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Personality profile – Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu

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In greater recognition for your courage and valor in leadership, as a trail blazer in business and entrepreneurship, for your inspiration to your fellow human beings and your contribution to society in your long outstanding life of rising to the pinnacle of success, The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology has deemed it fit to award you with a Doctorate Degree of Letters. We, hereby, celebrate your great achievements to mother Ghana!

– Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu

TVM: Ghana’s transport system is said to be underdeveloped. What’s your position on this and what do you suggest could be done to improve?

Dr. A.A.I: It is true! We need to have very good roads and government must be ready to provide them. I believe in toll roads where people have to pay for the use of these roads. People need these roads to enhance efficiencies in business operations so government should seriously provide these roads.

For instance, Accra to Kumasi, if the roads were good and dual carriage, people wouldn’t mind to pay the toll and travel because it gives them a good ride and possibly avoid accidents because the roads are good. It’s not just doing the road but also maintaining the road matters. Obviously, a lot needs to be done in the transport sector.

The road networks and the kinds of cars that come into the country should be properly considered. The old vehicles pollute the environment a lot and should be eliminated. There are too many trucks around because anybody can bring them in. We need to have properly established transport companies so that we can hold them responsible when things go wrong.

TVM: Ghanaians complain about heavy trucks that ply the roads during the day and their negative effects on the road and to motorists. What is your take on this?

Dr. A.A.I: I am a strong advocate of trucks transporting at night. In 2009, there was a law or a directive that heavy trucks should not travel at night anymore. But that directive did not make sense. So, I advised the government that the movement of trucks at night is the best.

The reason is simple. At day, the road becomes soft and unable to carry the loads of these heavy trucks. The bitumen and asphalt when exposed to the intensity of the sun literally melts and becomes soft for heavy trucks to ply. This, then, leads to the destruction of the roads. But at night, the cool temperature compacts the bitumen and asphalt and then they compress to become ‘motorable’ for heavy trucks.

Aside that, the road becomes very free from commercial passengers because majority of them will be in their homes resting. In some countries such as India, China, Germany etc. you will never see a heavy truck travel at day; they all do their journeys at night and park wherever they get to before the day breaks.

Also, we should be able to encourage night commercial activities to reduce human traffic during the day.

TVM: Ghana’s cocoa has been known to be illegally ‘spilling’ across the borders to other neighboring countries by courtesy of our haulage system. What measures do you suggest be put in place to curb such spillage?

Dr. A.A.I: I don’t believe it is the haulage system that drives smuggling of cocoa. Even if it is, what roads do the perpetrators ply and what are the security forces doing? So, it has to be a collaborative effort between security forces. I don’t believe it’s primarily the haulage system that is causing the smuggling. It’s fundamentally our economic situations; we are rational.

For instance, if a bag of coca in Ghana is $70 and it costs $100 per bag in neighboring country, there will be a price differential of $30 per bag. So, as rational economic agents, we will go to where we can get more. And this is per bag! So imagine if I’m to sell a thousand bags, how much extra income I will be making other than selling in Ghana, $30, 000, very huge for the poor Ghanaian farmer. If we don’t do the right pricing, cocoa beans will be sent across borders.

If we really want to address the issue of Ghana cocoa not going to the other side then we have to pay the right price. Let’s say if the price gap is just about $10, smugglers will not be interested in going through the hassles of smuggling. It’s an economic phenomena.

Anyone who makes it a political phenomenon does not understand the system. The stakeholders in the business need to be looked at. We have the farmer, the buyer, the government and the transporter; all have vested interests and all these interests must converge to ensure the smuggling is stopped. It’s an economic rationality and nothing more! If you want to use the security you will just be wasting resources. So I don’t want the haulage system to be blamed for this problem. The solution lies with the fixing of the price. That’s where the real solutions are.

TVM: The Akuafo cheque system used as payment order has been replaced by the cash and carry. What is your take on this development?

Dr. A.A.I: The Akuafo Cheque system was abused. The cheque system was better because cash is risky and as a result, farmers are constantly attacked by armed robbers after receiving their monies in cash. Also, for the Akuafo Cheques, farmers would have travel very long distances to access their monies. Some had to even travel days and sleep there for days before accessing their monies. All these inefficiencies and poor management collapsed the Cheque system.

Later, it was politicized and government was blamed for it. It is difficult to fathom why any wrongdoing in Ghana is blamed on government. The individual culprits are left off the hook for their doings and government is attacked. Amidst this situations, I can’t still say the cash and carry is better. We should be able to find simple technology to make life easier in this regard.

It is rather unfortunate that most of these farmers are women and they are old. Using cash is a very risky business so cash is not really the solution. Technology is advancing, so stakeholders should find simple technology to address the situation.

TVM: Has Ghana really maximized the benefit of cocoa?

Dr. A.A.I: If there were no benefits in the cocoa business, Ghanaians would have left it long ago. In the 1980s, cocoa production was hovering around 150,000 tons but now we’re doing about 800,000 tons to 1 million tons. What else do you want as a country from cocoa? Production keeps increasing so I think it has been beneficial.

TVM: What is the Impact of the current economic situation in Ghana and its effects on your businesses?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, there is high inflation or increasing inflation, depreciating currency, high unemployment, very high interest rates. And all these are factors that are affecting business operations in the country and not only mine.

Obviously, the cost of funds to business is very high. As trading companies, we are experiencing very high interest rates hence very high finance cost to our businesses. If the finance costs are very high then there’s likely to be lower profits; if you do the math revenue minus cost.

An example is the cocoa sector. We buy cocoa; the cost of operations is mainly the finance cost because we borrow to buy the cocoa. The cost of finance constitutes about two thirds of the operations cost, so therefore, if high interest rates are looming or are in record high then obviously your operating cost will go very high and that’s how it’s affecting us; our profits are being whittled away.

