Welcome to another episode of the HIGH (How I Got Here) Series. In this episode, we have Ibrahim Ayenajeh, our Chief of Staff and Strategy Lead. In this article, Ibrahim tells us how he got into this role, his Flutterwave story, what he does outside work, as well as some interesting things about him. Let’s meet Ibrahim.
Hi Ibrahim, can we know you?
My name is Ibrahim and I am the Acting Chief of Staff to the CEO. I also lead the strategy team here at Flutterwave. As the Chief of Staff to the CEO, I make sure a lot of the initiatives he comes up with are executed. I also do temperature checks with the teams and propose recommendations which could eventually be rolled out to the company at large. I work within the office of the CEO, making sure the CEO makes the most efficient use of his time.
That’s great, so what’s the most interesting thing about you?
I have lots of interesting things – one of them is that I ride a power bike (yes, in Lagos!). Another very interesting thing about me would be that – I haven’t but – I technically know how to fly an aircraft; I have started an aircraft before, ran the engines and powered it down… Oh yeah… I’m an aircraft mechanic.
How did you become an aircraft mechanic?
I studied Aerospace Engineering (MEng) at the University of Manchester and I tried to stay back to get a job in the field. Unfortunately, most of the jobs in that space are jobs that require security clearance and I couldn’t get those security clearance levels, so I decided to come back, not of my own volition. Still, you know, I came back to the country and I thought to myself that we may not necessarily have an aerospace industry or anything within the aerospace industry directly. I think at that point in time, the national space agency was coming up but they were just hard to find online. I couldn’t get much information and adjacent to aerospace or part of the aerospace field is aviation so it was me just driving down the airport road in Lagos, talking to all the different airlines, “hey, I’m an aerospace engineer, can I be an intern here?” I even went as far as talking to the Nigerian Air Force, and they told me to start the next Monday. I did the same with Arik and they asked me to start the same Monday, so I had the option between the Air Force and Arik. It was me pretty much playing ‘rock-paper-scissors’, and that’s how I chose Arik. I joined the Arik engineering team and did a couple of months in the technical library. There, I was updating aircraft documentation, all the flight logs that the pilots and the engineers use. After a while, I transitioned into actual engineering, or as we call it aircraft mechanic work. The aircraft I focused on was the Boeing 737; Arik’s most popular fleet. I supported them in doing all the work, from changing tyres to flying to Ghana to change engine parts. We were doing it in partnership with Lufthansa Technik then. I was trained initially by the Lufthansa Technik and when they left, the Ethiopian airline crew came, so I trained under ET as well, that’s how I became an aircraft mechanic and was one for two years of my life.
Interesting, so how did you get into this career path?
I have always had this dream of doing my own thing someday and so back in the university, I always wanted to just get this engineering degree, the technical knowledge first. I finished school and was working as an aircraft mechanic, this made me competent in terms of technical knowledge but I didn’t know much about the business side of things. If you had asked me at that point in time what a business plan was, I’d just be looking blank. At that point, I knew that for me to become a complete individual in anything I wanted to do in the future, I needed to have that business knowledge. An opportunity to apply for a management consulting role at KPMG came up and I jokingly applied. Honestly, I applied as a joke, I did the test, I went for the interview and I played all through it. It was so bad that the partner that interviewed me was asking if I really wanted the job because of how unserious I was. Somehow, I got the job and that’s how I moved into consulting. I moved into management consulting for three years with KPMG, focused on the strategy and operation solution area and that was how I sort of entered into fintech. This was 2017, so fintech was still very young and growing then. My first engagement with KPMG was to help an IT company develop a business plan to play in the digital financial services space. I think that was what really helped me, understand and involve myself in fintech because we had to do a comprehensive review of both the Nigerian financial services space and the digital financial services space and that was where the interest came in. It sounded very exciting, I picked a niche, which was interest in payment specifically and kept on refining my skills, reading up on payment, and coming up with strategies and solutions. I kept on getting payment engagements such that other KPMG firms outside of Nigeria would come to ask people if they needed anything and I’d be nominated. I wasn’t only learning about the Nigerian payment space, I was also learning about the payment space in Tunisia, Egypt, South Africa and the world at large.That was how I built this interest.
