Tobi Ayodele-Keeney is the Managing Director of Quincy Herbals, a natural weight-loss, skin care and natural health firm. She took over the leadership of the renowned herbal company after her mother Chief (Mrs) Quincy Ayodele stepped down as the CEO a few years ago. The holder of a master’s degree in Nursing from the University of Baltimore, USA spoke with KEHINDE OLULEYE about her marital life, her passion for the beauty/wellness industry, her career and family and her experience at the isolation centre where she and other American returnees were kept for 14 days.
What was growing up like?
I had a relatively peaceful and happy childhood. My parents didn’t have much in terms of money but they did their best to make sure we had food to eat, got a good education and supported us in other passions like learning how to play the piano, how to knit, martial arts and sports. It was very costly for them to do, but they made us their priority.
I also grew up with a lot of extended family members, so we had a lot of aunties and uncles who also cared for us. My mother was always an entrepreneur, so we were also involved in her various small businesses, including helping to sell the puff-puff down the road.
In Addition, our parents ensured that we maintained the ties with our hometown so we would spend our holidays in Egbe, Kogi State, living as any village child would do, sleeping outside under the stars, caring for the livestock, following our grandpa to the farm, fetching water from the well and so on. I thank God for my childhood; it shaped me into who I am today.
How did you meet your husband and what was the attraction?
I met my husband online back in 2006. There was a social media site back then called Myspace which was like Facebook. We used to go on those sites to connect with our long-lost friends and share pictures and things like that. Sometime in March of that year, he sent me an email, saying he looked at my profile and saw that I had a nice smile. He was new in town and wanted to know if I could show him around the place.
I did not read his mail until about three months later when I was cleaning out my inbox. My younger sister looked at his profile with me and told me to respond and get in touch. I was not so keen on it because he was a white guy and I didn’t think we would have anything in common. Regardless, I agreed to meet up with him for dinner and we hit it off.
I even tried to scare him away by inviting him on our second date to a Yoruba naija get-together and warned my friends to only speak Yoruba, eat very indigenous food and act very stereotypical Nigerians to see if he could handle it. After the whole exercise, I was dead sure he was going to run away. Surprisingly, he asked when he could see me again! That was pretty much what sold me. I liked the fact that he was smart, easy going, very adaptable and came from a very stable background like mine.
How did he propose?
He proposed about a year after we had been dating. He apparently had sought permission from my dad and my family behind my back, and I was shocked when my dad allowed him to take me out of town on a weekend trip. We were supposed to go to have dinner at a restaurant, but I guess he could not wait or was shy, so he proposed to me on our way out of the house. Luckily, I had just done my nails, which I rarely do. So everything turned out fine.
Were your parents or his against the union at any stage?
Never! We never had any opposition from my parents, his parents or any of our extended family, right down to our grandparents on both sides. If anything, I got a lot of backlash from strangers and non-related people saying things like I was a sell out or that I wasn’t proud to be black, or maybe I married him for papers or money, all of which were false.
I was already a US citizen through my parents and we were very comfortable financially. My parents have always been forward thinking and are progressive and knew that there was a high possibility of their kids getting married to people who were from the land we were living in at the time (USA), as there were more of them there than Nigerians. If we lived in India, they would not have been opposed to us marrying Indians, or Russians or whoever. Their criteria were solely about the character of the person, the love between their child and the person, the person’s values, goals and aspirations rather than the colour of their skin.
What is your take on love, marriage and relationship?
Love, relationship, and marriage are three separate things. Marriage is like a partnership of which the couple (partners) has sworn an oath to each other to be together no matter what unless there is threat to life or something very deadly. Until recently, marriages were contracted worldwide without the criteria of love and dating or establishing a relationship beforehand. Most people did not even know who their spouse was or how he or she looked like until the wedding day, and there was rarely any divorce. This was because everyone knew what the expectations were and the understanding of what they were getting into.
Now, there is this Hollywood, fairytale expectation of what they think love is about, and it is causing a lot of relationships and marriages to fail. Also because nowadays, we are meeting and getting married to complete strangers unlike before where it was a union of families who had known each other for a long time. We have to do a better job of understanding each other’s background, past, values, goals, mindset, and so on before jumping into marriage. What we have now are people marrying each other for the wrong reasons, or just marrying themselves solely based on ‘love’ or physical attraction-infatuation that will fade away after some time.
We are forgetting that compatibility, commitment, compromise, sacrifice and establishing good communication skills are way more essential in having a peaceful, lasting marriage than just love. How do you love someone you just met so strongly who hasn’t been through thick and thin with you? Someone who you barely know about his or her past and have made mutual compromise and sacrifices for? That which most people experience and think its love is chemistry and infatuation. Those types of feelings fade away after the kids come into the picture and everyone must hustle to raise a family.
True love grows over time and gets stronger with each passing year. It happens when you have truly been together during challenging times and have shown yourself strong in times of stressful situation. Love also gets strengthened when you also have shared good times together; the joys of bringing forth children into the world, buying your first house, getting promotion at work, or establishing a business, and so on.
This is the reason you see a couple that has been married for 50-60 years plus are attached to each other by the hip. If one of them dies of old age, the second one follows soon after. They are so in love with each other they cannot live without themselves. Yet if you hear their story, there were a lot of ups and downs, betrayals, sacrifices and more. Yet they were so committed to making their partnership work, it grew into a deep type of love we rarely see these days. I would say I love my husband more now than ever before.
I learnt from a source that you recently returned from America and you were one of those sent to Abuja for quarantine. What was your experience?
