Our woman of substance this week, Ms Laila St Matthew Daniel, is a woman of many parts, an entrepreneur, a consultant, a writer and a mother, all rolled into one. She is an amiable lady who will not succumb to any challenge
She is beauty and brains. On the surface simple but made of steel inside. Ms Laila St. Matthew Daniel reminds one of the typical African woman radiant with virtues and brimming with values imbued in her by her parents, values that have seen her through life and which she has also transferred to her children.
Though she spent a good part of her early life in the UK, she has stoutly held on to her traditional African values which have stood her out in all her undertakings. She started her career in the United Kingdom after graduation working with Lipton UK. That did not last long as she was soon forced by family pressure to return to Nigeria. She did and she has not regretted the home coming.
“Indeed, I will tell you that it was fun coming home,” she said as she told her story. “Yes I started my career in the UK working with Lipton UK. I was there for a couple of years and then there was this clamour by my family that I return home. Initially I didn’t feel comfortable about it, but I had to obey.
“So I came home and lo and behold I have enjoyed the fact that I returned. I returned in the 70s, I got a job as an administrative executive in a consulting firm in the central Lagos. Life in Lagos then was fun. I remember the night life, security issues were not there so you enjoy yourself.
“I worked in the firm for a couple of years and it was time to set up my own business, and you know what it was…furniture business. I will tell you how I came about that.”
The entrepreneurial spirit in her soon found a virgin ground to berth. It was not planned, she only refurbished the furniture in her sitting room, directing the artisan on what to do, choosing the right colours and designs and that was it. Something that has been latent in her just propped up…she could make a good interior décor!
“It is not as though I set out to become an interior decorator or a furniture maker, I just got my settees covered by a ‘roving’ upholsterer and I just kept getting this compliment from people about how beautiful my furniture were. Of course I told them it was my creation, after all, the designs and the colour combination were all my idea.
“When the compliments kept coming, I said to myself, ‘wait a minute, if people appreciate this, that means if I do it and put it out there for sale, people will buy it’. It so happen that that was also the time the Nigerian government banned importation of furniture materials from abroad. I decided to go into it fully. I employed and trained many artisans, many of them Ghanaians. The business was good. But very soon more people came into that sector, a lot of them with substandard products and they were ready to sell at cheaper rate. Those of us with higher quality products began to lose market share because of price. I couldn’t imagine myself lowering my standard or cutting corners, so I simply shut down my factory.”
It was a hard decision for her to make because she is not given to bowing to challenges, but there was a bigger issue. Most of her good hands who were mostly Ghanaians had returned to their country. For her to start training another set of workers at a time when business was not so good was almost stretching her luck too far.
“When I eased out of interiors I went back to my first profession which was business administration but this time not in Nigeria, I went to Abidjan, where I had a consultancy turn around maintenance for a business outfit. It was while there I got interested in the hospitality and tourism industry.”
Again she was forced home some years later, this time because of the political tension building up then in Côte d’ivoire. Back home, she consulted for a hospitality group for a while before veering into another of her many parts, this time, training.
“Having worked as a consultant to a number of firms, I discovered that one of the major challenges employers face is getting quality manpower. That was a big challenge and it is still a challenge even today. I went into soft skills training so as to help employers get the most out of their workers.
“In the course of my work I discovered that people do not want to change because they don’t understand the benefits they stand to gain for changing. As soon as they see the benefits they will change.”
A strong woman, Laila does not have the word ‘impossible’ in her dictionary. In fact according to her, “I don’t allow challenges to get me off track or get me down. I say to people “ Never say it can’t be done, because there is always a way”. It is our mindset that limits us most times.”
She is also a motivational speaker and had had the honour of speaking at different events from gender related events, to leadership and even school events, she believes the greatest mistake of government was putting a stop to vocational and technical schools.
“Not everyone is cut out for university education, there are other sectors of the economy that need qualified technicians and these are missing. Until priority is given to education in this country, we will continue to have development challenges.”
Ms. Laila has written numerous books on keys to success, how to maintain confidence as well as dealing with anger issues and entrepreneur lexicon. She also blogs and writes articles on various issues pertaining to emotional behaviour.
Her NGO is not only on women empowerment and the rights of the girl child but is also focused on domestic violence and abuse.
“It hurts me to the core when I hear of women being battered by men who promised to love and care for them. There is no reason whatsoever to beat up a woman. None. What I have come to discover is that many couples do not communicate. Lack of communication is the root of all marital issues. Couples need to communicate.
“One of the domestic violence I don’t even want to hear about is the sexual abuse of little children. It is heinous and whoever commits it should face the law.”
Ms. Laila has four daughters, all achievers in their different fields obviously taking after their mother. They have seen their mother go through so many ups and downs, and come out with her head high.
“They have all grown up to be strong women in their own rights and I am most proud of them. Of course, I am only the caretaker. God is in charge and guided me as they grew up and is still guiding us all as a family.
“For career married women, I will advise that they properly balance work with home. Women must tap in to their God given talent of multi-tasking to find a balance.
“Today I count as my greatest achievement to be being able to bring up four professional and wonderful daughters against all odds even as a single parent, imbuing them with the values I picked from my parents. It is not an easy task, but God saw me through.
“That is why I am not surprised that my mandate is to be a mender of the breached. My passion is to enable people to be the best they can be. To be equipped with all the tools required to have an optimal and profitable life.”
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