Abayomi Ayoola: A Resilient, Inspirational Leader Nurturing Excellence in Marketing Communications

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…The 10 most inspiring black corporate executives of the year 2023

“Excellence for us at Exposé is not just a word, it is our attitude, our culture,” says Abayomi Ayoola, Managing Director of Exposé Marketing Solutions Limited. Embarking on a journey with him unveils a narrative of inspiration, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence. His insights and experiences serve as a guiding light for aspiring leaders, transcending racial and geographic boundaries.

Abayomi’s story, principles, and self-authored mantra provide valuable lessons in leadership and personal growth. In this exploration of his remarkable journey, we delve into the core of Abayomi’s philosophy and vision, shaping a path forward that inspires and motivates those who aspire to lead in a diverse and dynamic world.

A Visionary Leader’s Perspective of Success

Abayomi outlines the critical factors that define what success means to him. “Every leader,” he asserts, “has a unique definition of success. Rightly introduced, success is uniquely defined and subjective from leader to leader. It means a lot of things to several leaders depending on the goals at the moment and life pursuits.”

As a visionary leader, Abayomi emphasizes, “There are several critical factors I consider as my success metrics.” He proceeds to elucidate these metrics: “inspiring and motivating people around me; innovating to solve problems; juggling daily activities in an integral way that maintains a healthy work-life balance; learning, unlearning and relearning while impacting turnaround knowledge within my sphere of contact and influence.”

“In all these ramifications,” Abayomi emphasizes, “the key is to focus on the objectives and goals per time.” He shares his firm belief in the words of the late American essayist and sage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, stating, “Our chief want in life is someone who will inspire us to be who we could be or what we can become.”

Abayomi underscores the importance of inspiring others to become leaders, fostering the belief that individuals can achieve whatever they set their minds to, and helping them cultivate the “I can do” attitude in pursuit of their goals. He maintains that his success definition goes beyond financial projections. His definition of success centres on “delivering promises to your team” and fostering a culture that encourages creativity, innovation, and nurtures the development of problem solving skills like  collaboration, adaptability, and resilience.

Likewise, Abayomi focuses on creating an environment in which his team can grow, flourish, and maximize their potentials. He asserts, “On work-life balance, I mean, the ability to juggle your routine and demands of the different aspects of your life within your daily allotted time to ensure family, social engagements, community involvement, health and fitness, and spiritual devotions, etc. are taken care of. This is a key success definition factor.”

Abayomi encapsulates his success philosophy with popular mantra: “Keep Walking.” He advocates for continuously moving forward, confronting hurdles and challenges, and never staying stagnant, as he believes that stagnation is synonymous with retrogression and decline. In his view, these critical factors define what success means to him.

A Journey Nurtured by Faith and Community Service

To understand the origin of his journey, Abayomi takes a trip down memory lane to his childhood. He grew up in a pastoral community where his father served as a pastor, and Abayomi, being the first son, actively participated in his father’s ministry.

One significant aspect of his early experience was acting as his father’s interpreter during sermons, which entailed translating from Yoruba to English and vice versa. This involvement not only nurtured his leadership capability but also provided opportunities to organize church services and plan various outreaches including crusades, with audiences ranging from 500 to 1,000 people.

His family’s evangelistic activities allowed him to hone his event-organizing skills. He became technically proficient in audio-visual and aesthetic setups. This early exposure to ministry also fuelled his interest in social responsibility and community outreach.

Reflecting on his journey, Abayomi cites C. J. Heck saying that “we are a product of our environment”. He also acknowledges the role of people, adventures, and books which shaped his perspective on life and embodies the great individual he has become. He believes these factors have significantly influenced both his personal and collective success of the Exposé team.

Finding Purpose in Marketing Communications

Abayomi reflects on his life before founding Exposé Nigeria and shares the turning points that marked the beginning of his career. He believes that discovering one’s path in life isn’t always apparent from the outset, likening it to the idea of the “keep walking” slogan with purpose. His working career commenced in the banking sector, immediately following his completion of a polytechnic degree.

Abayomi started his journey from the Credit Risk Department of First Bank of Nigeria Plc. at Marina, Lagos where he was mentored by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Former Executive Director, FBN). He then moved to First City Monument Bank (FCMB), where he worked in the Operations Department, first as a Bulk Teller, then a Head Teller. He humorously points out that his career often placed him in “first positions,” hinting at the potential for pioneering something new in the future.

