A Day in the Work Life of: Dee Olateru - Audit Senior Manager
I'd previously featured Dee on the blog as she, amongst other female travel enthusiasts share their experiences as travel lovers.
If we could depict in a pie chart what gets Dee excited and what she lives for, I'm willing to bet that while travel may take up a significant portion, her career could take up almost half! Her friends are often surprised at the amount of dedication and love she has for day job! But if you don't look too closely, you'd miss this other side of her - which is easily hidden amongst her goofy, playful side and love for 'ratchet TV'.
And it isn't one to be missed. Such passion, optimism, hard work and motivation like I told her, must be shared. And so I'm glad she's agreed to share all the details of her work life with us!
Dee is an Audit Senior Manager in one of the Big 4 Accounting companies having risen through the ranks in 8 years from an Audit Associate. But this job didn't exactly land at her feet. She recounts how she worked menial factory jobs for a bit (despite her first class degree) and her struggle with approximately 500 job applications - before finally getting a job.
She shares why she loves her 9-5, how her most memorable day on the job involves Beyoncé, what she'd do if she wasn't working, and one other career she's curious about!
It a super inspiring read! Brace yourselves.
1. My alarm goes off…
or not!! I’m one of those annoying people that wake up bright and early (5:30 – 5:45) on weekdays without an alarm. Bright, chirpy, and ready for conversation at 7am. Once I wake up, depending on the day I check social media, WhatsApp (my US friends may have gisted while I slept), the news, and my devotion – all on my phone. I don’t do all three every day to be honest. I hop in the shower, get dressed and leave home between 7 and 7:30am. I’m not much of a breakfast person so I usually make myself some chai tea and grab yoghurt for later. On other days, I may do some work for an hour at home or take calls with overseas team members and leave for work before 8:30. Most people in the UK arrive at 9am so even on my late days I’m still one of the first to get in.
2. I get to work ...
some days I travel for work so I have to hop on a flight, other days I go to the office or to the client. Going to the office is a 15-minute uphill walk from my flat (does this count as exercise?). When I go to my clients' it’s about 45 minute by public transport. I have really embraced the no-car business since moving to the UK. On some occasion, I may decide to work from home if I need to review my team’s work with minimal distraction.
3. I’m responsible for….
everything (for my team).
I actually asked some of my team members for their views on this and ‘everything’ was the most popular answer. I’ll break it down in terms of what that means to different people:
- My Boss/Partner: I’m the one he trusts to manage the team, be his eyes and ears on everything from team morale, to performance, to budgets, to quality, to client service, client concerns, staffing/resourcing, and even two-minute summaries before he goes into certain meetings. This year, my specific team has grown to 15 core members but overall about 40 people throughout the year.
- The New Associate: I might be the demanding lady that juggles everything and embarrasses people on their birthdays, encourages silly games, and doesn’t forget embarrassing stories EVER.
- Senior Associates & Managers: Technical expert, problem solver, and one that is supposed to magically answers all the questions. The one that goes to bat for the team, the coach, fixer, hash tag creator, the one that handles difficult conversations with the client whether we are delivering a difficult message or the client is upset at something… essentially the ‘scape goat’.
- HR: One of the people that interviews candidates both students and experienced professionals for our practice. Subsequently make recommendations on hire/no hire decisions.
- Learning & Development Team: At intervals throughout the year, I have the opportunity to teach training to professionals at different levels both locally and in a few cases internationally. I’d like to retire (early) in Academia and I quite enjoy the teaching opportunities so maybe this is a dress rehearsal?
- Counselees: I’m a formal counsellor to four professionals and I work with them to set goals at the beginning of the year and I follow up with them throughout the year and assist them in getting the right opportunities to meet or exceed those goals. Informally I mentor others and when in the space to do so, I make it a point to act as an advocate (sponsor) for others.
My View: I’m responsible for the execution of high quality audits of large financial services institutions on budget, while providing exceptional client service and attracting, building, and inspiring a team of professionals through formal training, counselling, and on-the-job coaching. Aside from my main team, I’m responsible for coordinating the efforts with other teams within the UK and represent my team in Senior Management forums. Lastly, I serve as main liaison for one of our overseas teams.
4. How I got the job?
So I’m going to break this down into two.
(i) US Job with Firm:
I started my career in the US with the same firm and I got the job when they came to recruit on campus at the University of Illinois where I was in the Master Program. Sounds easy right? No.
Allow me to digress a bit and give you the back-story.
So I finished my undergraduate degree and graduated with the equivalent of a first class but could not get a job that would sponsor me for an employment visa in the US. I had bills to pay and I don’t have time to cry so I took a job working in a factory making light fixtures. I was the most educated person on the floor and it took a while for my colleagues to warm up to the new ‘college kid’ but they did. Let me tell you, I got so strong physically my arms were #goals (move over Michelle Obama!). Normally, I’m the slowest eater you’ll ever meet but those days, I’d get home from work and demolish a huge serving of eba while my roommates would stare at me like… "who is this?" It was a lot of hard work but I know a thing or two about using tools and putting things together… don’t let the heels and suits fool you. In that time, I continued to apply to jobs, more than 500 applications later… nothing.
