The Group Director, Marketing and Corporate Communications, United Bank for Africa, Bola Atta, tells BUKOLA BAKARE how she rose to the top
Well-informed about the media and its workings, Bola Atta is a reporter’s delight. This doesn’t come as a surprise because she was the Editor-in-Chief of True Love West Africa Magazine, an entertainment-savvy and fashion-forward publication.
Her far-reaching impact while working for M-Net as its Programme Manager for West Africa, includes proposing to the network’s executives that a channel be dedicated solely to the broadcast of African movies – specifically Nollywood movies. She worked on the concept, development and programming of this channel which was successfully launched in 2003.
Atta’s stellar career in the media, entertainment and banking sectors bear witness to her professionalism. Currently the Group Director, Marketing and Corporate Communications, United Bank for Africa, overseeing 18 countries across Africa, Atta holds a degree in Economics, as well as an MBA, majoring in Finance and Marketing. No doubt, she is a woman of many parts.
Speaking on how she delved into publishing, she says, ‘‘I had always thought that I would work in the banking industry and I followed the path of least resistance. However, I soon got bored in that world and decided to go with my passion instead. So when I say that I thought I would work in finance, this was not necessarily because I particularly had a passion for it, but because I was good in maths and later in economics and I thought that was the way to go.”
Atta goes on to say that as the Editor-in-Chief of True Love Magazine, she had so many high points, to such a degree that it will be difficult to list all the significant ones. Hear her, ‘‘I think the most noteworthy part of it for me is that I really enjoyed every moment of it. Even when there was chaos, conflicts or potential disasters, I just never felt stressed out because I was doing something that I really enjoyed and that made it quite a smooth sail for me.’’
Now, she is back in the banking industry but not in mainstream banking. As the Group Director, Marketing and Corporate Communications at UBA, she casts light on her role. ‘‘Simply put, my job means that I am in charge of designing and mapping out strategies for communicating our brand, who we are and what we stand for, especially with regards to our customers’ expectations and needs,’’ she says effortlessly.
Interestingly, Atta also doubles as the Executive Producer for REDTV, an online network which UBA, proudly supports. “It is a lifestyle and entertainment network that brings the best of Africa to the digital space,” she says. Clearly, she brings her wealth of experience in the entertainment sector to bear on the online platform.
Commenting on her challenges, Atta says that every role in life comes with its own challenges and at such moments, she always puts on a calm demeanour and refuses to get flustered. That way, she is able to assess the challenge with a clear mind and strategise on the way forward, ‘‘No matter what one is confronted with at every point, there is always a way out of every situation,’’ she adds.
When asked how UBA affects the lives of others through its Corporate Social Responsibility policies, Atta emphasises that the bank via the UBA Foundation is impacting lives across the continent by making its focus education, economic empowerment and the environment. In furtherance of its objectives, Atta says that the bank continues to make a difference in the lives of young ones on the African continent through the Read Africa Initiative. This, she says, ensures that children understand the importance of reading and learning as they glide on in life. She continues, ‘‘We have given out college scholarships to many children through our annual national essay competition and this goes beyond the shores of Nigeria.”
Swiftly, she adds that the bank’s CSR activities align with red, the brand’s colour. “For UBA as a brand, red signifies energy, dynamism and innovation. In addition to that, it aligns with our positioning as the dominant financial service institution in Africa. Our colour makes us bold, distinct and clearly recognisable. It also lends credence to the fact that we are who we are and we would like to be perceived in a positive light.’’
Changing the tempo of the interview, Atta gets a bit personal and relives happy memories of her childhood. ‘‘When I was younger, I recall bonding with my family; eating good meals among other things. Of course, I cannot forget the brilliant presents that I received at that time. Another thing I can recollect is the harmattan mist that surfaced on Christmas mornings during my childhood. It always signified good times. I usually woke up to the smell of harmattan and the rhythm of carols. One would also take in the aroma from the pots of women outside cooking jollof rice and goat meat. Those were good times and priceless memories,” she says with a smile dancing around her lips.
Extolling the virtues of her parents who taught her to be true to herself and never be influenced by the mundane aspects of life, Atta speaks glowingly of them. ‘‘My parents taught me that hard work pays and one shouldn’t take shortcuts to get to one’s destination as there is nothing better than a good name.’’
