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‘Appearance, manner of speech and character define a person’-Mavi Isibor

Elegant and stylish Mavi Isibor is the Chief Executive Office of Poise Nigeria, a training and consulting firm engaged in the business of total personality development and impression management. The firm’s main thrust is a rich blend of ethics and etiquette as well as effective self management skills. This graceful woman spoke with us about her growing up, style and other issues.

You are the CEO of Poise Nigeria. What is outfit all about?
Today, the vogue is rebranding Nigeria. The Nigerian is identified for his brashness, corrupt practices, loud behaviour and lack of decorum. Poise started because of the need to bridge this gap by introducing decorum and civility into our lifestyle. Because being crass and coarse is expensive, the ‘Wall Street Journal’ reports that an increasing number of companies are sending their employees to manners camp or bringing in etiquette consultants to train them. Executives in Nigeria are beginning to realise that business etiquette is an asset of enormous value that increases the talent level of their employees, as well as the good name of their company.
Not only does proper business etiquette exude professionalism, it can also help to make the difference between success and failure for both the company and the employee.
Poise Nigeria is a business image-training and consulting organisation that started operations in 2000. It is the premier personality, etiquette, impression management and image consultancy in Nigeria; most probably the first of its kind in West Africa. Poise is an executive finishing school that addresses the modern day requirements of comportment, etiquette and protocol, diction and public speaking, among other things.

What were the challenges you faced when you started Poise Nigeria?
Starting any business in Nigeria is hard enough with the economic peculiarities of the country, not to talk of starting a brand new company with a completely new concept in a market that was unaware and unwilling to embrace the unknown. We created the products to suit our environment, created the awareness, and the market.
At that time, and even now, financial institutions did not believe in start-ups. Basically you had to make it work all by yourself from scratch. In addition, I had to juggle a lot of things I was involved in and still take care of my family. My greatest fear all along, and still, is the fear of failure. This is because nothing like this type of school had ever existed in Nigeria at the time I launched out. It was an unknown area to many people; a lot of effort was made to create the awareness and convince people to buy into the idea. I recall that when I told executives about what value Poise Nigeria could add to their staff, the recurrent retort I got was, “tell me, how will this affect my bottom line?” But today, the story is changing by God’s grace.
Poise Nigeria was a dream, a concept in my head, it did not have form or substance, but it had a lot of faith going for it. I find it difficult to accept that some things are impossible. Somehow, for me, no, does not spell failure, it is just an indication that that method or approach may not be the right one. So I try another way. I strongly believe that there is a solution for everything man has made, if we look hard and long enough.
My driving force is captured in what Steve Siebold said that “Middle class thinkers fail and retreat back to their comfort zone. World class thinkers fail and keep starting over until they succeed. Champions aren’t any smarter, more educated, or ambitious than the average person, but they are far more resilient. While middle class thinkers process their failures through emotion, world class thinkers process theirs through logic. Middle class thinkers are ashamed of failing while world class thinkers see their resilience as a testament to their toughness.”

What was your motivating force?
Challenges. Especially where others have failed or not dared to venture is my motivation. The more it looks impossible, the more attractive it becomes to me. It goes without saying therefore that I derive fulfilment from things that defy the norm. Passion for hard work and excellence is also important, seeing positive transformation in people is very fulfilling.

Tell us about your growing up?
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I grew up at Fadeyi, Lagos, in a two-room apartment, in a face-me-I-face-you building; I went to public schools all through and did not have any special training. But one thing I had was very good upbringing that equipped me for the future and taught me never to accept the status quo. My mother was one tough woman who ensured that her children grew up right with the right values despite the environment. Hear her, “Walk straight, don’t drag your feet, tuck in your tummy, sit like a lady, don’t laugh with reckless abandon like a harlot, and don’t put your hands on the wall!” So many don’ts while I was growing up. And to think we saw my mum as a fun spoiler – too strict – prim and proper. Today, I know better.

How can a woman create class for herself especially at the work place?
One thing I have believed all my life is that average is not an option. So if I had to rise above my humble beginning, I must do something extraordinary. William Thourlby once said, “In life you have two kinds of class: First Class and No Class”. Class is the value you ascribe to yourself, the respect you have for yourself, what you think of yourself and how much value others ascribe to you. A woman should at all times exude grace, good attitude and behaviour. When a woman comports herself properly, whether at home, at the work place, or in the public she definitely will be admired and perceived to be classy.
Many women still live under the illusion that they are limited by the celebrated glass ceiling, but the truth is that women have to comport themselves in a manner that will enable them successfully navigate the labyrinth of life. You cannot insist on being the weaker sex, and still expect to be treated as an equal at work.

If you did not own your own company, what other thing would you have been doing?
Two things I still desire to do in my life time: one is to start an NGO that would enable indigent people to occasionally shop for free for basic requirements of life. Hopefully, I would like to provide them respite from the daily struggle of keeping body and soul together. The second one is to work in the church administration where I believe I can add value.

You are a grandmother, but you still dress stylishly and carry yourself with so much dignity and elegance. How do you do this?
Three things define how a person is perceived: the appearance, manner of speech and character. If you are lacking in these it will be difficult to make the desired impact or play in civilised society. Class resides in the trio. Cultivate it. “Uta Hogen once said that we must overcome the notion that we must be regular… it robs us of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre”.

Why is it that when a woman is rising so fast in an organisation, people say she is sleeping around with the male bosses?
There is the imputation and notion out there that women cannot be successful on their own. The notion is that it is a man’s world and therefore some women are cowed and intimidated about launching out. However, there are many successful women in the workforce today and their uncompromising effort has shown that there is dignity in labour while their attitude at the work place has extolled the dignity of womanhood.

How do you unwind?
I love to watch movies, dig into a good book and get lots of sleep.

When you play with your grandchildren, in what ways do they remind you of your childhood days?
The greatest gift God has given me is the joy I get in my grandchild. For me, there is no comparison with childhood. I never got to play with my grandparents and growing up with my parents was not a piece of cake. We were too busy trying to make ends meet. My grandchild’s time is different though I am mindful to teach her the values from my childhood.

Everybody has one fear or the other in life. What is your greatest fear?
There is an advert that says Oprah Winfrey is one woman who would go to her grave empty. Every time I think of all I still desire to do, I fear that I may not be as lucky as Oprah. I used to berate myself that I did not discover my purpose early enough. I woke up to reality when I was 40. But God in his wisdom is making all things beautiful in his own time and I trust him implicitly.

What is your beauty secret?
For me, my beauty regime is no secret. Heartfelt joy in the Lord removes the wrinkles and frown lines. Peace of mind that comes from having a good home and a future removes worry lines. Hard work and being constantly on the go helps to watch my weight. The rest is taken care of by skilful make-up. Then, of course, a good healthy smile that is because no matter what you wear you need to communicate confidence and capability and a smile does just that.

What is that fashion accessory you cannot do without?
I love bracelets and rings a lot. I rarely wear flats because they do not do much for my gait and posture.

Domestic violence seems to be on the rise. What is your reaction to this?
There is no good or bad marriage. Marriage is what you make of it. In my opinion, a man who batters a woman is a coward and is insecure. There is strength in your ability to control yourself. My mother used to say, “It is not as your body itches you that you scratch it. If not you will draw blood”. A strong man is one who has learnt self control.

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