Luxury brand marketing expert Gbemi Abudu has a life goal to be “rich.” Reaching it could change the narrative of business professionals in ways that transform markets and nations in Africa, starting with Nigeria.

Abudu’s approach to the enormous challenge in front of her bears the same determination and focus that moves her up mountains, pushes her sprinter’s body to complete marathons and launches a fellowship program to create young, professional women in her likeness. 

She brings to the table a confident humility, critical thinking behind clear intentions, and a habit of delivering excellence engrained by nature and training. This combination leaves little room to doubt that she’ll reach the lofty goals she says are influenced by people she greatly admires, by her personal experiences and by what she learned at Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Abudu is the founder and managing partner of BMGA (Brand Manager Gbemi Abudu) Enterprise Limited, a venture she started nearly a year ago after spending most of her professional career as a custodian of brands. She has held marketing positions at Walt Disney Company, Louis Vuitton in North America, Polo Limited in West Africa and ANAP Business Jets Limited based in Lagos, Nigeria. 

BMGA is what happens when Abudu, a 2009 graduate of Thunderbird, gives form and function to her personal mantra “to live a rich and fulfilling life while impacting the world around me.” 

“When I say ‘rich,’ I don’t mean monetary; I mean rich in terms of what the world has to offer and what you get out of it,” Abudu said. “ ‘Fulfilling’ is living a life where I’m at peace. It’s loving what I do, loving the life that I live, and defining what success means to me.  And for ‘impacting the world around me,’ I always say to whom much is given much is required. I have been very blessed and very fortunate to have had countless incredible opportunities and experiences in life, and I think it would be a disservice to my life if I did not at least try to enable others to have similar opportunities and experiences.” 

Businesses Rely on People to Deliver on Promises 

Two of Abudu’s passions are under the BMGA umbrella: marketing and capacity building, which involves teaching soft skills that embody professional excellence, including assertiveness and critical thinking. The mission of BMGA is to empower organizations and professionals with transformational skills that optimize performance. 

All business organizations should be oriented to always put their best foot forward, Abudu said. So, when BMGA does marketing consulting, it also helps companies build their human capacity to deliver on their promises to customers. And when BMGA provides capacity-building learning, it also has marketing conversations with those clients. 

“People give what they consider the best of their ability. Therefore, if you want them to give more at an extraordinary level, you have to give them the tools to deliver at that level.” Click to tweet

BMGA was born out of Abudu’s frustration with the skills gap in Nigeria. “Nigerians are extremely smart, but there was a gap that existed, which prevented people from performing at their optimal level,” she said.

“It occurred to me that part of the frustration is that we’re constantly asking people to give what they don’t have,” Abudu said. “People give what they consider the best of their ability. Therefore, if you want them to give more at an extraordinary level, you have to give them the tools to deliver at that level. 

“From a marketing perspective, organizations can make amazing promises to their customers by telling a fantastic story and creating a desire for their brand. However, when people show up, how are organizations delivering on their promise? You need equipped people to do that.” 

Abudu is determined to fill the workforce pipeline with professionals who are well-equipped to make significant contributions to the social and economic development of Africa. Especially women. Abudu cites a recent report that estimates women could contribute an additional $316 billion to Africa’s GDP if they had the same opportunities as men. 

In April, BMGA will launch a six-month fellowship program (the BMGA Fellows Program) for young women in Nigeria, with hopes of expanding it to other African countries next year. The program will provide fellows with high-level professional development courses, mentorship and life skills that are designed to prepare young women for a prosperous career in the 21st century.

‘Life Really is a Sport’

Abudu, who is a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United States, credits much of her success to her parents and her faith. Her Nigerian parents, who met during their graduate studies at the University of Wyoming, encouraged her inquisitiveness, and she believes God put her in the right places and at the right time to get where she is today. 

She was born in California but started her schooling in Nigeria. She returned to the United States at 14 to finish high school and started college at 16.

In high school, Abudu, a huge sport’s fan, learned a lot about discipline and determination from watching sports, especially basketball. 

“I have always been fascinated by athletes,” Abudu said. “The ability to subject one’s body to grueling training in order to achieve a singular goal is quite fascinating. More so, the ability to believe in one’s greatness and ability when the world doesn’t quite see it yet – requires a certain level of grit, confidence and resilience. I emulated the can-do attitude and determination I observed in athletes I admire and respect. Life really is a sport that we have a higher probability of succeeding when we are well-prepared.”   

‘Thunderbird Chose Me’

Abudu attended the University of Wyoming with plans to earn an undergraduate degree in finance or economics and then go to law school. But in her sophomore year, she took a marketing class and, she said, “the rest is history.”

Law school was still Abudu’s post-graduate plan, but that changed when she discovered her unwavering passion for business while working at a law firm. 

“I like to say Thunderbird chose me,” Abudu said, launching into a story of serendipity.

She was in Chicago exploring the option of obtaining a JD/MBA degree from a local university. It was a cold, snowy day when she stepped outside her apartment building and met a fellow resident waiting for a cab. 

I’ve always considered myself a global citizen. Thunderbird gave me an outlet to satisfy my global zest and curiosity. Click to tweet

They decided to share a cab and Abudu learned during the ride that the young woman was an executive at Univision. The executive said if she had to do it over again, she would attend an international business school in Arizona that her father admired. 

A couple of days later Abudu was watching a program when up popped another reference to Thunderbird. That prompted a visit to the school’s website. 

“Oh my God. It was an aha moment,” Abudu said. “I was fascinated by the international focus of the curriculum – in both theory and practice. That’s when I thought this school was designed for me.” 

Abudu, who is the president of the Nigerian chapter of the Thunderbird Alumni Association, said the school’s focus on global mindset spoke to her and helped her realize that her ideology about a global business environment was valid. 

“I’ve always considered myself a global citizen,” Abudu said. “It was Thunderbird that coined and defined what that really meant. Thunderbird gave me an outlet to satisfy my global zest and curiosity. It is one thing to perceive the world a certain way; it is another thing to get into a space with likeminded individuals who also see the world the way you do. For me, it was a breeding ground geared towards creating global leaders and equipping us with the right tools to succeed.” 

Tools to make her rich – fulfilled and prepared to impact the world around her.  

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