It takes a special kind of person to rise through the ranks at a mega-company like Salesforce while simultaneously managing a full-time business. The drive, the mindset and the sense of purpose have to be on point because it’s not for the faint of heart. That level of determination is a hustle, to put it mildly. But it’s definitely not impossible.
Lola Banjo is living proof. In addition to being a Senior Managing Director of Strategy and Innovation Consulting at Salesforce, she serves on the board of directors for multiple charitable organizations that support women and young people across the United States. On top of that, she’s the founder and chief designer behind Silver & Riley, a travel and fashion accessories brand, which she refers to as a “labor of love.”
How does she do it all?
“I've always believed that anything you want in life takes sacrifice and hard work,” she says. “I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work at a company like Salesforce that encourages you to bring your full self to work.”
“I’m driven by intense passion, curiosity and determination to be the best version of myself. This means having a great career while also giving back to my community and making sure I support others along the way.”
Growing up as a first-generation kid in New York, born to Nigerian-born parents, Lola credits them for shaping her values in her unique upbringing. “I'm a career professional,” she says, “but above anything, I'm a Black woman first. So I'm super passionate about our community.” One thing in particular that inspired her as she grew up was watching her mother help to uplift women in the community. “My mom instilled in me that passion for giving back,” she recalls. “So that's always been ingrained in me.”
When Lola joined Salesforce in 2017, she immediately sought out the employee resource group BOLDForce, which stands for “Black Organization for Leadership and Development.” And while there, she made a huge impact in just a short time, creating opportunities to empower the BIPOC community.
After helping to launch a first-of-its-kind mentorship program in the BOLDforce New York hub, Lola became a part of its Global Leadership team. Just last year, she was voted president of the organization. And the work done there has been immensely rewarding, she says, especially in the wake of the events of 2020.
“If you choose to do a career and a passion project, my greatest advice is to make sure your side hustles and your career actually feed each other.”
So how does she maintain her sense of commitment to her passions and her work? Admittedly, it hasn’t always been easy. When she launched Silver & Riley in 2019, she says it took a lot of sacrifice to get that venture off the ground. With the project being 10 years in the making, she was determined to make it happen, even if that meant finding a new way to balance her life and business.
Lola started following an intense schedule that began at 1 a.m. — to talk with her business partners in Europe — going to work at Salesforce by 9 a.m. and then being in bed by 9 p.m. While this particular schedule isn’t for everyone, she stresses that time management is so important, especially for those looking to truly succeed.
Ultimately, all those late nights and unbelievably early mornings bore fruit. Silver & Riley, which Lola dedicates to her late mother, is now in a place to give back to other Black women entrepreneurs. The startup now features a program that invests 5% of sales in women starting their own businesses. For Lola, this just ties back into her guiding principle of giving back.
“We’re stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for.”
And even though she has found success in her professional life these days, it has taken years of extremely hard work. In a pivotal year during her college days, Lola recalls going through a series of hardships following the passing of her mother. “Every time I took a step forward, it felt like I was taking two or three steps back,” she says. “It was one thing after the other.”
But after hitting what felt like rock bottom, she recalls getting a wake-up call. “Something inside of me just kept reminding me that there's something greater,” she says. “I knew I had to keep fighting for my future, for my legacy — I couldn’t let my mom's memory go in vain.”
After auditing her classes, she went heads down and powered through an unheard of 81 credits in one academic year. “I graduated with my bachelor's in engineering and math and minored in computer science and economics,” she says. “And I will never, ever forget that year, for as long as I live.”
That experience served as a turning point for Lola. “You never know how strong you are, until you actually go out there and do it.”
“I always try to start with purpose. It’s what gets me up every day, what I am passionate about and I stay true to that.”
And while it hasn’t been easy, it’s definitely been worth it. For aspiring young professionals who are dedicated to building their careers while still pursuing their passion, Lola shares some insights that could help along the way.
Remember that you have something of value to offer. Never start any relationship with an ask. Always remember that you have something to offer too. Your time is valuable and your skills are valuable. Don’t be afraid to let people see that.
Always advocate for yourself. Ask for what you want because no one's going to manage your career for you. You tell people how to treat you — through your words, your actions and your mindset.
Invest in your relationships. Never be shy about investing in that relationship. Spend time actually interacting with them and what they do, and get to know them beyond that transactional relationship.
Never, ever stop learning! Try to upskill yourself as much as possible. If you don't know what you're doing, it's gonna be a big blow to your confidence. It’s okay not to know it yet, but take every opportunity to learn!
And of course, Lola’s key pieces of advice to anyone are to always focus on how you can do the most good and never forget your true purpose. She says, “I will always be grateful for life and the ability to do what I love. And if I'm able to encourage even one other person to never give up, I will feel successful.”
Find out more about how professionals of color are blazing their own career paths while working at Salesforce by joining their talent network.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Salesforce.