Olaniyi Yusuf, a former managing director of Accenture, Nigeria, is a vivid example of positivism, visionary, persistence and inspiration for everyone who dreams big. He graduated at age 20, after studying computer science at University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.Yusuf’s exposure with an IT firm in Ibadan sealed his fate and secured his future in technology. The knowledge garnered coupled with a solid academic background at Ife became a stepping stone. And what became indecipherable became clear, and by the time the wave of information technology hit Nigeria like storm in the late 90s, Yusuf became unstoppable in his field. After 24 years at Accenture, he left in 2019 to start Verrakki Partners where he is currently the managing partner. Yusuf, a multi-skilled business strategist, tells his experience as a professional in information communication technology.
Olaniyi Mumini Yusuf, a former Managing Director of Accenture and presently Managing Partners at Verraki Partners is a man who saw tomorrow. Yusuf as a young man became an integral party of innovation, rooted in his study of computer science at a time when it wasn’t so popular. By the time Nigeria and Africa caught up with the global frenzy of information technology, Yusuf was already there making waves. Initially, he had gambled with the idea of studying Computer Science having set out to be an Agriculturist, because of his father. But destiny played a fast one on him aided by his mentor whom he met as a teenager. That singular encounter redirected his career destiny.
Welcoming this reporter into his expansive office located on Bishop Aboyade Cole, Victoria Island, Lagos, the former Accenture boss looked dapper in his blue Polo shirt. Yusuf is a man who is always at peace with himself.
“Well, I think it is a mix of several things; a function of upbringing, one’s level of spirituality and understanding that there is a Supreme Being. And as a Muslim, there is a concept of destiny. Your destiny has been written and you need to strive but ultimately whatever is yours will not pass you. And whatever is not meant for you it does not matter how much you struggle, you don’t get it. I think I am fortunate that I have that level of contentment. I struggle but it is never do or die for me. And internally, I am at peace with myself, maybe that is what you see or that translates to calmness. But people will tell you that I can be as tough and demanding as required. But I know that there is a design, I may say that I am a person of destiny.”
Born on April 1, 1970 to parents from Oyo State, his late father hailed from Oyo while his mum is from Ibadan. He still had memories of his childhood in Ibadan and Oyo town. His mother was a nurse and would later retire as a matron.
“It was that bit about growing up with the mum who was in this clean, starched white uniform, and who commanded respect in the neighborhood. And then I had a father who was a supervisor at the Institute of Agric Research and Training, Moore Plantation, Ibadan. And he always came back home with food items and stuff like that. It was a middle-class upbringing. I went to a private primary school. I lost my dad at the age of five and since then, it has been me and my mother with three younger siblings.”
Yusuf admitted that being raised by a single mother made him grow up fast and largely contributes to his calmness ‘because you just mature overnight.’ He also grew up understanding the values of hard work, patience, determination and place of faith in God and a lot of prayers.
After his primary education at Alafia Institute in Mokola, Ibadan, he had his secondary education at Oba Akinbiyi High School, Mokola, Ibadan after which he proceeded to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in Osun State where he studied Computer Science combined with Economics, graduating at age 20 in 1990. He holds a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from University of Wales, Cardiff, United Kingdom in 2015. He has equally attended many management and technical training programmes with many published articles in the areas of IT effectiveness. He is a fellow of Project Management Institute, Fellow, Nigeria Computer Society and Nigeria Institute of Management just to mention a few.
Yusuf is a multi-skilled business strategist, management consultant, technology advisor, project management professional with over 20 years experience across multiple industries including financial services, telecoms, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, public sector, health, education, NGO in Nigeria and West African countries.
Yusuf possesses strong leadership, people development and business management skills with a proven record of accomplishment in high quality service delivery within multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural team environments.
His main assets to any assignment are his high level of commitment, and the ability to work to the highest standards and rise to difficult challenges with client personnel to identify, design and implement real improvement to the way an organisation works.
A multi-faceted individual, he also has a keen interest in education, employability and youth development. He is a volunteer to various organisations including Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Junior Achievement of Nigeria, Fate Foundation, NASFAT Society, Obafemi Awolowo University Muslim Alumni (UNIFEMGA), Corona Schools, and Fountain University Osogbo.
