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“Don’t lose hope, keep knocking” – Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim, Board Chairman, GT Bank Ltd.

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From a humble beginning, Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim defied the odds of being a failure. He took every step of the journey by faith in Allah. He wrestled through life to make sure he got to the top. He kept pushing, till he got his first breakthrough.

He once drove a taxi on the streets of New York City and today he is one of the successful investors cum entrepreneur in the country. Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim is the Board Chairman of GT Bank Ltd. and the only Ghanaian shareholder.

He owns a number of firms that operate under the Dara Salam Group of Companies. He operates under the axiom of “Don’t lose hope, keep knocking”.

THE ECONOMY AND BUSINESS

TVM: How would you describe the Ghanaian economy after one year of this administration?

AYI: I will say that in every situation, when a new administration comes into place, they establish their own fundamentals. They have to put them to play first before we see exactly what they are doing. But I believe that they will also do just as well as the previous government did their best.

I am a Ghanaian, so whatever affects the economy whether good or bad affects me. So, it is the pre-occupation of everyone in the country to ensure the economy performs better and not just the present administration.  I believe very sincerely, with the right leadership, the economy would really perform wonderfully well for all of us to enjoy in the future.

TVM: How would you describe the Ghanaian business enclave or doing business in Ghana?

AYI: I feel doing business in Ghana is much better. In Ghana we have the resources both human resources and natural resources. We have everything; gold, diamond, cocoa, name it. We also have oil, so, with the little thing in place, investment will boom in this country including agriculture and industrialization. It’s a matter of time.

TVM: What policies would you recommend to the government to get the private sector to become the engine of growth?

AYI: Making funding available to the private sector will enable a lot of good minds who want to establish businesses to do so and this will help people as well as the country by reducing unemployment in the country.

But there is no funding! So, if government, as I told you, can provide certain amount of money for startup businesses as capital and give it to people who want to start their own businesses, it will help them to also employ other people and the economy will be booming.

So I believe very sincerely that we are in the right direction and what is helping to facilitate ‘the new conversation on entrepreneurship’ is that white color job is finishing.

Now graduates are coming out of schools and there are no jobs at the ministries so they are forced to do their own thing and that is the way to go.

Once you stop getting salary and you are giving salary, it’s an addition to the economy and so I believe very sincerely that we are on the right path and by the grace of God, Ghana would be a wonderful place for all of us.

Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim

FINANCIAL MARKET

TVM: What’s your general overview of Ghana’s financial industry?

AYI: Ghana’s financial industry is very robust indeed. We can recall that recently, the Central Bank raised the minimum capital of banking institutions from GHc120 million to GHc400 million which I sincerely believe is in the right direction.

Most of the businesses that need huge capital financing by banks or other financial firms, are done by the banks which are outside the country because our capital base is inadequate.

At times, banks even come together to form syndicates to be able to meet the loan demand but still unable because the capital base is very low.

To let us really compete effectively for big-ticket transactions, there should be some sort of amalgamation and a kind of takeovers; one bank that’s bigger than the other to take over the smaller bank or the two smaller banks merging together to raise the needed capital to do big businesses together.

So, it’s in the right direction. I believe when that happens, then they can extend credit facilities to the areas of the economy that we need money to startup businesses.

TVM: Some analysts are of the view that priority should be given to local indigenous banks so that the foreign banks won’t have dominance in the industry. What’s your take on that?

AYI: That’s the real essence of recapitalizing the banks. Any bank that is registered in Ghana, is a Ghanaian bank. When they make the money, the government of Ghana makes taxes out of them.

So, they are considered Ghanaian banks. The worry is about the banks which finance our projects but are not operating in Ghana. They come and make the money and take their capital out of the country and that is what we are worried about.

They come and make the profit and take whatever they invest in as dividend, which is what we are concerned about. The banks that are registered here do businesses here and they stay here and employ a lot of people– Ghanaians unlike the banks that finance those huge projects; they are not here, they don’t employ Ghanaians, they only come and then take businesses away from the Ghanaian banks.