Then plan B kicked in: I’d apply to a Masters of Accountancy program (which I didn’t need) but I’d only apply to top 3 programs in the US (because, why not?). These schools had access to top employers and programs lasted one year. I applied, and thankfully got accepted with two offering scholarships. I was now in a place to choose but I’ll never forget how it felt receiving those letters/phone calls. Thank the Lord; because the kind of money the schools were asking for was way outside my economic bandwidth. I ended up at University of Illinois for my masters.
*End of Digression*.
So, my current firm came to the University of Illinois campus to recruit. I attended their events, as did other students. This time, it was ‘get a job to head back to Nigeria’ for me. Good grades were not enough of a differentiator as there were lots of intelligent people in my class; it was like a brain convention. I attended the firm’s events and engaged with representatives. I did my homework in advance and followed up promptly. I also ate all the free food they offered at these events – no shame in my student budget game! I finally got the chance for an interview and three rounds later, while I was in my friends car leaving the last interview, I got the call with the offer.
It took a year at a factory plus an additional year in school to get there. This goes to say… stay the path. Some things take longer than you want or than you think you deserve. Others may seem to have it easier but everyone’s path is unique and there’s often a beauty to our struggles that we only see in retrospect. Cry, whine, sulk, but get up and ‘kick the sh*t out of Plan B!’
(ii) UK Job with Same Firm:
My firm won a large global client – one of the largest in this industry in decades and there was a call for nominations for 4 people in the US with a specific skill set. I had no clue about this call for nominations. Thankfully, this was discussed at a regional partner meeting where three people (sponsors, God bless them!) thought about me and decided to see if I was interested for both personal and professional reasons. For me, this came out of the blue as it was at a point where I was considering other options within and outside the firm. I thought through it, talked with family and close friends and I said yes. I had one phone ‘interview’ and three months later on my birthday, I hopped on a flight to the U.K
5. My typical day at work...
involves a lot of meetings these days (internal team meetings, client meetings, meeting with other teams, one-on-one meetings with people, meeting with the boss). Aside from those, I spend time reviewing my teams’ work, working on proposals that come up, coaching my team, and answering questions. Some days I’m attending training and other days I’m teaching training. While meetings and ‘management’ activities are taking up more of my day, I geekily enjoy getting down & dirty with the technical aspects but I’m learning to let some of it go bit by bit.
6. My most memorable moment on the job
has to do with Beyonce.
So, in my line of work, regulators review our audits and no one wants to be reviewed by the regulator. Well, my team got selected a few years ago when I was a senior associate (but close to being promoted to Manager). How it works is that they’ll review your files and ask questions. It’s a big deal and could have implications on the partner and firm if things don’t go well.
Typically, more experienced team members address these questions but I was asked to help out on the sidelines. This meant we had to be out of town for three weeks for this. The problem was… smack in the middle was a Beyonce concert that I’d bought tickets for six months in advance. I’m not president of the BeyHive but I do appreciate Bey’s concerts… girl puts on a show!
So… I went out of town and I low-key mentioned my Beyonce debacle to my Senior Manager. Anyway, it got down to the week of the concert, the review was going okay but the regulators were asking some detailed questions about an aspect I’d worked on. At this point, the partner decided I should answer the questions directly instead of supplying the answer from the conference room next door.
Then, the regulator said, in fact, just make us a presentation to cover x, y, z. The presentation was set for two days after the concert. So, here was my chance to go for it. I offered to fly back home, join the BeyHive and prepare like crazy for the presentation and bring back information for the partner and Senior Manager to present. They agreed!! So off I went. I did the work and from the office, I changed, met my friend and went off to the concert and danced like Beyonce was paying us.
6am the following day I was off. Only to arrive and do a run of presentation to my boss and they decided "you know what, we think you’re best placed to present this stuff". Ahh!! I did not sleep that night. "What if I screwed up, what if I could not answer their questions?" I told my sister to pray. I got up, rehearsed and dressed to kill (this helps me to be honest)! The presentations went great, I didn’t die, I answered all their questions.
This was a lesson for me in asking for what I wanted (the concert), saying yes to stretch opportunities (the presentation, even though I did not plan for it), and trusting/empowering others (on the part of my bosses).
7. The worst part of my job...
is by far the hours (especially during busiest of times) and tracking billable hours. I never put in a standard 37.5 hours in a week. A regular 9-5 sounds like bliss to me, but knowing myself, I’d probably find a serious second gig if I ever had that much free time. A demanding career is not for everyone so I try to be open and honest about this. In line with that, at a certain level there is an expectation that I am ‘reachable’ even while on vacation. I check emails or take important calls while I’m out. It is what it is, but I’m getting better at drawing a line/screening for most critical items.
