For Bolanle Williams-Olley, it all started with a high school class in technical drawing. Our NJMOMpreneur of the week could have never known, at the time, how one class would pique her interest and lead her to become part-owner and CFO of a tech-first architecture/design firm, Mancini Duffy, with a client roster including Peloton, American Airlines, NBC Sports, Brooklyn Nets, and Bell Works. But as a born entrepreneur (she describes herself as a “serial multi-hyphenate,” always looking to add more) her side hustles—and there are several—round out her passionate drive. From her non-profits giving back to Nigeria (where she recently raised enough to build a school) to her venture offering financial solutions to help female small business owners, this Rahway mama of two operates on passion and purpose in every facet of her life. We sat down with Bolanle to learn more about what it means to be a solution seeker, the ways she balances being a mom with her multi-hyphenate career, and her family’s favorite place to eat donuts on a Sunday.
featured image via Aqut Photography
You are a business leader in the architecture/design space. Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and how it’s led you to become an NJMOMpreneur?
I am the CFO and part-owner of Mancini Duffy, a tech-driven 100+-year-old architecture and design firm in New York. We have worked with a wide array of clients from American Airlines, Peloton, and Soho House to Bell Works, NBC Sports Group, and Guardian Life Insurance. I landed in this industry by chance, although in hindsight, it was quite serendipitous. When I was in college, I saw a job posting for a junior project accountant at an architecture firm. I applied because I took a technical drawing class in high school and loved it, so I thought it might be interesting to pursue that further. The person who interviewed me also studied math in college, so we immediately hit it off because he understood the value I could bring from my studies. Yet when I started, I didn’t see a path to CFO earlier – or even ten years – into my career. In all honesty, when I looked around me, other CFO’s had 20+ years of experience. However, when the opportunity came, I pretty much stepped into it, willing to write my own playbook and get the job done. It’s been an incredible ride.
Besides being the CFO of a major firm, you have several ventures tied into your professional and personal passions. Take us through each of your professional hustles and what they’re all about.
I’m a solution seeker, so these initiatives have always been born out of ways to provide a solution in any way I can help. I’m also passionate about creating an impact, especially for other women. Because I’m a serial multi-hyphenate and entrepreneur, it’s part of my DNA to keep expanding, and I’m the founder of several entities. SheBuildsLives is a non-profit focused on addressing children’s needs and improving the quality of education in low-income schools and communities in Nigeria. To date, we’ve raised more than $40,000, built a brand new school and improved four others, and have impacted the lives of 2,600 children. I also founded REACHNigeria, a connector hub that creates awareness and volunteer opportunities across Nigeria. SheBuildsWaves is a collective of women making waves in the built industry—architecture, engineering, and construction firms—by engaging each other and striving for more together. SheBuildsMoney is a company designed to help small design firms with finance solutions, intending to empower them to succeed financially. We offer several resources catered toward small businesses to help them crush their goals.
You’ve focused on helping other NJMOMpreneurs with their financial journey through SheBuildsMoney. Why did you feel called to do this, and what are you passing along to other moms starting their own small businesses?
I felt called to create SheBuildsMoney because I want to help address the financial pain points when running a successful and profitable small business. Before you can be successful, you have to spend time learning and being comfortable with numbers. SheBuildsMoney provides resources, tools, and services to help do just that. Our very first tool is a KISS (Keep It So Simple) Cash Flow tool. It will provide the structure and focus small businesses need when it comes to cash flow management. I’m a firm believer the earlier you familiarize yourself and set the right foundation financially in your business, the faster it will run smoothly.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an NJMOMpreneur?
Most moms would agree one of our biggest challenges is prioritizing our time and what gets our attention at any moment. When you’re a mom and invested in creating a life for yourself, you are pulled in so many different directions. One thing I do is always reevaluate what is a priority, appreciate the effort I put into doing my best, and then give myself grace for anything I can’t get to.
What do you think your children are learning through watching your work?
I think they’re learning the importance of being committed and dedicated to what you do. I think they are also learning about how to be present by setting boundaries (although my kids are 7 and 5, so sometimes they honor it, other times not). Lastly, I think they get their mom is “kick-ass,” as they are always curious about what I do on my Zoom calls, be it a webinar panel I’m speaking on or a meeting at work—they are amazed I have so much to say.
Tell us about some of your favorite New Jersey spots and what you love about them.
We love Sunday brunch at Boulevard 572 in Kenilworth. They have the most incredible donuts, and we try to go there as much as we can. We also love our gorgeous Rahway River Park. My kids always want to go to the play area, and it’s got a bunch of paths for walking, picnic spots, and a spray fountain in the summer.
What words of encouragement do you have for other moms looking to combine their passions and professional goals?
If you have something you’ve always wanted to explore, don’t wait—go for it. Resist the urge to think you can do it later, because if you keep pushing it off, you may never make it happen. What you should know is you can take on something small to make a huge difference. My nonprofit might do one project a year; however, the one project impacts 300 children. Bring your passion in little by little, and before you know it, it becomes a lot.