Despite his accomplishments in banking, Abayomi felt unfulfilled and sensed a calling in a different direction. He recognized that the dichotomy between a polytechnic and a bachelor’s degree limited his ambition to work in the marketing and corporate communications unit of the bank. Determined to follow his passion, he made the bold decision to resign from the banking sector. He was unafraid of starting over, a characteristic that would become a hallmark of his career.

Returning for a bachelor’s degree, Abayomi sought income-generating activities to support his education, such as selling boxed cakes to friends and colleagues. It was during this time, around 2009 or 2010, that he received an offer for a brand activation job, specifically a consumer activation for McDowell’s.

Initially hired as a Promoter, Abayomi’s dedication and performance caught the client’s eye. He was quickly promoted to Activation Supervisor, then to Coordinator and Project Manager, overseeing the entire Southwest region of Nigeria. In this role, he managed brands like Airtel, Trophy Lager Beer, Benson & Hedges’ cigarette brands, and many others.

Upon completing his degree program, Abayomi faced a choice between two job offers: one from Puma, a branded sportswear merchandising company, and another from a marketing communications agency. While Puma offered better remuneration and perks, the agency provided him with a nurturing environment for his ambitions and an opportunity for mentorship. He chose the marketing communications agency, where he secured a permanent placement in 2012, setting the course for his future in the industry.

Establishing Exposé Nigeria Amidst the Challenges of 2020

Abayomi explains what motivated his decision to embark on a journey with Exposé Nigeria in 2020, amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic in June and a shifting business landscape, noting that, “It was in 2020. The year of the COVID-19 Pandemic. June 16 to be precise, and the gradual easing of the lockdown restrictions and partial movements had begun.”

During this period, he acknowledges the significant challenges faced by the marketing communications industry, with a heavy reliance on digital marketing. Despite these hurdles, Abayomi made the bold choice to resign from his position as the Managing Director of an A-listed creative and experiential marketing agency, a role he had held since its start-up in December, 2018.

He reveals, “For me, it was a quantum leap in the sense that I converted my disappointment, being exploited, and my fear of starting all over again on that level of resignation, into the energy of faith and the courage to start all over again on this level of entrepreneurial journey.”

Abayomi’s motivation to make this move was primarily driven by a misalignment of values with his previous employer. As a person guided by principles, this catalysed his decision to part ways. His strong resolve to make a difference, his intrinsic problem-solving abilities, and his willingness to confront challenges were instrumental in the establishment of Exposé as a fully operational marketing agency.

Abayomi’s history of offering his problem-solving skills to others, often without charge, led him to realize that it was time to address his challenges. Rather than dwelling on past setbacks, he chose to rise above them and embrace the promising future that lay ahead. He concludes, “And it isn’t an illusion, but a vision rooted in the resolute will to make a difference and succeed.”

While Exposé Marketing Solutions, often referred to as Exposé Nigeria, has received prestigious awards such as “Young Experiential Marketing Agency of the Year” and “Emerging Experiential Marketing Agency of the Year” within its first two years of operation, Abayomi considers the best recognition to be the feeling of fulfilments from his colleagues and clients. The positive remarks alongside objective criticisms go beyond award plaques.

For Abayomi, the true essence of leadership lies inherently in the growth and development of the #HoomansOfExposé and their associates as a result of the organization he has created. It’s the lasting impact on individuals and their journeys that bring him the greatest joy and fulfilment.

How Exposé Nigeria is Revolutionizing Marketing Communications with Innovation and Excellence

Abayomi presents a comprehensive overview of Exposé Nigeria and the range of services it offers. “Exposé is an integrated marketing communications agency,” he says, “a digitally-driven talent and event management entity with a mission to change the brand activations landscape through innovation, creativity, and excellence.”

He takes pride in Exposé’s unique approach, emphasizing that they are not your run-of-the-mill agency. Instead, they focus on understanding their marketplace and the specific needs of their audience. This tailored approach allows them to address each client’s business with a bespoke lens, magnifying the details of their marketing and PR ecosystem, including brand portfolios and objectives.

This insight, in turn, enables Exposé to express their creativity and expertise in various areas, including experiential innovation, digital innovation, marketing & communication strategy, and reputation management. One of Exposé’s key strengths lies in its formative research approach.

