I got to interview Tara Fela-Durotoye. I must tell you, the wisdom she carries is powerful. Some of the information in this interview is what some people have paid to hear. Enjoy…
DANG: What brought about the idea of the CEO listening tour
Tara Fela-Durotoye: When I’m asked about business generally, I always say for you to have a great product or a great service, there are some fundamentals that need to be looked at:
Who is my product for?
Who does my product help?
Who am I?
What do I have?
What do I give?
How do I get people to know me?
How are people going to have access to your product?
One of the requirements of maintaining the standards that I came about is what we call “the listening tour”. The CEO listening tour in House of Tara is where I visit one of our branches. We have over 20 branches across Nigeria. We have branches in Kano, Kaduna, Ilorin, Abuja (we have four branches), we have branches in Benin, Enugu. We have a branch in Portharcourt. We have a branch in Asaba. We have a branch in Warri. We have a branch in Ibadan. We have 6 branches in Lagos alone. For you to be able to run a retail business, people need to be led. They need to be led by a vision bigger than them. They need to be led by inspiration. And that’s why I go round the branches. To touch base with the team. On arrival at some of these branches, I found that they were issues with our organizational structure.
I found that there was a hierarchical culture in some branches where branch members were not able to speak their minds confidently without references to their managers. There were other branches where there were liberty in their ability. I left there realizing that there was a need to break that culture. It’s a Nigerian culture but it is a culture that drives sycophancy. That doesn’t drive sincerity and genuine feedback. I also found that my visit to the branches gave people inspiration. I got the chance to speak about the company vision, where we are going, where every one of them can play and how working together can help all of us together collectively to build the company. So it was great. It was also great for me to connect with people. Many times when some people are employed by the company, I don’t get to see and experience them. But by going to the branches, I sometimes instinctively pick on people I see signs of great leadership, signs of great skills in. It opened my eyes to all sorts in Nigeria as a country.
You know, travelling across Nigeria. And as an organization, it also opened my eyes to theft in the system. It’s not because I saw evidence but because I picked it instinctively. And that’s one of the things about being an entrepreneur. There are some of the things that you feel. And then you’ll go and look for information to support it. And I did do that. Went through an investigative process to find out what was going on in some certain branches. Our internal control audit department worked on that. But this is the reality of doing business.
Even though I identified people who were dishonest, but I also saw people who were honest and committed to the vision. Seeing people who needed a hand to hold, mentorship. I love the company I have built and proud of what we have done. I have seen managers who have thrived and grown. I’ve identified areas where some managers were weak and how to help them in that process. So those are my findings on that journey.
And the jump that we do outside. I go to some branches and they are like you haven’t jumped yet. It just shows that as a leader, you have to connect with the people. And that’s what I was doing. Because every year once a year, we have people come into the company for a retreat. We can’t wait for that once in a year for me do that, for me to connect with them. Because it’s going to be a culture going forward.
DANG: Can you give us an insight into the life of a couple with a really busy schedule?
Tara Fela-Durotoye: We talk a lot at night. We’ve had a culture for over ten years or so where we get up in the middle of the night and sort of touch base. We go to bed early so it becomes important.
We also have our Wednesday night dates. We have when we go to the cinemas. We try to go quite late because my husband is quite a public figure. And many times when we go out, sometimes it can be distracting. When we want to have our own personal time together, whether it’s going to dinner or what have you. That’s how we catch up. We also have a custom of going away every year on the date of our wedding anniversary. We go away for about 10-12 days. Just ourselves without our children. To catch up, to bond. To spend intimate times without bothering about meetings. We go to where it’s just two of us. There are no meetings. No obligations. Just wake up and just basically spend time with each other. Going to places where no one knows you. So you don’t get distracted by that as well. That’s how we kind of catch up on ourselves. Sometimes we also go on walks in the morning. I walk in the morning. But usually, I walk by myself. But to spend intimate time, sometimes my husband will come with me on that walk.
I think we are both conscious of the realities of how much work is required to stay happily married and we are putting in that effort.
In the process of living that busy life, what gives is the amount of time spent with the children. As they’ve grown older, we’ve had to spend more quality time than quantity. There are three of them so they’ve learnt how to become their own mafia. They are very close and each other’s friends. But I think that what gives is the amount of time in terms of volume. But I think the respite for us is that when we do spend time, it’s the quality of time that we do spend.
DANG: How does changing lives make you feel, why is it so important to you?
Tara Fela-Durotoye: I recently was at a program where I was talking about the importance of social impact. I had shared to African entrepreneurs in the room that it becomes imperative that because of many social issues in our community as Africans, when we build businesses, we must just not build businesses that are profitable or generate revenue and income but we should also consider businesses that solve a social problem.
We are created by God, there are certain things that are inside of us that helps us achieve our vision. And I consider myself as one of those people who, the desire to impact has been put in. It’s not something I can pretend to have. It’s not something I can imagine I have. It’s innate. So impacting lives is part of the business that I run. So when I talked about customer segmentation earlier on and I said when you are creating a product, you have to ask who is your product for. What do I have to give? What I have to give as a person is empowerment.
I have to find a way to express it through the business that I run on a day to day basis. Because it is a gift that I have, I am on a mission to empower people. Women. Entrepreneurs. So until I’m empowering in whatever I’m doing, I don’t feel fulfilled. And that’s my reality.
It’s almost like an empowerment tablet given to me to swallow. And it’s expressed in what I do. It’s expressed through the House of Tara vision and how it is demonstrated. It gives me a high. It makes me feel successful. And every time I’m not doing that, I don’t feel successful. And so I measure my success in the lives of people I have impacted. Who House of Tara has touched. It is the 10,000 young women who have registered to become Tara entrepreneurs. And we spend and invest time and money and resources and our Network to develop them to become their own micro entrepreneurs and to hear their stories. Whether it’s 1000 voices or it’s 100 voices. That for me gives me a high.
DANG: How do you prepare for the TFD (Tara Fela-Durotoye) Series/masterclass? What are your expectations before you get on the stage to speak?
Tara Fela-Durotoye: The TFD series was an initiative of my mentor, Mrs Awosika. She wants to share more, that’s her life. Sharing and empowering is who she is. It’s what she does on a day to day basis. And she said to me that “I’ll like to connect more with young women around the age of 25”.
So, that’s what I was doing, giving her an opportunity to share. It also created a platform for me where I could also share. As the time went on, I also found my voice on that platform. And it was great to see the impact of my personal brand in a different light. It gave me the opportunity to be able to assess what value I bring. It helped me to actually become clear.
I think walking into TFD series room is always electric. It’s also always great to hear from people who paid for it, they send messages of how TFD has impacted their lives, of how they found their voice but also how they are paying it forward by doing the same in their communities. The program itself is really about structures, helping small businesses to build structures so that they can scale, using House of Tara as a case study of what I’ve done.
DANG: What’s your failure story? Every successful entrepreneur has one
Tara Fela-Durotoye: T segment of my life that I received some of my most successes is also the place where I’ve received some of my most failings. It’s where I’ve experienced some of my most failures and that’s my business. I’ve had the happiest moments and I’ve also had the darkest moments in running my business.