That’s why no matter who owns what but any bank registered in Ghana that employs Ghanaians, pay taxes every year to the Ghanaian government on whatever money they make to build our hospitals, our schools, our roads etc. should be considered as a local bank.

TVM: Some financial commentators suggest that there should be a clarion call on the specialization of banking operations in the sector.  What’s your take on that?

AYI: Well, at the moment, when you want to start a banking business in Ghana, you are issued a universal banking license.

This enables the bank to conduct all aspect of banking and that really made other banks that were created specifically for certain sectors like ADB and NIB– to fund development projects for a longer period, all resort to retail banking as a result of capital inadequacy.

These banks had to also recourse to short term funding just like other banks. All these are what supports the recapitalization argument from the Central Bank Governor. We need banks that can engage in long term financing to support industrial boom and mortgage financing which requires 30 to 40 years financing scheme. These are all good for the economy but then, how many banks are resilient for these types of projects, that’s where the problem is.

TVM: Accessing credit facilities for business development and expansion is a challenge. Why is this situation so?

AYI: The economy as a whole dictate how funding should be done. We have what we call the basic rate that is dictated by the Bank of Ghana (BoG). The BoG basic rate is also dependent on the performance of the economy. It’s not the banks that dictate that.

The performance of the economy plays a pivotal role in the cost of funding to business owners so if the economy is doing well, the access to credit facility will be easier and cheaper otherwise it will remain as it is.

TVM: The government is seeking to establish a new national development bank to mobilize private capital towards the agricultural and industrial transformation. What’s your take on that?

AYI: It’s a good idea because the more the merrier. The issue is provided the new bank will be able to address the needed transformational development projects.

TVM: What difference does this new bank seek to achieve that the current NIB and ADB has not?

AYI: Well I don’t know. All I’m saying is that if it is also coming on board to make money available to the needed Ghanaians, then by all means it will make the market bigger than what it is. 

 

Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim on the turf playing golf

 

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: Who is Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim; can you tell us about yourself?

AYI: I am Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim. I was born in Kumasi Zongo to Alhaji Gado and Hajia Rahinatu. My mother is from Gonja and My father, Wangara. At age 5, I attended Arabic School called Makaranta and after 5 years, I completed. My father didn’t believe in formal education and so was completely against me accessing formal education.

But a very good friend of his, Alhaji Ibrahim Kure, who believed otherwise persuaded my father to allow me to access formal education. He assented to it and I commenced formal education at age 10. I was a complete illiterate as I could neither read nor write.

As a result, I attended Nawarudeen Private School to learn how to read and write before attending Anglican Primary and Middle School in Kumasi. There I had mates like Gobind Nankani (Former Vice President, African Region of the World Bank), Kwame Peprah (Former Finance Minister of the Republic of Ghana) and so on.

After the middle school, I took the Common Entrance Examination and fortunately I passed and gained admission into Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kumasi. I was opportune to enjoy the CMB Scholarship from Form 1 to Form 5, despite my father not being a farmer at the time. My formal education ended in Form 5.

After completing Form 5 from Ahmadiyya Secondary School, I went into business. I was privilege to go into business through a man called Robert Annor. Robert was my senior at Ahmadiyya Secondary School. While I was in Form 1, he was in form 5 so I was more of his ‘school boy’.

He was privilege as he immediately entered into petrol station business after completing Ahmadiyya Secondary School. He was transporting and selling petrol and kerosene to the villages and he made it. At the time, I wanted to be like him because, to me, he was successful. He introduced me to the business but unfortunately for me things didn’t turn out well so had to quit after a while.

After that period, Alhaji Kure’s son, Ahmed Kure, who at the time was in West Germany precisely Hamburg got in touch with me. We were mates and very good friends. He always wanted me by his side and so he sent me an invitation to come and join him there in Hamburg, West Germany. I didn’t have the money so my father had to go to his friend, Alhaji Kure, again for money to get my ticket.

