Playing the Long Game: Navigating Skilfully from Football Dreams to Corporate Triumphs

Oreoluwa Adeokun
Brand Associate
Jan 30, 2024 13 minutes, 1 second read
Oreoluwa Adeokun
Brand Associate
Jan 30, 2024 13 minutes, 1 second read

"I would've been a professional footballer today, if I hadn't broken my leg when I was 10". What happens when that is in fact your reality – mourning a childhood dream while piecing together a new and potentially even more rewarding life.

Meet Victor Sada, the Head of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) at Interswitch, whose journey unfolds from early aspirations of playing in the premier league to a life-altering leg injury at age 10.

In this edition of Switch stories, we delve into Victor's transformative experience flipping burgers at KFC and his dynamic entry into the world of finance; we explore the challenges of reshaping life after a dream-shattering event and the resilience required to create a fulfilling path.

Victor, now a seasoned dealmaker, shares the intricacies of navigating the complex landscape of mergers and acquisitions. His story is not just a testament to resilience but also a powerful reminder of the boundless possibilities that emerge when one approaches life with an open mind.

In three words, how would the people closest to you describe you?

Smart, calm… hnmm, it’s not one word but ‘great sense of humour’.

What’s your day to day at the Switch like?

Eclectic. One day I could be looking at a potential investee and the next day I could be working on a management deck for a strategic opportunity but, I think fundamentally every day, across every activity, I’m looking at ways to grow The Switch inorganically, basically outside of our 6 different divisions today.

Tell us about your career goals growing up, was the plan always finance?

Funny thing. So, growing up I wanted to be an NBA (National Basketball Association) player in the US.

Actually, rewind a few more years, the plan was to play football professionally; by the age of 9, I was part of the NFA (Nigerian Football Association) under 13 team. The plan was for me to join the Arsenal youth club and my uncle was going to be my manager. I would go to national stadium every weekend to play and on one occasion, when I was about 10 or 11, I was playing with the locals on the street as I would normally do, and then my leg rolled over the ball, leaving me with a terrible fracture.

I recovered eventually but my parents banned me from playing football, they had instructed every teacher in my school to ensure I never played football again.

That must have been a tough time for you.

It was, it was extremely hard. However, because I was such an athlete, I had to find an alternative. So, I found a loophole, if I couldn’t use my legs, I would try my hands. That’s how basketball came into the picture and now I had a different dream; the new dream was to play in the NBA. I had also grown a few inches taller, so it all started to come together, the dream looked viable.

In secondary school and university, I played in the school team. The dream was alive for a while and then I started to get discouraged. The guys I was playing with were way better than me, so I began to weigh my chances. Also, back then they would say that you had to doctor your age so you could go in younger, probably go into college, and hope you get scouted, I was like “Victor, this is long, let me just use my brain and focus on university education.”

After graduating from university, professional basketball was a long-lost dream. I had gone into university to study math, and I knew I was not getting a PHD, I was done with schooling! I had to ask myself what my next steps were and after giving it some thought, I decided to go into finance. Having a math degree helped because now I’m analytical, I just needed to support that with finance knowledge. So, I decided to obtain a master’s degree in Corporate Finance, and I loved every single aspect of those classes. Inspired by my banker dad and a love for suits, I have since dedicated myself to evolving as a finance professional.

You know when people say, “I could have been like Saka if I didn’t break my leg”, that’s you!

Literally, I could have been wearing that no 7 right now, but hey!

After letting go of your sports aspirations, how did you decide that you wanted to study math?

Opportunity really. I was good in technical drawing, and I wanted to study mechanical engineering or architecture. My parents dissuaded me from architecture due to its demanding nature, so engineering won ultimately. Nonetheless, unfortunately, or fortunately, the year I intended to begin at university, I faced a setback as the class was oversubscribed, resulting in a deferred entry. Prior to this, I was a fast mover in school and had skipped two years, waiting for a year was not appealing.

In this unexpected turn of events, I opted for math from the available course list, considering my aptitude for the subject. The original plan was to transfer to my preferred field after the first year. Life, however, had different plans for me, throwing a curveball that, in retrospect, set me on the perfect path.

What advice would you give to people who are currently unsure of their path?

If you’re at the university stage, I would say focus on courses that teach you about life’s fundamentals and courses that enhance your analytical abilities because everything in life; in my opinion can be learnt but you need to be someone who’s curious and analytical to survive in various environments.

Beyond academia, say more 'yeses' than 'noes' when opportunities align with your interests. This approach will provide a clearer understanding of your preferences and help you identify what you genuinely enjoy and wish to pursue further and what you don’t.

What was your parents’ reaction to you studying math?

My mum was a lawyer who had transitioned into business, so she pretty much had a great understanding of “it’s not just about the books”. The general recommendation back then was to do something that’s relevant in the economy. However, to be honest, when I decided to study math, they were okay with it because they thought I was still going to transition to engineering but after a while we all agreed there was no point in me wasting a year. Once I graduated from university, the most important thing was “how do you make money?”.

This is all interesting because, a little birdie told me you actually started your career flipping burgers, where does this come in?

While obtaining my master’s degree, I decided I couldn’t rely solely on my parents for my upkeep and needed to earn some extra income. So, I got a job at KFC, starting from the ground up by cleaning tables. Progressing swiftly, I moved to the back office, mastering the art of flipping burgers, and eventually found myself at the till, adept at taking orders. Surprisingly, I discovered a knack for upselling, leading to a significant boost in sales within just one month. So really, this happened while I was putting the pieces together.

That experience taught me the art of effectively engaging and managing people. The KFC outlet I worked at was conveniently located near the Manchester United Old Trafford stadium. On days when Manchester United lost, frustrated fans would storm in, seeking solace in a burger. They would express their anger and disappointment, often talking down to the staff. This situation compelled me to cultivate essential people management skills, finding meaningful ways to navigate and ensure tempers were eased.

