You are currently viewing “There is no such thing as work-life balance” – Tinuade Awe
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Tinuade Awe is the immediate past Chief Executive Officer of NGX Regulation Limited, the independent regulatory subsidiary of the NGX Group (formerly known as The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE)). Prior to that position, she was the General Counsel and Head of the Legal and Regulation Division of the NSE. Also, at various times, she served as Secretary to the National Council of the NSE; Executive Director, Regulation, where she had responsibility for the regulation of the two primary stakeholder groups of The Exchange, that is the Dealing Members that trade on The Exchange and listed companies that have securities listed on The Exchange.  Awe previously worked with Banwo & Ighodalo, a law firm in Lagos; the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague; the United Nations Compensation Commission in Geneva; and the New York office of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, a law firm with global presence.  She took  Obinna Chima through her early life, career journey and also counsels women on how to ascend  to leadership positions in corporate organisations… Excerpts

Can you tell us about your early life?

I was born and bred in Ibadan. I am from Kwara State and I was born into a family of two academics who taught at the University of Ibadan (UI).  My parents, Muyiwa and Bolanle Awe, were both professors in UI. So, I was born at the University College Hospital (UCH), I went to the UI Staff School and I think I had an ideal childhood. My parents were not wealthy as is clear from the fact that they were university employees. But there was a lot of love in the family and I was the last of my mum’s children and I think I was just quite well protected as well. I remember my siblings will always tease me by saying: “wait until you are 10,” and that was because my father kept me from house chores, telling all of them, “she can’t wash the dishes, she can’t sweep or do any chores, until she is 10 years.” So, when I now want to join them to have conversations or enjoy sweet gist, they’ll say, “No, wait till you are 10.”  So, it was a fulfilled childhood. I had a lot of friends, most of them children of other academics and they lived on the university campus. Life just revolved basically around the university. Nonetheless, my mum was the first and only female of three children and my father was the only male of five children and because of that they had significant responsibilities in their respective extended families. Then, as you can imagine, being academics, our house attracted a fair number of extended family members who were pursuing their educational goals. It was a childhood where my parents allowed us to have exposure to folks from the different strata of life. My mum in particular made efforts to ensure that we had other experiences. She liked going to the market and she would take us along. She’s 91 years now and she still likes going to markets. In fact, she would buy things from those children hawking things and make us understand that those children were helping their mothers to make ends meet. We don’t have to ask for school fees or whatever, but that child hawking is doing that to support his or her parents. She helped me to appreciate early on that there was nothing special about me that should make me look down on anyone.  My mother was also active in the South African liberation movement. So, some ideas around oppression and treating people appropriately were certainly important in my childhood. And, finally on this point, my father’s family was actually quite poor and he had been a house boy at some points growing up because it was not unusual in those days, for bright, indigent students to serve as house helps with educators. So, my father was very intentional about ensuring that we treated everyone with respect without regard to class distinctions. These values were recurring themes in my childhood: honesty, integrity, humility, treating others well and being respectful.

What influence did your parents have in your career choice and also in helping you develop ethics?

I think one of the good things about being the last one was that I didn’t have a lot of pressure around my career choice. Probably by the time they got to me, if they had put pressure on my older siblings, they had realised that they should allow me to choose what I wanted to become. But, there was a constant subtle message – I think it was because my parents were both employees – a recurring thing about doing something that allowed you to be able to work on your own if you wanted to. So, I remember they would always tell me to be a professional. I guess when you are good in art subjects in those days, everyone would say be a lawyer. Eventually, I chose law. I attended Queens College, Lagos for my secondary education. I left Ibadan for Queens College and at Queens College I chose both science and art subjects. So when it was time to do JAMB because I had science subjects, I choose pharmacy.  I remember my mum was not impressed with pharmacy and she made me to know that!! But, she did not stop me at all. I was admitted to UI to study pharmacy. But, UI had an age requirement which I was too young to meet. I was 15 and the age cut off was 16. So, in discussions with my parents, we decided that what we will do was to have me defer that admission by a year. And, then they encouraged me – because I think they realized that I was better with the art subjects – to do a year of “A” levels at International School Ibadan (ISI). So, I had that admission for UI to do pharmacy and then I went to ISI to do art subjects for one year of “A” levels. I did JAMB after one year and got into the Obafemi Awolowo University (Ife) to study law. When I look back now, my career was chosen through a process of discussion and encouragement by my parents, very subtle, and I think that could be because they had had the experience of dealing with my older siblings. So I moved on with law and I loved it. It was wonderful.