We are on the fringes; just striving to survive. My group employs directly and indirectly about 12,000 people; so you can see how it is affecting us. Basically we are just paying monies away because business is not booming. Exchange rate is also another factor. Most of our inputs are imported. For example, our large fleet fleet of trucks have been imported, they were not produced in Ghana.

So you import them without a supplier’s credit but with loans and with the loans you pay high interest cost. Also with the payment which is in dollars, as a result of depreciating local currency, you use more cedis to buy the dollar.

So, obviously you end up having much problems with your cost. Your cost increases astronomically and end up having problems. So, in a depreciating currency environment your cost goes up as hell. The reason is that when you depend on foreign inputs (and we are not exempted), you have to bear the consequences.

That’s a major issue. Then inflation! So if you look at the relationship between these factors, you will see that we are caught up in a spiral and there is nothing we can do. Inflation is going up, there is labour agitation for increasing wages, we are employing 12,000 people; paying them is not easy.

So it is having a toll on us! We are borrowing and borrowing and borrowing but we believe the good times will come and when the economy stabilizes, we should be able to survive. The economy is killing us; inflation is killing us, wage demands, increasing overheads, electricity has gone up, water has gone up, fuel has also gone up.

Over the next month or in two, these increases are going to cripple a lot of businesses but hopefully we can survive with our muscle. We do hope that we may have the safety nets and the shock absorbers to survive.

Alhaji Adamu Iddrisu

TVM: How are you weathering the storm?

Dr. A.A.I: All we are doing is to improve efficiencies in operations in terms of financial management, treasury management, and operational efficiencies. We hope to contain our cost and keep the business going; that’s all we can do. We cannot change interest rates or fix inflations. It all depends on government policy. There isn’t much we can do except that we must respond strategically as a business and that’s all we are doing.

TVM: What do you suggest can be done to reverse the trend?

Dr. A.A.I: Reversing the trend? The onus rests with government. These are macro economic fundamentals controlled by government; we don’t control them. I believe government must do the right thing; the excessive borrowing by government must stop. I’m referring to previous and current governments.

Once they keep borrowing, interest rates will go up. Alternatively, the more they pump more money into the system, the more inflation increases. So for me, it’s about the government trying to get its act together and eliminating wastes and I think economies are managed by governments, that’s why we elect them and give them the mandate and this is not about politics.

TVM: What do you make of the recurrent depreciation of the Cedi?

Dr. A.A.I: We are all part of the reason why the cedi is always falling against the major trading currencies. If someone should give you dollar right now, you will take it, right?

TVM: YES

Dr. A.A.I: But, if you go to China and India and you have dollars, nobody will accept it as a legal tender. That is what we are to do here in Ghana but the reverse is the case. So, we shouldn’t blame anyone; we should blame ourselves. We are all part of the reason for the depreciation of the cedi.

TVM: Who is Dr. Alhaji Adamu Iddrisu?

Dr. A.A.I: I’m a Ghanaian. My mother comes from Paga and my father from Niger. I grew up here in Accra– Old Fadama to be precise, at the timber market. We actually started the timber market at the post office and later moved it to the Makola Fire Service, then to Kantamanto before finally settling at Amamomo where the market is still situated.

But, before all this, I used to help my father on the farm. So, I learnt a lot about farming. At age 17, I joined my brother in Accra and we started the timber business. Through the timber business, I developed interest in the transport business as well because I needed to convey the woods to my clients and by 1964 I bought the first two Fargo trucks, during Nkrumah’s regime.

I bought the first CKD trucks in Ghana in 1964. At that time, trucks were imported in their skeletal forms and then assembled here in Ghana. We had Man Diesel, Mercedes Benz, Fargo trucks, in fact all the trucks were assembled in Ghana. So, no one could import an assembled truck directly from overseas.

After Nkrumah till Kutu Acheampong’s regime, all the leaders did same. Moreover, during Acheampong’s regime, he ordered that motorbikes, bicycles as well as cars should also be assembled in Ghana. No one could import a brand new car as of that time. This created industrial boom and job creation in the country.

TVM: Is that where you got the idea of your transport business?

Dr. A.A.I: No no no! I started the transport business even before Nkruma’s regime. I actually started the transport business with a horse-driven cart. I had a little cart tied to a horse on which I packed the wood from the timber market to distribute to our customers in Accra.

So I had the idea from there because I needed to keep supplying the customers’ everyday with the wood and that was how I got the idea and it wasn’t a bad one. Only that the transport business is very risky.

TVM: H o w risky is it?

Dr. A.A.I: Very! One cannot tell when a car or a truck can have an accident. You can buy a truck today and give it to a driver and you can’t tell what will happen in the next minute. It can be an accident, an arrest because of an illegal engagement by your driver etc. All these accounts for the risky nature of the transport business. TVM: Did you have to drive the trucks at a point?

Dr. A.A.I: Yes! When I started the truck business I was driving the trucks myself but also, I had other drivers.

TVM: At what age were you when you entered into the transport business?

Dr. A.A.I: I started working with my brother at the age of 17 but by the time I entered into the transport business I was in my thirties. I did it simultaneously with the timber business but after four years, I stopped the timber business to concentrate on the transport business. I had the opportunity to also supply the timber to countries like Togo, Burkina Faso etc.

TVM: What lessons did you learn when you were working with your brother?

Dr. A.A.I: My brother gave me free hands to learn the business very well when I was with him. I learnt how to serve as an apprentice as well as collaborate as a partner. I also learnt to manage my brother’s business as my own. I was very obedient to his instructions and contented with what I had.

TVM: Did you ever think you would be this successful while you were selling the wood?

Dr. A.A.I: I had a vision and that’s why I separated from my brother’s business. I was very hard working. For instance, when I was 16 years and staying with my father, I worked on his farm and did not give him the cause to work on the farm again.

