Thomas Segun Ilube of UK and Nigeria - Tell me that I am not good enough and I will show you the next CEO


Last week, when I introduced you to the African asciences Academy, I mentioned it all started with a few simple questions:

“What happens to you if you are born with a brilliant mind but grow up in difficult circumstances in a village, township or City? Does Africa benefit from your amazing talent?”

Today, I am inspired by Thomas Segun Ilube of the United Kingdom, the man who asked himself those questions and whom, as a result, created an all girl science school in Ghana.

Thomas’s father, Nathanial Oyakhire Erainkhifun Ilube, was born in Edo State, Nigeria, in 1941. He was so brilliant he was selected to further his education in the UK in the mid-1950’s. After his studies as an electrical engineer, he was recruited by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and was sent to different African countries to set-up stations for the famous broadcasting network. Nathanial married a young
British teacher, Eileen, and together, they had three sons and two daughters.

Thomas Ilube, born in 1963, spent his childhood in the UK, Uganda and Nigeria, where his father finally resettled after years working overseas. With an Engineer as a father and a teacher as a mom, young Thomas was naturally attracted to the world of science. Thomas completed his first degree in physics at the University of Benin in Benin City, Nigeria. He later moved to the UK where he completed an MBA in Finance in 1988 at Cass Business School in London.

With these two degrees under his sleeves, the young man had no doubt that he would be hired by the first company he would apply to. Unfortunately, that was not the case. He was rejected by the first company he applied to, and the second and the third. He finally had to settle for a job as a programmer for British Airways.

Thomas suspected he was discriminated against because he was black, but he refused to allow
racism to curtail his dreams. He kept looking for opportunities that better fit his education and
finally found a job at the London Stock Exchange. In those days, there were very few black
professionals in the City, but that fact did not intimidate him:

“I think being thrown into different environments – Nigeria, Uganda, back to the UK, off again, and
back again – sort of made me quite resilient. I can go into new and different situations and not feel
too daunted. I observe them with interest. Building a career in London, you would often go to places
and be the only black person out of 200 people.”

And resilient, he needed to be. He remembers how some people didn’t even bother hiding how
much contempt they had for racial minorities. One incident that stuck to his mind for years was when one of his colleagues one day casually told him that “some good friends” would prefer he would be “swinging from the nearest tree” rather than working with them!

If they thought they would discourage him, they were mistaking. Instead of being deterred by such backward attitudes, Thomas worked harder to move ahead. He knew he would have a hard time breaking the glass ceiling, so instead of dreaming to climb the corporate ladder, Thomas’ ambition was to build his own company.

Hard work, ingeniosity and determination paid off: Thomas went on to create a multitude of companies in the tech industry, providing support to the very same corporations that had refused to hire him on the pretence he wasn’t “qualified enough”! Today, Thomas Ilube is one of the foremost experts in the field of Cyber Security in the UK.

While building his companies, Thomas found the time to pursue another dream of his: offering educational opportunities for under-privileged kids. In 2011, Thomas Ilube revamped an old building in west London into a state-of-the-art school, the Hammersmith Academy, which has since been deemed one of the UK's "most innovative technology schools".

Encouraged by the impact of the Hammersmith Academy, Thomas decided to do the same in Africa,
focusing this time on the education of young girls.

“I had become increasingly aware of the gender imbalance in the world of technology and science. Girls go to school loving maths and physics in the early years, but when you get to A-level physics there are 25 boys and one or two girls in a class. So, I wanted to create a world-class institution that was really attractive to girls who have a passion for science and technology. A space where they can talk about what it means to be a female scientist and how to build their careers.”

In 2016, through his African Gifted Foundation, Thomas Ilube created the African Science Academy
(ASA), which I presented last week.

Thomas Ilube has also created a prize to recognise and promote science fiction by writers of African
heritage, the Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction. My brothers and sisters who dream to create
the next Wakanda, this one is for you!

Thomas phenomenal success in the world of tech-enterprises and his work promoting the education
of young people who might otherwise never get a chance to fully explore their potential has earned
him several honours. The most impressive was probably when in 2016, Thomas Ilube came first on
the annual list of the 100 most powerful people of African and African Caribbean heritage in Britain. In October of the same year, Thomas Ilube was named the most influential black person in the UK.

In April 2017, four years after the passing of his father, Thomas Ilube was made a non-executive
director of the British Broadcasting Company, the company where young Nathaniel Ilube had made
his debut some 60 years earlier.

In 2018, Thomas Ilube received one of the highest honours one can get in British society: the title of
Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

When asked what motivates him to do all he does, the 56 years old gives a surprisingly down to
earth answer:

“The feeling that I haven't made enough of a contribution yet. I. Must. Try. Harder.”

Let those four simple words become our motto: We. Must. Try. Harder.

Right Your Legacy, Thomas Segun Ilube! You are a true inspiration!


Um’Khonde Patrick Habamenshi