News & Press

Another Chapter (Interview published in ThisDay Style on Sunday, 07 May 2017)

Posted On 09/05/2017

He became a first amongst equals as the youngest bank MD ever at the time, if not even till date. He later morphed IBTC into a holding company; Stanbic IBTC and when he resigned as the Group Chairman on 31st March 2017, Stanbic IBTC had a market capitalization of N177.80 billion!

The dream of every young man is to live to an age when he can bow out successfully from any business he has built from scratch with the loudest ovation possible. To leave behind a legacy that will stand the test of time. To be remembered in history as one of the greatest minds that ever worked in that chosen field. To be respected and admired by the generation after him and be used as an inspirational guide for them to follow. Atedo Peterside is a living testimony of such dream. And even better, because he is blessed to have the luxury of time now and more importantly, the energy, he has left to pursue new challenges. This is a rare feat as most men with Atedo’s level of success rarely bow out when they still have several more years of added value to give in an empire they built from scratch but not Atedo Peterside. This selfless act, in itself, speaks volumes about the man behind the name. RUTH OSIME spent an afternoon with this legend of his time and his interview is definitely an inspirational read.

 

You said you did not retire as Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc but that you resigned. Why is this so important for you to clarify?

It is about what is legally and technically accurate. We should never deliberately mislead the public or knowingly misinform. I wrote a letter of resignation and it said I wanted to concentrate on new challenges different from a direct involvement in Stanbic IBTC. I have not reached the age for retirement from the Board of Standard Bank Group Limited and it’s subsidiaries. Indeed, I am still a Director of both Standard Bank Group Limited and The Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd. Those are newer challenges that commenced in August 2014 and they require me to keep abreast of developments in the economies of South Africa, Angola, Kenya, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria etc.

The resignation therefore was about ending my “sojourn” in the Nigerian banking industry when I resigned as Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc on 31 March 2017 after 28 consecutive years as Founding CEO and/or Chairman.

 

What is the most popular question you have been asked about your resignation and why?

People wonder how I can just get up and go away after 18 years and 8 months as Founding CEO followed by 9 years and 5 months as Group Chairman. Youngsters come up to me and say they have a problem now sepa-rating me from IBTC. I went to Lagos Polo Club last week and the grooms were still calling me IBTC. Some of them never knew my name was Atedo Peterside. They always simply called me IBTC.

Leaving after 28 consecutive years at the top is very different from leaving after, say 10 years. With the latter you may have mixed feelings and later regret your early or premature departure. Those feelings don’t or cannot exist in me after more than a quarter of a century with IBTC.

 

You still have many more years of service in you. Why did you choose to resign now?

If you helped to develop younger people and they have come of age in the way and manner that you hoped and prayed for, should you not thank God and bow out and put them in charge? It was also easy for me to leave because many of Stanbic IBTC’s businesses have “matured”. Indeed, IBTC was Number One in Stockbroking and Mutual Funds and also Number One in Pension Funds Management even before I stepped down as CEO in October 2007. A decade later we still hold on to those positions. It is largely the subsequent foray into retail banking and trustee services that are yet to mature.

 

But it was reported that after the merger be-tween Stanbic and IBTC in 2007, you advised the parent company to send a trusted hand from the Head Office in Johannesburg to become CEO of Stanbic IBTC for the first 3 years or so? Why would you do a thing like that instead of asking that one of your Nigerian protégés from IBTC be appointed CEO to replace you?

At the time, nobody in IBTC really knew their way around the Johannesburg Head Office. This was immediately after a merger between IBTC and Stanbic. Banking is a service sector activity. It is a people business and it thrives on trust. If people do not know you and they do not trust you, nor trust your judgment, then it will take a long time and lots of questioning before they endorse your major recommendations. Trust has to be earned over time – you cannot decree it.

By asking Standard Bank to send one of their trusted Lieutenants down here as CEO, that helped to accelerate the trust building process. It also proved that IBTC had nothing to hide. Through that new CEO and others, the Nigerian top management team became more and more familiar with Group Head Office (Johannesburg) Personnel, Processes and Procedures. It is futile trying to run when you have not learnt to crawl. I was not surprised when Mrs. Sola David-Borha from IBTC became CEO of Stanbic IBTC three years later. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race.

 

Do you feel the older generation is stuck in a time warp?

