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Q&A with Olatowun Candide-Johnson

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Olatowun Candide-Johnson

How would you describe your career path in few words?

I studied law and then practiced law. So, my career path was pretty linear, a bit of litigation which I didn’t enjoy; commercial transactions which I enjoyed in law firms before I entered the corporate world.

I worked in shipping & logistics before I came to rest in upstream oil and gas. I particularly enjoyed working in an International Oil Company because of the variety of really consequential business issues lawyers have to deal with. And while it wasn’t so from day one, it became the norm (after I complained to the CEO) for everything to pass through Legal. It was also great to sit in on technical meetings especially because I learnt a lot about the technical side of the business as well as all the interesting terminology.

It was also a little like working in the united-nations, multicultural and multidisciplinary with colleagues in multinational subsidiaries across the globe. I worked in various departments, and particularly enjoyed working in the heart of the business – Affaires Nouvelles Division in the Paris HQ. Now, that was a steep learning curve. One that was challenging, stressful but fulfilling. I gave up life in Corporate to follow my desire to become an entrepreneur to try to make a difference for women. This is where I am now with GAIA AFRICA ( In addition, I sit on a few boards where I have the opportunity to give value.

What was your most challenging experience and has it changed your mindset?

I am still living my most challenging experience. Being called or known as an entrepreneur is one thing, the reality on the other hand, of the day to day grind– especially in Nigeria is quite another. It is a TOUGH environment. Everyday there’s a new challenge and everyday something changes. Right now we are battling against high inflation, high operational costs, including the cost of good talent (we actually can’t compete with the desire for good talent to leave the country and the large foreign companies coming into Nigeria offering USD packages), power/diesel and food to name a few.

In 2014, I went back to school and obtained the Global Executive MBA from TRIUM (LSE, NYU Stern & HEC). I am grateful that I made the decision and saw it through (combined with work) because this has helped me immensely in my business. I learnt about structure, procedures and policies from my corporate journey and that has also been a great backbone for me and the business.

Having said this, I believe that my greatest challenge was fund raising. Trying to raise money as a woman, with no previous business experience, and in hospitality which is capital intensive was intense (excuse the pun). Although my first Investors were men, in the end I relied mostly on women to bring it home, and I am grateful for that.

The challenge is to continue to explore avenues to find more investors so that we can grow. The vision is large. We plan to be in other viable African cities so watch this space.

Going through challenges just makes you stronger provided that you don’t let them overwhelm you. So has it changed my mindset – Yes. I roll with the punches and find solutions.

When you get surprised by unusual or uncertain context, what do you think?

It would really depend, but after I get over the shock, the only way to go is to find a way forward or a way out of the unusual situation or uncertainty. The thing is not to panic – take a breath, think it through and then move forward.

Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader/manager?

Leadership is a continuous learning process, and I am still learning.

From my experience so far however, there are a few important skills that I know a leader should embody for success. A leader is not a manager and therefore should not manage. Instead she sets direction, builds an inspiring vision, and then motivates and guides the “followers” to the right destination, in a smooth and efficient way. Leadership from the front – Tone from the top! And Representation matters – when you see a woman doing things that you never thought possible, you can start to believe that you too can do it. And then you do.

Successful female leaders in my opinion show strong attributes of authenticity and trustworthiness. People they lead need to see who the leader actually is – Can she be trusted? Trust in a leader is a critical element. After all, the leader wants those she leads to be prepared to adapt to change and to embrace her vision and goals.

A leader’s word must be her bond, she must honour commitments while being ready to accept her mistakes. Lastly, I believe that a leader must remain consistent, be empathetic and not be afraid to fail. If we fail, we rise up and try again. My desire above all is to continue to strive to be an authentic leader. This requires a show of some vulnerability which as you know, is not easy – but it is necessary and so the journey continues. On va voir!

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