So, I departed the shores of Ghana to seek greener pastures. Incidentally, the very day I arrived at Hamburg, West Germany, Ahmed Kure had also gotten a visa to New York, United States of America so had left without informing me. I became stranded and wished I could return with the next available flight to Ghana.

In that frustrated situation, I met another friend of ours who was our senior then, Issa Sarpong, who took care of me and made sure I was comfortable.

Life in Germany then was more than a nightmare. But considering the debt my father had incurred as a result of the failed Petrol business and the ticket fare, I needed to get a job to cater for those bills back in Ghana. So, I stormed the streets of Hamburg in search of a job and fortunately I stumbled on one with a brewery company.

I made some good money and remitted them to my father to cater for the bills incurred on my behalf all those while as well as to take care of the basic needs at home.

After a while again, Ahmed Kure, who was now in America got in touch with me and suggested I come to America to avoid the language barrier I was experiencing in West Germany. I was scared and hoped that it was not another futile expedition and so I never consented to it for that moment.

But his constant persuasion and other convictions made me assent to the proposal. He showed me what to do and I followed through till I found myself in New York with him. Indeed, this time, Ahmed was living a very comfortable life in his apartment and had his own car. He was a taxi driver and was making enough money.

Immediately I got to New York, on the following day, Ahmed Kure got me a job at Western Union where they send telegrams. He took his time to educate me on how to move around without any difficulty. So, I started delivering the telegrams without any problem.

One day, one of the telegrams I was tasked to deliver was for a company called Cowen and Company at Battery Park Plaza, Wall Street in New York. Upon delivery of the telegram, I enquired if there was a vacancy there and fortunately, I was asked to speak to the Human Resource Manager and that’s how I ended up working there for 4hours in a day.

After a while, Ahmed Kure advised me to enter into the taxi business and I gave it a try. I drove the taxi to give it a try and realized indeed, it was a lucrative venture. So, I ventured into it and made enough to invest. At a point, I was having 5 taxis in New York City and they were all making money for me.

After making enough money through my savings and investments, I got in touch with Robert Annor and expressed my interest in the petrol business again.

We rekindled our relationship and started our business relationship afresh. I bought 5 tankers of 3000 gallon capacity each from Nottingham in England and shipped them to Ghana. The trucks came into the country in 1974 and I also decided to return with my wife to Ghana in December 1974.

I joined Annor in the petrol business and later he connected me to British Petroleum (BP) carrying petrol from Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) to Kumasi depot, Mayenka. Unfortunately, there were misunderstandings that ensued between Robert and I and we had to part ways.

After parting ways with Robert, I came in contact with Colonel George Minyila whom I have been of help to back in the days when I was in the United States of America and discussed a business idea with him.

He welcomed the idea and help me facilitate the necessary license and finally, I was given the license and started a bicycle assembling plant in Tamale.

From there, I made some money from the bicycle business and I started importing rice and sugar. Slowly we started with one container to two containers till we became one of the biggest by importing a whole ship load.

Then in 1985, I acquired 30 acres of land which had 3 companies namely: Hume Fulgrip (producers of sewerage and pressure pipes for water), Precast and Spun (Concrete producers of precast elements) and Ready Mix Concrete Limited on the premise.

From there, I entered a partnership venture with a gentleman called Andrews Sardanis who is the owner of Meridian Group International based in England and we established a mining company called Golden Ray near Nkawkaw.

We were into the mining of gold and then we established Wade Adams Constructions– a road construction company and then we also established a bank called Meridian Bank at the time. We also established Madison Assurance in 1989.

Unfortunately, my partner had a problem and he went bankrupt in England and so all the companies we had together were affected. But that was not the end so we decided to also try other businesses. At the moment, we own some shares in GT Bank, we have a factory in Tema that produces transformers, and a factory in Kumasi, that treats electricity poles. We are also into real estate development and that’s what we are doing and where we are now.

