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Hon. Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani – A member of Council of State in the republic of Ghana

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“THE UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE IN MY BUSINESS LIFE IS ONE WORD: INTEGRITY! TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS, YOU NEED INTEGRITY,”

reveals Hon. Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani, one of Ghana’s leading and successful entrepreneurs and a member of Council of State in the Republic of Ghana. A man who upholds great reverence for God in all facets, he recounts the story of his life in an enthralling interview with The Vaultz.

GHANA’S ECONOMY @60

TVM: Ghana is 60 years. What’s your general assessment of the economy?

NKD: At 60, we have indeed come far as a nation. A nation that does not acknowledge its struggles will not appreciate its achievements. First and foremost, we have a lot to be thankful for. God has been faithful to us as a country. The foremost reason to celebrate this anniversary, it should be because of the PEACE we are enjoying as a nation.

Despite the prevailing peace and tranquility, I think we could have been better, economically. Our economy at 60 years can be easily compared to a 20 year old natural resource deprived nation looking to strategize without any resource to fall on.Despite the decades of digging the earth and the seas for gold, cocoa, bauxite, diamond and oil, we have been unable to improve lives appreciably- our education, health and agricultural systems can best be described as stagnated. But I have hope. Hope in the sense that things will change for the better.

As an optimist, even though I cringe at where we are now when compared to other countries with whom we attained political independence, I am a believer that everything will fall into place at the right time for our dear mother Ghana.

TVM: At 60, If you are to rate the economy, how would you score its performance and why?

Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani

NKD: I cannot rate the economy. I am not in a position to score its performance.

TVM: Can we, as a nation, claim to have achieved a Ghanaian owned economy after 60 years of independence? If not, how can we achieve a Ghanaian owned economy going forward?

NKD: No! Not at any point or anywhere or any sector in this country can we claim to have achieved a Ghanaian owned economy after 60 years of independence. I am an entrepreneur with varying interests in finance, oil and gas, trade, media, and several others. Let us take banking as an example. Of the 35 banks and counting in this country, half of that number are foreign.

What is more worrying is that the local players are mostly tier three and four banks: very small banks that control a minority share of the market. More than 60percent of the banking market share are in the hands of foreigners. Let’s not talk of mining, oil and gas, and even retail trade, where by law, foreigners are not supposed to operate in.

Our markets are being taken over by foreigners who import cheaper products with capital borrowed at cheaper rates from their originating countries. The six telecom companies in the country are all foreign owned: not even a single one is majority owned by the government or any local institution or individual. Clearly, we have failed! This failure is as a result of a lack of direction in terms of government policy.

This has led to individuals, businesses and even sometimes government itself sponsoring foreigners to compete with our locals. So, until government desists from such acts, our economy will continue to be in the hands of foreigners. We have a local content law that can easily be tossed out of the window for political and personal gain.

For me, until we support indigenous businesses to compete effectively with the foreign counterparts and above all go beyond the shores of the country to compete with other businesses and bring in the profit, the economy has no future. When the trend is reversed then we can be confident of achieving a Ghanaian-owned economy.

TVM: “Our economic transformation as a country is more certain than before” you professed. How certain is this compared to previous economic transformation agenda embarked upon by previous governments?

NKD: I strongly believe that our economic transformation is more certain than ever. Like I said earlier, I am an optimistic entrepreneur.

Traveling the length and breadth of this country ignites a sense of hope- hope in the youth who are seeing things differently and they are the ones I am referring to, not government policies. These are young, passionate and energetic men and women ready to tackle the challenge of economic transformation. That’s what I’m referring to.

Dr. N. K. Dzani in a native attire

TVM: What pragmatic steps would you suggest the government should take to reduce the country’s debt stock?

NKD: One thing we are missing out on the subject of debt is the perception that debt is the worst thing that can happen to an economy. That is wrong, absolutely wrong. Debt is good, only if you use it wisely. I was privileged to engage the Finance Minister and he did reveal some strategic measures he is deploying to reduce the debt stock.

But one critical factor to note is that, reducing the debt stock cannot happen out of thin air. Debt reduction must go hand in hand with increased local productivity. We need to understand that these debts are cumulative whereby each and every day, they are accruing interests. Continuous borrowing to service the debt, whether long term borrowing to reduce short term debt, still amounts to debt.

