Owner & Partner
RSL Management Services & Simone Williams
Serial business owner Ronke Lawal embodies entrepreneurial spirit.
Since launching her first business six years ago Ronke hasn’t looked back. Ronke is the founder of RSL Management Services, a London-based marketing, PR and brand development firm. In 2006 Ronke became a partner at the Simone Williams fashion label.
In addition to running two businesses, Ronke was appointed chief executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce earlier this year.
Why did you decide to start RSL Management Services?
The company was founded in 2004 at a time in my life when I was hungry for change. I wasn’t satisfied in full-time employment; working in a role that was not really for me but it paid the bills.
I had suppressed my entrepreneurial spirit for a long time and so when I chose to start RSL Management Services I was realising my dream and creating my own journey.
You are also a partner at the Simone Williams fashion label. How did you get involved with the company?
I have known Simone since I was 7 years old, so over 20 years. We grew up on the same estate in Hackney but lost touch after we moved. When I returned to London from university we reunited.
I viewed her collection at the time and offered to invest in the label. She had been running the label part-time since around 2002; I became a partner in 2006. We have been growing from strength to strength ever since.
Tell me more about Simone Williams, what has the response been to the label and where can I buy your collection?
The response has been fantastic; we have been fully self-funded so there have been struggles along the way but we have always survived and attracted clients.
We’re stocked in a number of online stores and boutiques including Fashion Enter, The Look Boutique, USTrendy, Me, Myself & I to name but a few, full details can be found on our website.
Tell me more about your clients at RSL Management Services; can you share some examples of recent projects you’ve undertaken?
I’ve worked with a range of clients which keeps me challenged and creative. I have recently worked with Charles Carter Hair, Caribbean Savouries and Rhoda Wilson and I’m commencing a project with Blackfingers Hair.
What was your career path prior to starting your businesses?
I worked with the Insolvency Service upon leaving university and then moved on to the DTI. I then started working as a finance and personnel manager for a top health and fitness company.
You were recently appointed chief executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce, which is a fantastic achievement. What does your role encompass and how were you appointed?
An organisation like the Islington Chamber of Commerce encapsulates all these things that excite me. It looked like a challenge; an organisation where I could really exercise my skills in leadership, management, marketing and business development whilst utilising my genuine passion for enterprise. There is probably no better place to do business or to establish useful business referrals than a membership organisation like a chamber of commerce.
I had always said that I would never return to an organisation to “work” i.e. become employed again, unless it would challenge and motivate me. Being the CEO of the chamber certainly achieves that and more. There were a number of interviews, a presentation and a lunch to interact with the directors of the board, which finally led to me being appointed as the head of the Islington Chamber of Commerce.
I recently read that Islington Chamber of Commerce is unveiling a new business mentoring programme. Can you tell me more about it and what was the driving force for the creation of the programme?
The Islington Chamber of Commerce Business Mentoring programme has been developed to empower new, growing and established businesses to reach unlimited heights in their business potential.
I want to ensure that the Chamber makes an impact in the local business community; giving experienced businesses the opportunity to share their knowledge. Whilst giving serious new and growing businesses owners the opportunity to be encouraged and educated through active guidance.
Have you had a business mentor in the past and are you mentoring anyone currently?
I have never had a business mentor but it’s not too late. I have had a business coach though and I can definitely say that coaching is an invaluable experience; I’m still using tips from my time with my coach. I would love to mentor someone and be mentored.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
The independence and creativity of running my own business has been phenomenal. I have enabled a number of fantastic businesses to achieve the success that they deserve. I love accomplishing results for my business clients and watching them grow even further than they expect themselves.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
It can be lonely if you don’t have a business partner, which is why working on the Simone Williams label is fun.
There are absolutely no guarantees you have to create your own path and follow it; learn from mistakes and pick yourself. I have had to repeat that mantra to myself; even whilst it has seemed that I’m not moving forward I have been able to stay focused and motivated.
What has been your biggest triumph to date?
I’d say still being a business owner and maintaining a brand despite all the struggles is my biggest triumph.
What are you working on at the moment? Can you describe your typical working day?
I’m working on a couple of new client proposals as well as my continued work with ongoing clients, including the award winning TV presenter Rhoda Wilson.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
Being happy inspires me! I just seek joy and fulfilment in everything I do; as well as achieving my goals.
Lots of people inspire me, the obvious being Oprah and Lord Alan Sugar. But Hackney has also inspired me to aim high; growing up in a poor area did not hold me back; in fact it empowered me because I did not want to remain trapped in the story of the streets. I wanted more for my life and am realising that dream each and every day.
Are there any particular resources you’ve found to be useful for developing and growing your business?
I used a variety of online resources including business forums and some government support agencies like Business Link. I also used my own initiative to network with a variety of business networking groups.
What are your future goals for RSL Management Services?
I want to take it to new heights and establish a strong team that can represent the central ethos of the company.
I would also like to continue working with businesses and invest in more businesses with my company. I am humble and with every step I take I know that I am getting closer to my destiny. I will run highly successful businesses and be called upon to turn companies around; perhaps even have my own version of “The Apprentice.”
What are your future goals for Simone Williams?
To grow and gain more concessions in a variety of boutiques. We would love the brand to be internationally recognised, taking the main stage in London Fashion Week and being worn by top celebrities.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own business?
I’d say follow your passion and stay focused. Make sure you actively network in your business and professional life and engage with the right people.
If you can get a mentor, or at least surround yourself with a positive and powerful circle of people who will champion you in your career journey. Seek continual business development through training and seminars; education is important but only if used actively. Use education wisely as part of your long term professional strategy.
Most important be courageous; a member of the chamber’s tagline is “I go where there is courage” – I think this should be everyone’s tagline. Be brave in your career and don’t ponder on mistakes for too long, learn from them and move on. You can reach anywhere in your career if you so wish – don’t let anyone hold you back.
Ronke Lawal was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
The Twenty Ten Club connects, inspires and supports Black female business owners. If you are interested in becoming a member you can find out more here.