I worked so hard he didn’t have to touch anything on the farm. I did the same for my brother when I joined him to sell the wood at the timber market. That is why today I advise people that they should not be selfish but work hard.

Even if it is not their job, they should go ahead and sacrifice themselves for the job. If they feel the company does not belong to them and so would do as pleased, such an attitude wouldn’t get them to be successful. Africans have a different attitude to work unlike Europeans and Arabs.

While I was with my brother, because of my hard work he wanted to build a house for me but I refused. My priority was not for the gift offerings but to ensure the business grew as expected for me to earn my income. I took nothing from the business without his prior notice and consent.

TVM: What was the motivation to refuse your brother’s gift?

Dr. A.A.I: Honesty! I never take anything that is not mine from people or steal from them. If I needed something, I always consulted the person. I was and am not a materialistic person, so I managed the business with honesty. Trust! I never wanted anything but just to ensure the business was growing. If you want people to trust you, you have to do things to earn you the trust.

TVM: What business did you venture when you separated from your brother?

Dr. A.A.I: I continued with the timber and transport business together for about 4 years before moving fully into the transport business. In three years, I had acquired about ten trucks and six years later, 1972 – 1978, I had about 100 trucks.

But I must say all these successes I chalked were as a result of trust. Merchant Bank had come onto the market around 1972. They were only servicing corporate clients and started to deal with us on high purchase bases. But when they started doing business with me, they realized I was an honest man.

All the monies I made from the haulage business, I used them to service my debts with Merchant Bank to pay off the loan on the trucks. Usually I took the hire purchase quota for 18 months but by the 12th month, I would have paid off. This created the trust between the bank and myself. I never defaulted and the bank helped me a lot.

TVM: Can you give a fair count on the number of trucks you have currently?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t know the numbers. But I know they are about 600 that are in good condition and are moving.

TVM: From a sawn mill dealer to owning 15 successful companies. Was government involved in this success?

Dr. A.A.I: Government is not involved in any. By the will and grace of God, I have come along with my staff and I don’t think there is the need for government to help entrepreneurs like me. Moreover, I don’t see the need for government to support entrepreneurs because if you [entrepreneur] have built your own company, you don’t wait and expect government to help you run your business for you.

The only thing you need as an entrepreneur from government are the favorable policies and conducive business environment and not financial aid. The only people who need government’s support are the farmers and not entrepreneurs.

TVM: Did you ever envisage you would one day own all these companies?

Dr. A.A.I: Well, the companies did not come all of a sudden or on a silver platter. It was sheer hard work and focus. As and when there was a need, we registered and created it to supplement each other’s operations.

All the companies relate to one another; they are interlinked. It looks like different people helping each other to be better. For instance, the transport firm needs a warehouse to offload the cocoa, and the insurance firm underwrites the various activities against risk etc.

So the companies are interrelated to support each other’s activities and promote integrated growth. The only one with a different purpose is the bank. TVM: What inspired you to own and venture into Banking?

Dr. A.A.I: I could have sent the money outside the county and put it in an investment account to earn interest. But, I believe first and foremost letting the money stay in this country to do business and the sector I chose was finance.

So, I decided to venture into the two areas– banking and insurance, to help add-on to what is in the system. I am, fundamentally, concerned about the high cost of borrowing in this country so I believe that having a bank if all things being equal, the bank will be able to lend money to people at very competitive rates.

The high cost of borrowing is killing businesses in this country and even the availability of the finance is also another factor. On the other hand, I thought it would help my business as well; to be able to provide my other firms with the credit needed for our operations and also to deposit our funds but the Bank of Ghana’s regulation restricts anyone who establishes a bank to transact with that same bank without limitations.

But, I have not regretted though, because it has created a lot of employments. If you check the value of the money I invested in the bank at the initial stage, it was not as huge as it is now because the investment has appreciated. My basic motivation is to see the impact on the cost of finance in the nearest future reduced, and also create more jobs.

TVM: Are you happy about the way the Bank is performing?

Dr. A.A.I: Oh yes, I am very happy.

TVM: Did you dream that one day your will own a bank?

Dr. A.A.I: Usually, I don’t look or focus on what I cannot do. So currently, if I get another idea that will be profitable I’ll venture into that space too. I’ve got very knowledgeable and trustworthy people who are running the bank and I’m happy with their work.

I told all the workers some time back that the bank belongs to them. They are enjoying from it and even, some of them are marrying each other in the bank. All these bring happiness and once they are happy then I’m happy too.

TVM: You were recently honored with a doctoral degree and also, most importantly, a laureate at the Millennium Excellence Awards 2015. How did you feel at the occasions?

Dr. A.A.I: I was very happy. But that was not the highest achievement or the first time I received an award. The biggest award I have received was in 2007 when I was presented the Order of the Volta spearheaded by the former President, President John Agyekum Kufour, for recognizing my efforts.

I was very happy and I realized I was a noteworthy personality and an appreciated citizen in the society. At the recent awards, I was also very elated and overwhelmed. I actually believe I should have been acknowledged a long time ago because of the way I am very practical.

Those who know me will testify that the awards were purely merited and not just conferred on me. Even those with very good education, still come to learn a lot from me. In 2007, people wanted to tag me with a political affiliation but the former President Kufour ignored all those and honored me.

TVM: Do these achievements make you a fulfilled person?

Dr. A.A.I: I am human, so yes! To have come this far and being recognized for my contribution to society, I feel I have served a great purpose to humanity. As an ‘unschooled’ person like me having professors, doctors, and other very educated persons under my various companies operations, I feel fulfilled. What makes me happy is when I manage to get all these engineers, doctors etc. to be working for me.

TVM: You have defied the general notion that ‘education is key to success’, what do you see as key to success?