With everything coming to an end, I thought it was time to move into something new then I left KPMG to join a fintech startup called LeatherBack, which does multi-currency solutions and I was there as payment strategy manager. It was fun because I got to travel and spend time in one of the countries that we wanted to focus on to really learn about payments in that space; talking to people, and customers, interviewing merchants and then come back to Nigeria to develop our market entry strategy and hand it over to the product development manager who would then break down the work into tasks for the devs to develop. I usually come up with the plan and product/solutions, and they go into the nitty-gritty of things. Along the line, I felt like I wanted to know more about that next step. Say, I have the strategy, how do we go about implementing the strategy? That was when I left that startup and moved over to Carbon to be a Product Manager. I was there for about 6 months as a product manager for their BNPL solution and cards. I quickly realised that product execution was not easy, especially in a small company. I was wearing a lot of hats; growth, product, marketing, risk, legal, etc. It was quite fun and I learnt a lot. Then the opportunity to come in here came up, I gave it a try and here we are.
What a journey… What’s your Flutterwave story and how long have you been here?
Haha! So Bode (our COO) and I used to work in KPMG, and she called and told me about a project transformation manager role, I believe we called it business readiness manager. I went through all the processes that everybody goes through, all the necessary interviews, and case studies and I was employed. I started in February 2022. I came in when we announced Flutterwave 3.0 so I was pumped. It felt like an excellent opportunity to deliver value and make an impact. Then the previous Chief of Staff had to go to business school and this opportunity came up, I chatted with GB and here we are again.
This is fantastic! Can you explain your role to a five-year-old?
That’s going to be difficult because I can’t even explain my role to myself. Haha! But to a random Nigerian, my role is ‘anywhere belle face’. Okay let me try, I help GB (our CEO) make good use of his time.
So tell me, what does a typical workday look like for you?
I don’t have a typical workday, which is one of the best things about this job. Some days I wake up and there’s nothing on my plate for a while and then boom! 500 things come up. It also depends on GB’s location. So, if GB is in the US, my day might align with his schedule which means I’m going to have to be camera ready at 10pm haha!. There are also a couple of meetings or sessions that have been set up that I attend, there are some meetings that we’ve had and we already defined some action items. It’ll just be my responsibility to follow up with those people to make sure they are delivering the tasks they have agreed to. Somedays, it’s just me thinking about how to help identify the gaps within teams and support them. That’s where I come in with the strategy. I can be like an adviser if there’s any issue. In all, I don’t have a typical day.
Well done! What’s been your proudest moment as a waver?
There was one tug-of-war we did in Ghana during the retreat, haha! We won the semi-finals, but sadly lost out during the finals. Other than that, it was the Series D announcement (which happened the first week I joined! My chest was fully up that day).
Yeah… What tools make your work seamless and easy?
I’ll say a big shoutout to Notion. There’s also a small AI app I just found, Oliv, that helps when I want to set meetings. Not really tools, but another thing that has helped me these past few weeks are people. A lot of my colleagues in the Office of the CEO have helped improve productivity.
How has working at Flutterwave made you a better professional?
It has introduced me to new working personas. I have been introduced to new types of work people that I didn’t have in my work life before and now I know how to handle relationships with them if I ever interface with them outside of Flutterwave. It has also helped improve my payments knowledge because many things I’ve been doing have been outside but now I’m inside and no better place to be in Africa than inside Flutterwave. It has also made me a better person professionally.
Fantastic. What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Honestly, buy Bitcoin and be open to learning new things.
So wise. What do you do for fun outside work?
You people don’t give me the opportunity to have fun haha! But I play in a recreational Flag American football league – Shitsuke Flag Football League. Other than that, I’m not much of an outdoor person, I’ll rather be indoors and watch TV.
Where can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn
This is Ibrahim’s story and I hope you enjoyed it.
Embrace new things as much as possible. You never know which would work.
See you in the next episode.