With specific reference to Nigeria, I believe our society has been rigged against the youths and it is sad. It was not always like this. A generation that was allowed to achieve great things when they were 30 or 40 has simply refused to let go 20 or 30 years later. Worse still, they have erected barriers and made it impossible for today’s youths to enjoy the same upward mobility, which they enjoyed. I was allowed by the authorities to become a bank entrepreneur and CEO at 33 because I had 10 years banking experience already and that was the minimum requirement at the time. Today, they won’t let you do what I did at 33. They started demanding 20 years (later revised down to 15 years) experience instead. Shortly after IBTC emerged in early 1989, came Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) and Zenith Bank in 1990 and many others. Yes, many Nigerian banks failed in the early 1990s, but the survivors such as IBTC, GTB and Zenith had more youthful CEOs when they were founded. Many banks started by older bankers failed also, but then that was deemed okay by the authorities because their hair was grey. As at 31 March, 2017 when I resigned, the top 5 banks in Nigeria, by market capitalization, were GTB, Zenith Bank, UBA, Access Bank & Stanbic IBTC. Incidentally, they all had youthful founders or were acquired and transformed by youthful CEOs and yet the authorities revised the rules to shut out the youths.

 

What have you learnt from the youths of today?

I have learnt that in Nigeria, they have been shut out of most economic activities except perhaps in the creative arts where it is difficult for a 75 year old to compete as a hip hop artist or a fashion designer. In virtually every major sector of the economy, entry barriers were raised which made it impossible for the youths to participate. Our youths are angry and believe that greedy and not so competent elders have conspired to shut them out. Perhaps our youngest Federal Minister today is 50 years old. That is a bad joke because, in virtually every field, our youths are more knowledgeable and competent than the elders who are wearing reading glasses and bungling virtually everything every day.

 

You said you learnt one thing from Arsenal Football Club that strengthened your resolve to resign, can you please elaborate on that.

Yes. Arsenal Football Club Supporters do not doubt that the current manager of their Club (Arsene Wenger) helped build and transform the Club into a giant club and yet probably 50% of the Arsenal supporters today would celebrate and jump for joy if the Board sacks him. His only offence was that he outstayed his welcome. The best time to leave is when they are begging you to stay or when the ovation is still loud. If you hang in there past your “sell-by” date, the chances are that you will slowly rubbish your own image.

 

The day you stopped being CEO in 2007 and became Chairman, you refused to have a party. Why did you now decide to mark your resignation as Group Chairman in 2017 with a party? What has changed?

The truth is that left to me alone there would have been no party even in 2017. My argument was that movement between subsidiaries in the same group or from a subsidiary to a parent or vice versa should not warrant a party. Mr. Yinka Sanni (CEO) and Mrs. Sola David-Borha overruled me with the full support of Standard Bank Group Head Office. Their counter-argument was that my leaving Stanbic IBTC signified the end of a 28-year era in Nigeria from inception on 02 February 1989 until 31 March 2017 and so the party (held at a venue with less than 150 seats at my insistence) was to mark the end of an era.

 

What key things did you learn from those that worked under you?

I learnt that they will only respect you if you practice what you preach. They know the difference between “do as I say and do as I do”. That is also why I tried to be punctual for every meeting and every appointment for 28 consecutive years.

 

You spoke about something you learnt from a lower staff about knowing when/how to balance your bark and your bite as a boss. Can you please elaborate on that?

When IBTC started on 02 February 1989, I was 33 years old. I was the Founding CEO and the largest single shareholder. I was the youngest Bank CEO in the country, but I was the oldest member of staff in IBTC. All the other managers and staff were younger than me. For a 21 or 22-year-old working under me, they thought I was mature and experienced. Meanwhile, 50 or 58 year old bankers looking at IBTC from outside felt I was a kid. Perhaps they even felt that I was a reckless kid that did not realize that he should be an employee. That I was playing polo was further “proof” that I was reckless. The joke was that each time I fell off a horse some IBTC shareholders almost had a heart attack. The kids under me taught me to be forgiving. If they misbehaved, it was largely because they were kids. If I tried biting them very hard every time they made the mistakes that kids make, there would be no bank today. So, I learnt to “bark” at them for minor misdemeanors and only “bite” them if and when they committed very serious offences.

