Mo Abudu left her 20-year job as a human resources executive at oil giant ExxonMobil in 2006 to become the host of a chat-show with no experience in television hosting.
Realizing her lack of experience in TV, she bought herself a box collection of Oprah’s 20th anniversary, which had about 20 tapes of various episodes that she’s done.
Today, her television program, Moments With Mo, is the first talk show to be syndicated across Africa which is also aired in Britain on a Sky TV channel. Her talk show has featured high profile personalities like former African Presidents F. W. de Klerk of South Africa and John Kufuor of Ghana, former England soccer skipper Rio Ferdinand, musician R. Kelly, Hillary Clinton, IMF chief Christine Lagarde and fashion icon, Diane von Furstenberg.
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Growing up as a black girl who had to fight to prove who she was, the self-taught England born TV host who has her own continent-wide TV network, Ebony Life, sees Oprah Winfrey as her ‘hero’.
“I must have sent Oprah Winfrey tons of messages. I was really hoping she would give me guidance and mentorship. That didn’t happen, but it didn’t stop me,” she told The Guardian in 2013, describing Oprah Winfrey as “very flattering”, although they were not in touch.
Her network’s programming focuses on women’s everyday issues with the view of inspiring Africans and the rest of the world.
“Not every African woman has a pile of wood on her head and a baby strapped to her back!” Mo told AP.
She is using her TV channel to exceptionally portray riches of Africa – its super-talented young entrepreneurs, fabulous art scene, up-and-coming fashion designers, provocative authors and sassy musicians.
Though, she has become a force to reckon with in the African entertainment sector with her huge ambition of a global TV empire, like Oprah, she had had to do all sorts of jobs as a young woman.
Mo told London-based freelance journalist, Etan Smallman, that her burning desire is just to tell everybody that Africans are really gifted and are not a bunch of savages.
“My passion to help change the narrative about Africa began to grow as far back as when I was a teenager living in the UK, schooling in Tunbridge Wells in Kent, a town that had just a few blacks at the time.
“As I have said many times in the past, here, I had to learn to stand up for myself, to defend my identity and my race in an environment where you continually got asked the most ridiculous and mind-boggling questions like ‘Do you guys live in trees and holes in Africa?’ ‘Do you guys dance around fires?’ ‘What do you eat for breakfast?’ Very ignorant questions. Those sort of questions could either make or break your spirit but I was very determined that I was going to stay strong,” Mo told Forbes in 2015.
“I’ve sold insurance; I’ve done cold calling. I’ve done all kinds of jobs – so it just arms you with the right ammunition to be able to go out there and sell anything to anyone” she said.
Since she launched the continent’s first global entertainment network, EbonyLife TV has added 1,000 hours of original programming per year to its credit with all shows broadcast in English and covering a wide range of issues, including interesting African series, celeb news, sex tips, and domestic abuse.
She’s got a state of the art built studios in Sub-Saharan Africa located in southern Nigeria where Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was shot.
“She is an immensely talented entrepreneur,” her pan-African cable station is a stunning achievement. I believe she is on her way to changing people’s perceptions about Africa around the world – and in Africa itself. She is a media giant with a mission,” said Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of U.S. business magazine Forbes.
Even though she is the network’s boss, she is the oldest face on her channel and she still owns a recruitment consultancy she set up after leaving her job at ExxonMobil. Mo is also reported to have investments in the hospitality industry, with hotels that employ mostly women.
Described by Forbes as “Africa’s Most Successful Woman”, her other achievements include being named by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the ’25 Most Powerful Women in Global TV’, signing a contract with Disney to remake Desperate Housewives for Africa, and producing big-budget movies.
Her network is now in more than 40 countries across the continent.
She believes in the former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright quote that says “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
The media mogul and mother of two also has a piece of advice for women who would want to follow her entrepreneurial footsteps: “For women, never ever see your gender as a handicap. Never think yourself inferior. Be ready to do twice the work for half the usual reward. When the door isn’t opened, kick down the door. Take the regular harassment and other obstacles women face in stride. In fact, be prepared for them.”