I believe I was born to be in the creative space. This is primarily why we have integrated media, tech, and IT into our business. I want people to know that being in the majority is too competitive and often too comfortable/costly to make a meaningful difference. We should all strive
to be individuals and find and hone our talents for a better world. Nigeria is short on skilled talent and we want to be the company to help bridge that gap
in any way possible. I believe if one gets out of bed every morning
to work, then it must be more than just transactional.
We must give our very best and set our sights
very high to accomplish the unimaginable.
The rest will take care of itself.
Everyone draws upon distinctive life experiences and skills; what an individual does with them actually shapes how he or she will come into his or her own. I have been afforded the opportunity of interviewing Emem Usen-Mudasiru, a female entrepreneur, to discover her backstory. She describes her journey of becoming a burgeoning businesswoman and the effects that her Nigerian-American background has had on this process.
When cultural norms precede you: born into a life of familial expectations
Emem was born the first of five children in Houston, Texas to Nigerian parents. She has two younger brothers and two younger sisters. As she explained, the eldest male child in a Nigerian family bears the brunt of responsibility, regardless of the age difference among siblings. Admittedly, Emem’s father wanted a male first-born child, but life had other plans.
Her family veered from general cultural norms in that Emem, although a female, became her father’s everything. This meant she was held accountable not just to her family, but society as well. Emem inherited the position of role model and caregiver for her siblings. The magnitude of such a position within her family structure has been ever-present in Emem’s thoughts: “I never strayed too far from a certain predetermined mental line I had unconsciously drawn.”
Above all else, education: the key that opens multiple doors
According to Emem, education is another aspect of value in Nigerian society, as well as all of Africa. Generally speaking, parents dictate the subjects students study, at least until they enroll in college. With an affinity for the social sciences, Emem earned a bachelor of science in interdisciplinary studies, though her father did not intend this to be her terminal degree.
Again, education is highly regarded and it is expected that students continue their studies to complete a masters or doctoral degree. Emem was of the mindset that she would not be defined by her degree, though. “Rather,” she admits, “it was a gateway to what I was to become.”
Initial aspirations meet a rude awakening
Emem studied communications in the hopes of becoming a broadcaster. While internships are designed to provide novices with genuine experience, Emem’s broadcasting internship in Houston, Texas was a little too real. Her dream shattered as she listened to fellow broadcasters gripe about the negative aspects of field work.
She transitioned her focus away from broadcasting and turned it toward developing as a connoisseur in the world of technology. “I know it is the future and, really, I like making the complex simpler — that’s my attraction to the IT sector.”
Cultivation, her own doing
While growing up, Emem learned from her mother that strength and beauty, although potentially transient, could take Emem far while her work ethic and gender would remain constant. And as she matured, Emem began to embrace both her American and Nigerian roots.
In hindsight, Emem has come to better understand her upbringing and the parenting style of her mother and father. “I have a healthy perspective and interpretation, now, to their parenting style and I know that culture and societal expectations of the time were their driving force…it all worked to my advantage.”
Her Christian foundation has allowed Emem to realize her purpose and she alone is responsible for honing her talents. Equally relevant, entrepreneurs, especially those who have built something out of nothing, continue to be a source of inspiration.
Emem moved to her parents’ homeland when she was five years old and Emem lived in Nigeria until she was twelve, when she returned to the states. Emem would later reside in Nigeria for the second time when she was in her mid-thirties.
Her father was born to the first wife of a polygamous community king and his mother’s first four children died during childhood. Thus, in much the same way that Emem was born into responsibility, the same can be said for her father. As the first-born living child, it was expected that he would get an education, which is what took him abroad. Two of his brothers would also find themselves stateside (Emem would eventually live with one of these brothers when she returned to the states as a child).
Her mother was the only child born to Emem’s maternal grandparents. Emem’s mother fulfilled the role of breadwinner to her step-siblings (Emem’s grandfather married twice), and actually brought one of her siblings to California. Again, another parallel is drawn between Emem and her parents. “In hindsight, I unconsciously became my parents — not in caring for my siblings financially as they did — but in becoming very financially dependent so I can have the means to help out.”