The mental stress of not knowing the future, whether I had caught the illness or the unknown was quite traumatizing. But that was the only thing I would say was the worst experience of being stranded in America and the journey back home.
My experience in quarantine was exceptionally good. We were all kept in well air conditioned hotels which had constant electricity, cable TV, internet and we were fed very well…if not overfed. We had daily menus to choose from, and the company handling our welfare was very accommodating to our needs. They even allowed us to stay for an extra day for free for those that needed extra time to sort our logistics to Lagos.
The only majorly stressful thing was that we were not allowed to leave our rooms for those 14 days and that was to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus from one evacuee to the next. So, I will call it a luxury prison that was very necessary. We did not pay a dime for anything they provided to us. I was quite shocked when I read something in the newspapers that said we were protesting Nigerian government for neglect and lack of care. I gained at least 2kg from all the food we were being fed with: large chunks of chicken, goat, beef, or fish. At a point I would just skip lunch and dinner and just ask for apples because I was still full with last night’s meal.
Yet some of the people were giving the government a ridiculously hard time during the quarantine period, asking (sorry, demanding) that they provide things like SIM cards, stepdown transformer, comb, cream; complaints upon complaints. That was what gave me and a lot of other right minded individuals worry, because we knew that a lot of what was being done for us for free was just done out of altruism. Now, because of the protests and all the complaints, the government has stopped the quarantine process and is demanding that evacuees should get tested before being allowed to board the plane.
Many Nigerians do not know that to get tested for Covid-19 in America and most western countries can only occur if you are extremely ill and have tested negative for all other respiratory illnesses and are in dire need of oxygen support. This will mean the average Nigerian visitor who is healthy and does not have a doctor in that country may not be able to get the test done.
Basically, they are stranded in those western countries indefinitely. So, the actions of a few evacuees who were not considering their fellow Nigerians stranded abroad has further worsened their plight. I would not say Nigeria is perfect in any way, but this quarantine process was a pilot case and we should have been more patient and understanding.
Were you worried that some of the other returnees you were mingling with could be COVID-19 positive?
We did not mingle with any returnees until we were declared negative for Covid-19. It was not even allowed like I mentioned earlier. All our communications were done through WhatsApp. I was just hoping someone was not positive, because it could mean us getting retested and delaying the quarantine period. But there was no chance of contracting the virus from others if we were inside the quarantine hotels.
What has been your experience since you took over the leadership of the family company – Quincy Herbals?
Luckily, I was always involved in the business from a young age. So, it was not much of a drastic transition. I had officially been working directly under my mother since 2010. The experience has been good and at the same time challenging. One must keep with the times, seasons, and trends.
Why do you think your mum handed the management of the company over to you?
I am the only child in the family who has a medical background and has passion for healthcare. My sister is a US immigration lawyer and my brother is an IT specialist. So, the only option was me. My sister does run the operations of the company and is good in process planning and strategy, but I am better at execution of the process and have the passion and the gift of healing people.
Was there opposition from any quarter?
No. There was not any need for opposition as there was no other alternative.
Did you feel inadequate at any point?
Oh, yea definitely, especially in the beginning. I was changing things to suit my style of leadership which is different from my mum’s. It was a period of learning and adaptation, and I am still learning and adapting.
What was the reaction of your siblings?
They were relieved it was not them as they don’t even have the knowledge of basic anatomy, not to talk of medications or how to arrive at a diagnosis. It will be as if my brother told me to help run his software development business and start writing codes. That will be a total failure (laughs).
Considering that you often shuttle between your factory in the USA and Nigeria, how do you balance your personal life, home, and family?
Luckily, I have a lot of family support, especially my mother. I can leave the kids with her and travel at short notice. And she is excellent with the kids more than I am, to be honest. My hubby also travels a lot for work, so we are always in and out. But the benefit of owning your own business is that I can make time for my children. I exclusively breastfed my kids and did so for over a year with each one and was pre dominantly their care giver until they started primary school. Family comes first in everything and family is my priority.
What other business do you do apart from herbal business?
We produce and process fonio (acha) into flour for making into swallow or using to bake. We also provide healthy delicious meals for people who need to change their diet in order to lose weight and be healthy, and we are in the process of producing an alkaline water that will be affordable for anyone that can afford bottled water.
All my side businesses are still health related as making people healthy is my passion. In line with the new development of coronavirus, we are transitioning to a full naturopathic and wellness centre with an in-house diagnostic lab. In this way, you can see an herbal doctor, see a regular doctor, get your lab work done and if we can, have a pharmacy that will provide both herbal and synthetic drugs depending on your diagnosis.
What is your advice to young women who are planning to go for body enhancement?
Be careful, do your research and make sure it is not something you will regret later in life. This current look of having an excessively big bum and big breasts is just a trend, and anyone who has lived long enough will know that trends come and go. So, make sure you do not do anything that will make you look outdated in the future. Tribal marks on the face, arms, back, etc. were once a thing of fashion and everyone struggled to get it done. Now it is considered archaic and a form of mutilation.
What best describes your style?
Casual and comfortable. I also believe in dressing for the occasion. So, I have different styles depending on where I am going. However, in general, I like to look put together but not in an extravagant manner. I also believe in modest, decent but classy dressing. I do not like to show too much skin as I believe it gives out the wrong impression and people will not take me seriously.
What is your favorite Nigerian food?
Anything with yam inside. I am from Kogi State, so I was literally born with a yam in my hand. I can eat yam six times a day if it was healthy to do so. My favorite stew is ofada stew. My mum is from Abeokuta, so we had been eating ofada stew decades before it became popular.