Dr. A.A.I: Education is nothing and it’s not paramount to success. God is the giver of true knowledge. “Education is a collection of ideas of people put together”. All these books we usually study did not come by themselves.

They are made of humans’ ideas put together for others to study. But practical experience becomes a non-forgettable knowledge and that’s what culminates to personal knowledge. That is why I tell people practical solutions are more important. I am a problem solver.

Sometimes when I get to some of my sites and the engineers are struggling with the building project I am able to proffer accurate solutions which work. Meanwhile, I have never been to school before. So instead of education as a key to success, I’ll rather say practical knowledge or experience is the key to success.

TVM: Did you ever have a role model(s)/ mentor(s) when growing up?

Dr. A.A.I: At all! I never did. People rather want to look like me. All I do is a special gift and grace from God and not by my might or design. It was not by my strength and I never looked up to anybody. God gave me the talent and it is not my strength. I just used the talent he gave me.

TVM: Your philanthropic activities spread across the nation. Why do you engage in such massive benevolence?

Dr. A.A.I: I would not want to speak specifically about my charity work. I do them unto God and not for the pleasantries of men. Every day of my life is meant to meet the needs of society. There are some that are quite open but majority of my charity work I don’t disclose and I wouldn’t want to announce them.

 

TVM: What motivates you to do them?

Dr. A.A.I: It’s not the motivation. Charity should be done through your love for God. When you love God, you become motivated enough to provide for the needy. So, the fear of God in one is enough to engage one in charity.

The motivation comes from your quality walk with God. A lot of people don’t believe in Judgement but I do. On that Day of Judgment, everyone shall be accountable for his/her works, charity. And I know this, so I’m doing mine.

Any area I move to and live or do business, I make sure that they benefit from my benevolence in terms of social amenities – water supply to the communities among others. So I advise everyone to get involved to help solve the needs of humanities.

We should not be greedy to concentrate on ‘self ’. My desire is to be able to meet the needs of everyone who is in need. It gives me extreme joy when I’m able to solve those needs of humanities.

TVM: You have proven in all aspects that hard work pays. Do you have hobbies you engage during your leisure hours?

Dr. A.A.I: At my leisure hours, I spend quality time with my maker, God, by reading the Quran. All I do is to worship Him. I also make time for my family and kinsmen.

TVM: What discipline of sports did you or do you engage?

Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t engage in any sports. I used to play golf but I don’t play anymore because I’m getting old. The energy I have now I use to worship God.

TVM: Do you enjoy specific kind of music?

Dr. A.A.I: I don’t have time to listen to music. I rarely listen to music. Sometimes I watch a bit of TV and sleep.

TVM: How many children has God bless you with?

Dr. A.A.I: So far I have 22 children alive out of 23. I’ve had about 4 wives with so many grandchildren that I have lost count. I’m happy when I see them and I advise them.

TVM: Can you share with us how a day in your business life looks like?

Dr. A.A.I: I always have a very busy day. There are no holidays, no weekends. I work every time when the need arises. There are no breaks. I give myself some time before stepping out. I usually step out in the mornings at around 8-9a.m. unless there is an emergency. I visit my staff (executives) every morning before I go anywhere.

TVM: At an advanced age, you are still strong and are able to perform your duties officially. What is the secret to your strength?

Dr. A.A.I: I eat very well and pay careful attention to my health. I believe whatever we take in has the potential to kill or to keep us alive so I watch what I eat and drink carefully and also the timing of meals, I pay attention to. I go for regular medical check-ups as well.

TVM: And so, what are your favorite delicacies?

Dr. A.A.I: I like traditional foods- the Tuo Zaafi and the rest. They are very nutritious so I take them more often.

TVM: General advice to Ghanaians?

Dr. A.A.I: Let’s love our currency because that is the only legal tender we have. We shouldn’t love foreign currencies more than ours. We are not helping ourselves and the economy if we continue to do that. The economy cannot be managed by only one person but every individual in this country is involved in the management thereof. We should also be conscious to patronize made-in-Ghana goods to help boost the economy.

TVM: What is your advice to the youth of today?

Dr. A.A.I: The youth of today are not like the youth of my time. Even when you are advising them, they don’t take it. But for the few who listen to instructions, I’ll say, they should work very hard, they should not cut corners; do it diligently, do it as though it is their own.

There should be no room for laziness. The other aspect is humility; it opens to you great doors and helps you to listen to people. If you are too pompous, you seldom listen to people. You become too full of yourself and that won’t take you far.

No matter who you are, be humble, respect other people and be receptive to people. The third one is Honesty. I don’t compromise on this! I believe the one who steals your 1 cedi is capable of stealing your 1 billion; so, you don’t entertain him. If you do honest labor you will be rewarded accordingly. The final one is good human relations.

So, I term them “The Four H”; Hardworking, Humility, Honesty, Human relations. Not in any particular order, they must be integrated into you. When you meet people, you must be nice and receptive to them. People will have problems; listen to them, don’t trample upon them. When you meet people, you must learn to respect them.

Dr. Adamu Iddrisu in a cheerful discussion with his son Alhaji Abdul Aziz

TVM: What will be your advice to government?

Dr. A.A.I: There’s been mention of a lot of things already. We need more social cohesion. The country is too polarized. The NDC-NPP divide is too wide, so good materials cannot cross over from one side to the other to help in the management of the economy. That is totally wrong! The ‘Dumsor’ (electricity rationing), currency depreciation, high inflation as well as high interest rates are some of the challenges affecting the economy. Energy is everything these days. Obviously, if you need energy to produce and you don’t have energy, it means you can’t produce meanwhile you’ve invested in plants, you took loans, and you have to keep servicing the loans yet you don’t produce then you will crumble. The government should find a way to fix the energy problem because in the whole world now, energy drives everything. IT is power, manufacturing is energy, and education is energy. Energy is everywhere! So, if businesses don’t have consistent supply, their operations are likely to be affected adversely. So I agree the problem must be fixed. But we also have to think about alternative energy sources; wind energy, hydro is very conventional to us but the fuel powered sources are very expensivehence if we want energy we must think about these alternative sources. Our beaches can be used for wind mills, our fields can be used for solar; we need very diverse minds to deal with these issues and come up with more energy sources so we can complement the existing sources. If we become mono dependent it can be disastrous, we need alternatives.

