Skip to Main Content
News@Ivey · Communications

Celebrating Black excellence: Jemi Onyejiaka, EMBA '23

Feb 23, 2024

Jemi Onyejiaka (1)

February is Black History Month and we’re celebrating Ivey alumni who have demonstrated Black excellence in their professional and personal life. In their own words, they share who and what helped them to define Black excellence and how that influenced their careers and life as well as ways to empower Black excellence all year round. Read on to learn how Jemi Onyejiaka, EMBA '23, aims to empower herself and others and why driving for excellence has become her hallmark.

Get to know Jemi Onyejiaka, EMBA '23

My name is Jemi Onyejiaka and I am a proud mother to Lotanna, 5, and, Amarachi, 7; a devoted wife to Lewis; and a proud daughter of God. My parents named me “Oritsejemiyotan,” which means “God has made my joy complete,” but in my circles, I'm known simply as “Jemi.”

I spent most of my life in Nigeria, where I built a career in the Capital Markets space, with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of roles. In July 2018, my family and I embarked on a new chapter in Canada. I relaunched my career in the Capital Markets arena in 2019 as an award recipient of the Women in Capital Markets Return to Bay Street Program. I’m currently Vice President, Strategy & Business Transformation, at BMO Capital Markets where I support the delivery of strategic agenda and spearhead initiatives that propel us forward. I'm particularly proud of recently obtaining my Executive MBA from Ivey, graduating proudly with the June Class of 2023.

These roles, coupled with my commitment to empowerment, shape my purpose into a three-fold mission:

  1. Amplifying voices – My seat at the table is a platform for creating empowering opportunities, advocating for underrepresented groups, and amplifying their voices in various spaces;
  2. Coaching and mentorship – I dedicate myself to guiding others on their career journeys, offering insights and mentorship to empower their professional growth; and,
  3. Being a pillar of support – Nurturing relationships and instilling a profound sense of value and significance in others. I aspire to be a pillar of love and unwavering support.

My dedication to empowerment extends beyond my professional life. I've volunteered with esteemed organizations such as the Financial Women’s Association (New York), Dress for Success (Toronto), ACCESS Employment, Loran Scholars Foundation, Women in Capital Markets (WCM), BMO Black Professional Network, and BMO Alliance for Women.

How do you define or describe Black excellence?

Defining Black excellence is an intrinsic part of my journey, rooted in my upbringing in Nigeria where excellence wasn't an option, but an expectation. Every day was a call to be better, instilling in me an unwavering drive for excellence that has become my hallmark.

Nelson Mandela, an iconic figure I deeply admire, epitomizes Black excellence. His life, dedicated to dismantling apartheid and fostering reconciliation, serves as a beacon of purpose. His enduring words resonate, particularly, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Mandela's commitment to reconciliation and forgiveness, even in the face of adversity, cements his legacy as a true icon of Black excellence.

As a Black Canadian, I recognize the responsibility to showcase excellence in every space I navigate. Despite often being a minority in the room, I've harnessed the power of controlling how I present myself, which has been a game-changer in my journey.

Working on Bay Street, the scarcity of Black senior executives underscores the work that still lies ahead. Yet, glimpses of excellence from young Black professionals fuel my optimism for a different future. The journey may be ongoing, but witnessing emerging talents thriving inspires hope and fuels my commitment to paving the way for change.

In a landscape where Black excellence is a force that defies odds, I am compelled to continue shaping my narrative, driven by the belief that individual excellence contributes to the collective journey towards a more inclusive and diverse future.

What foundational experiences supported your Black excellence?

The cornerstone of my Black excellence includes:

Positive role models – Growing up as the youngest of four siblings, I was immersed in a daily display of excellence. My siblings – my true role models – have each achieved remarkable success. However, the credit for our collective success goes to our parents, whose intentional upbringing set the foundation for our accomplishments. The words of wisdom, nuggets, and attitudes they instilled in me continue to shape my life;

Exposure – Working in Nigeria provided a unique vantage point where I witnessed women successfully leading large financial institutions. This exposure shattered preconceived notions and ignited a belief in endless possibilities. Recognizing that there is room at the top for women fuelled my drive to strive for excellence and paved the way for my journey today;

Mentorship and allyship – My career journey has been guided by incredible mentors and allies who invested in me, offering valuable insights, advice, and networking opportunities. Their support has been pivotal to my journey, and I credit them for enabling me to operate in excellence. To all those who have played a role, I am forever grateful; and,

Friendships and community support – The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," rings true in my life. My circle of sisters and friends has been an unwavering support system, pushing me to be better, holding me accountable, and offering various forms of support. To this incredible community, thank you for enabling me to show up as the best version of myself. Your impact is immeasurable!

How can organizations empower Black excellence all year round?

While February marks Black History Month, a dedicated time to spotlight Black individuals’ contributions, the real narrative of progress unfolds throughout the entire year. Beyond the designated month, our actions and commitments in business schools, institutions, and industries echo loudly, defining our journey toward genuine change and advancement.

The essence of Black excellence lies in visibility – what young Black professionals see around them shapes their aspirations. If they can't find role models who mirror their identities within organizations, campuses, and institutions, their potential is confined. Although immediate transformation may be elusive, what steps are we taking to rewrite this narrative for the future?

Let's collectively raise our voices and hold organizations and institutions accountable for the strategic priorities they pledged to fulfill. Measurement is the catalyst for progress – what gets measured gets done. By amplifying our voices, we propel significant strides toward equality and inclusion, ensuring that commitments translate into tangible results.

In the world we inhabit today, divisions, hatred, and strife are increasingly prevalent. While we may not have the power to reshape the entire world, we can certainly transform ourselves. How are we presenting ourselves? Do we speak up when silence is not an option? Are we allies, actively looking out for others? How do we shape the next generation through our parenting? Are we advocates of love over hate, unity over division?

In conclusion, envision a world where unity is our driving force, where each hand uplifts another. By being stewards of our brothers and sisters, we construct a bridge leading to collective triumph – a testament to the boundless strength that emerges when we stand together. This is not merely a call for change; it's a declaration of our commitment to a future defined by unity, empowerment, and the unyielding celebration of Black excellence, not just in February but throughout every month of the year. 

Related Articles