Tell us about your career trajectory.

I started my career with Banwo & Ighodalo in Lagos. It was a young law firm them and I worked very closely with Asue Igholdalo and Femi Banwo. They made it clear that I had to work hard from Day 1. It was also the time of June 12. I used to stay off Queens Drive and the office was on Awolowo Road, both in Ikoyi. There was a time when other lawyers couldn’t come to the office because they lived on the mainland. So, for a short period of time during the June 12 riots, I was the only lawyer regularly going to the office because it was unsafe for others. I would walk from home to the office and that really gave me a sense of responsibility very early in my career. And, when you expect something from somebody, a normal person rises up to that challenge. Asue in particular would constantly tell me “this is not good enough.” He would mark up my documents with his green pen. That was the start and I am very thankful for that training.

I then went to do my Masters because I got the best results in my year at The Nigerian Law School, 1992. I was the first female ever to top the class in the history of The Nigerian Law School. One of the things about getting the best result was that I got the opportunity to interview for a British Council Chevening scholarship. It was called the Sir Daniel Alexander Memorial Scholarship Award. I got that and went to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). I came back from the LSE and I wanted to do a PhD. I think I wanted to do a PhD because my sister was at that time doing a PhD in Environmental Engineering at Imperial College and she’s the only sister I have and a role model for me. But, now, I’m very glad that even though I got admission to do the PhD, I couldn’t find the funding because it is very lonely degree. At that time, I was pretty competitive with others. That was a piece of feedback that Asue gave me and he admonished that if I wanted to succeed in life, I shouldn’t be competitive with anyone but my best self. I am grateful for that feedback from Asue. With a PhD you are alone. So, I probably would not have done well with a PhD.


Around the same time as I was mulling the PhD, I found out about an opportunity to go to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and it was in The Hague in the Netherlands. I really thank God for Justice Karibi-Whyte whom I worked with as a Law Clerk at the ICTY. The European Union (EU) had an arrangement with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which is an NGO based out of Geneva, the United Nations (UN) and the ICTY, that they would provide young lawyers to work as Law Clerks to support the Judges and the Registrar of the ICTY. Justice Karibi-Whyte, insisted that he was not willing to take a law clerk who wasn’t a Nigerian. These are the kinds of things that I think people in positions of authority and influence should do. I also had a mentor who was working with the ICJ, Mrs. Tokunbo Ige who encouraged me to apply. I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I applied and I got selected. Working with Justice Karibi-Whyte was just amazing.  I was about three/four years at the Bar working with somebody who had been on the Supreme Court for years. It was a great experience for almost two years, living in The Hague. I can’t describe the experience, especially the people I met because it just opened my mind and my world. The work was also ground breaking work. Remember, the last major war crimes trials before the ICTY were after the Second World War, Nuremberg! As I was opening my mind, I was soaking up knowledge, information and it was at that time that I realized that my written work product was not of the quality it should be. I thought I was a kingpin after coming out with a 2:1 from OAU, Ife; First Class from Law School, and I even went to LSE. But when I got to The Hague, I started looking at the work product of my colleagues and I knew I had lots more to do. And, I did what I needed to do to be my best. For example, I got a book about how to write and the proper use of grammar. Till today I still have it in my library.  The intent of the arrangement at the ICTY was to try and get young lawyers from around the world to learn about international humanitarian law while providing a service to the judges and the registrar. It was about a two year engagement. So, before the end of that, I started looking for a new job. By this time, I was clear I didn’t want to return to Nigeria yet and I was talking to an old friend of mine who actually grew up as a UI campus kid as well, Dapo Akande. He is now a Professor of Law at Oxford University. I told him I was looking for a job and he referred me to an advert from The Economist. It was on the last day for application and I applied. They invited me for the interview in Geneva and I also did the test. It was with the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC). The UNCC was set up after Gulf War I, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The UN had determined that Iraq was the perpetrator and will pay for the losses. But what they were now looking for was for people and corporations to make compensable claims. Again, I went there and that was my first experience working in multi-disciplinary teams with loss adjusters, valuers, accountants, economists, psychologists and others. The UNCC humbled me as a lawyer because I worked with a whole lot of other professionals and I saw what everyone brought to the table. We created compensation methodologies. I was in the team that helped to create the methodologies for high value personal property claims like luxury automobiles, antique furniture, horses etc. Basically, we started building something out of almost nothing, just as had been done at the ICTY.