In 2019, Yusuf and Partners floated Verraki Partners where he actively participated in the establishment of the practice and now responsible for managing the practice, developing and championing ambitious growth plan and market positioning while ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Yusuf’s case was an audacity of hope having lost his father at age five. There was a vacuum but he was fortunate to have a father figure in his maternal uncle, Bolaji Oladipo whom he moved in with in 1983 while in form three. There, Yusuf imbibed the habit of reading and that essentially changed his outlook on life.
Yusuf has been lucky all the way through his mentors whom he met while growing up and one can simply say he took his own destiny in his own hands since he cannot see the future. Recounting his sojourn in the ICT which has brought him fame and fortune, he said with modesty, “I am a lucky guy. I am a person of destiny. I went to a private primary school which of course gave me a solid foundation. I then went to a public secondary school. We were the first set of free education by Bola Ige in 1980. And in my class, I was the youngest. At age 10, I was in form one. Coming from a private school was an added advantage because the things we were being taught in form one were things I had been taught in primary four and primary five. From form one to form five, I was among the best students in the school. I finished secondary school at 15. And University of Ife was the only university that accepted people below the age of 16 back then. So, Ife was the only school I could apply to.”
Again, while applying for a course of study, destiny also played a key role. For a novice, embracing a course not so popular can create a chaos that inevitably comes with challenges of the unknown. Of course, he did but being rooted in science courses helped and this became a propelling force. Then for a smart mind, he tried to play safe by doing a combined honours mixing Computer Science with Economics.
“Computer Science wasn’t popular back then as a course of study. I would just say that it was not anything I planned for. Like I said, from Form Three I moved in with my uncle and one of his very close friends, Bola Ayodele, worked with Join Komputer Kompany, a technology company. Then they had an office in Bodija. And ‘Brother Bola’ was someone that I just loved and admired. The day I went to visit him, he asked me, “What are you filling for JAMB?” I said Agriculture. The man looked at me and said, “Computer is the future.” Even though I didn’t understand what he was saying, because he is someone that I liked, admired and trusted, I listened to him. Fortunately, I had not submitted my JAMB form, so I went back and changed it to computer science combined with Economics.”
Forward-looking Yusuf acted smartly by combining Computer Science with Economics because of fear of the unknown. He figured that if Computer Science would not work, he would fall back on Economics and even aspired to be a Chartered Accountant.
“My solid background in sciences helped me to cope with Computer Science in year one. And by the time we were introduced to computers in year two, it was interesting because we never even saw the computer, but we just go and fill punch cards and you go and submit that. I then began to realise that, this is the new thing and this will really change the world. By the time I got to year four, we were working with personal computers, and that was just transformative. That was when the graphical user interface was introduced in Windows 3.1. That just changed things, so it changed from character systems, to Window’s based plus graphical.
“Again, I was lucky because I had brother Bola as a mentor and he introduced me to his friends at JKK. And so all my five years in Ife, I was always doing internships. When Ife was shut down in 1986 I spent four months on strike with JKK. Every year there was a shut down, I always had a place to go. I had exposure to computers and so it aided a great deal. Since I had that practical exposure, I was able to combine it with the theoretical knowledge that was given at Ife. I think everything is just God’s design.”
By the time he left the university in 1990, Yusuf’s future in the ICT field had already been mapped out. Again, he was working with a knowledgeable IT guru who was regularly teaching him about different techniques and encouraging him with the intrigues behind the system. The knowledge garnered at JKK coupled with a solid academic background gained at Ife helped. And what became indecipherable became clear. Yusuf became unstoppable in his field.
After his mandatory one year youth service at Ife, he worked with Join Komputer Kompany (JKK) Nigeria Limited as Senior Software Engineer from 1991-1995. “It was a big deal for me working with one of the best IT companies then. At JKK we were processing payroll for Nigerian Police, billing systems for NEPA and NITEL. These are all clients of JKK back then. My first project when I formally joined as a staff after NYSC was the automation of the banking application at the Central Bank of Nigeria. It was a three year project. I had great fun as a young graduate, teaching senior managers and senior directors how to type. What we all took for granted today back then was strange, because the banking application then was based on the Oracle platform. But I quickly understood that technology will drive automation, automation will drive efficiency and efficiency will drive productivity and this will affect different sectors of the industry.”
