Funmi Oyetunji: On Living a Life of Purpose


From the financial sector to becoming an estate developer public speaker and author, Funmi Oyetunji, founder of the first indigenous shopping centre, Canaan Mall in Lekki, Lagos shares with Funke Olaode how one can live a purposeful life

Smart-looking in a mini striped gown with a touch of black, a one-million braid hairdo and a six-inch pair of ashen shoes, she can pass for debonair lady in her twenties. She exudes confidence, poise and style. All eyes were on her at the Convention Centre inside the expansive hall of the Eko Hotel and Suites where she was one of the guest speakers at the just concluded 18th National Women’s Conference organised by the wife of the Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode. But beyond her looks and panache lies an intellectual soul who once bestrode Nigeria’s financial sector like a colossus – she is now her own boss. As she spoke on “Living a Life of Purpose”, a spontaneous, endless round of applauses reverberated in the hall when she revealed her age.

“Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Funmi Oyetunji. Living a life of purpose as an individual you need to take time off and imagine your life as you navigate through life. It helps. I discovered my purpose in life at the age 58 to give scholarship to indigent but brilliant students. Today, I am 61 and I am just fulfilling that purpose,” she said. 

Getting to the pinnacle of her career did not happen overnight – Oyetunji toiled and sweated for years. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1977 at age 20 and Association of Certified Chartered Accountant (ACCA) qualification in the United Kingdom in 1981. Her career, which spans 35 years, started with the firms of Coopers & Lybrand, Z. O. Ososanya & Co and the London office of KPMG. She joined Fountain Trust Merchant Bank in 1993 and moved to First Bank of Nigeria where she became the bank’s Treasurer in February 2001, a position she held until May 2002. In 2002, she was appointed the chief executive of AbiTos Financial Services Limited, a real estate development and investment company, a position she holds to date. 

Her quest to be the best has seen her attend Leadership and Board Effectiveness programmes at Harvard Business School, INSEAD in France and IMD in Switzerland. She has also taught Finance on the executive programmes of the Lagos Business School. Mrs. Oyetunji serves on a number of boards including Ecobank Nigeria where she chairs the Risk Committee, Prestige Insurance, and American Tower Corporation, Nigeria where she chairs the audit committee. She is a member of the global body, Women Corporate Directors Foundation and she is associated with the Lagos Angel Investor Network.

A self-assured woman with milk of kindness, Oyetunji is the Chairperson of the LASAL Foundation that grants scholarship to indigent students at tertiary level and a fellow of the Institute of Directors. She published her book ‘A Conscious Life’, an acclaimed help for successfully navigating critical stages and aspects of life in 2016. 

What does it take to know one’s purpose in life? How does one navigate a life of purpose when you don’t even know who you are? 

She answered: “It helps if you can take time off and imagine your life as you navigate through life.  Some of the problems I observe are that some people don’t know that they have responsibility for their own life. They always come up with an excuse that they have failed to fulfilled life purpose because they were not born rich, that their career is not making them to be the best, that they didn’t marry a man who treat them well. Or their children are not doing well. So they have resorted to fate that everything that pertaining to life is out of their control. And this is problematic. It is not that we don’t face problem in life both everything that happens to us but what matters is how you handle such situation. When people complain about their husbands – forgetting that in life everything is about the choices that we make. 

“A lot of what happens in our lives is about choices. The choices are made by you. Life is going to throw up challenges at every stage but how do you handle them?  Have you ever sat down and say this is the direction you want yourself to go in marriage and career. For instance, Coca Cola is a brand that has stood the test of time. What is your own brand?  Are you reliable, dependable, can you be relied on?  Your self is your brand. What is your brand as a wife? What is your brand as professionals? What have you told the world that you are? And that is how the world will perceive you? If you are a party person, it becomes your brand. If you are a dependable ally it becomes your brand. So you don’t have problem in becoming successful in life but the question is how you handle the problem of life.”

Speaking further, Oyetunji asserted: “Everything that happens is not by your making. A conscious Life written by me in 2016 is out there. How do you measure yourself? I talk about ‘brand’ that the only way we can measure ourselves is our brand and outcome of lifestyle we can be proud of. Don’t always follow bandwagons that because somebody read accountancy you too must read accountancy. Or that some people’s children attend one particular school, your children too must attend the same school. Note if you have the means well you can stand by your decision and choice. You must measure your own success and create your own confidence by standing by that decision.”

She also explained why systematic planning and ability to set the right values can help through life. “I am an accountant who knows the value of money. Sometimes people will say I don’t know how to say no when they bring aso-ebi. I tell people that it is easy to say no if you have your own plan. I have an eye in that land that I want to buy so I am not thinking about aso-ebi but the outcome of the landed property that I am looking for. And because of that I am not envious of those buying gold or aso-ebi because I have my own target and goals,” she added.

Experience has shown that branding oneself attracts a lot of envy. How can one manage it? “You need to be confidence enough to live your own standard and stand by it. Yes. Society standards shouldn’t be in your way. If you keep looking at the stigma you will not achieve your purpose in life. Life threw itself at me when I was working as a banker. It ended in 2002 and it took me six months to think about the next direction of my life. Today, I am who I am and some of our friends who stayed back have not gone as far as some of us have gone. Therefore, stamp out your sigma and be consistent,” Oyetunji stated.

The successful woman also shares an invaluable insight on how one can live a life of purpose even when such a person does not know who he is. “There are two issues here with a lot of young people who are always saying that ‘I am waiting for my purpose. I am waiting to find out my purpose.’ I tell everyone that there are certain things that need to be done at a particular stage and life joins the dots. When I graduated 41 years ago I wanted to be a chartered accountant because my father wanted me to be a chartered accountant. And a few years later, I wanted to be a wife and I achieved that.  And as my life progresses, I wanted to be a supportive wife. 

“So at different point things happen and meeting those responsibilities or responding positively to those things at that moment mean that we are meeting our purpose. I am 61 years today. Beyond being a chartered accountant, a mother of professionals, and a supportive wife to my husband, I learnt a lesson  that  having listened to my father to be an accountant put me on my toes to always plunge myself into a task and come out with a result. When you are raising your children always be a role model. My main purpose in life which I found out after 50 years is to chair a foundation that touches life. It is sad that the story of my family has been turbulent.  My father is gone, my brother is gone and if care is not taken the family name is going to go. Two years ago, I endowed a foundation in my father’s name, Salami. So, if I had looked for that purpose at 21 may be I wouldn’t have achieved it. So when we are looking for purpose, let’s work with what the environment presents and the rest will fall into places,” Oyetunji philosophised.