At both of the ICTY and the UNCC, I had interacted with American lawyers and I thought these guys were on a higher level of competence than others from around the world. So, as my time at the UNCC was coming to an end, because it was a specialized agency that was not meant to operate forever, I started thinking of the United States. Towards the end of the second year, I felt like I needed to become more like an American lawyer. So, I started trying to apply for jobs in the US, but I was too foreign for the American legal employment market. I realized that I needed an American stamp of approval. I applied to Harvard for a Masters Degree in Law and I put everything I had into that one application and I got in. They also gave me a fellowship called the Landon H. Gammon Fellowship. Harvard is a wonderful place. I always say to people if you’re going to do a Masters, do it after you’ve worked for a while. The difference in my experience at the LSE and Harvard was like night and day. I allowed Harvard to pass through me. I wasn’t focused on grades. The grades came out fantastic by the way, but that wasn’t my focus. It was to engage with people, meet the lecturers and enjoy the atmosphere – become attractive to the American legal employment market. Everybody comes to speak at Harvard and so I was going to listen to people speak and that kind of thing. Before you knew it, I started applying for jobs and of course, because I had very good grades in Harvard, eventually, I got a job, even though I didn’t get the job immediately. I got a job with a prestigious law firm called Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which is always among the top three to five firms in the United States.

By this time, my mum, who is always my greatest critic and my loudest cheerleader, said to me, “a rolling stone gathers no moss” and that I needed to sit down at one place. Remember she had worked all her life in one place, UI.  So, she warned that The Hague today, Geneva tomorrow, New York the day after was dangerous! So, I sat at Simpson Thacher for seven years before I left. Now the thing with professional firms is that they are pyramids. You start with a lot of people, a wide base, and then its gets narrower as people keep getting out of the pyramid to partnership at the top. After a while, I came to realize that it was unlikely that I would get to the top of that pyramid, even though some excellent folks did. Another thing was that I was getting burnt out because White Shoe law firms (as they are called) will give you fantastic experiences but if you are not intentional about your wellness, you will burn out. So, I needed to take a break.

So, I started looking around for my next move around the fifth/sixth year at Simpson Thacher. I had always been interested in Nigeria and I had become the President of the Nigerian Lawyers Association in New York. I had in the course of that presidency made contact with a number of law firms in Nigeria and I realised that law firms in Nigeria were doing very well. Remember this was the era of banking consolidation and the law firms were growing fast and I felt that I could come back to Nigeria and enter the scene.

One of the things I liked about my experiences is that I wasn’t hampered. My mind was open so I really believed that I could do anything. In the course of my searching for the next thing, my sister told me about a leadership school in South Africa and I decided to check it out. I met up with the guys promoting it when they came to New York and I joined them as the Anglophone Director of Admissions for West Africa at the African Leadership Academy (ALA) for a year. It was my break from the law and I loved it. I came back to Nigeria and I was based out of Nigeria and I was traveling to a number of West African countries to recruit their best students to become the first set of students of the ALA. It was a subtle way to ease myself back into Nigeria.

As my time at ALA was coming to an end, I also started trying to get into a law firm in Nigeria but that did not work. I did not find an appropriate position. In fact, I was working with a number of colleagues to see whether we could set up a law firm, but that didn’t pan out as well. So, I sat down with my good friend, Oyinda Ige and we set up a consulting firm which we named MUN2 Solutions, and we told anyone that cared to listen that it’s a knowledge shop. We basically did all sorts of stuff, using the knowledge that we had. It was great. But the thing about having a small consultancy start up and having to put food on the table, especially after working with a not-for-profit organisation, ALA, for a year, was that my income dropped significantly!! But, we persevered and kept our eyes open for opportunities.