With a high flying career running smoothly, Yusuf was focused but yet ambitious because of the surrounding circumstances. Contented but ambitious, he was going to make some hard choices. It wasn’t about career fulfillment but about breaking boundaries. He wanted to explore. The choice was hard but Yusuf couldn’t find a clause stating that when circumstances got difficult, and hard choices and sacrifices were required, someone could stop adhering to his instinct. He made the choice and quit JKK. He was 25. It was a decision that many may consider a misstep but it became a stepping stone to a greater height. A huge sacrifice that led to a career explosion. He joined one of the global brands, Arthur Anderson.
“Like I said, we deal with automated currency movement when all these bullion vans come from the various branches of commercial banks and they come to CBN to either drop or to make money, we had automated producing a report on the system. So as the bullion vans come in you just make posting of which boxes of which currency notes were presented. But the head of the currency office, an elderly man who was used to the manual way of using ledgers resisted this new innovation. I said ‘ Sir, I don’t need this ledger.’ And he said ‘Niyi, stick with your computer and let me stick with my ledgers.’ That just got me thinking that change requires more than technology. Change requires changing the process, training people, sometimes changing the people and also a change of strategy and then technology. But technology is never enough, it is technology plus people, plus process, plus strategy. And most Nigerian technology companies were only providing technology, which is just one of the four things. Arthur Anderson then was the leading global management consulting firm and I joined them.”
Yusuf joined in 1995 and became the Managing Director in 2010. “When I joined Arthur Anderson, I didn’t have anything beyond a five-year horizon, you know spend five years and go back to pure tech. But then you are working in an environment where you are making a huge difference, you are working with brilliant folks. I actually did not know that I had spent 24 years.”
What has been his driving force? “Just like brother Bolaji was instrumental to my growing up, Dr. Suleiman who was the country manager for Arthur Anderson in 1995, has also been instrumental to my professional career. From Dotun, I learned the whole idea of nation-building and community service. And Dotun’s view which I share wholeheartedly is that for whom God has been kind, we all have a duty and obligation to help others and help our nation. And that if the nation does not improve, there is a limit to how much we as individuals can be successful. In terms of community service, Dotun introduced me to the Nigeria Economic Summit Group. Today, I am the Vice-Chairman of that board. Dotun introduced me to the Corona Schools Trust Council; today I chair the board of the secondary school and technology committee.”
After 24 years in Accenture, Yusuf became his own boss. He teamed up with people of like minds and established Verraki Partners in 2019. The RAKI according to him is a Greek word used to describe the action of doing something with soul, creativity, and pouring oneself into a task. With a mission statement to help enterprises and governments ignite opportunities, unleash their potential, and embrace change to achieve the seemingly impossible while the vision is to be the transformation partner of choice for enterprises and governments seeking to create a better future.
He is currently the President of the NASFAT Society. How does he strike the right balance? “I think it boils down to your values. Part of my own value system is about service. Service to the nations, service to the community, which religion allows you to do. NASFAT today has an educational platform from primary to tertiary levels where talents are groomed. This is an opportunity to reach and impact millions of people. And so, I am comfortable in my skin and I see the alignment between what I do as a person.”
Yusuf as a corporate man is also a family man. He got married in 1998 to his equally religious and down-to-earth wife, whom he met during his undergraduate days at UNIFE. Her simplicity, character, and the nature religiousness were the attractions. The marriage is blessed with three brilliant kids who are already focused like their remarkable father.
If there is any life lesson learned that has directed his path, Yusuf will quickly point at the value of hard work, dedication, commitment and good support system from friends, and above all, service to humanity.
“Believe me, those that you have served will come back to serve you, they will come back to help you. So, nothing goes for nothing and I think the successes I have recorded are principal because I have served and in return, people feel the need to help this guy or support this guy. I think those are the lessons learned,” he concluded.