Wow, you have basically lived nine lives. What is the most surprising lesson you learnt from your experience at KFC?

People don’t know what they want, or rather people don’t know what they want specifically but they have a broad idea. Most of the time, people are influenced by those around them. You would imagine that someone coming to KFC has a strong opinion on what they want to buy. They know they want KFC, but they don’t know what exactly they want. In that scenario, my role was to guide and educate, planting seeds that would guide their decisions. For instance, suggesting extra fries could prompt them to say, “Hmm, yeah, add that.” Interestingly, this process of guiding decisions is remarkably instrumental to my current role as an M&A professional.

You worked this KFC job all through grad school, you graduated and then moved back, what next?

At the time I was just really itching to work, I didn't know about the tech space, but I knew I could learn anything, just draw me into it and I’ll figure it out. I joined a company called Venture Garden Group (VGG), they had a venture capital arm called Greenhouse Capital where they would invest in early-stage companies such as Appzone and Flutterwave. It was here that I got my first experience in investing in start-ups and managing key stakeholders.

Working there equipped me with a multitude of skills, instilling in me the confidence to pursue more significant opportunities. At the time, I held the belief that opportunities and the roles one could take on were directly linked to age. Surprisingly, as a 24-year-old, I found myself handling responsibilities typically handed to individuals in their mid-thirties, who possess more extensive career experience. This experience laid a robust foundation for my success in the field of finance.

Did you ever envision this specific role in finance?

Yes. While I was at VGG, I knew I wanted to close deals; I just liked the idea of being the guy who closed massive transactions. I always looked up to those deal makers in private equity and then I looked at the career trajectory and discovered that most of them started in investment banking. I said to myself, “Since, you know this while it’s still quite early, make the transition to investment banking now.”

After spending roughly 2 years in VGG I joined the investment banking team in FBN Quest, or FBN Capital as it was known then. I gained the experience I needed there but knew my passion really laid around the private market and working with early growth stage companies. So yes, I knew being a deal maker and playing within the private equity space was what I wanted. I ensured that I optimized everything in my life to be able to achieve that ultimate goal, which is still a work in progress.

What 3 vital skills would you say one needs to work in a unique role such as yours?

Most of what I do is basically project management which involves good chunk of people management and working with different stakeholders. As an M&A professional you work with different subject matter experts on a particular transaction and my job is to ensure that we're all working towards the same goal within the set timelines. Essentially, project management, people management and strong analytical skills.

What has been the most exciting/rewarding merger you’ve completed at The Switch?

There are a few exciting deals I cannot share just yet, for now I would say our investment in Shuttlers (a mobility as a service company) and our work in securing the strategic partnership with Multipay Congo.

What challenges have you faced in this role and how have you overcome them?

The main challenge is aligning everyone's objectives. If I discover a potential transaction, obtaining buy-in from the Managing Director (MD) of the relevant business arm is crucial, as their business is linked to the acquisition target. Selling the deal's benefits and demonstrating short-term and long-term value is essential, especially as there are yearly targets and budgets as well as immediate priorities. Once objectives are aligned, the process becomes more feasible.

What addition to our company portfolio would make you confidently say, “I've excelled in my role and achieved success”?

Having a solid remittance business is my daily wish. Since we are largely a naira business, integrating a remittance arm would introduce USD inflows, effectively diversifying our revenue mix which would be fantastic, especially given what is happening within the macroeconomic space in the country.

Have you ever strongly believed in the potential of a merger when others did not see its viability? If so, how did you navigate this situation?

When faced with rejections, most of the time I don’t accept “no”, I hear “not now”. The key is to look at the refusal as a result of a framing bias. I engage in an internal dialogue, questioning how I presented the opportunity and why it was declined, and then I reframe it and make another attempt.

Most times, the answer remains a no, but in some cases that “no” turns to a promising “maybe” and therein lies all the opportunity for a strong ‘yes.’ At that point, it becomes a matter of strategically advancing, taking calculated steps, and gaining momentum.

Resilience is a valuable skill, however, how you do recognise when to trust your instincts and persist, perhaps revisit later, versus recognizing the need to let go?

With my level of experience, I know when a deal would pass the MD test because I know the pain points of the businesses I deal with. In most cases when they refuse, it’s because they have competing projects but a limited budget. This sort of situation is a “not now”. However, if I perceive potential or anticipate they might identify an opportunity I might have missed, then I present it to them. If it's a rejection, I don't proceed. So, short answer; know the pain point of your customers.

You clearly have no problem with change, what advice would you give to someone who is terrified to take that risk and transition?

My advice would be not to take drastic changes. Take baby steps so that the risk is limited. If you however must take drastic steps, try and ensure you have a soft landing so If things don’t go as planned you have something to fall back on.

Do you still play any sports?

Hnmm, not since Covid struck. Before then, I played basketball twice a week. Every week, I say “this is the weekend that I go back” but it just has not happened. However, I play basketball at home because I have a ring and I go to the gym three to four times a week.

Wow. If you had the chance to play professional basketball for a day, what team would you choose and why?

Lakers! To play beside Lebron. Back in university, they called me Lebron, apparently, I looked like him and played a bit like him, I also had the Miami heat jersey so yeah.

When was the last time you played football?

I have not played football since I got banned in secondary school. It was ingrained in me back then, that was around 2007, 17 years down the line and I’ve still never kicked a football.

Wow, this has been engaging. I have one final question, where’s your uncle today? Did he eventually make it as a talent manager for an arsenal player?

Hahaha. Sadly, not but he has young kids now who know way more about football than I do, they speak so passionately about it so I can tell he’s on a mission to realise that dream through them.