Meet Tosin Adeniji, the high-flying businesswoman who went from Newham to New York
PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 December 2017
Raised in one of London’s poorest boroughs, Tosin Adeniji found growing up tough.
Hackney-born but raised in East Ham since age four, she spent her childhood surrounded by crime, drugs and teenage pregnancies.
Now 30 years old, she’s defied her doubters and works for a big tech firm in New York City.
Her degree from a top Ivy League university and tales of partying with pop stars are a far cry from her younger years, where her peers were more likely to commit crimes than go to college.
“There was a lot of that going on in my teenage years,” she told me over the phone from a New York coffee shop.
“It wasn’t surprising if someone went to jail. It wasn’t surprising if someone got shot... That was the constant.”
Tosin attended New City Primary School and Brampton Manor Academy, the latter right behind her old home in Lonsdale Avenue.
She dreamed of joining the world of music, even making her own magazine for a class project in Year 9. But, despite her enthusiasm, she said adults often told her to know her place.
“I come from a single parent home in east London when nobody was even having a music career – even that was too much for a lot of my teachers,” she said.
“That always stuck with me, how there wasn’t much expectation of anyone from my area at that time.
“I know it’s changed a lot now, with Westfield and the Olympics and stuff, but at the time: ‘Just stay within your limit’.”
Tosin was stubborn. She left Brampton with 11 GCSEs at grades A to B and, encouraged by her brother, studied international law at the University of Kent.
A safe career path, however, soon lost its appeal.
After her final exam Tosin emailed dozens of music PR firms, desperate to join to the industry.
“I literally sent out 50 blank emails to random companies that I found on Google,” she said.
“And I said: ‘Can I come and work for free?’”
One responded. Tosin began working unpaid at PR agency Vision while balancing a job in retail.
Eventually, after many months, she landed a three-month marketing internship at EMI/Universal Records, home to the Beatles, Queen and Pink Floyd.
“At that time, there was no social media,” she said.
“My boss didn’t really understand that side so I took the reins on the likes of Twitter and so forth.”
A job offer followed, then another at video agency LoveLive. Tosin’s now worked with more than 100 artists, including Coldplay and Katy Perry. She can recall chatting away all night with Ed Sheeran in Manchester and a lock-in with Adele in Notting Hill.
“I just remember us all just sharing stories and laughing, and dancing along a lot of music,” she said.
“And that was just before she released the infamous [debut album] 21 which, you know, just took her to a whole other level.”
Over time, Tosin began to develop an interest in technology.
After hearing about MBA programmes – master’s degrees in business administration – from an ex-boyfriend, she applied to Cornell, a prestigious Ivy League university in leafy Ithaca, New York. To her surprise, she got in.
Life across the Atlantic, however, was bittersweet.
In December 2016, during the final months of her degree, her mother, Shola Amusat, died from a sudden heart attack.
Funeral arrangements took over from coursework for nearly two months whilst Tosin took a break from her degree.
On her return, she took extra classes to catch up on her lectures. By April she had secured a job at telecoms giant Verizon, and been selected out of 500 classmates to speak at her graduation.
She’s now mentoring young people around her home in Harlem, and hasn’t ruled out a return to East Ham.
She wants to help bright youngsters, she said, who “have the talent, but not the tools”.