TVM: What advice would you give to SME’s in this trying times? SME’s should strive to thrive on honesty, humility, good management skills and hard work and they will be on their way to success. It is very unfortunate in this trying times for this growing sector but better times await.

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“Technology, though very important, thrives on distinguished Customer Service” Mrs. Marufatu Abiola Bawuah (Regional CEO, West Africa 1, UBA )

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Coming from “not a best of background”, experiencing diverse adversities, selling toffees just to make ends meet greeted her whiles growing up but today, she has weathered the storms to become a regional CEO of a prestigious bank and the first indigenous CEO of a Pan-African bank as well as the first female to be appointed CEO of a bank in Ghana. Under her supervision as the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1 are six countries namely Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Burkina Faso.

Her story is a true reflection of “from grass to grace” and she’s always quick to be grateful to God for bringing her this far.  Coming from an upbringing that birth a resilient achieving spirit in her to a place that gives her the opportunity to rope and encourage others into her success story, Mrs Marufatu Abiola Bawuah (MAB) believes that “whatever we go through in life, good or bad, is usually a platform for tomorrow”.

As the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1, she reveals “Banking is borderless and that banking is no longer beautiful walls with paintings”.

Now, forging forward to move her bank to greater heights she embodies a ‘people first rule’ where she strongly has confidence in ensuring that, her customers are topmost priority and her staff are entwined with the vision of the company to give their utmost performance.

Industry (Economy) Focus

TVM: With your vast experience in banking on the continent. What is your overview of Ghana’s banking industry compared to other African countries?

MAB: Unfortunately, I’ve not been to all the African countries. However, the banking sector as far as I know has developed. Today, we have a lot of foreign banks in the country and looking at the various interventions of Bank of Ghana, I think Ghana is among those recognised to have a very sanitised environment if I must put it that way. There’s been clearing of a lot of banks and other things, the balance sheets are stronger and so gradually we are getting a lot of foreign investors who are interested in participating in our market. So, in all, I think it’s good.

TVM: As you rightly said, the banking industry has been sanitised and currently left with only 24 of them. The utmost consideration of the sanitisation process was to boost the minimum capital in order to make the banking industry bigger and better. How has this new minimum capital impacted on the operations of the banking industry?

MAB: Of course, positively! What has happened now is that banks’ capacity is bigger; shareholders have been forced or asked to increase their base. For instance, if the banks’ working capital was GH₵2, now it’s GH₵4. With that increase in Balance Sheet, a bank can now lend more and do more. Prior to that recapitalisation, banks could only do GH₵15 million but now can do GH₵30 million. Before this, when people came for loans to the tune of GH₵20 million, banks declined because there was a ratio of the capital that one could lend to just one person called the single obligor limit. Currently, however, bank’s single obligor limit has become bigger and as such can only get better.

TVM: Now that banks have become bigger and better with higher single obligor limit, how is the industry curtailing the issue of Non-Performing Loans as single individuals’ can now have access to higher facilities and higher tendency to default?

MAB:  There’s been a lot of development in that respect. Currently, there’s the XDX Data that collates information on customers that banks are lending to and Bank of Ghana is monitoring that. Also, banks are collaborating more with one another; can write and can find out about one another. As a result, it’s working better and hardly can any one person owe all the banks because information is available and every bank is expected to feed into that data. So, Non-Performing Loans can only reduce in the books of banks.

TVM: A lot of the people have lost confidence in the banking industry as a result of the crisis experienced between the 2-year period. How is the “new crop of banks” managing this challenge in order to restore confidence in the people?

MAB: I think otherwise. Rather, more people are getting into banking. Today, we have a lot of online products; a lot of digital products. People who prior to now may not want to come to banking halls for one reason or the other now bank on their phones, bank on their tablets or their computers. So banking rather, has expanded and instilled more confidence in the people. For instance, in our banking halls, you won’t find queues but that doesn’t mean we are not transacting businesses every day. Today, one can open account without entering a bank and this simply signifies that banks have come of age and financial inclusion has come to life.

TVM: Currently, there are about 7 Pan-African Banks operating across the continent and UBA happens to be one of them. How has these PABs contributed to the course of banking and the various economies they operate in on the continent?

MAB: In Ghana, for instance, UBA was the first Pan African Bank (PAB) to enter the market and that was the first time Ghana had what we call revolutionary banking. It was UBA that introduced it. It was the first time we witnessed banking moving to customers; usually it was customers that came to banks. So, Pan-Africanism of banking started in Ghana with UBA. It was the first bank to implement accounts opening without any money (deposit). Prior to that, accounts opening required GH₵50 to GH₵100 (₵500, 000 to ₵1, 000, 000 in the old currency). It was during UBA’s entering strategy that the bank said no, one did not need money to open an account; if one didn’t have money but wanted to open an account, one could still go ahead. And the bank opened accounts for huge number of people without initial deposits. The Pan-African Banks that also came afterwards are banks that have strong “parents”, so whenever there were transactions that ordinarily a PAB could not handle as a “local branch bank”, its parent bank came to its support.

On contribution to the various economies, UBA for instance, has supported governments in a number of ways and also the Central Banks. In Ghana, for instance, the bank has supported a number of projects including road constructions. There was a time the bank gave the government of Ghana an amount of 350 million dollars for road network; one can’t discount that. The minimum anyone of these Pan-African Banks have employed is 600 Ghanaians in each of their institutions and that also one can’t ignore. These staff are paid, their families are taken care off and just imagine the ripple effect. So, I think that PABs have done a yeoman’s job and should be encouraged.