Abayomi explains, “It usually entails spending a lot of time researching the client and their products. So, it’s a three-way thing – the client, the product, and their audience. We put all of this together to achieve all of the set objectives determined or stated in the briefs that we receive.”

As a ‘one-stop creative shop,’ Exposé offers a range of multi-faceted and multi-dimensional agency services that encompass brand activation, sales promotions, events management, live show production, digital marketing, and public relations. While they’re based in Lagos, Nigeria, they have a network of project-based footprints in over 20 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Moreover, there are plans in motion to expand their footprint into the sub-Saharan West African region.

Quality and client satisfaction are of paramount importance to Exposé. Abayomi underscores their core values, which are encapsulated in the acronym PACE: professionalism, ambition, creativity, and excellence. He explains that professionalism is the foundation of their ethical best practices. Ambition drives them to constantly improve their delivery. Creativity stirs them to generate innovative ideas while excellence fuels their commitment to surpassing the ordinary and setting a high standard of perfection.

He lists notable brands such as Pernod Ricard, Seven-Up Bottling Company, Dangote, Leadway Assurance, Transcorp Hilton, Alat by Wema, LiveScore, BASF, BetKing, Distell, Aspira, Dufil, Ekulo Group, Dulux, and others as major clients. In elaborating on their service portfolio, Abayomi mentions Exposé’s involvement in content development and management for clients’ social media systems, influencer management, content plans and execution, and press planning & engagement.

In addition to their marketing services, Exposé manages talent. They offer talent sourcing, identification, partnerships, and collaborations. On the sales front, they provide business-to-business and direct-to-consumer services and handle exhibitions, conferences, point-of-sales ideation, production, and trade programs, including open market activations, launches, penetrations, and consumer engagement.

Abayomi encapsulates Exposé’s mission: “In a nutshell, we connect brands to consumers through media, entertainment, and culture”. With its innovative and client-centric approach, Exposé Nigeria aims to revolutionize the marketing communications landscape in Nigeria and beyond.

Abayomi envisions an ambitious and dynamic future for Exposé Nigeria. He plans to propel the agency to new heights, making it a “Glocal” powerhouse – a global agency with African roots. The vision includes managing world-renowned brands, expanding into various African markets, as well as entering territories in both the global north and global south.

Simultaneously, the agency aims to take a leadership role in its local base and drive industry discussions on innovation. This ambitious growth strategy is expected to materialize in the coming years. In the immediate future, it also intends to diversify into Live Event Production, further expanding its service offerings.

Contributing to the Growth of Exposé Nigeria

As the Managing Director at Exposé Nigeria, Abayomi carries the mantle of leadership with a clear sense of his role and responsibilities. He describes himself as “resilient,” reflecting his unwavering commitment to excellence.

In his daily work routine, Abayomi’s responsibilities involve overseeing the agency’s operations, ensuring the delivery of high-quality services, and maintaining a culture of excellence. He is known for his strong aversion to anything that falls short of the right way, emphasizing that it’s not about his way but the right way. This dedication to upholding the highest standards is a defining aspect of his leadership style.

Abayomi sheds light on how his expertise has played a pivotal role in facilitating the growth and success of Exposé Nigeria. “Personal expertise,” he says, “is understanding the market, having insights about the market, being socially connected, and having the ability to network”. He underscores his strength in human capital development and client service management, particularly in problem-solving, which has earned him a reputation as a trusted problem solver.

In addition to his understanding of markets and clients, Abayomi’s expertise extends to creating an enabling environment for his team members to thrive. He emphasizes the importance of being clear about the agency’s vision, his role as a businessman and agency leader, and his responsibilities as a leader in general.

Integrity is a fundamental value that Abayomi has instilled in his team members. He firmly believes that trust in a leader’s ability is crucial to progress and success, and it determines how far a team can go. He underlines the significance of keeping promises and delivering on commitments, emphasizing that his words are his bonds.

In essence, Abayomi’s expertise and leadership approach has played a pivotal role in the growth and achievements of Exposé Nigeria, shaping the agency’s success story based on trust, integrity, and a deep understanding of the market and clients.