TVM: Where did you acquire your business acumen that has earned you success today?

AYI: Well, my business acumen is innate that’s first and foremost and also the grace of Allah. If you believe sincerely in Allah and you depend on Him, He helps you if you help yourself.

I say it’s innate because at a tender age, I involved myself in the making of condensed milk into toffees and sold them to my fellow students and was making money. Since then, whatever I engaged myself with, I made sure I do them well. So it takes endurance to do the things you want to do and the grace from Allah.

TVM: What enduring principles have helped you to do all that you are doing?

AYI: Well, patience and endurance have been my enduring principles in life. You never give up in life when life presents its challenges to you.

For instance, if you knock on one door and it fails to open, move on to the second door. You don’t conclude it is finished just because the first door refuses to open. Even if the second door refuses to open, move on to the third, the forth, the fifth door … till you get to the door that will open to you.

So, everyone needs to have endurance and the push backed by prayers to God to be behind you; that is very important.

TVM: I know you operate under the Axiom “don’t lose hope, keep knocking” why that philosophy?

AYI: Because that’s the only answer to life’s philosophy. This is so because in life one needs to keep going forward despite the challenges and circumstances they may be confronted with. If you refuse to keep moving, you will remain on the same spot. So to get to your destination, it requires that we keep moving despite the conditions.

TVM: How are you able to fix your work and life balance?

AYI: As the adage says “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I am able to manage my time well. I know when to work and when to have leisure. I have time for social events and I make sure I don’t over burden myself with work. Good time management is the key.

For instance I come to work every morning and when it’s 2:30 p.m. I leave for the golf course to play. I do this as a routine and it helps me a lot. So, I think good time management is a vital instrument in ensuring the work and life balance of every individual.

TVM: How would you define success?

AYI: For me, success is the ability to support others who are below you to rise to the top. Success is also the ability to touch the lives of the poor or people around you positively; this is what I see also as success.

If you have the means and are unable to touch the lives of the people around you positively, then you can’t claim to be successful. If you have money and don’t help the poor, you have failed because they don’t care about your riches and when you die you die alone.

But when you help the poor, when you die you become a hero in their hearts. People don’t care about whoever you are but care about those who care for them.

For example, if my success stays with me alone then it’s no success. My real success will be measured by how many people I am able to bring from the ‘low places in life’ to a state where they will also be comfortable in life and until that that’s when I will leave a legacy behind.

If you look at me, I’ve been the Chairman of Junior Achievements where we make monies available to students in Secondary Schools to start businesses.

Aside that, Islam is a religion that believes in paying monies to the poor people every year. Whatever you have, you must pay 2.5 % of it to the poor so that they will also come up and give to other people. So, that’s why whatever I do, I make sure that I give to others.

It’s unfortunate I can’t be mentioning the things I have done because it’s not pleasing to God but I am happy I have impacted the lives of many especially those in Kumasi Zongo where I come from and in Accra in terms of health, education etc.

TVM: What motivates you to do all that you do?

AYI: The fear of God is key. Also, I feel God knows my heart and what I can do for others that’s why He made me succeed so I can take care of the needy.

Mind you, I was not the best in the class and see what I went through in life. But by His direction and this little things that I have done, I have become what I am today.

TVM: At your age, what inspires you to still come to work and try to do more despite your attainment?

AYI: It’s the ability to have enough to give to others. It puts me on the go and I will be doing that till the day I go to my grave.

TVM: Do you have time to engage in any extracurricular activities; any hobbies?

AYI: Yes, I have a hobby. I play golf. I play golf everyday from Monday to Friday at 3 p.m. I used to also play polo since I came back from America in 1974. I became the captain of the Accra Polo Club for many years and I’m now one of the trustees. I have now retired from playing polo. My children are now playing as well as my grandchildren.