TVM: You mentioned earlier that presently the banking system is expanding as a result of the introduction of technology and other innovative mediums that allow people to easily transact their banking activities. Contrary to that, it is evident that the rate of banking in Africa remains extremely low, with only 43 per cent of adults having a bank account according to AfDB and even more worsening in Ghana. How does the banking industry, especially in Ghana, intend to address this worrying trend of banking among the populace?

MAB: Today, banking is not coming to banks because it’s gone beyond that. There are a lot of people who use digital banking and have their accounts on their phones. One can’t tell me that is not banking. So, if a farmer has all his money on his bank card or his phone; that is not banking? Banking is no longer account opening, cheque book, savings book; no! Banking is borderless! In fact, banks are looking at ways of not even opening branches. So, one can be in Wa and be a bank’s customer without the bank not necessarily positioned in Wa; one can also be in Brong Ahafo as well and so on. UBA banks so many people in regions that it’s not present physically. At UBA, we can credit any customer anytime anywhere and the customer can spend the money in his or her account whiles in south Africa, in Holland and so on. That is what UBA has brought; digitalization of banking. Banking is no longer beautiful walls with paintings; no! In fact, banks are trying to break down those walls, so the figures may not be the correct reflection of what is on the ground.

Business Focus

TVM: When UBA initially incorporated in 2014, it was known as Standard Trust Bank. When did the change of name take place, and how has the bank performed over the years, since its incorporation?

MAB: Standard Trust Bank became UBA simply because the latter acquired the former in 2005; it’s as simple as that. I think the bank has done relatively well; we’ve done very well I must say. The bank has remained very relevant to the economy of Ghana; supported the government in various sectors, employed numerous Ghanaians, supported a lot of businesses, and among its peers the bank stands tall. Above all, Bank of Ghana has always rated the bank as stable for a very long time. So, the bank has no problem with stability. The bank had met its capital long before the deadline and it’s poised to do more. UBA Ghana is poised for growth and it seriously believes that, in the next few years it should be strategically very important to the Ghanaian economy.

TVM: The business strategy of the bank is built on being the bank of choice for businesses across the African continent. How has the bank been able to achieve this over the period or how does it intend to continue to achieve this?

MAB: We will continue to achieve. The Group just opened Mali last year and so today UBA Bank outside of Nigeria is in 19 countries. The Bank has presence in the UK, US, France, among others and it will continue its expansion works. Moreover, the bank’s strategy is to become a top three bank in every country it operates in. That’s what we are all working at and we will get there.

TVM: In 2014, UBA Cameroun launched the ‘UBA Connect’ in the CEMAC region for customers in that region. Currently, the idea of the single currency for the West African region which is moored to the single European currency is expected to be operationalized in 2020. In your opinion, what will be its impact on the banking sector in the sub-region?

MAB: I don’t foresee this to be negative because today I manage three francophone countries that use the same currency and have the same central bank in Senegal and there’s no problem on their economy. So, I don’t foresee the introduction of the “ECO” as collapsing economies; it can only make the sub region stronger. I anticipate growth in trade across the region, easy movement across the region and once there is growth in trade and easy movements, its banks that will thrive. So, for me, I look forward to a positive impact.

TVM: “Our people remain our most valuable assets” states the Bank. Why are people the most valuable assets and not anything else such as technology?

MAB: Can machines work without people? Can technology function without people? Can customers be served effectively and efficiently without people? All these place people as premium and the most valuable assets at UBA. Once you get the people right, technology that has been implemented will function. If the person in charge of that technology decides not to do what he or she is expected, the machine is useless! You will invest so much and the customers will still not be happy. But when your staff is happy and you have good technology, your customer will be happy. Technology, though very important, thrives on distinguished Customer Service. So, I think that the fundamental of everything is the people. That’s why at UBA, we think our people should come first.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: There’s a description of your journey in life that states “from a table-top groundnut seller to a regional CEO of the prestigious bank and the first indigenous CEO of a Pan-African bank as well as the first female to be appointed CEO of a bank”. Beyond all this, who is Marufatu Abiola Bawuah?

MAB: Marafatu Abiola Bawuah is a lady. I started primary school in Aflao and progressed to Datus International School, then proceeded to Achimota School. I read Actuarial Science at the University of Lagos, and had my MBA from University of Ghana. I started banking in 2001 and UBA Bank is my fourth bank. I initially traded on Ghana Stock Exchange briefly before joining the banking industry. I’m married with three kids. I joined UBA Ghana as the Deputy Managing Director in 2013 and later became the MD/ CEO in 2014. Sometime last year, I became the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1 and presently manage six countries namely Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Burkina Faso.

TVM: Sources have it that you underwent a lot of challenges whiles growing up. How were you able to weather the storms you experienced in your growing up moments?

MAB: Determination and Grace! Because, there are times when I look back I can’t understand why I took some decisions or how I survived such decisions; some of them are difficult to explain. But, I think generally, I’m a very determined person. In life, if you don’t know where you are going, you must know where you’re coming from. I do acknowledge I don’t have the best of background and so whatever I do now is a privilege. I keep saying that whatever one finds to do, one must do it well because one just never knows the outcome. One’s work must surely announce him or her no matter what. Thus, whatever I find my fingers doing, I do it well to my satisfaction as if there couldn’t have been any better opportunity.

TVM: As a result of your upbringing, do you reminisce any fondest childhood memory?

