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Spotlight: Meet Fola Laoye

Tell us a bit about your background.

I had my formal education in Lagos, Nigeria; secondary school at Queen’s College and my undergraduate degree in Accountancy at the University of Lagos. After that I completed my professional accountancy exams (ACA) in the UK, whilst working with Coopers and Lybrand in London for 5 years (which has since merged into PwC). After qualifying as an accountant in the UK, I returned to Nigeria for a while before going onto to Harvard Business school for my MBA.

Tell us about your journey into Healthcare and your experience so far?

I decided to pivot from accounting and financial services into healthcare and business school was a very deliberate way of doing that. After illustrious careers in academia, both my parents (who were medical doctors) set up a private healthcare company in Nigeria — Hygeia Nigeria Limited. Through this company, they set up their first private hospital, Lagoon Hospital, in 1986. I was very keen to help them grow the business and especially because health insurance was just taking shape in Nigeria and it was an area in which I was particularly interested. While I was at Harvard Business School, I spent my time researching the HMO model of health insurance in the US. After business school, I spent 17 years working in Hygeia, holding various positions and I became the CEO at the age of 32. I also served as Chairperson of the board of Hygeia. One of the proud achievements of Hygeia under stewardship, was being able to launch several Health insurance schemes including the government’s NHIS, corporate schemes and community health insurance schemes for the urban and rural poor which attracted international subsidy funding. Through these schemes, Hygeia created access to healthcare for over 1m Nigerians.

From Hygeia, I moved into healthcare private equity where I reviewed investment opportunities in the healthcare landscape across Africa, in particular Nigeria and Ghana. Recently, I set up Health Markets Africa, an advisory and investment business which looks at building healthcare companies and healthcare markets in Africa. Altogether, my career in the healthcare industry in African has spanned 21 years and still counting!

What is your vision for the healthcare sector?

Healthcare in Africa is still extremely challenged and Covid-19 really highlighted this fact, although fortunately the African continent has not been hit as hard as the US or Europe. The key issue that affects the development of healthcare on the continent, is access to capital. My work in the healthcare sector is to highlight this and also to build a strong business case to attract more funding to this sector. The impact of this on the African population is significant. A healthier population will be a key to economic empowerment and wealth creation for the young and vibrant population of the African continent. Also, healthcare is a sector that provides employment for a large amount of people and that is a benefit that Africa is currently missing out on. However, with the growth of the population across Africa, the healthcare sector is estimated to be $259 billion by 2030 and to create 16 million jobs.

Who did you most admire growing up?

For me, it was my elder brother, he is an accountant. I remember when he was already a qualified accountant, he would pick me up and take me to school and I just used to think that being an accountant meant being so accomplished, structured and wealthy. So, I followed in his footsteps into accountancy because I did think it was a worthy career and I felt it was a skill that I could use.

What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

I think a major achievement has been the opening up of access to capital in the healthcare sector on the continent. When I joined Hygeia in 1999, we did one of the first deals with a DFI to raise capital for healthcare. It was a small deal (by comparison to other sectors) involving about $500,000 at the time, but it was the first of its kind. It helped pave the way for more capital to be diverted into healthcare, particularly through private equity investments. I believe that since then, about $2 billion has gone into healthcare through private equity investors in Africa. When I think about it, I can safely say that I have participated in deals which have been instrumental in raising capital of up to $100 million in the health care sector in Africa to date. For a sector like healthcare, that has been hugely important.

What advice would you give to women that work in and want to progress in male dominated sectors?

From my experience, first and foremost, I would say that as women, we have to make sure that we come to our jobs with a position of strong knowledge, sometimes even more that men in equivalent positions in our field. We cannot afford to be perceived as being less knowledgeable. The second point is that women have to ‘put in the time’. Whilst women often play a significant role in the home (though times are changing), we need to multi-task and ensure that we make up for any time spent away from our jobs due to other family or domestic obligations, and this is now getting easier with increasing flexibility in the workplace. The third point is about ‘networking’. Men are really good at taking the time to develop relationships outside the office which often lead to other business or professional opportunities. I think women also have to be more deliberate about building our network of contacts, whether with other women or men. Women need to make sure they build the right relationships for their career.

How do you deal with achieving your work life balance?

I rely on two things in achieving a good work -life balance. The first required is a good support system, whether from family, from a spouse, friends or even from hired help. I am fortunate that my husband is hugely supportive and has always encouraged me in all I do. It is important for women to feel supported and also confident about spending time and effort in building their careers. The second thing that is important is figuring out where there’s flexibility and using that time wisely in order to make the most of it.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?

I enjoy travelling and have spent time visiting interesting destinations on holiday with family and girlfriends. On the weekends, I enjoy watching football and basketball. I’m also a member of YPO (Young Presidents Organisation) which sounds like a work related network but is actually a well-rounded group that helps with building interests outside my normal sphere of business; I have joined wine networks , sports and music networks through this group.

How do you manage your savings and investments?

I have been traditional and invested in real estate over the years and that has delivered good returns, so for me, this remains a good asset class. I did dabble in the Nigerian stock market for a few years, but then the markets have recently been quite illiquid, so it has been difficult to see that through. In the last few years, I’ve done some angel investing and although risky, I have enjoyed supporting entrepreneurs as they deploy the capital and make it work.


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