TVM: Why did you switch from playing Polo to golf; is it because golf is a game for the rich?

AYI: No. I see polo and golf as the same sports only that one is played on a horse and the other on the foot. They all involve hitting a ball. So, when I realized I couldn’t hit the ball on the horse, I resorted to hitting the ball on the ground and it is easy.

Also, the game of golf helps to exercise the body and it’s absolutely needful for controlling blood pressure, cholesterol etc. So, that’s why I enjoy it first as a game and then take it as doing it for the health benefits also.

TVM: Who was and is your role model?

AYI: Robert Annor was always my role model while I was growing up but by the grace of Allah, I was able to live up to expectation. For now, there is no one.

TVM: Is there any genre of music you love?

AYI: I love old rhythms like Sam Cook and local music also. I like that a lot and I enjoy dancing very much.

TVM: So, where do you get to do this; is it at functions or you stay at home and play music, then you dance to it?

AYI: I do that at functions. For example when I attend somebody’s outdooring or wedding and the opportunity offers itself for dancing then I dance.

TVM: Do you have any intention of documenting your tale for the future generation to emulate from?

AYI: Yes, I’m currently working on that. By next month or two, my biography will be ready. It’s been handled by a company in South Africa and they’re almost at the tail end of it.

TVM: If you had the opportunity to rewrite a wrong, what would it be?

AYI: To be more committed to help the poor to come up.

TVM: With everything you do, you still feel you are not doing enough?

AYI: Well, it’s not enough at all. Because in any part of the world, the rich people are very few while the poor are many.

If we don’t help them as far as I’m concerned, we are not contributing our quota to the development of society. Also, God commands us to give and that’s why I’m doing my bit. But if you consider the social aspect even; it’s in our own interest to make sure that people below are supported and provided with basic needs.

When these things are in place, we won’t have armed robbery and other social vices disrupting society. So, these are some of the reasons ‘giving’ is essential in society just to make sure others are comfortable as well.

TVM: What advise do you have for the government of the day looking at them being in power for a year now?

AYI: The advice I would give to them basically is Ghana is an import-oriented economy, and the money we have normally ends up in subsidizing for the imports and we neglect the core needs of our people like hospitals, roads, schools that are not enough.

I think God has given us more than we need including arable lands for agriculture. If the government was to really pay more attention to Agriculture, we can export more cocoa, pineapples, cashew nuts etc. These are all the things that can be exported in abundance.

In Ghana, we can grow anything even in our backyard and it grows, but what the government should do is not just depend on peasant farmers who only produce for what they can eat and the little they sell and that doesn’t meet export demands.

But government should make sure it lays emphasis on Agriculture both for home consumption as well as exports on commercial basis. I will suggest that every district in Ghana should be allowed to use part of its Common Fund for exportable commodities.

At least if we are able to even feed our people, what we have to import will be very small and the government can divert the money to other areas of our developmental needs.

TVM: For businesses?

AYI: For businesses, especially the manufacturing firms, I will want to urge them to focus on locally available raw materials for production to help reduce the importation of foreign products on to our market. Through this, we will be able to boost our agricultural productivity and industrial boom will set in and the country will be set on its rightful developmental course.

TVM: For aspiring youth and young entrepreneurs?

AYI: Don’t lose hope, Keep knocking! Young entrepreneurs should be careful not to go in for loans to start their businesses because interest rates are now very high. If they do, they will only be working for the banks. It may be difficult to pay back the loans and above all the bank will take the little collateral they have.

So, it is advisable that young and emerging entrepreneurs consider government funding for their business start-ups. Also, the youth should work as hard as they can.

They should see any job they are in as their own. Because it’s only when you work best for somebody, you do better when yours come. First of all, the person you’re working for will appreciate you and compensate you when the time comes.

This also helps to cultivate hard work in you, and that will help you succeed in life. If this attitude can be ingrained in everybody, it will help us all to develop our economy.

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Profiles

“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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