Florence San: Defining Success and Thriving in Global Markets

It has been said that the beauty of diamonds lies in what is revealed once they are put under pressure. This pressure makes them stand out in comparison to all other stones. As the corporate landscape evolves for many women across the globe, there are some that take on the nature of said diamonds. Florence San is a business executive, project manager, and strategy consultant. She leverages her multifaceted expertise to transform the lives and businesses of her clients to thrive in competitive markets and combat various challenges.

Her business acumen has not only challenged but, in many ways, redefined the standard for women alike who aspire to achieve even a fraction of what she has. With at least a decade behind her as an entrepreneur and project consultant; San is paving the way for women to follow while driving significant social and economic change. Over the years, she has also spearheaded a niche market and led a boutique strategy management firm in the United Kingdom as well as emerging nations in Africa such as Nigeria and Ghana.

Today, San serves as a Chief Operating Officer (COO) and senior strategy consultant at Ren San and Co. The brand strategy and consultancy firm is based in the UK; specializing in helping businesses achieve their goals through a range of services. Assuming this role, she inevitably drives change through the unique and diverse perspectives that women in leadership positions have to offer. This is achieved through a proven track record of delivering solutions tailored to meet the unique needs of her clients.

As the world progresses, particularly where leadership roles are concerned, such diverse perspectives and voices are necessary. As it stands, San also serves as the only Nigerian-British woman on the advisory board for the prestigious University College of London (UCL); helping them develop the upcoming business school. In every space she occupies, there is a recurring theme that facilitates the growth and advancement of others. It is a trait that comes full circle when we consider one of her most admirable achievements.

In 2017, San launched a personal project aptly titled “Thrive.” The annual event bridges the gap between women and their success. Her dedication to giving back to the community has equipped women with the right tools and resources needed to overcome challenges and succeed in their personal and professional lives. Through “Thrive,” San has created a supportive community of individuals who uplift and inspire each other to reach their full potential. Since its inception, she has dedicated over £50,000 to this cause while also impacting the lives of widows and single-parent families.

Something arguably unique to a woman’s DNA is the innate desire to prioritize building supportive networks in order to lift other women thus creating a strong sense of community. Throughout her life’s work, whether that be in the form of working for government administrations in Africa, or providing strategic guidance to over 500 SME founders across various sectors, San has risen to the surface victoriously.

As it has been expressed, precious stones are shaped under tension. This analogy has likewise turned into a representation of self-awareness and strength. Very much like precious stones, women like San can emerge more grounded and brilliant in the wake of confronting and defeating difficulties in their spaces. Her impact extends beyond individual development, as it has spilled over into the thousands of individuals she has trained. Her commitment to excellence, along with her history of achieving tangible outcomes, most certainly sets her apart from the crowd.

Tell us a bit about yourself, and can you share a defining moment in your life that shaped who you are? My name is Florence San, I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, I left Lagos when I was about 10,  and  I’ve spent most of my life living in the United Kingdom. I’m a Senior Strategy Consultant & Director at THRIVE. I come from a large family, and I’m passionate about children, personal development, and emotional and mental well-being. I find joy and solace in God, I enjoy walking, seasides and love being surrounded by nature. I read a lot and sometimes indulge in Korean dramas. Additionally, the theatre holds a special place in my heart and I like cooking and hosting. 

Reflecting on my journey so far, I’ve encountered numerous defining moments, each contributing to my growth and resilience. While I can’t pinpoint a single event that profoundly shaped me, my faith has undoubtedly been the cornerstone of my existence. As a Christian, my salvation marks a pivotal turning point, providing me with hope and guidance through life.

One significant realization that stands out to me is the awareness of growing older without the presence of my biological mother. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to share this detail of my life due to various reasons, as I avoid the sympathetic/pity comments that accompany sharing this. Refusing to be confined by the narratives and boxes, I’ve come to understand that life presents us with a choice: we can either embrace victimhood or victory, dwell on grievances or pursue greatness. I’ve chosen the latter, forging ahead in life with a determination to defy the odds and thrive. I have also come to realise that in life, you are your biggest investment and asset, and you cannot throw in the towel because life is a long journey and the defining moments will always come. We just need to always choose to thrive despite any odds. 

You currently serve as a Chief Operating Officer (COO) and a senior strategy consultant who has also worked with governmental institutions and across different ecosystems. What would you say has been the most challenging part of it and how have you navigated the responsibilities that come with the role? There have been several challenges and there will continue to be because business is tough, but what I’ve come to realise, is that challenges are as diverse as the individuals facing them. As we know, a person is the sum total of their thoughts and their perspective, and so the action that we see is only an indication of what is on the inside. Each person’s unique perspective and mindset shape the hurdles they encounter. Often, we’re quick to address external issues, failing to recognise that true transformation begins within.

