Balancing the Grind with Kikelomo Abegunde, Customer Engagement Executive at SAP

Kikelomo Abegunde is a Sr. Customer Engagement Executive at SAP and host at The Kikelomo Show, a podcast about her professional journey.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started out studying history and politics. I was deeply interested in both subjects but I found myself graduating during the last global financial crisis when there were no jobs. I graduated in 2009 with degrees in history and political science, I was well-educated but unemployable. 

Fast forward, after working a few years in the banking industry,  I was ready for my next challenge. A uni friend on Facebook constantly popped up boasting about his 9-5 tech start-up job which hosted beer Fridays.

This was totally foreign to me, because no financial services companies were doing this. I researched what the company did, which led me down a rabbit hole exploring the world of tech – cloud computing to be specific! 

It took me three years to finally get my foot in the (tech) door, and after a month of working at my company, we were acquired by software giant SAP.

Every day I worked to expand my technical skills from learning how to code, to enrolling in a project management course, and ultimately becoming certified. I made it a priority to leverage every bit of educational material I could get my hands on to make sure I stayed competitive across my peers. 

In my first few years at SAP, I worked as a project manager and technical consultant, where I delivered software solutions to different customers before making the big move from my home country, the US, across to Australia. 

Now I’m responsible for ensuring operational efficiency and strategy, across my clients by understanding their complex business processes, objectives, and targets, and formulating solutions into an executable strategy. 

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

First thing I do each morning is make my bed. This seems so trivial and small, but I never feel like I have myself together until my bed is made. Then I think about how I want to feel, whether it be bold, dramatic, or sophisticated, how I want to feel drives what I choose to wear. 

My day-to-day life sees me interacting with a wide scope of people. My mum is still based in the US, so I FaceTime her each morning before work. She grounds me and is an incredible role model and an integral part of my life.

Finally, I choose my outfit for the day based on who I’m meeting, how I want to feel and what outcomes I want to achieve. Being a minority in this industry, a black woman, means that every decision I make from the moment I wake up is thought out. 

Once I’m in the office I try to say hi to everyone starting from the receptionist to everyone I encounter, but most people hear my heels before they see me!  In the mornings I’m jumping between meetings that can cover anything from customer issues to integrating new pieces of software for clients. 

For lunch I have a favourite spot called Marlie’s Eatery (6/2 Elizabeth Plaza, North Sydney NSW 2060) where I’m always dragging colleagues or business partners along with me. When I find somewhere great, I happily share. 

Often it’s the conversations at lunches like these that initiates the inspiration for my podcast episodes. A few weeks ago, a colleague and friend asked me if I ever experience any negative consequences as a result of having a value system that is non-negotiable.

This led me to address these themes in an incredibly inspiring and real podcast episode: Unbreakable, unshakable, INIMITABLE, ME.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

My role at SAP offers flexible working and the option to work from home. So long as I have an internet connection, I can do my job from anywhere.

With my Dad passing away last year during COVID-19, I was able to travel back to the US to look after my mum and sister with the support of SAP. Since returning I’ve preferred working in the office four days a week to be around people and interact with others. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance has been something I’ve had to work hard for with my career. If a younger me was reading this, I’d have to be honest and say that flexibility only comes from doing the hard yards first.

As a junior in the corporate world, my time was billable and I was not operating at liberty to really express myself in the way I’m able to do today with my boundaries. There’s credibility that comes with working your way up through the ranks and proving yourself.

After nine years at SAP I’m now able to have flexibility with my meetings, and have a greater ability to prioritise which meetings and events are critical, and which can be addressed via email.

When COVID-19 hit, I felt my boundaries disappear and that balance erode significantly. I really felt the impact of being virtually available at all times. There was a high degree of focus on people with families to look after, however as someone who lives independently, the isolation was extremely difficult. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

The last 12 months have been difficult. I felt a sense of confinement not being able to travel or see my friends back in the US. I knew I needed to focus myself on a new goal.

So, in 2020, I set a goal for myself to learn how to swim. I went to the pool three times a week, did individual and group lessons and practiced on my own to try and achieve this goal.

I found it comical that I was learning the same thing as the toddlers in the lane next to me, but I was determined to conquer my goal! I am extremely proud of myself! 

More excitingly, SAP recently introduced a new policy called Life Leave which offers employees an additional five days of leave to support loved ones, pursue a passion or explore life moments like running a marathon or celebrating a special occasion.

It’s with these additional days of leave that I started my own podcast, The Kikelomo Show, in which I tell the stories of my journey to Australia. 

The most important lesson 2020 taught me is the importance of having something to look forward to. Before, it was a holiday, but now it’s developing my podcast and sharing my voice with the world. I’m so incredibly grateful to work for an organisation that empowers me with time to pursue my life’s purpose. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Yes! I loved the coming of age novel, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Dr. Maya Angelou. Many of her stories and anecdotes profoundly impacted my views, and emboldened me to accept the opportunity to move to Australia. 

A podcast I would recommend is my own obviously! I actually steer clear of podcasts and I don’t really watch TV because I try to limit the amount of external influence and ideas that I expose myself to, which help me remain an original thinker, with the exception of books. I really love to read and write. 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

There are a few products and apps that I use:

A clothes steamer: I never leave home without freshly pressed clothing. Both of my favourites are from Kmart. I have both full sized, and travel versions. 

Flexible hair rollers: I use four each side or six if I’m feeling extra spicy. It’s perfect for pulling your hair together with minimal effort. 

Paula’s Choice tinted moisturiser: Sunscreen is an absolute MUST in Australia! It’s a great makeup base with SPF.

Apps: I use the note app for everything from my grocery list to my dreams and ideations. Honestly it’s like my digital diary. 

A journal: I write daily in my journal to capture important things that happen in my day, then reflect months or years down the line.  

A budget: I can’t live without a budget. I use my own spreadsheet in excel and it’s one of my values that whether you make a lot of money or a little, as a woman especially, you should be a good steward to spend responsibly and live with your means to allow you to be empowered and make decisions that work well for you. 

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

Wendy Williams. If you don’t know her, she’s my guilty pleasure and a charismatic talk show host in America. I’ll religiously binge her shows on YouTube when I’ve got a spare second. She’s free and quirky, and I respect her hustle and admire what she represents.

Despite growing up an outcast, she knew what she wanted and went after it. I’d love to know what a day in her life would look like, I feel it would be wild and full of surprises.

I’m not really interested in hearing about people who run 10kms before work each morning, it’s not remotely relatable to me. 

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Given the current climate, we’ve been given an opportunity to work anywhere we want. If there’s a spot you want to live or explore, what’s stopping you from relocating? 

Moving to Australia had its challenges. I left behind my friends, family and my Dad at the airport where I knew that this was potentially the last time I would see him. But the reward of taking this step has been so worthwhile, I’ve unapologetically given myself permission to live and have not allowed for other people’s decisions to hold me back, not for one second. 

I’d challenge anyone to take that leap of faith in whatever decision you’re weighing right now as you’re reading this. Mine led me to live a life beyond my wildest expectations, to exist authentically, and through an attitude of resilience, I am utterly unapologetic and accepting of my whole self. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.