8. The perks of the job...
are that I have been blessed to have a career that has taken me to quite a few places around the world, working on different clients (not the same thing everyday) - something I’ve always prayed for.
Another perk is the calibre of people I’ve been fortunate to work with over the course of 8 years. These people have opened doors of opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise has access to, including exposure to ‘high profile’ opportunities in my field. Beyond opportunities, I’ve worked with people that have been excellent examples of servant leaders, ridiculously smart people that remain humble and care about each person on their team individually. These people taught me (by example) the importance of creating atmosphere on my team and setting a tone where everyone truly has a voice. I learned to make room for everyone to shine, as in the end there no individual medals, only team medals #oneteamonedream. I appreciate that I can literally walk up to my boss to have a conversation about leaving the firm and I trust him to give solid advice and be unselfish (before telling me to think twice). I have worked with people from all over the world and this has only made me a better Manager, I could tell stories about this but maybe another time.
Another perk of the job is flexibility; I have the flexibility to work remotely when needed. The key here is to not abuse it, as with flexibility comes accountability.
Not sure if this is a perk but in small ways, I’m in a position to be a solution to some of the things I (or many folks) don’t like about the ‘Corporate’ world in my own little way and I have the opportunity to lend my voice to challenge others in the room. I don’t take that little seat at the table for granted, especially as someone that is often maybe one of two women in the room or the only black person in the room.
I often have a different perspective that I try not to stifle, especially when it is not the popular view. Since moving to the U.K I have had to grow tougher skin in this regard.
My favourite perk however, is being a part of other team members’ growth/success. I make it a personal goal to do my part to make sure each person on my team is a better professional than they were before they joined. Seeing this happen and seeing them do amazing things (within or outside my firm should they choose to leave) is the absolute best/most rewarding!
9. A misconception people have about my job:
is that Accountants are boring. Hello, have you met me? Oh, I also do NOT do taxes!
10. If someone wanted a career like this, I’d advice them to:
As a student, get good grades but also get some leadership experience and show that you can juggle, learn on the job, and be a team player.
For those that want the opportunity to travel for work or work internationally, I’d say as a baseline, don’t just do good or average work, do excellent work. Over time, become known for something, hone your craft. Let people know about your interests, your boss is not a mind reader. I was vocal about mine for 5 years before I ever got to do a stint abroad. Talk to people that have done it and make sure you have the skillset in your pocket when the opportunity comes.
I’d also tell them not to make decision based on one bad day, someone once told me to reassess in seasons and I’ve found that to be excellent advice. You will work with some people that just plain suck; do not go low or repeat those behaviours when your time comes, you’re better than that.
Don’t suck up but make sure you have the ears of decision makers (or know someone that does).
Get yourself a mentor and sponsor. Stay in touch with people, relationships matter! (I’ve met many cool people that have become real life BFFs and travel buddies through work). Be yourself, be genuine, you are enough! Be patient. Don’t forget to lift others as you climb. Be a mentor and sponsor.
11. After work...
I honestly sleep.
I’m really trying to pick up a TV show or two but I’m not much of a TV person. I used to watch HGTV or travel channel marathons in the US but not so much in the UK. I’m often planning my next trip/getaway or actually travelling. I have a travel blog these days so I try to work on posts as well but I’m not as consistent as I’d like. During the busy times at work when I work on weekends, I unwind by watching ratchet reality TV, usually RHOA (Real Housewives of Atlanta).
On my way back from work or on weekends, I try to stay connected with family/close friends far away because relationships take work, and time, and intention. When I’m not travelling I’m quite the home buddy that will go out once in a long while only when others fire me up and will then proceed to have a great time. When hanging with friends, I quite enjoy sitting on a sofa with a warm blanket chatting about life, social justice issues, relationships, travel, and everything in between. I enjoy reading but I’ve slacked off in the past year.
12. What I love the most about a 9 - 5...
is the stability of my personal economy! Multiple streams of income is where it’s at though… I need to step up my hustle.
13. If I ever quit my job or if I never had to work
I'd go on to be an adjunct professor. In University, we had some ‘professors’ that taught certain classes but were seasoned professionals. My favourites were those that brought in real life stories of cases, clients etc. into the classroom. Plus, I’d be on the Board of one or two companies whose’ strategies/mission are aligned with my values.
14. One career I'm genuinely curious about and might try in my second life
is a Barista… in a coffee shop. I don’t drink coffee but these people have the opportunity to literally strike conversations with people from different walks of life. It’s got to be fascinating the things they find out!
That last photo seems to sum up Dee! She's such a fireball with a dash of playfulness. I personally gleaned so much from her responses. Love how she's constantly willing to lift others up with her. If this was a paper feature, I know I'll have highlighted quite a number phrases and words of wisdom! But the good thing is I can always come back to it over and over again. And you can too.
Hope you picked out one or two things as well. Please share your thoughts!
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