Back in 2006, with her two children having reached their teens, Mosunmola ‘Mo’ Abudu decided she wanted to make a rather abrupt career change. Though she was a successful human-resources executive for oil giant ExxonMobil, her heart was set on migrating from the boardroom chair to the chat-show sofa.
There was just one problem.
The Nigerian businesswoman had no TV experience whatsoever.
So she attempted to contact the woman best placed to provide some pertinent advice.
“The first thing I did was to buy a box collection of Oprah’s 20th anniversary, which had about 20 tapes of various episodes that she’s done,” Abudu explains. “Then I somehow got the details for her studios in America.
I must have sent Madam Oprah Winfrey tons of emails. I was really hoping that she would give me the necessary guidance and mentorship to become Africa’s talk-show hostess and executive producer of my own show.”
Alas, the world’s first black female billionaire never replied to Abudu.
But that didn’t stop her.
In the seven years since she made her first sketchy TV pilot, the 49-year-old has created Moments with Mo, the first African daily talk show to be syndicated across the continent.
She has interviewed the likes of Hillary Clinton, IMF chief Christine Lagarde, musician R Kelly and designer Diane von Furstenberg; journalists around the world have been quick to label her ‘Africa’s answer to Oprah’.
Abudu was born in Hammersmith, west London, in 1964 to a caterer mother and engineer father and grew up in the UK, with the exception of four years in Nigeria from the age of seven.
She emigrated to her parents’ homeland aged 30 with her husband, whom she has since divorced, but her sisters still live in Britain – one owns a small media company; one works in the NHS – and Abudu’s two children are both studying here.
The apples certainly don’t fall far from the tree.
Her 23-year-old daughter, who just completed her masters in London, also wants to go into television.
However, by mutual agreement, she will not be gaining a nepotistic step-up in mum’s company – at least not until she has forged her own path for a year or so. Her son, currently completing his A-levels at Harrow, wants to work in the food industry with an eye on “making African cuisine global”.
Abudu is the only high-profile chat-show host whose reach spans Africa, but she must surely also be one of the few chat-show hosts in the world who, when interviewing the head of the IMF, could demand to know what is being done to improve the odds for her viewers “watching tonight who are living on less than $1 a day”.
She is forthright and opinionated, but hesitates before sharing her firm views on international aid. “Maybe I should plead the fifth in this instance… Yes, it’s termed as aid. But then I think that Africa has been robbed of so much that I don’t see it as aid – I’d just call it payback time.” Abudu says she would not rule out entering politics in the future but, for now, is wedded to the TV screen as her weapon of change.
Unfortunately, the power of media has not yet eliminated casual stereotypes.
Abudu tries to shrug off the discrimination she encounters (“My days are way too busy to let racism get at me; I try not to notice it”) but admits: “You hear it from all sorts of people, ‘I don’t really like black people, but I like you, you’re different’. You’d be amazed, but they think they’re actually being nice – it’s a compliment. That happens in the UK, it just happens. The most amazing thing is when I go to the States, and they’re like, ‘My God, you have a British accent!’ What do you expect me to have?”
Apart from EbonyLife, Abudu still owns the recruitment consultancy she set up after leaving her job at ExxonMobil, and has a stake in a hotel business.
Across the three companies, she employs about 600 staff, predominantly female.
Named last month by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the ’25 Most Powerful Women in Global TV’, she is ticking dreams off her career wish-list in quick succession.
Her network is now in more than 40 countries across the continent and she is finalising deals that should see it broadcast in Britain on Freeview and TalkTalk by the end of the year.
She has just signed a contract with Disney to remake Desperate Housewives for Africa, with Wisteria Lane relocated to Lagos.
What’s left? Well, she has her sights set on producing big-budget movies in the next few years, is putting in requests to get President Obama on her sofa – and continues to yearn for a meeting with Oprah.
DO YOU WANT TO BE A TELEVISION PRESENTER?
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