We at the Be Your Own Best blog are very pleased to introduce a new feature to our regular blog postings. The “Inspirational Women Series” will highlight exceptional women across a diverse spectrum of occupations and industries, allowing them to share some of their insights with our equally diverse audience.
We are very excited to be sharing the stories of these incredible women. If you would like to suggest an inspirational woman for consideration, please e-mail Lisa Mueller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Funke Abimbola
General Counsel & Company Secretary, Roche
I studied law at Newcastle University, a “red brick”, Russell Group University in the UK. After that, I returned to Nigeria (where I was born) for family reasons and for a summer holiday which ended up being almost three years! During that time, I studied for the Nigerian Bar and was called to the Nigerian Bar. I returned to the UK and was able to take the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test to re-qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. I gained the pre-qualification experience that I need with a large, fully listed PLC company within the entertainment field and was admitted as a solicitor in 2000. I then worked with a number of law firms (two in central London and two regional firms) before joining Roche as Managing Counsel in 2012. I was promoted to General Counsel & Company Secretary in 2015.
How would you define a “successful” career and what needs to happen for more women to achieve that level of success?
A successful career is all about a healthy balance and having a good support network in place. For women with children, this means having good quality, flexible childcare options. Without this, a working mother cannot achieve success – she would be forever worrying about childcare arrangements and unable to focus on her career.
I would describe myself as having a portfolio career – my day job is as a senior leader for Roche, the world’s largest biotech, leading the legal and corporate compliance functions supporting the company’s pharmaceutical operations in the UK, Ireland, Malta and Gibraltar. Outside of my day job, I carry out a substantial amount of voluntary diversity work within the legal profession and in supporting school children with their career options. All of my roles have an important place to play in keeping me balanced, grounded and fulfilled which is my ultimate definition of “successful” in a career.
What is your proudest career accomplishment and why?
Being appointed as Managing Counsel at Roche in 2012 and then, subsequently, being promoted to General Counsel & Company Secretary. Roche is an incredible company to work for and I feel very privileged to be in such a senior role within the UK organization of the world’s largest biotech company. I am also proud of the fact that the visibility and influence I have in this role means that I have been able to create countless opportunities for others whilst also having a positive impact on diversity within the legal profession.
Please describe a challenging problem that you had to overcome in your career and the steps you took to do so.
The toughest challenge by far was returning to work at a central London law firm after having my son. I returned after a year’s maternity leave and felt like a fish out of water. There were no other corporate solicitors who had returned from maternity leave as I had done so I felt very isolated. I was the first female solicitor to put in a request for flexible working at the firm, a truly nerve wracking experience. I had to ask some hard questions about whether or not I could continue working full time as a corporate solicitor and, if so, how this could be possible. In the end, I overcame the challenge by moving out of London altogether to a regional firm where I could work full time but still have a healthy life balance and enjoy quality time with my son. I feel very passionately about supporting women lawyers who return to work after maternity leave because I never want anyone to experience the isolation I experienced after returning to work.
If you could be mentored by anyone, who would it be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I – because she faced so much uncertainty in her early life, was not expected to succeed the throne, yet, as a single woman, she ruled England for 45 years! Elizabethan England is still considered one of the most glorious periods in English history. I would like to ask her how she remained so resilient and demonstrated such fortitude throughout her reign. Despite her autocratic leadership style, she still made some excellent decisions – for example, she made good choices in terms of advisers and ministers. It would be an honor to gain insights and to learn from this fascinating female leader.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To not be so hard on myself – provided I do my best, my best really is the most I can do.
What words do you live by?
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Time and again, I have come to realize that you can and should only be yourself – be who you are and say what you feel!