And, a great opportunity came when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under Ms. Arunma Oteh and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) decided to investigate the capital market activities of the intervened banks. I was invited to come and assist in this effort. So, for about five or six months, I directed a multidisciplinary team that looked into the activities of these intervened banks, Afribank, Finbank, etc. That was the opportunity I got to enter the Nigerian Capital Market.  I was blessed because the work gave me the opportunity to interact, albeit in a limited manner, with Ms. Oteh and others at the SEC.

Once we were done with the investigation, I got on with the business of continuing to build MUN2. But, God has a sense of humor. Just as I was picking up at MUN2, I got a call from the SEC inviting me to join its intervention team for the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). As you may recall, the SEC intervened in the management of the NSE in August 2010. I joined the team as Special Adviser to Mr. Emmanuel Ikazoboh who was appointed the Interim Administrator of the NSE. The Interim Administration had a number of remits from SEC. I will not go into all of them now because it is unnecessary but one of them was to appoint a new executive management for the NSE.  One of my first tasks was to be the contact person for the NSE, working with Accenture on the selection process for these executives. That selection process, which was approved and superintended by the National Council (Board) of the NSE, brought in Oscar Onyema and Ade Bajomo as CEO and Executive Director, Market Operations and Technology, respectively.


There was no dull moment during the Interim Administration. I was working with the National Council, Legal, HR, Administration, Security, and Finance etc. Then, of course, there was the investigation by the SEC, various appearances and submissions to the legislative bodies, and interactions with law enforcement. I succeeded at some things. And, of course, I also failed at some things. I learnt fast and quickly.  I think I had my greatest growth in emotional intelligence during the Interim Administration! It was that intense. It was also a period of immense professional growth and responsibility for me. I think I was also greatly helped by the fact that I was new to the market so I did not owe anyone any favors or even know who people were. I remain indebted to Emmanuel Ikazoboh for his support as my boss.

When Oscar came in, he said he wanted me to remain as a consultant and I agreed. It was an exciting time because he had a lot of great ideas and the new executive management, which was subsequently joined by Bola Adeeko and Haruna Jalo-Waziri and just super. In the course of that consultancy, the executive position for Company Secretary and Head of Legal and Regulation at the NSE opened up. I applied for it and I got the job after a competitive process. So, it was a question of someone that came in as a consultant and just never left. That was not the original intention. Remember, MUN2 was waiting for me to come back. So, once I decided to apply for the job at the NSE, Oyinda and I had a conversation and we gave up on MUN2. 

Lennox Mall

So, I was part of the executive headed by Oscar Onyema that did a lot of transformative work at the NSE and then the demutualisation, which was a huge deal. I don’t think you will be interviewing me now if not for the work I and others did at the NSE/NGX, right! I feel a sense of pride about all we were able to achieve individually and as a team. I am proud of the work I did leading my team as the first CEO of NGX Regulation. Some of the things I am most proud of from my time at NSE/NGX include the operationalisation of the Investors’ Protection Fund; the total revamp of the rules to global standard and the world class rule making procedure; the introduction of Minimum Operating Standards for the Dealing Members; the introduction of Risk Based Supervision for our Dealing Members and a comprehensive Compliance Monitoring Program; use of technology in regulation; building meaningful relationships and interactions with major stakeholders such as the EFCC, ICAN, Womens World Banking, the Financial Reporting Council and the International Sustainability Standards Board; and providing regulatory services to other African countries such as Ethiopia and Ghana. There was a lot, given that I was there for thirteen and a half years. And, I was truly blessed with a fantastic team; over ninety highly competent professionals worked as my team members over that period of time.  It was a good run. I have left that stage now and I feel fulfilled.

In all of these, is there a particular mentor or leader who inspired or empowered you?


