by Helen Beckett

CIO Profile: Turning Point’s Ibukun Adebeyo on leadership

May 01, 20126 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

See also: CIO Profile Ibukun Adebayo on budget discipline

The ability to get the best out of people, staff and colleagues is Turning Point IT director Ibukun Adebayo’s hallmark and will presumably help her through the next few careers, too.

She gives 100 per cent effort, expects the same from her staff, and usually gets it.

“I’m privileged to work with similarly committed professionals and if I’m awake at night and text a member of staff about a problem that needs fixing the next day I’ll usually get the response –  if they’re awake – that they’ll jump on the case straight away,” she says.

Three years ago, Adebayo took the decision to grow her own IT staff in-house and started an apprenticeship scheme, long before the coalition government started banging on about apprentices.

Today, two of the original intake have remained and have been promoted, and thus their talent has been acquired much more cheaply than going to market.

Plus, she point out, they are highly motivated individuals and it’s hard to overestimate this added value.

As a relative newcomer to the world of IT – landing her first tech job at the age of 34 – Adebayo may feel some kinship with apprentices.

Before Turning Point, she was IT director at the Royal Albert Hall, and prior to that, head of IT at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

Astonishingly, it was only 18 months earlier that she has taken a first step into IT, qualifying as a certified Microsoft engineer.

“I’m a technology person by accident”, she says, but adds that her Christian faith has been a major influence on the direction her life has taken.

As a single parent raising three children, she had wondered how she was going to provide for her family.

A job in IT seemed to be the answer and wisely she set about gaining the reputation as being ‘the IT person’, in her then role of PA.

Her ambition at that point was to become a computer engineer.

Hands-on experience Since making that decision, she has done most of the nuts and bolts jobs in IT and has notched up a long list of certifications.

She started out with PC support and engineering and is happy taking a PC to bits and rebuilding it.

Product knowledge and certification in Microsoft and Oracle technologies followed and she has done a spell as a technical trainer and a programmer, although she didn’t last long in programming – “I couldn’t handle the keeping quiet bit and looking for missing pieces of code,” she admits.

Although many CIOs enter the profession on the back of an MBA, Adebayo feels the continued need to acquire technical and management knowledge: “that way I can constructively challenge the things that arrive in my in-tray”, she says.

She thinks nothing of rolling up her sleeves if there’s an interruption to service although the day-to-day job is strategic and, she confesses, “I’ve been banned by the infrastructure team from fixing anything”.

Despite her natural instinct for the leadership aspect of the job, Adebayo stumped up the cash to do the Institute of Directors’ Board Director’s course as well.

This is aimed at preparing leaders for the boardroom and is majored on strategy and marketing. Adebayo found it validating.

“It didn’t change my inherent approach but it was a good way of formalising knowledge and learning new skills as a strategic leader,” she says.

When we speak, she ponders the differences between being a manager and a leader.

“My role at the RCOG was mainly about technical and people management on a day-to-day level. But when I took the job at the Royal Albert Hall and started talking to business leaders and having conversations about strategy, I realised pretty fast, ‘OK things are a bit different’.”

Leadership, she says, is about being able to have the bigger conversations about where an organisation is and where it should be going. But crucially, it is about doing.

“I’ve benefited from great line managers in my previous and current roles who have trusted me to deliver my objectives with minimum supervision. This, above anything else, has placed that sense of responsibility on me to go out there and deliver and deliver extremely well,” she feels.

It’s a surprise to her that she’s ended up in leadership roles and she says nothing in her background prepared her for it.

But maybe there is something in her history that gives a clue.

Born in Balham, she was sent to Nigeria as an eight-year-old to be taught African notions of discipline.

“I was not a leader in Nigeria. I couldn’t speak the language. I was the girl from London with a funny accent,” she recalls.

Perhaps this experience of being an outsider provided some early resilience that is called upon in the task of leadership.

Her natural reserve makes her well placed to make the lonely and difficult decisions required of leaders.

She admits the biggest thing she feared about leadership was having to sack someone, and confides that these sorts of decisions never get any easier. But she does keep work and home life apart.

One of her fellow directors recently told her: “You’re an odd being: you’re totally part of the team when you’re at work, and yet you can just shut your door as soon as you leave the office and withdraw from the world”.

Adebayo passes it off as being “just weird”, and certainly there’s a distinctiveness about anyone who achieves in many realms.

Model professional Remembering her former career as a journalist, I finish by asking her what questions should have been asked at this interview: it’s no surprise that the email that comes pinging back later contains the colourful details of her life and career.

So having notched up careers as a model, journalist and CIO, where is Adebayo headed next? “I still enjoy writing, and intend to sell my film scripts this year,” she says.

There are also ambitions to complete an LLM law degree once she has finished ongoing studies for a certificate in investment management.

“I hope these qualifications will provide me with opportunities to return to non-executive director roles,” she says.