My Corporate Journey – Olushola Oladejo – Flour Mills of Nigeria

Olushola Oladejo is the Food & Bakery Technology Manager at Flour Mills Nigeria PLC, the pioneer flour milling company in Nigeria, that also straddles the agribusiness, sugar and related businesses.

She has a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Technology and a Masters degree in Food Technology and is pursuing a PhD in Food Processing and Value Addition from the World Bank-assisted Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment (CEADESE) in the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

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Describe your current role, your key responsibilities and the most critical deliverables?

I am a Food Technologist with about six years’ experience in startup and multinational food companies spanning product development, product improvement, laboratory management, training, customer insights gathering, quality control, quality assurance, regulatory affairs, and food processing. I have worked with Multinational Food Companies like UAC, Leventis and I currently work with Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc.

In my current role as a Food Technologist with Flour Mills Nigeria Plc, I am responsible for conducting comprehensive analysis and benchmarking analysis of products to suit customer’s quality specification.

I also conduct sensory evaluation analysis, make reports for product improvement and management review. I contribute to key product improvements, new products development, and other technically-based, business driven objectives. I provide technical support to customers by collaborating with sales/marketing department and conduct customer satisfaction survey, analyze data and make reports for decision making.

Tell us about your company and how it fits in with your career goals.

I currently work with Flour Mills of Nigeria (FMN). FMN is a Nigerian agribusiness company founded in 1960 by George S. Coumantaros. There are over 12,000 people working in the organization and it is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) multinational food companies in Nigeria. 

Working in FMN has helped to shape my career as a food technologist. I have had the opportunity of working with some of the best and most experienced food technologists and scientists in the country.  Working with FMN has also given me the opportunity to be amongst the people that have developed some of the most innovative food products in Nigeria. 

My career goal is to manage a customer centric food company that is focused on both product and process innovation with a view to build value for all stakeholders. Working in FMN is helping me gather all the necessary expertise and experience that I need to achieve this goal.

What are the most important skill sets in achieving success in your role?

There are several skills required to be a successful food technologist. Some of them are:

Science Oriented Skills:  Food technologists have the responsibility of developing and improving existing food products and setting standards for producing, packaging and marketing food. In doing these, we use chemistry, microbiology, engineering and other scientific methods to study the food and food products. It is therefore important that people who aspire to be successful food technologists have some of these science-oriented skills.

Analytical skills: As a food technologist, I analyze the products of food companies with a view to identify areas that we can improve our existing products or even develop new ones. It is therefore important a successful food technologist have some analytical skills.

Good observation and communication skills: As a food technologist you must be observant and be able to use your five senses effectively. (Sight, taste, smell, feeling and sound). You should also be able to communicate your findings to relevant stakeholders.

Creativity: As a food technologist you must be creative. You must be able to solve problems creatively. Developing new products and improving on existing products and processes needs a very good level of creativity.

Lastly, you need to pay attention to details. As a food technologist you must be detailed and accurate when conducting research. 

What were some of your previous roles? How important were these roles in shaping your current role?

I started my career as a Quality Line Inspector at Leventis Foods. I was then promoted to become a Quality Compliance and Safety Officer. These two roles gave me hands-on experience on what happens in a food factory and helped me understand ways that organizations can continuously improve the quality of their products and the processes involved in food production.

I was given the opportunity yet again to manage the laboratory and regulatory affairs of Leventis Foods. In this role, I was responsible for analyzing products in the laboratory and interacting with regulatory authorities in the food and beverages industry in Nigeria.

The role, therefore, helped me understand the various regulatory requirements that can help food and beverages companies to retain their going concern status. 

What have been some of the key turning points in your career? Have you ever had a change in career direction? If so, how did you handle the change? What lessons did you derive from this change?

I have not really had a major change in my career path. I am still in the food industry and I will always have something to do with food.

The high points for me so far is revamping the microbiology laboratory at Leventis Foods and registration of new products with the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration & Control (NAFDAC) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) when I was at Leventis Foods.

I am also proud to have been part of the team that developed the Golden Penny Classic flour, Easy-Bake flour and Mai-Kwabo pasta in late 2018. My department was recognized as the best department of the month.

What makes your role interesting? What do you enjoy most about your role? What has been the role of mentors and family in the achievement of your professional goals?

What makes my role very interesting for me is that it gives me new challenges every day.  We are constantly listening to customers, analyzing competitors’ products and developing innovative products that will help us meet the dynamic customer demands. The role also gives me the opportunity to develop new recipes and standard operating procedures and improve on existing recipes and products. 

The role of family and mentors cannot be overemphasized. They are my support system and I believe everyone needs a support system around them. I am lucky to have a supporting family that keep me going. My husband has been particularly supportive…God bless the day I met that man! I also have some mentors that have helped my career. Without God and these mentors and support system, I won’t be where I am today.

Briefly, what is the typical day like in your role and company?

Every day presents new challenges and new opportunities. Most times, while driving to work, I would have planned out the activities that I intend to do during the day only to end up meeting new things that require my attention.  The dynamism of my role is one of the things that I love about it.

What challenges do you face in delivering on your current role and how have you overcome them?

My role requires a lot of collaboration with other functions. I am constantly collaborating with various stakeholders. Most of the challenges that I face are around how to manage these stakeholders and keep them all happy. I have therefore had to improve my collaborative skills to succeed on this role. 

What is the status of the sector in which you operate in the region and Africa and what do you think are the opportunities, challenges and market trends in the sector?

We operate in the food industry in Nigeria, West Africa. There are huge opportunities in the food industry in Nigeria, especially in food processing and value addition. Most of our agricultural produce in Nigeria are exported to other countries in their raw form.

There are therefore tremendous opportunities of adding value to these agricultural products to create finished or semi-finished food products for local consumption and export. This will reduce the amount of finished goods beeing imported, increase exports and create more jobs due to the establishments of more food processing companies.

The major challenges I see especially in my country Nigeria are access to low interest loans, inadequate infrastructure like power and un-friendly government policies.

How do you wind down after a hard day at work? What are your personal hobbies? How do these hobbies contribute to your personal and professional development?

Getting home to my family and playing with my children is my way of winding down after a hard day’s job. I love reading novels, because it helps my imagination thereby helping me improve my creativity. Like I stated earlier, creativity is very key to succeeding as a food technologist.

What are some of the personal or community activities you engage in to develop yourself or your community?

The www.foodpreneurshub.com is an online platform I created personally to support food entrepreneurs, aspiring food entrepreneurs and professionals in the food industry by posting relevant and targeted content on the website and on the social media platforms, @foodpreneurshub on Instagram, twitter and facebook.

How can young people who may aspire to a career choice like yours plan their journeys? 

Firstly, they must develop interest and have passion for food processing. Secondly, they will need to get the necessary trainings and education in Food Science and Technology.

What else would you want to do in future? What would you want to accomplish in your career before you step away from the industry?

I will always have something to do in the food industry. My future plan is to manage a customer centric food company that is focused on both product and process innovation with a view to build value for all stakeholders.

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