Fostering a Culture of Integrity and Innovation

Abayomi discusses how he ensures a culture of integrity and innovation within his team at Exposé Nigeria. He underscores the importance of organizational culture, citing the agency’s set of core values, which include innovation, professionalism, creativity, and excellence. These values, he notes, guide the behaviour of everyone in the organization, from management to employees.

To cultivate a culture that embodies these values, Abayomi designs a system within the organizational environment that encourages and exemplifies these core values. This goes beyond the aesthetics of the corporate ambience or operational premises and extends to the corporate character traits of honesty, innovativeness, and integrity.

As the leader of the agency with responsibilities for overseeing organizational well-being, Abayomi implements processes and systems that empower every team member to express themselves. He highlights the agency’s open-door policy, emphasizing that employees are encouraged to speak up and communicate openly. They are empowered to do so as part of the agency’s whistleblowing policy, which guides the reporting of unethical behaviors or actions that could be detrimental to the organization.

Abayomi is committed to compliance and avoiding shortcuts and compromises. He sets an example by embodying the value of integrity, ensuring that remittances such as income taxes and pension deductibles are accurately processed and that financial records are up-to-date.

In terms of fostering innovation, Abayomi emphasizes the importance of continuous learning, stating that staff members are provided with opportunities for training and knowledge acquisition. Workshops, seminars, conferences, and retreats are part of the agency’s approach to continuous learning and human capacity development.

He mentions that Exposé has established a process flow and standard operating procedures to guide every aspect of their work, from client correspondences and email policies to environmental and safety policies. The agency has numerous policies captured in a comprehensive handbook that defines its operations.

Abayomi recaps the key elements that contribute to their culture of integrity and innovation, including encouraging a growth mindset, fostering open communication and collaboration, empowering employees, maintaining a stimulating workplace, allocating time and resources to innovation, promoting risk-taking and experimentation, supporting continuous learning, setting clear goals, leading by example, and implementing a consequence management policy.

To ensure compliance, they have a dedicated compliance manager who plays a role akin to an internal Financial Crimes Commission (FCC). Abayomi’s approach aims to create an organizational culture that values integrity and innovation, which, in turn, helps Exposé Nigeria thrive as an experiential agency committed to ethical best practices and aesthetic excellence.

Challenges and Lessons Learned on the Professional Journey

When asked about the role of challenges in personal growth, Abayomi reflects, “Challenges are critical or very integral part of life. As we say colloquially in Nigeria ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

He goes on to explain the profound impact of challenges on personal development, emphasizing how they instil a sense of value and appreciation for what one possesses. “If you don’t face challenges and you think you get things on the platter of gold, you may really or necessarily not value them,” he notes.

In Abayomi’s professional life, challenges are a constant companion. He points out that every aspect of business, from finding the right talent for a job specification to sourcing funding for projects, presents its own set of challenges. These obstacles require strategic thinking and often result in a greater depth of wisdom and astuteness in decision-making.

One of the significant challenges Abayomi discusses is business development, encompassing the task of acquiring new clients while managing existing accounts profitably in a highly competitive environment. He highlights the importance of managing clients effectively, ensuring they understand the creative approach to briefs, and persuading them to allocate budgets according to recommendations.

Abayomi delves into the challenges of human resource management, addressing the distinction between ability, capability, and performance in team members. He also expresses the frustration of dealing with talented individuals who leave unexpectedly, leaving projects incomplete. Financial challenges, such as sourcing funds for projects, coping with inflation, and managing elongated invoice tenures, also feature prominently in Abayomi’s professional journey.

Throughout his response, Abayomi maintains that facing these challenges with confidence is crucial, as it empowers individuals to navigate these hurdles effectively and find creative solutions. He views challenges as opportunities to tap into creative thinking and problem-solving skills, citing their role in pushing individuals to innovate and find last-minute solutions.

Summing up his perspective on challenges, Abayomi suggests, “Challenges build you up. The more challenges I have encountered, the more experienced I have become.” He emphasizes that obstacles are an inevitable part of every journey, regardless of an individual’s level of success.

Abayomi differentiates between two types of challenges: roadblocks and detours. Roadblocks are recurring challenges that can hinder progress, such as funding or conflicting interests. Detours, on the other hand, are often temporary setbacks that can temporarily impede progress, like the abrupt departure of a talented team member.