We may be tasked with bringing ideas to reality or troubleshooting problems, but the core of the matter often lies in mindset re-engineering. Without aligning our actions with a healthy mindset, our efforts may fail, which is like an architect with plans but with insufficient materials.

Self-awareness is key in this journey. Understanding oneself and mastering emotional regulation are fundamental. It’s imperative to remain steadfast in your long-term vision, resisting the desire for short-term gains that may compromise your values. It’s all too easy to become trapped by the temptation to compensate for past struggles with immediate rewards, losing sight of what truly matters in the process.

Florence san

In my approach, I’ve implemented measures to maintain integrity despite the challenges. Not being overly emotional and setting boundaries with clients are integral tools I have used to navigate my professional relationships. By incubating yourself from external pressures, you can manage to consistently engage in the work that matters most over the years, avoiding distractions.

Describe some of the core values that drive you personally and professionally.
My core values are deeply ingrained in everything I do, both personally and professionally. They’re like the foundation that keeps me steady in any room I find myself in. One of the key principles I live by is to always do something today that I’ll be proud of tomorrow. It’s about integrity, about making decisions that align with my values and standards, so I never have to look back with regret. I haven’t always gotten it right but I don’t give up. 

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it very well” is another core value I live by. It’s all about giving my best in every task, big or small. Excellence isn’t just a goal; it’s a way of life for me. And consistency? Oh, that’s one of my keys. Consistency in integrity, excellence, and hard work builds trust and reliability, both in business and personal relationships. Sure, talent and intelligence can get you in the room, but it’s your values and character that keep you there. I learned this from Myles Monroe’s leadership books back when I was just 17 or 18. I have learned that starting strong is one thing, but it’s continuity and sustainability that truly make a difference enough to even outlive us. 

Also, attention to detail. I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. Hard work and burning the midnight oil are part of the package. Achieving anything worthwhile comes with a price, and you have to be willing to pay it. Most people shy away from hard work, but that’s where you see the results you want. Having supportive parents, partners, and systems helps, but beyond that, there’s always someone who pays the price.

Tell us a bit more about “Thrive”, your vision for the community, and what encouraged you to play such a critical role in empowering widows and single-parent families?
THRIVE began during a challenging period when I was trying to kickstart my career/entrepreneurial journey. Despite the abundance of events and support available, I found the assistance to be somewhat superficial because people would offer knowledge but often withhold the practical tools needed to progress further. This experience drove me to vow that once I began to see profits/revenue, I would dedicate both a portion of my income and my time to giving back. I firmly believe that giving back is the essence of our lives; as my father taught me the principle, “to whom much is given, much more is required.”

As THRIVE approaches its 8th year, I am incredibly grateful for the past 7 years and the grace to be dedicated to a cause so dear to my heart. One of THRIVE‘s core objectives is to inspire women to win at work and in life. I believe that individuals don’t have to merely survive through life’s challenges; they can thrive, even in the face of any challenges. We shouldn’t allow external circumstances to dictate our lives but rather our internal mindset. With THRIVE, we aim to introduce a mindset re-engineering by equipping people with practical tools, not just theoretical knowledge. While theory has its place, practicality is equally important. 

Reflecting on my upbringing, I admired my father’s resilience as a widower who, after my mother passed, was left to raise four children before he remarried. Witnessing the challenges faced by single parents firsthand, despite the support we were privileged to have had, I am passionate about supporting children and recognising the profound impact of childhood experiences on adulthood. I believe that by providing parents with the necessary tools and resources, we empower them to create a better future for their children and ultimately shape the leaders of tomorrow.

Do you have any role models or mentors who inspire you, and why?
Having mentors is invaluable, in my opinion. While I don’t necessarily have role models, I am fortunate to have mentors who guide me, some of whom I have access to personally and others whom I’ve learned from a distance through books and videos. My dad is one of my key mentors, and I’ve learned a lot from him. Additionally, I read a lot of autobiographies. Figures like Myles Monroe through his books and Bishop David Oyedepo through his teachings serve as mentors in different areas of my life, and many more! 

Currently, I find great inspiration in Bishop David Oyedepo. Despite the odds, his unwavering faith and the tangible results of his teachings and actions are evident. He’s a visionary man and a man of great faith! Who builds a stadium in a remote place? Bishop Oyedepo shows us that exploits can be achieved but also places a great emphasis on administration, sustainability, and legacy. 