I have already spoken about Mr. Ikazoboh. It was just 10 months, but he respected me and allowed me come up with my own ideas and he supported me to get things done. His support was crucial because we had some tough times. At Simpson Thacher, a number of folks were impressive. But, one stands out. I worked with a banking partner called John Walker. He was a real gentleman and his client service was the best I had ever seen. We had corporate clients who had very high stakes matters. Any misstep and you can literarily kill the company. So managing the emotions of those clients is a skill in itself and John was the master of the art. I would see clients lose their cool, be emotional and John would always keep cool and he would advise. He had empathy and he knew the exact words to speak. Then, I noticed that whenever clients decided on the course of action they wanted, John would tell us to go and do it and then he would show the client that it has been done, but he would still go ahead of explain to them the implication of their decision, honestly and firmly especially when they were about to do something he considered wrong for them. He also had excellent relationships with the regulators, but in a very ethical way. When I became a regulator, my approach when I listen to regulated entities was to be respectful and you don’t treat them like they are stupid. That approach of respectfulness I learnt from John and watching his interactions with regulators and clients.

I have spoken about Asue Ighodalo. He made it clear to me that he expected so much from me and he forced me to jump to meet those expectations. Again, what I learnt from that was that as a leader, when you tell your team that they can do something, you are supposed to be inspirational. You must select the right people to come into your team and then you get out of their way. You just have to tell them they can do it and support them. Justice Karibi-Whyte was another remarkable boss. He also believed in me. No matter how complicated the matter, he will say “Tinu, raise a draft.” And, that was all I needed to hear. How can a whole Justice Karibi-Whyte ask me to raise a draft of an ICTY Trial Chamber decision and I won’t bring on my “A” game? IT was an honor to be raising drafts for such a distinguished and humble individual.


All of these gentlemen knew I could swim, they were there to save me if I was drowning and when I made mistakes they didn’t hold it over my head. They were constant with measured praise, none of them berated me and they acknowledge me privately and publicly. I think good leaders also acknowledge their team members. It is important.

Is there a particular book that made significant impact on you?

A number of books. But my favorite writer is a Colombian writer. He is dead now and his name is Gabriel García Márquez. He died in 2014, but his last book, “Until August” was just released by his family this year.  I am yet to get that one. His book that had the greatest impact on me, that really blew my mind is called “A Hundred Years of Solitude.” Part of the book that speaks to me is that even in noise, you should find solitude to move on and that one person’s reality is not another person’s reality around the same event. So put yourself in somebody else’s shoes before you react. When he was my boss at the NSE, Oscar Onyema would always say “Tinu, consider the principle of duality.” And, I agree with him. García Márquez is known for magical realism, just like Ben Okri.

The other book is the Bible. I constantly refer to instructions from the Bible as I interact with my children. One of my favorite motherhood sayings which my children can quote in their sleep is “seest thou a man diligent in his work, he shall not stand before mere men, he shall stand before kings.” The Bible is full of wisdom. And, wisdom is profitable to direct.


There is also a woman that I follow and I look up to. I have just gotten her memoir, “My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future” and I am just about to start reading it. I have never met her and she doesn’t even know I exist. He name is Indra Nooyi. She was the CEO of Pepsico. She is of Indian origin. So she is also from a country where there are heavy cultural influences and the way that things should be and the way you should behave as a woman etc. So, she is very relatable for me. I like to read anything she writes or puts out on LinkedIn and elsewhere. I watch any interview with her that I can lay my hands on.  She is super.

You are someone’s daughter, a wife, a mum and a business leader, how are you able to manage and effectively combine these different roles?