He recognizes the need for leaders to support their team members in such situations and acknowledges the importance of addressing their personal challenges. He highlights the impact of external challenges faced by employees, both in the workplace and in their personal lives, which can influence the overall performance of the business.

Also, he underscores the importance of providing support and motivation to team members, particularly in the face of economic austerity. Overall, his perspective on challenges underscores their significance in personal and professional growth and the vital role they play in shaping one’s journey.

Nurturing the Next Generation of Leaders in Nigeria

Abayomi sheds light on his experiences as a leader and his vision for empowering the next generation of leaders. While his context in Nigeria doesn’t involve racial discrimination, he shares valuable insights on generational leadership transition and the role he plays in shaping the Gen Z leaders within his organization, Exposé Nigeria.

He emphasizes that racial discrimination is not a concern in his region; however, ethnicism and tribal discrimination exist as alternative challenges. In Nigeria, one’s success or failure is not determined by skin color or race, and these factors do not hinder anyone from thriving.

Abayomi’s approach to influencing the next generation of leaders revolves around the concept of a “generational leadership transition prism.” He considers leadership styles of different generations, starting with Gen X leaders who prioritize results, performance, and outcomes over processes and effort. This style has significantly influenced his generation, the Millennials, known for their emphasis on continuous learning and growth.

In addition, he acknowledges the role of Gen X leadership in shaping the leadership style of Millennials. He then focuses on the emerging generation, Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012. These individuals exhibit democratic tendencies, possess a distinct set of values, and view the world from a different perspective. As a Millennial leader, Abayomi recognizes the need for a transformational leadership style to inspire Gen Z members, who are often called “Digital Natives.” His goal is to infuse them with enthusiasm, zest, and a forward-thinking mindset.

He adopts a coaching leadership style when working with young Gen Z professionals. He believes in building people, teaching them, and fostering a culture of excellence, determination, and resilience. This approach aligns with the organization’s investments in training and human capacity development, focusing on both hard and soft skills.

One of the central elements of Abayomi’s leadership is the promotion of a knowledge culture that revolves around “learning, unlearning, and relearning.” He encourages his team to develop essential leadership skills and prepares them for future roles and tasks.

Lastly, he promotes an inclusive and democratic atmosphere within Exposé Nigeria. Given that about 75 percent of their staff members are Gen Z individuals, they value open communication, collaboration, and social justice. He fosters a culture of collaboration, teamwork, and feedback. He values the opinions of his team and ensures their voices are heard in decision-making processes.

Abayomi’s leadership philosophy encompasses humility, a commitment to thinking big for others, clarifying expectations, introducing people to one another, and solving problems by identifying individuals with suitable solutions. His vision is to nurture the next generation of leaders, just as mentorship has guided his own development and journey to leadership.

Navigating Balance in Professional and Personal Life

Abayomi’s personal goals are diverse and include maintaining good health, deepening his faith, achieving a healthy work-life balance, improving his parenting skills, and continuing to build financial success.

In terms of work-life balance, he acknowledges the challenge of separating personal and professional life, given his passion for his work. Abayomi makes time for family and friends during weekends and maintains a regular workout routine to stay in shape. He also finds solace in reading books and going on holidays.

Abayomi keeps himself and his team motivated by maintaining a positive and enabling work environment free from toxicity. He emphasizes open communication, respect, and mutual courtesy. The agency also provides financial rewards and bonuses when necessary and celebrates staff on special occasions and achievements.

Inspirational Insights for Shaping the Path Forward

In a world filled with challenges, Abayomi’s perspective and dedication to excellence are inspiring beacons. His message to aspiring black executive leaders reflects his commitment to integrity, teamwork, and nurturing the next generation. As we reflect on Abayomi’s extraordinary journey, his words resonate with profound wisdom.

His self-authored mantra, “When all else is lost, the future remains,” encapsulates his unwavering resilience and the courage to navigate uncharted territory. From humble beginnings, he has demonstrated that “From Little Comes Great.” In these timeless maxims, we find inspiration to face our challenges, embrace our ambitions, and build legacies that stand the test of time.

Abayomi’s insights offer a remarkable testament to the power of persistence, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence in leadership and life. His journey serves as a testament to his determination and adaptability, guiding him through life’s ups and downs. With a passion for building legacies and a commitment to fostering talent, he is shaping a path forward not just for himself but for those who follow in his footsteps.

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