MAB: I didn’t enjoy my growing up because I had to sell and look after my siblings and such I was too serious minded. I didn’t know how to have fun. I couldn’t think of anything other than work and school. If there was anything fun, maybe after I had passed my common entrance. Even that, I will still decline. At form 1, I had to sell toffees, had to pay school fees; just too busy to make ends meet. I didn’t attend any entertainment program while in school. But, I’m grateful to God for bringing me this far. The sweetest memory I can recall in my life was the day I graduated from the university with a second class upper. Most of my mates thought I wasn’t going to graduate because of the challenges I was going through and moreover, the difficulty of the course but I ended up the best in class. It’s worth mentioning.

TVM: Can you briefly share one significant childhood experience that has contributed immensely to the woman you are today?

MAB: I think whatever we go through in life, good or bad, is usually a platform for tomorrow. When I look back, the resilience I developed through the sales I undertook whiles growing up has contributed to what I am now; definitely! As a result, I love marketing; I love to sell, I love to achieve, I love to conquer and I love customer service. It’s not something I joke with and I think it has taken me from one level to another. In terms of also being frugal; I think that those upbringings have helped me to manage myself as far as finance is concerned; I don’t strive for what I don’t need. I have learnt to stay where I am. Truly, they have helped me.

TVM: Growing up in a rather challenging environment where the only person ‘the community’ saw as a role model was a messenger. What was your aspiration for the future in those moments?

MAB: Well, the community then just saw a smart guy who was well dressed, walking smart, moving every morning and the women wanted to greet him. They referred to him as “the most learned” but when I got to form 4, I realised the man was a messenger. By then I was enlightened and more educated.As a result of my education I then knew the difference between good and bad so I was already on that pedestal to go forward.

At Achimota, I had gained more exposure after mingling with the children of the affluent and elite. But there was still a pull and push effect between myself, the elite and my background. Fortunately, my friends’ mothers stood in and encouraged me to stay and spend time with them. Despite the force of home pulling me, they tried to pull me also though they didn’t know what I was going through. I started observing their ways of life. As children, we were all thinking of hotel management, air hostess because we wanted to be in the air. Then along the line, I realised I had more flair for Mathematics so I wanted to do Actuarial Science, Mathematics or any of the mathematics related courses. Thus, I ended up studying Actuarial Science in the University.

TVM: So, when did the thought of coming into the banking industry come in?

MAB: It was by default. After graduating, I tried getting employment with the insurance companies but to no avail. I tried other avenues including SSNIT but also to no avail. Then a friend revealed to me that government was recruiting for NADMO to undertake a survey; so I started with NADMO. I performed my task diligently as expected and presented my findings. After presenting my results, I was invited and asked what I studied. I responded and that was my first job breakthrough that earned me an accountant and investment officer with a law firm. From there, I moved on to a stock exchange company where I traded on the stock exchange as an Authorized Dealing Officer or Broker. After a while, for personal reasons, my boss disclosed he didn’t need my services any longer. So, I had to hit the streets again sharing my CVs. Whiles sharing my CVs, then fortune smiled on me and CAL Bank employed me. So, it was by default that I joined the banking industry.

TVM: When people acknowledge you to be successful, you decline by saying “no, I am a product of grace”. Referencing your memoir “Chosen from Darkness”; Why do you see your success as a product of grace and not a dint of your hard work?

MAB: Success is not a lift that one stands in and gets to the top and says I am done. It’s a step by step event and I think I’m still en route, climbing and hoping that grace will take me there. Since, I haven’t gotten there I will not assume I have arrived so I need more grace. Truly, one needs to work hard for grace to beautify it but there are people who also work harder than I and they are not where I am and also there are people who are not working as hard as I am, but are in higher heights. So, it is a combination of the two; you do your part and leave the rest to divinity. I just don’t want to put myself in such an assumption. It’s not as if I don’t appreciate such comments, I really do. I think that, even if I’m not where I’m supposed to be; I’m en routing and I know I’m on the right path and I’m working at it every day. Consequently, I don’t want to pollute my system and get that into me and think that, after all, I’m the first woman here; No! I don’t want that. I’m still moving.

TVM: Your book, “Chosen from Darkness”. What informed your decision to put together this book?

MAB: The reason is simple: To put my story out there to encourage a lot of young girls. It has encouraged a lot of men, a lot of boys, and a lot of women also. It highlights four things everyone needs to understand about life. Firstly, it talks about one not needing to have a good background to be where he or she wants to be. Secondly, it reveals everybody needs to hold somebody’s hand. I wouldn’t have been here just because my parents wanted me to be here but because people lent a helping hand. So, in this our ecosystem, especially women, look around and you will find a lot of people you can hold their hands. If everybody can hold everybody’s hand, we will have a very developed country. Thirdly, one doesn’t need to bend his or her values or principles in life to be able to make it. One doesn’t have to do that! And finally, people must know that the road to the top can be rough, and the fact that you are in a valley today, does not in any way make you a failure. These are the simple messages I tried to put across in the book.

TVM: You are so passionate about girl-child education and that has led to the establishment of the Abiola Bawuah Foundation. How is the foundation helping to change the girl-child education challenges in the most deprived communities?

MAB: We are in the deprived communities and I have people all over the places: villages, deprived communities, rural settlements and so on across the country trying to identify such girls. We have a lot of girls in our books now that we are supporting. I don’t know them from anywhere. We support also people in the hospitals, helped some to go back to school, supplied books, paying school fees, buying wheels, buying chairs; doing everything for them to make sure they are in school. Unfortunately, the resources are limited. The only one who is paid is the young lady who is running the errand; I am not paid and I don’t take money from the NGO. I strongly believe that if I get more support, I will be able to do more than I’m doing currently.

TVM: Being at the helm of affairs and having oversight on UBA Plc West Africa 1, your transformational leadership style is expected to come to the fore. What do you hope to achieve in this new position?

MAB: With this new position, we will take over the West African market; we will become the strongest bank!

TVM: How?

MAB: To become the most systemic and important bank in all my jurisdictions. So, for any decision to be made in any of those countries, we would have to discuss it first.And it will happen. I’m embarking on that.

