Real Careers: Emeka Otoba

Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Nigeria to visit with Emeka Otoba.

Emeka Otoba is Personal Assistant to the MD/CEO of Mutual Benefits Life Assurance Limited. Here’s a look at his world.

Social Media and Music for the Commute

My alarm wakes me up at 4:55 a.m. but I always try to convince myself that another ten or fifteen minutes sleep would do me some good. Surprisingly, it does. I usually don’t have the time for anything else as I must leave my house by 6:00 a.m. or I would be late.

I take a public bus to work every day. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to get to work when I leave at or before 6:00, or at least an hour when I don’t leave by that time. What’s on your commuting playlist? I rarely get the chance to see what’s happening on social media once I get to the office so my bus rides are usually my opportunity. I do this while listening to good music, and good depends on my mood; I surprise myself what appeals to me some mornings … anything that gets me in the right frame of mind for the day. I am a huge fan of John Legend and the Light House Family, so they always creep into my playlists somehow.

At the Office

Morning Routines: I am not a coffee person, but the first thing I do when I get to the office is to ensure everything is ready and in its place when my boss comes in. I check everything down to the ink of his pens, the paper supply in the printer, the drinks in his fridge, etc. I usually make a to-do list each evening before I leave work, so I know exactly what I need to do when I arrive at the office the next day.  I run a quick check while surfing through emails and penning down actionable ones.

Primary Responsibilities: I am responsible for generating various reports from some of the units, and activities based on other reports I receive from group heads. I handle research and prepare/fine-tune certain presentations for my boss, manage his diary and visitors, handle travel arrangements and follow-up and monitor projects. Generally, I make sure to take off any extra burden, to help him concentrate on more important tasks.

IMG_9639How long is your work day? A typical work day for me is at least ten hours. On really hectic days, I work twelve to thirteen hours a stretch. What might be a typical lunch? I have always done lunch in my office (when I have one, that is). Some days I go through the entire day skipping lunch and not noticing it.

Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I rarely work from home unless there is an urgent project with a near deadline. This rarely happens.

I derive immense satisfaction from turning around difficult situations in good time

What do you most enjoy about your career? As an assistant, I derive immense satisfaction from turning around difficult situations in good time. The vote of confidence from your line manager and others when it comes to delivery is priceless for me!

On Saying “No

I have learned that people will always be who they are; humans. And like Bill Cosby once said, “The key to failure is trying to please everybody”. I try to be as polite but as firm as possible. When I say “no”, I try to communicate how much I would love to help but my priorities incapacitate me temporarily. But when I can, I actually do.

Identify your not-so-strong traits and take time to improve on them

Emeka’s World

Map of worldI was born in the northern part of Nigeria – Kano, to be precise – but I have moved around a lot. Currently I am based in the busy city of Lagos. I am definitely a city guy. I love the hassles of the big cities. It can be frustrating sometimes, but I love it nonetheless.

Away from the office, I hang out with friends and loved ones, especially ones I am too busy to see during the week.

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I love to treat myself during the weekends; you might catch me at a cinema with a loved one or just at home reading or writing.

What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? Luther Vandross: Power of Love and Loving Every Minute by Light House Family.

Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? Dubai … skydiving! Yes, I am adventurous like that.

Ask your boss for discussion of the areas in which s/he thinks you have been less effective

Education and Professional Development

When I first started out on this career path in January 2014, I was clueless and unfortunately I had no one to teach me what a PA was supposed to do. A professional course quickly transformed me into an effective assistant. At the very least, it pointed me in the right direction and showed me how to continuously learn the skills I need to excel.



Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook for mostly personal use, and LinkedIn and Twitter for professional use

I try to be as polite but as firm as possible

Style and Substance

What are your go-to pieces from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? My dress pattern rarely changes; I am naturally comfortable in a suit, a shirt and a tie. I enjoy looking smart.

What might we find in your desk drawer? A jotter, different pens, a highlighter and a phone charger

Travel or travel planning advice? When planning a trip, for me, the one thing you will always find around is my itinerary for that trip; I mark things off as I achieve them. I’d recommend this: check and recheck, as it’s never too much.

Inspirational reads? My personal favourite: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey

Role models or mentors? My first training as a personal assistant was at a CPEA programme in Accra, Ghana with Anel Martin, and she has since been my role model. She seems to have the answer to everything. She is passionate about people and the profession, and is always willing to help. She is just all round a great person!

On role model Anel Martin: She is passionate about people and the profession … always willing to help

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I am pretty young on this career path (barely two years old), so one of my major goals is getting to the level where I can be referred to as “Deputy CEO”, an indispensable partner for my boss. I would also love to start some kind of mentoring programme in my state for young assistants who start just like I did – clueless.

Lessons Learned

Your most effective time management strategy? I make sure my Outlook is synced with my phone, and so reminders pop up on my phone even if I am on the move, which happens quite often.

One of my major goals is getting to the level where I can be referred to as “Deputy CEO”

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: People hire assistants to help make their jobs easier; let them do just that. Communicate clearly and understand that this helps them serve you better.

If you could offer a new executive advice on how to best capitalise on having an assistant, what would that be? Delegate some of your work and trust your assistant. Give your assistant the chance to develop a good working relationship with you as an executive; it empowers him/her to be more effective.

For those interested in promotion: Identify your not-so-strong traits and take out time to personally improve on them. Talk to your boss, and ask for discussion of the areas in which s/he thinks you have been less effective. Then, make it a goal to improve on those aspects.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Emeka referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.

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