Onyanta Adama is an MBA student at Lagos Business School in Nigeria and team leader of Ripple, one of the teams shortlisted in this year’s FT MBA Challenge with UK charity World Child Cancer. For the challenge, her team needs to write a business plan looking at how Ghana can become self-sustainable in treating childhood cancer. There are three other students from Lagos on the team, a further two students from the European School of Management and Technology in Germany and one from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley in the US.
Ms Adama studied biochemistry before focusing on business. She also has experience working for a television production company. In her spare time, she enjoys playing lawn tennis and volleyball.
1. Why did you enter the FT MBA Challenge?
I wanted to give back to the community. Of the team members from Lagos, a lot of us have lost family members to cancer. We had already partnered with a local hospital – for which we are currently raising funds to buy medical supplies – so we thought the FT challenge linked well to this voluntary work and our MBA director recommended it.
2. How have you found the experience so far?
Very interesting. Finding a time to meet that works best for everyone is the biggest challenge. It’s taught me a lot about teamwork and understanding different cultures.
3. How do you deal with the pressure of studying and working?
I always find it useful to take a moment to step back and regroup. Then I try to figure out the source of the pressure and the best way to relieve myself of it. It is important to always stay upbeat and keep pushing through.
4. What is the best advice given to you by a teacher?
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. My mom actually gave me this advice when I was really young. She realised my interests were always shifting and I never focused on one project long enough to get it done right. That advice is something I have held on to ever since. It has taught me to always try to apply myself to the best of my abilities and never to settle for mediocrity.
5. What is the biggest lesson learnt?
Never expect life to hand you anything, especially something you want. Be ready to fight for it because nothing good ever comes easily.
6. What do you hope women in business will achieve?
Everyday you hear the saying “it is a man’s world”. I am glad that today the reality is that it is just as much a woman’s world as it is a man’s. In every business field today, we have women who have worked their way to the top through hard work, sweat and sacrifice. Even in countries where education is not thought to be a necessity for a girl, we have women leading change like Chimamanda Adichie, the Nigerian novelist, Folorunso Alakija, the Nigerian businesswoman and Dora Akunyili, the pharmacist and governmental administrator who won several awards for her work in pharmacology, public health and human rights. It is my hope that one day when they do a poll of the richest and most influential people in Africa, women will make up the top five positions. I am always waiting to see a woman become the president of Nigeria.
7. How do you deal with a male-dominated environment?
I always try to pull my weight and go the extra mile to avoid being taken for granted. Once they realise I am not just a “pretty face” or “the weaker gender” they begin to treat me like everyone else.
8. What is your favourite business book?
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James Collins, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras have a lot of lessons for managers and entrepreneurs.
9. What are your future plans?
After I complete my MBA, I plan to work in a financial or marketing role for a couple of years. Then when the time is right, I will fully focus on a project I’ve been nurturing which concerns women empowerment, by helping government organisations structure sustainable ways of ensuring less privileged girls/women in the country continue to get an education and job placements. This will help them become self-sufficient and contribute to their society.
10. What is your plan B?
I have a million and one things I would like to do but top of my list is to begin my own production company. I have always been a creative person and working in an environment that lets me use those skills would be fulfilling.
The team leaders of this year’s MBA Challenge are all women. Based in Germany, west Africa, the UK and US, they will feature in our Women in Business Q&A throughout August and September 2014.
Read about the other team leaders: