the extensive investment would be extremely difficult. Presently, the only organisations who take big bets on Africa have the capacity to write off their debts. It’s more like 0.5 percent of maybe their entire balance sheet. So, if anything goes wrong, they can afford to write it off. Not every organisation can do that.
Are there sectors you prefer to invest in?
I love real estate and agriculture because they both power the economy. They create jobs and provide structures for wealth creation, particularly real estate. You can leverage real estate to unlock capital to settle the debt. Having real estate assets goes beyond them as an asset itself. You can use them to apply for a mortgage or as security to raise capital. So, it has more uses beyond just providing shelter. That is why I love real estate.
Agriculture also powers the economy. Nigeria has a food deficit meaning there’s more consumption compared to production. For the next 20 years, agriculture seems to be a fantastic industry to invest in. Because our population figures are also rising, closing the gap would take a long time. We don’t have that scientific base to close that gap that’s why it’s going to take a long time. Nigeria doesn’t have much in terms of mechanization, science, and skills base. As a nation, we import a lot of our technology.
We also don’t have steady and sufficient electricity to run highly mechanised farming. If we take a close look at the issues listed so far, it would probably take us about 20 years before we can close our food deficit. It means that you can make a profit on any investment you make in agriculture today because you don’t need to look for the market. That is why these two sectors are very important to me.
What’s your favourite type of music?
RnB is my favourite genre. I love it to the core. I used to write music and I still do that sometimes. I have two music singles on Spotify and YouTube music. RnB is still my favourite genre.
Do you play any instruments?
Only the recorder.
What kind of books do you like to read and what are you reading currently?
I love to read books focused on specific topics. So, if I’m interested in something, I search for a book on it. Recently, I’ve been interested in how to improve creativity within organizations so I’m reading Edwin Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. Edwin Catmull is one of the original creators and founders of Pixar Animation.
I’m also a generalist. I love different things. I start a new career every couple of years. So, I went to find David Epstein’s Range which is about multitalented people who tend to excel and thrive across different industries and different sectors. I’m also rereading Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism which talks about how to be optimistic in a pessimistic world.
What’s the best use of money for you?
The best use of money for me is just to make society better. One of the reasons why I love Africa is because we’re very big on helping family, friends, our networks, or communities. For me, that’s the best use of money; using it to uplift others, uplift the community, and help people become the best they can be. Our major focus in the Subomi Plumptre Trust, in partnership with The Destiny Trust, is helping street kids get into a home and get an education from primary school through to university.
What is your favourite holiday destination or spot in the world?
My favourite holiday destination in the world to date in Thailand. Thailand is a beautiful and fantastic country that offers different experiences, from spa to city life in Bangkok, to the beaches and water in Phuket. The food is fantastic as well.
What is your favourite sport?
I’m not into sports but I watch the World Cup and the Olympics every four years. I like big celebrations; the whole world is watching and I want to be part of that celebration. That’s as far as I go in terms of sports.
Where do you see Nigeria in 10 years and what are the 2 to 3 things that would drive Nigeria to that destination?
I would look farther out to 20 years. Considering our 4-year political cycle, I feel that 20 years is a reasonable time to expect any sort of major transformation because that gives us at least 2 administrations. I would say Nigeria’s future is very bright, given time. History teaches us that societies that were deeply cultural and resistant tend to change over time, a good example is China. Time allows for new generations, thoughts, exposures, and technologies, all of which provide external stimuli that push against internal challenges.
For instance, the very fact that we have mobile phones is what birthed social media advocacy and activism in Nigeria. So, with time, external imperatives and stimuli would start to change or erode internal culture. A lot of times when we blame our lack of growth on leadership, I believe otherwise. I ascribe the blame to culture because the same kind of leadership cuts across all sectors. A lot of these cultures become less important in the context of the larger problems and opportunities in the world.