 

Like some other Chairmen who have left the board, are you going to play an influential role in the choice of your predecessor?

I played an influential role in trying to make sure that only men and women with integrity were invited to join the Board. If you put a bad apple on a board they will eventually reveal themselves through their actions and utterances. Nigerians will walk up to you and say, “What is that crooked foreigner or Nigerian doing on your board”?

Choosing a Chairman is a different thing. I believe, as Chairman, you should help assemble good directors, but when you leave the Board, it would be disrespectful for you to insist that I want Mr. X or Ms. Y to replace me as Chairman. You do not have that prerogative. You are not a King abdicating a throne. In the corporate world you should allow the Directors that you leave behind to get together and choose the one from their midst that they would like to lead them after you have you have left. That was what happened when I left Stanbic IBTC on 31 March 2017. If I had left on the following day, people might have mistaken the announcement to be an April Fool joke. They have since chosen a Chairman.

 

For a man of your caliber and influence, who one would presume is difficult to reach, you are also known to give your telephone number to any and everybody. Why is this?

It helps me keep in touch with what is going on. I started benefiting from the activities of whistle-blowers before the advent of mobile phones. By allowing anyone and everyone to reach me and report on what was going wrong or whodunit via text messages, it gives me a head start with information. Knowledge is power. Don’t you see that, as a general rule, the worst Minister in Abuja is usually the one that nobody can reach on the phone or via text messages? Indeed, he or she soon becomes the most ignorant also. I am easily reachable via Text messages, WhatsApp, Twitter and LinkedIn and phone calls too on a slightly more restricted basis.

 

It has been said that one of your most impactful mandates was IBTC winning the mandate to structure mergers and acquisitions transactions for Unilever in the early and mid-1990s. Why was this so remarkable to you?

It was probably the first time in Nigerian history that a major multinational chose a wholly Nigerian bank owned investment bank led by a kid to advise them on a monumentally important transaction. Everyone took notice of IBTC thereafter as a leading investment bank and our credibility went up several notches. We never looked back thereafter and eventually (I think in 1999 or 2000) we became the first to win the Euromoney Award for Best Investment Bank in Nigeria. Incidentally, the late Chief Rufus Giwa (Executive Chairman of Unilever at the time) later told me that my principled stance on the 12 June 1993 election annulment endeared me to him and so he decided to assist this kid (IBTC) whenever he could professionally justify same.

 

As the saying goes, behind every successful man, is a strong woman and your wife Dudun has proven that. What leap of faith did she take in the early days that made you know beyond certainty that she was your strongest advocate? Was your wider family supportive?

Dudun is more than a woman. How many women will push their husband to sell the family cars in order to buy more shares in IBTC at inception? Unknown to many she is among those who urge me to write articles that are critical of the economic policy direction of the Government when they appear to have derailed. How many women will join their husband and also start playing polo? My immediate family has always been phenomenally supportive too – late father, loving and doting Mum and two incredible sisters. My sisters never put me under pressure to do this or do that for them. My children too were amazing – none of them ever threw a tantrum because Dad failed to make it to a particular school play or sports event in which they featured. I owe them a lot for that. It is distant relatives and friends that periodically tried to make demands that my own sisters would never make.

 

What are the rules that have changed in the banking industry since your days as CEO that you disagree with?

Just too many. I always had some sort of rapport with the six different CBN Governors with whom I had to work in my capacity as Bank CEO and later as Group Chairman. I was lucky that, even when I was 33 years old, the CBN Governor at the time (the late Abdulkadir Ahmed) listened to me extensively on monetary and foreign exchange policy. He often invited me to his office (all the way in Abuja after he moved from Lagos to Abuja) to debate policy options with me. I don’t want to “spoil” this interview by criticizing too many policies, because the policies can be linked to individuals. This interview should not be about them please.

 

Okay, but is it true that you believe that term limits have no place in a corporate organization, like the tenure of a Bank CEO and if so why?

Absolutely. I was the Chairman of the Committee on Corporate Governance of Public Companies in Nigeria, which crafted the first Code of Best Practices for Public Companies in Nigeria. This was back in 2003. That Code never introduced term limits for Directors. Our view was that the owners of every company should decide how long Directors should stay on in each company. Even within the same sector or sub-sector of the economy, you will find that the players/companies are vastly different in terms of ownership structure, age of the enterprise, and age composition of the Directors etc.