I’m inspired by visionaries who have found their life purpose and are relentless in their pursuit of it. Witnessing their dedication motivates me to strive to pursue mine. Several women also serve as sources of inspiration for me, encouraging me to be the best version of myself.

How do you create a balance between your personal life while carrying the weight of intensive leadership roles?
This is quite interesting as I get older. Finding a balance between intensive leadership roles and personal life is a journey that evolves with age and experience, and I am grateful to have discovered my life purpose and mission early on, for which I credit my faith. As we navigate through various phases of life, such as relationships and friendships, the roles we play as leaders and pioneers can sometimes shape certain aspects of our personalities. It’s essential to be mindful of how these traits may transfer into our personal lives.

While there’s a growing emphasis on women embracing their femininity alongside their leadership roles, it’s worth noting that leadership often demands traits traditionally associated with masculinity—assertiveness and others. However, it’s crucial to recognise that our personal and professional identities are distinct and co-exist. In relationships, allowing space for femininity and letting a partner lead can provide balance.

I believe it’s vital for women to remember that our worth isn’t solely defined by our titles or accomplishments and despite holding prestigious qualifications and board positions, staying grounded and nurturing relationships with loved ones is paramount. For me, activities like cooking serve as reminders of my femininity and bring joy outside of work.

Ultimately, finding balance means acknowledging that we cannot be everything at once. Each aspect of our lives has its place, and it’s essential to prioritize accordingly.

Florence San

You have been declining interviews over the last few years of your career and have intentionally tried to stay behind the scenes, but have recently become receptive to it. What changed?
Yes, truthfully, I still don’t like attention. It might sound strange to people who know me or have attended my events because I do what I have to do but I would rather not be seen and stay in the background. I consider myself an engine, and engines are not usually seen—they operate behind the scenes. I don’t believe you always have to be seen to be great.

I also don’t think I struggle with imposter syndrome; I just feel like I haven’t achieved that much yet. I see my achievements as steps I am taking towards a greater journey. However, after 8 years, Ren San & Co will be 8 years old this year, and just want to share a little about the work we have been doing and will continue to do.  I have been very privileged to work with some prominent people in different parts of Africa and globally. It has been my pleasure and honour to support them from behind the scenes and to advance their missions.

How do you aim to represent or inspire other women through your story?
I didn’t start this journey to specifically inspire or represent women, which I think is a big responsibility. I believe that I am still working my way towards my goals and don’t think that I will reach a place where I say I have arrived. I feel like when you do so, you can subconsciously stop learning and growing because, even when you feel you’ve reached a milestone, there’s always more to learn and accomplish. I’m incredibly grateful to have built several businesses from 0 to multi digits in pounds sterling, and other currencies. 

For women younger than me or within my age group, I would advise finding your purpose and mission early on. While social media can inspire, it’s essential not to get caught up in comparing your journey to others. Shutting down social media, trying different things, serving others, and discovering what truly drives and moves you are vital steps.

As a person of faith, prayer can help you find your mission and stick to it. While pivoting may occur along the way, having a sense of mission and drive will guide you. Be kind to each other, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and avoid jumping to conclusions about others. Choose to be a source of light, support one another, and refrain from tearing anyone down.

How have you addressed or overcome issues related to diversity and inclusion in the spaces that you have occupied over the years?
I run a boutique firm and intend to keep it as a boutique firm. We primarily hire women. This is a form of inclusion. I don’t want to be the only woman at the top in a specific area, and I think there is room for all of us, with strength in numbers. I refer other women, offer mentorship, and do my best to serve my seniors too. 

Describe some key lessons or advice you would give to someone who aspires to be where you are today.
Firstly, I would like to say, don’t aspire to be me. You can definitely learn from me or others, but we are all unique and distinct! Find your blueprint and your own path. We are all on different journeys and should focus on running our races. I am running my race on my journey. Life is a marathon, and I have an idea of some of the destinations I am trying to move towards. You should find your purpose and mission, identify your strengths, and hone in on them.

My practical advice for women who want to achieve more and die empty would be to give yourself to service, work hard, pay the price, and lean in during your twenties as much as you can. Try different things, and even if you stay in one field, explore different aspects of it. If you look at rice, for example, there are several ways to cook it. Rice has found its purpose, and we have found its different uses. 

Don’t envy anyone. Always be supportive, and don’t let circumstances change who you are. Learn from other people’s experiences and be focused.