In the ever-evolving tech industry, some trailblazers transcend conventional boundaries and carve their paths to unprecedented success. One such exceptional individual is Otema Yirenkyi, Area Vice President for Salesforce, whose unwavering pursuit of excellence has propelled her to soaring heights.
As the host of the ‘Entrepreneur In You’ Video Podcast Series and also an ardent admirer of Otema Yirenkyi’s awe-inspiring journey, I had the honour of witnessing the unfolding chapters of her extraordinary adventure in the tech industry as we discussed various subjects matters on one of the episodes this month of May. Within our discussions, I had the opportunity to delve into the depths of Otema’s visionary mindset and uncover the wellspring of her purpose. The feature was specially designed out of the many to empower you with the full potential for you to recognise the boundaries you have and, most accurately, the ones you do not have.
First, and little background here: I watched this podcast episode titled “Techforce in Africa: The Not-So Glass Ceiling, Discussing Women in Tech”. On this Podcast, Otema Yirenkyi was asked about the best career advice she’s ever received. She said, “there are no limits… there are no limits.” That blew my mind, the question of how she came about that. This inspired me to invite her for a feature on the ‘Entrepreneur In You’ Video Podcast Series to share with the world and with you her empowering mantra: “There Are No Limits”.
This profound declaration has become the catalyst behind her remarkable career. On the podcast, we delve deep into Otema’s extraordinary journey, exploring the strategies she employed to cultivate a mindset of boundless potential and the profound impact it has had on her trajectory in the tech industry.
I had the opportunity to delve into Otema Yirenkyi’s multifaceted personality and explore the facets that make her a “versatilist”. Otema’s choice of “versatilist” to describe herself resonated, encapsulating her ability to navigate various realms and excel in diverse pursuits.
Being a versatilist means embodying versatility and having a wide range of experiences. Otema’s journey exemplifies this in every aspect. Her passion for the tech industry has propelled her to explore different facets of the field. In addition, Otema’s ability to seamlessly transition between roles and adapt to new challenges showcases her innate versatility, constantly pushing the boundaries of her capabilities.
During our discussion, Otema candidly revealed her introverted nature, which may surprise those who witness her dynamic presence and extensive accomplishments. Her introverted nature is a source of strength, allowing her to delve into her thoughts, tap into her creativity, and emerge with groundbreaking ideas.
When I inquired about her favourite time of the day, Otema’s response highlighted her commitment to productivity and seizing the early hours. Mornings serve as her launching pad for the day, providing her with a sense of purpose and an opportunity to set the tone for what lies ahead. Otema’s affinity for mornings reflects her drive to make the most of each day, as she understands the significance of starting early and harnessing the productive energy that the early hours bring.
Amidst our conversation, Otema graciously shared one of her favourite quotes that point to her unwavering belief in the power of possibilities. “I Dwell In Possibility” by Emily Dickinson resonates deeply with her, serving as a guide throughout her journey.
Otema embarked on a reflective journey of self-discovery prompted by a significant moment of introspection. She questioned her chosen career path, realising that her initial desire to pursue law had been driven by external pressures rather than genuine passion. Engaging in deep self-reflection, she confronted the fundamental question: “What defines me?” This process allowed her to clarify her ambitions and set the stage for her remarkable personal transformation.
Otema vividly recalls a pivotal moment in her career when she first embraced the transformative mindset of limitless possibilities. She reminisced about a conversation with her mentor when she decided not to pursue law school. Uncertain about her next steps, her mentor imparted profound advice: “There are no limits. Go out there and be great at what you believe you can do.” These words resonated deeply within Otema, igniting a fire of determination and courage.
Driven by a desire to work with the United Nations (UN), Otema embarked on a journey of research and self-discovery. She meticulously studied the organisation she aspired to join, the UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women). She discovered that the head of the organisation was working with a volunteer group. Recognising the value of access, Otema wasted no time signing up as a volunteer, actively participating in their events, and gaining valuable insights into the industry.
With newfound knowledge and the art of networking, Otema mustered the courage to approach the individuals she admired and expressed her interest in learning from their experiences. To her astonishment, they revealed that internship opportunities at the UN were on the horizon. What initially seemed like an unattainable dream had now transformed into a tangible possibility. Otema attributes her success to diligent research, cultivating meaningful connections, and giving back through volunteer work.
Otema has developed strategies to cultivate and maintain the empowering mindset that there are no limits. She believes in the power of introspection and regularly employs interrogative pronouns to guide her self-reflection and decision-making processes.
The first question Otema encourages others to ask themselves is, “Who are you?” Then, individuals can align their goals with their authentic selves by delving deep into one’s true identity and understanding personal motivations and aspirations. Otema emphasises the importance of acknowledging whether the drivers of success stem from genuine desires or external influences.
The following interrogative pronoun she utilises is “What.” Otema prompts individuals to identify what they genuinely want to do. By connecting with their passions and innate talents, they can discover their true calling and embark on a path that resonates with their authentic selves.
The question of “When” is also crucial in Otema’s framework. She encourages individuals to define their desired timeline for achieving their goals. By establishing specific timeframes, they can create a sense of urgency and take deliberate actions towards their aspirations.