TVM: In a previous interview you said “When I focus on the people and I show interest in the people and they connect to my vision, while I’m sleeping they’re working”. Can you explain what you meant by the statement?

MAB: Once you get your people right, they dream about your vision. As a leader, part of my responsibility is to make sure that those who work with me buy into my vision and when they do, their energy levels go up. Hence, they are willing to go the extra miles; they want the vision to come life, they want to replicate what you do. Therefore, beyond believe– conviction is what a leader needs to get his or her people to go the extreme to actualise a dream. It is when you move your staff to have conviction that they go to work when they should be resting. They will be willing to go the extra mile; they don’t have a closing time, they don’t have weekends; you didn’t ask them to do it; you don’t need to tell them; if you start asking them, then you don’t have them. So that’s what I mean by that statement.

TVM: There’s nothing on leadership journey that can be attributed to only the leader” you averred; how will you describe your leadership style?

MAB: I’m not permissive. I am a disciplinarian but also believes in reward system. I am an amiable leader as well and have an opened door policy but at the same time what binds my colleagues and I or what is common to us is the institution. So, I would not allow one to destroy what he or she finds in the organization. One must do his or her work. But in doing his or her work, I shouldn’t abuse him or her, I shouldn’t misuse him or her, I shouldn’t destroy him or her; He or she should grow in his or her own personal life. Thus, I show interest in them and they must also go the extra mile for the job. We should not compromise on the work that binds the two of us. And so far, it has worked.

TVM: What is your management philosophy? 

MAB: Reward the people! Reward what you want. What gets measured is what is done. If somebody has done something, reward the person; if someone has done it wrongly, punish the person. In all, my philosophy is “what gets measured gets done”. Most often leaders are quick to punish but slow to say thank you. We need to reward what we want. If it is coming early, reward those who come early and all the others will follow. If it’s sales, or whatever you seek to get into your staff, you need to reward for it.

TVM: Growing up, did you have any mentor or mentors that influenced your thinking in life?

MAB: I once worked with a boss called Andy OJ; he was my MD at Zenith Bank Ghana where I worked some years back. He was a fantastic boss and in my dealings today, I try to put myself in his shoes and try to imagine how he will deal with situations and I think he is one of my mentors. Another is my current Chairman, Tony Elumelu. He is outstanding; his leadership qualities are wow! He’s a realist; one just knows where he or she belongs and he tells one exactly how he feels. He celebrates everyone, and so if there’s anybody who has tapped the apex of my energy, he is the one; so he is my foremost and priceless mentor.

TVM: What enduring principle(s) guide you in all facets of your life?

MAB: Hard work works! One may not reward me today but I believe somebody is looking at what I am doing and at the right time, he or she will reward me. All the cheatings I have suffered from my previous boss(es) or firms, the new person or company will recompense me for them.

TVM: What do you do outside of work to release the stress you experience at work?

MAB: I love to watch crime documentaries. I watch TV a lot also and I love to be with my children and my family. I love to be with my kids at home so I do a lot of ‘sit home’ when I’m not travelling or not working. I love to be home and want my family around me. I like cooking as well.

TVM: What kind of books do you read; is there any particular book that has significantly shaped or influenced your life?

MAB: I love reading leadership books. One book I read and continue to read is a book written by Bill George; it’s about authentic leadership. I just love reading leadership books.

TVM: What is your favourite meal??

MAB: I like the swallows; Tuo Zaafi, a meal mostly known to the northerners in Ghana, Banku, fufu. I love my banku with okro soup. I also love fresh tomato jollof rice.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

MAB: I’m a lover of jazz.

TVM: What kind of sports do you love?

MAB: Football

TVM: Which team is your favourite?

MAB: Arsenal.

TVM: When it’s all over in your working career, how do you want to be remembered?

MAB: I wish to do hundred girls a year. I wish to go to the most deprived, poverty stricken areas, bring people without hope and give them hope and long after I’m gone, some of them will be Managing Directors, others too will be top government officials; positions they wouldn’t have been able to attain but for that education; that seed sewn, they were. That is what I want to be remembered for. They will be able to tell my children “oh your mother found me”. Ghana will reap the benefits afterwards and say “we have 90% of our ladies in schools” because I believe those girls will also cater for some others, and as such we’ll be able to say that majority of girls are graduates; that is my dream!

TVM: What does the future hold for you beyond UBA and banking?

MAB: Beyond UBA and banking, I want to focus on my NGO. I want to concentrate on that when I leave banking.

TVM: What advice would you give to banking industry players?

MAB: Whatever they are doing, they should do it well. Well, there is still a lot of collaborations to be done among banks. Banks need to come together instead of fighting one another in order to manage the loop holes’ customers capitalize on. Banks still need to be able to share information and continue to support government’s initiatives, especially the plan to have an all inclusion system and to continue to reach out to the local communities. Banks also need to continue to come out with products that will serve humanity and cause the banking space to become more relevant than it is now. But above all, banks should find a way of stamping out the unhealthy competition where when a staff commits crime in one bank, goes to the other bank and is accepted. I look forward to healthy competition among the banks.

TVM: You once said “failing is part of the story”. As a mentor to many young women and girls, how would you advise them to cope and deal with challenges and failures in life?

MAB: Accept it and take responsibility. It’s not about crying; it’s not about condemning oneself. Yes, some are mistakes; purely one’s mistake and so must take full responsibilities for them. It should not be about anybody or a blame game. One needs to ask questions and see how he or she can move forward. Therefore, the most important thing is to take yourself less seriously, take responsibility, and always look for that small light in that darkness and move towards that direction. In a short while, one will find fulfilment.With failing, those who condemn themselves will never be able to get up. That’s my story!

TVM: What is your advice to the current youth of Ghana?

MAB: Hard work works; there’s reward in hardwork so work hard.

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