First of all, there’s nothing called balance. When people talk about work-life balance, it’s a mirage. There will always be something out of kilter. One of the first things is having an understanding partner. I can’t be married to a guy who says “I want you to cook every day, I need to eat fresh food, my children cannot be in the care of other people,” because it won’t work. So, having that partner who realizes that you’re more than his wife. That is, you are his wife, but you can also be an asset to your country or to the world and that reflects well on him because after all, you are his wife. I don’t take that for granted. I am married to my friend, ’Wuyi Ogunyinka. I thank God for ’Wuyi. He is my solid backer at any time.  Number two is having a structure that works for you.  ’Wuyi was very instrumental to this structure actually. We built it together. We had his mum came to live with us for like five years when we initially had our children. So, I had a level of comfort that my children were with somebody who was very caring and loved than and we also had my maternal cousin, who lived with us and she really loved my children too. The other thing we put in place is that, in addition to other domestic staff, we employed a well-educated young lady who had previously been a teacher to help with the children. She lives with us as our Governess. What does that mean? It means that their homework gets done under proper supervision and we have a whole slew of activities that are well supervised. It means that I get the benefit of a younger, educated person in raising my children. And, trust me, they like that because she is closer in age to them and some times more fun that mummy! So, I have a set up at home that ensures that things go smoothly. All their teachers know me and they know her. My son plays the saxophone, sometimes he has recitals in school, and she would be there and I just get the videos. Ditto my daughter and the swimming team. It is about making choices and living with them, not beating yourself up. I don’t have to cook but I can be there for the meal. I may not come to every school event, but we can take that family holiday that is just us. So, our lives are greatly enriched because we have family as well as the right staff whom we treat respectfully and pay well. It works for us. 

I think what does take a beating in my current situation sometimes is my relationships with my friends. You have a demanding job, you have a husband, and you have your children. And then, as you said, I’m a daughter and my mom is now a nonagenarian. Sometimes, there’s just not that space to socialize and socializing is very important. But when you realise that life is a stage and this stage is not forever. As I said, there is no balance. Right now, my balance is out with those social connections. So, if you have a long term view of life and you’re intentional, you will realise that balance only changes and you shouldn’t kill yourself or make life-long decisions.

I always say to young ladies, don’t leave your job that you love just because one day the daycare makes a mistake. Also, don’t ignore your husband because you have too much to do. Make time for date night and make time to travel. It’s just realising that the balance will continue changing. And, once you have an understanding partner in your corner and you have your tribe at home, everything good will come. 

What advice do you have for other women who aspire to be in leadership positions?

I think that the first thing is you have to bring your “A” game to the table. So your work product has to be of high quality and recognise that from day one, do the hard work and put in the time. Be conscious of what is happening in your field. Be able to read the trends and reading the trends comes from getting yourself involved in networks within your professional community and reading. I think it’s important to find mentors, but it is also important to find sponsors. A sponsor is somebody who is willing to bang the table for you to get ahead when you are not in the room where decisions about you are being taken. I came very late to this realisation.  But, trust me, it is super important. The reason why the sponsor is willing to go to bat for you is because you have done the things you needed to do and they are sure of your capability and so they are willing to expend their power in your favor plus, they know you as in you have a relationship with them. Hard work alone is not enough. You need to find those people yourself and you need to be useful to them as well. 

Also, if you want to be married as a woman leader (because you don’t have to be married), you have to marry a man who is ready to be married to a woman leader and who sees that there are benefits to him to be married to a woman leader. You can’t have somebody in your house who is constantly putting hurdles in your way. You have enough outside, so you don’t need it in your bedroom. Be strategic about the person that is your life partner, please.

Finally, for me, you have to believe in God and let him have His way in your life.  My own God is the father of my savior, Jesus Christ. The Bible talks about God ruling in the affairs of men and that the hearts of Kings are in His hands. I don’t understand people that don’t believe in God. Honestly, I don’t. God has brought me this far and I will always acknowledge him. There are too many divinely orchestrated events in my life for me to think it is all down to me.

What are you working on right now and what next for you?

Right now I’m on a short break from full time employment. I am taking some time to breathe and spend time with my family, including my nonagenarian mother. In the meantime, I’ve been doing some governance consulting, which is an area of competence especially given the roles I held at the NSE/NGX and my personal development in the area. I am also taking time to upskill myself particularly in the area of ESG and sustainability. Indeed, just last month I received my Sustainability & ESG Designation (GCB.D) and Certification from Competent Boards after a course of virtual study and interactions. Earlier on in the year, I joined the Supervisory Board of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which is based out of Amsterdam. GRI is the premier provider of sustainability reporting standards in the world. I also have board positions that are keeping me busy. On one of the boards, I chair the Governance Committee, and so there’s quite a bit of work to do on that and I’ve been busy with that. Finally, I still have a lot to offer the right organisation and  would welcome  exciting challenges.

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