Once the questions of who, what, and when have been addressed, Otema moves on to “How.” By breaking down the process into manageable steps and seeking guidance from mentors and resources, individuals can navigate challenges and overcome obstacles on their path to success.
Otema applies these strategies to her own life and shares them with her mentees she refers to as her “tribe”, instilling in them the importance of self-reflection and introspection. By encouraging others to ask themselves these probing questions, she helps them gain clarity and alignment with their true selves. Otema firmly believes that sustained introspection is the key to maintaining a mindset of limitless possibilities.
Otema enthusiastically shares a remarkable success story from her experience working in a large tech company, where she applied the mindset of “there are no limits” and witnessed remarkable results. The company had set its sights on expanding into new territory, specifically Africa, which presented significant challenges. However, with no established offices in any of their targeted countries, the task seemed daunting, and doubts crept in.
Undeterred, Otema embraced a “start small” approach to tackle the enormous undertaking. Recognising the need to build relationships and establish a solid foundation, she focused on collaborating with smaller regional banks. Despite lacking infrastructure, Otema and her team initiated digital transformation initiatives, nurturing these partnerships and gradually expanding their reach.
Rather than fixating on the outcome, Otema emphasised the importance of starting small and growing organically. By adopting an achievable vision, they could scale their efforts effectively. Otema parallels a well-known sales strategy of “landing and expanding,” where success is achieved by securing a foothold and gradually extending operations.
The strategy proved successful as they witnessed progress in different African countries. Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and South Africa became beacons of achievement, each serving as a testament to the power of starting small and building momentum. In addition, each successful venture expanded the company’s reach, propelling them closer to their ultimate goals.
Otema explained that one of the biggest misconceptions about the tech industry is that it is exclusively meant for individuals with a computer science background or expertise in specific technical fields like AI, machine learning, or cybersecurity. However, this is far from the truth. Tech encompasses a much broader range of roles and skill sets. It is not limited to just coders and engineers.
Otema said, in reality, tech also requires the contributions of professionals in various other areas. For example, salespeople play a crucial role in driving the adoption and success of tech solutions by acquiring customers. Project managers are essential for delivering and implementing solutions effectively. Innovators are needed to develop new products and push the boundaries of what is possible. Even individuals with legal expertise, such as those focusing on intellectual property and contracting, have a place in the tech industry.
However, it’s essential to acknowledge that success in the tech industry doesn’t come overnight or with a single breakthrough. Instead, it results from years of hard work, perseverance, and continuous learning. Otema emphasises that her 25 years of tech industry experience have been filled with long nights, hard work, and relentless determination.
As an introvert, Otema finds stillness and solitude particularly rejuvenating. This enables her to reflect and map out her next steps. She encourages others to explore what indeed energises them and brings them joy. It could be hiking, spending quality time with friends, or immersing oneself in inspiring books. These activities serve as sources of upliftment and motivation, and incorporating them into one’s routine can profoundly impact their career journey.
Otema emphasises the importance of having mentors and coaches. For example, Otema, at a point in her life, had two accountability partners who worked closely with her. Together, they developed a six-week plan and maintained regular communication to ensure she stayed on track and focused on her goals. This level of accountability and support can propel one’s career forward.
She underscores the paramount significance of power skills, encompassing a repertoire of behaviours that empower individuals to triumph. She astutely points out that active listening is a formidable power skill, alongside the prowess of effective communication, adept conflict resolution, empathic understanding, and intelligent negotiation. These skills foster personal growth and facilitate triumph in diverse circumstances and predicaments.
Otema accentuates the imperative of embracing and capitalising on one’s power skills and innate strengths. Rather than fixating exclusively on shoring up areas of weakness, she fervently advocates for intensifying focus and amplifying existing proficiencies. From her mentor experience, Otema recounts a conversation with a mentee who bemoaned her inadequacies. In response, Otema encouraged her to identify her areas of expertise and redouble her efforts to fortify those aspects. Concurrently, she urged her to seek support and leverage additional tools to address any areas of deficiency.
The notion of building one’s table embodies the essence of empowerment and autonomy. It signifies taking ownership of one’s destiny and forging a path uniquely tailored to one’s aspirations and vision. Rather than seeking validation or acceptance from existing establishments, it entails the audacity to create something entirely new and distinct. By erecting her table, Otema transcended the boundaries set by conventional norms and expectations and established herself as the architect of her success.
Building one’s table requires a potent blend of determination, resilience, and audacity. By building her own table, Otema carved out a space for herself and became a catalyst for change, inspiring others to follow suit and create their own paths.
To the younger Otema, her counsel would be to embrace the wisdom of building her own table – an act of defiance against the constraints imposed by societal expectations and limitations. It would empower her to forge ahead with unwavering conviction, fueled by the knowledge that she possesses the agency to shape her own destiny. By constructing her own table, she would have unleashed her full potential, unfettered by the confines of pre-existing structures, and manifested her unique vision in the world.
That young Otema could be YOU.
As Otema continues to chart unprecedented frontiers, her indomitable spirit and trailblazing endeavours serve as a resounding testament to the boundless potential inherent within each of us. Moreover, her awe-inspiring narrative resonates as a vivid reminder that greatness is not the exclusive purview of a select few but a domain accessible to all who dare to unleash their authentic selves, defy self-imposed limitations, and tenaciously pursue their passions.