One size does not and cannot fit all in matters of corporate governance. It was CBN that first introduced term limits for Non-Executive Directors – 12 years maximum. I was a bank CEO then. I fought it, but many of my colleagues welcomed it – they were myopic and wanted to use term limits to oust long-serving direc-tors who might have been asking them too many questions in board meetings. By the time CBN, under a new Governor, decided to extend the term limits to the CEOs themselves (10 years maximum), they were left speechless. My view is that a regulator has no business imposing term limits on private sector companies. A 35 year old bank CEO is only coming into his prime at 45, so why force him to retire if he is doing excellently well and he is still fairly young? Should Barcelona Football Club be forced to kick out Lionel Messi after 10 years? These senseless term limits do not even discriminate between founders, whose organizations are still going through the formative years, versus 100-year-old banks that are set in their ways.

 

It has also been said that each time Atedo does something, rules were made after to make it impossible for others to do the same. How true is this perception?

I have explained earlier that the business & political space in Nigerian society appears to have been rigged against the youths as a whole. It was not about Atedo alone. It is true that a few years after IBTC was formed CBN moved the minimum number of years of experi-ence that a bank CEO was required to have from 10 to 20 years. It is true that after I served as a bank CEO for 18 years and 8 months, CBN made a rule prescribing 10 years as the maximum tenor of bank CEOs. Indeed, it is also true that shortly after I resigned as CEO and became Chairman on the same day in 2007, the rules were changed to make it impossible for others to do so by introducing a compulsory 3-year “cooling off” period during which departing bank CEOs were barred from serving on the Boards of the same bank.

I do not believe in coincidences. Do you? Methinks, in their subconscious, they were making rules today to outlaw what happened yesterday and/or to stop others from repeating what one person or the other did yesterday.

 

What are your future plans from now henceforth?

I am an entrepreneur at heart. I want to be able to spend more of my time with my own businesses. In particular, ANAP Business Jets Limited – a business that I founded which commenced operations in 01 January 2015 and also ANAP Foundation.

Please remember also that I told you earlier that I was appointed a Director on the Boards of both Standard Bank Group Limited (parent company) and the Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd. in August 2014. I have not resigned from those boards. What I did on 31 March, 2017 was end my “career” in Nigerian banking by resigning as Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc.  My international banking involvement continues. I also serve on boards of other quoted companies as a Non-Executive Director (NED).

 

Why do you agree to serve as an NED on the Boards of Companies such as Cadbury (where you are Chairman), or Flour Mills, Nigerian Breweries, Unilever etc.? We believe you previously also served on the Boards of Lekoil, Mobil Oil, Presco, Seven-Up Bottling Company etc.  Why don’t you just face your own businesses or the entities that you founded only?

First, let me make it clear that I only agree to serve on the boards of Companies that are in businesses that I find interesting and I can relate to and where I also like the people and what they stand for. Second, membership of a few boards, in diverse companies, helps me to keep abreast of what is going on out there in the real world. In the USA, Finance is often subsumed under WALL STREET in every day parlance, but then most other real sector businesses are subsumed under MAIN STREET. I am an economist by training and so I understand the importance of being up to date with activities in both Wall Street and Main Street. In effect, being exposed to other people’s businesses and the challenges that they face make me better at running my own businesses. My own businesses are all “knowledge” businesses. E.g. ANAP Business Jets Limited, which pioneered fractional ownership of private jets in Sub-Saharan Africa and offers charter services and other time-share arrangements in business aviation.

 

What are the key qualities required to climb the ladder of success as you have so well done?

My achievements are modest. What I do know and believe though is that the only people you should hand over a business to are managers who share the same vision, are competent, consistent, have good character, good communication skills and integrity. I feel blessed to have worked with a handful of managers who meet these criteria. Leaving Stanbic IBTC in their very capable hands was a no-brainer for me. Under their very capable leadership, the sky is the limit for Stanbic IBTC.

We started IBTC in 1989 with N6 million. When I resigned on 31st March, 2017, Stanbic IBTC had a market capitalisation of N177.80 billion.

We are grateful to God that he made all this possible and also blessed us, to date, with longevity and good health.

 

THISDAY Style 

Vol. 22, No. 8053 Sunday, May 07, 2017