Emem’s father returned to Nigeria with his family (as previously mentioned, when Emem was five years old) due to disputes over land ownership and for the mere fact of his position within his family. Her father has remained in Nigeria (where he resides in Uyo, in the state of Akwa Ibom) while Emem’s uncles, siblings, and mother live throughout the states.
At the age of 33, Emem felt the calling to reside in Nigeria permanently. It was a place she felt happy to call home. Family and friends had made the transition to Nigeria prior and were doing well, which helped bolster Emem’s confidence in such a move. Her final mental persuasion occurred when she learned the company Emem was working for at the time had officially undergone a merger, meaning employees would be laid off or transferred to the new company.
Her first year of business adventures in Nigeria cost Emem much of her savings and she felt burned out. She later married in 2014 and settled in Lagos with her husband.
When a balance in life includes imbalances
Despite characterizing herself as a workaholic, Emem likes spending time with her husband and dog. Her stepchildren reside in the states and Emem plans to spend time with them before returning to Nigeria. She enjoys watching shows like Homeland, Designated Survivor, and House of Cards as well as trying new foods and restaurants around Lagos. Still, she delights in a quiet and comfortable night at home too.
Taking nothing for granted: when experiencing the bad creates an appreciation for the good
While working as an intern, an acquaintance introduced Emem to the world of business, specifically medical supplies, for the first time. The company went bust and she was stiffed in the process, not to mention the fact that Emem had to work hard to clear her name.
A positive takeaway from this experience was the freedom and responsibility that came with her job in medical supplies. (That sense of liberation would continue to motivate Emem throughout her career.) After this devastation, she spent time dabbling in various positions as an “errand girl” and in the mortgage, clothing, and human resources industries.
When one idea takes root and ricochets into the rest
Emem has returned to the states off and on since getting married. And during this time, 25th and Staffing became a tangible concept. Inspired by her time working in human resources, both in the states and for four months in Nigeria, Emem knew that she aspired to have her own agency one day.
With the financial support of friends and family, Emem’s goal of creating her own company came to fruition in 25th and Staffing. With a vision designed to “train and educate a skilled workforce to compete in Nigeria and globally,” 25th and Staffing combines human resources and technology (https://www.25thandstaffing.com).
The business continues as a work in progress in Nigeria. Emem is involved in all its aspects and a typical day includes responding to e-mails and reviewing written and visual content. “We are big on reducing frictions and creating value in whatever we do for our customers.” Fortunately, she enjoys teaching, leading, and training, all of which contribute to an authentic experience. Emem plans to expand her company to the states by 2020.
Mentorship: learning from mistakes
Emem’s startup could not have happened at a better time as Nigeria and Africa at large are witnessing an increase in women starting their own businesses in addition to holding positions of power and prestige. “Nigeria and Africa as a whole have taken a turn for the better in my opinion…I don’t see a downturn ever.”
Furthermore, much of her time is dedicated to mentoring young Nigerians to gain experience so that they can discover what they are meant to do (and not do). “This is what kills the noise that naiveté and culture bring and detect.”
Thus, her work and mentorship all circle back to Emem’s passion for a career in human resources. “I am passionate about people living their best lives in any way possible, without hurt or pain to others. This is the primary reason I decided to have a career in human resources.”
What the mirror reveals
Her determination and drive to get where she is going are what set Emem up for success and apart from others. Like so many talented individuals, Emem is guilty of expecting the same high quality and standards from others. She still has many plans in the works for her company but Emem knows it is moving in the right direction. “I enjoy the fact that nature keeps upping the stakes, which keeps me on my toes.”
Author: Kathleen Moran
Editor’s Note: As a professional writer, residing in the United States, Kathleen’s desire to explore the world has provided opportunities to engage in heartfelt conversations, revealed across pages through storytelling.