Describing her personality, Atta stresses that she doesn’t lead a double life and has no alter ego. Sometimes, she is curious to know what people think about her though. Not wanting to describe her personality in a certain way, she quips that she will leave that to people but stresses that she understands her make-up as an individual and that should suffice.
Lending her voice to the issue of gender discrimination in the work place and the society, she notes that women suffer gender discrimination a lot less than previously. Nonetheless, she admits that there is still a great deal of work to be done in this area worldwide and in many other fields. ‘‘There has been a lot of improvement in recent years. For instance, my department at UBA is largely staffed by women and we have a lot of women in dominant roles,’’ she says with a hint of pride in her voice.
In a highly competitive terrain, how has she been able to climb the ladder of success? Atta’s answer comes quickly as she simply says ‘work hard’ and it’s a principle that has worked wonders for her, even when she was in the media and entertainment industry. ‘‘I was taught that hard work pays and I have literally followed this doctrine all my life. If you work hard towards your goals, it is very likely that you will achieve them. Don’t be afraid. Even when there are moments when you stumble and fall, rise up, dust your boots, move on and you would become a success story.’’
Although she loves to dress well, Atta states that fashion doesn’t actually mean as much to her as people think it does. Consequently, she is not one who would spend hours shopping or spend every weekend at the salon. ‘‘It is ironic really because I just happen to know a lot about fashion and know what suits me at every point in time. I can speed shop in one hour and get the best things from the same store someone else has spent hours at because I always know what I want and I am never looking for the same thing unnecessarily. I don’t really have a fashion fetish and I also don’t have turn-offs because I see a lot of beauty in most things. There is always a good angle and I’m forever focused on the good side,’’ she enthuses.
On her role models and mentors, she pauses for a moment and adds that top on her list is her parents and describes them thus, ‘‘Both of them were so much fun to be with, smart and beautiful. My brother also serves as a role model and mentor for me because he is amazingly kind and gentle, extremely smart and generous so I live each day of my life emulating a lot of their virtues.’’
Shedding more light on her success mantra, Atta notes that it is imperative for people to always follow their dreams, wherever they may take them. More so, they should be realistic when they ought to be and never be afraid of failure. ‘‘I know too many people who are afraid of failing and then focus on this palpable fear within them, instead of actually focusing on their dreams of being successful. That is not a good thing,’’ she advises.
With her hectic work schedule, how does she create a work-life balance? Atta who believes that there is no such thing says, ‘‘Creating work- life balance is a myth and I’ve always said that. Something usually suffers and that is the truth. It is therefore up to you to decide what suffers at different stages of your life. There lies the balance. Decide when to focus on what aspect of life. Unless you are somebody who doesn’t strive for excellence and would be satisfied with being average in all the facets of your life, you must always focus on something.’’
So, are there downsides to being in the limelight? With all sense of modesty, Atta states that her life is far from that and she wouldn’t consider herself as one who is always in the limelight. ‘‘I don’t think that I am always in the public glare and that is the truth.’’
Addressing women who want to build their careers but seem stuck, Atta urges them to get up from that static point immediately and shouldn’t be afraid to unglue themselves from whatever is holding them back from achieving their dreams. In a soothing voice, she admonishes women who fall into this category to wipe off the stains from the glue that seems to be holding them back as staying stuck serves no purpose. ‘‘If you feel stuck to one point as a woman, then you shouldn’t be where you are. You must keep moving until you realise your dreams.’’
When asked how she unwinds and relaxes after a hard day’s job, Atta says that she gets into her own thoughts and takes charge of proceedings in her life, ‘‘I reflect, analyse and plan all the time and that keeps me busy. I used to be an avid reader but I am at that stage of my life where I don’t have enough hours in the day to read anymore. I once read a book titled The Supreme Gift by Paul Coehlo for about three months. It was a book that I bought at an airport during a trip. I read most of the chapters on the flight and then abandoned it for a while because I didn’t have the time.’’
Speaking on some of her memorable moments, Atta fondly recalls the indescribable joy that came with birthing her first child and how she basked in the euphoria of motherhood for the first time. It was a priceless moment that she’d forever treasure, ‘‘I will never forget seeing my first child come out of my womb and the look on my baby’s face when we both met for the first time after months of bonding in the womb. It’s a moment that I’d always treasure,’’ she concluded with a broad smile on her face.
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