But, if we are able to increase our productivity as a nation, we can indeed go a long way to reducing the debt stock in a short while. What is causing government to borrow? Lack of revenues, i.e., taxes, duties, levies, and income from interest in institutions forces government to borrow to bridge the gap. It is that simple. An increase in productivity across all sectors will see more revenue accrue to government, thereby reducing its dependence on debt.

For example, if State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are functional and generate substantial revenue government will earn enough income from the profits they make. Secondly, if state institutions effect their services as expected then things will be better. Furthermore, some of these SOEs, I suggest, should be made independent.

This means that these institutions, though fully owned by the government, do not have to rely on government to pay salaries of their workers, as well as administrative and operational expenses. This is a drain on scarce national resources.

It also stifles development and undermines prudent government spending. Imagine how much government can save if all state enterprises that can be autonomous are made so and empowered with the right business models so they even pay dividends to government. Consider institutions like the Forestry Commission, Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), Volta River Authority (VRA) and Ghana Water Company.

They depend on the government for payment of salaries of workers. No, that should not be encouraged. They should be able to generate their own revenue and make profit in order to pay dividend to government. The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation is a leading example; it borrows on its own balance sheet to undertake projects. That is where we should be heading as a nation.

Another subject that needs to be looked at when borrowing is utilizing the money borrowed in such a way that it works to pay back that loan. For example, if you borrow money and use it in the construction of a road, that road must lead to increased productivity and bring valuable returns to the economy, so that with an increased activity on that road, the revenue can be used to out rightly pay off the debt.

So, there are various means we can employ to reduce our debt stock but that notwithstanding, I have confidence in the Finance Minister and his ministry to salvage the situation.

TVM: Carl Pope, the co-author of “Climate of Hope” in an interview on CNN said “we don’t plan an economy around presidential campaign but in 20 to 30 years”.

Ghana, under the previous government sought to implement such an act by implementing a 40-year developmental plan and this government is seeking to implement its own. Beyond the rhetoric, how can the nation achieve such act without partisan politics infiltrating?

NKD: This is simple and straight to the point. Unfortunately, we tend to see things differently in our side of the world. To speak to subjects of national development, one must look, think and speak through the lens of politics.

Dr. N. K. Dzani with his GUBA Award: Influencial Economist

The politicization of every subject, person or idea is what has stagnated, and sometime retrogressed development. Despite the gradual change in approach by some young and energetic men and women, we are still at a stage where only an abrupt and radical change can change our attitude to development.

There can never be any issue in this country without it being partisan twist either NDC or NPP. This is rather so unfortunate. It’s a very dicey situation but for those of us who believe in God, we know God will show us the way out of this conundrum.

TVM: After 60 years of independence, how can the nation shift from just mere economic policy formulation to productivity?

NKD: It is difficult for people to speak to issues and policies from government due to the fear of political party tagging. When you think you are contributing objectively to a discourse, others are busy tagging you to a particular political party.

So this makes it difficult for well-meaning thinkers in the country to comment on government policies. We should consider issues of national concern holistically and not on the lines of partisan politics.

The merits and demerits of issues should be looked at objectively without being biased. When this is done, government policies will be carefully analyzed holistically and when a consensual framework is created the whole nation will rally around to expedite its implementation. There are general issues which everyone can contribute to such as the tax regime, which we keep saying is not good, government not supporting indigenous businesses to thrive etc.

But for specific government policies, people abstain from them in order not to be labeled as a party loyalist. I prefer to be a patriot and that’s what I am. I prefer to talk about issues I think will promote national consensus rather than issues that tend to divide us on party lines.

I’m inclined to believe that this country will be great if we become honest with ourselves and not read politics into every move.

TVM: You asserted “Ghana has suddenly become a nation of talkers. We pay lip-service to challenges bedeviling the economy instead of adopting rigorous measures to put our economy on a sound footing”. What in your view can be done to reverse this situation of talkers to doers?

NKD: I do my part and you do your part! Entrepreneurship and Job Creation in Ghana

TVM: You are one of Africa’s ‘fast-rising entrepreneurs’ who is breaking new grounds in the various sectors of the economy in Ghana. How would you describe the country’s overall business enclave?

NKD: The local economy is bedeviled with countless challenges; but these are challenges that can easily be resolved with a resolute government in charge. The primary goal of transforming this nation dictates that we should not deviate from getting the economic fundamentals right. It is not easy to do business in this country. We live in a country that foreigners are sponsored by government to compete to do business with indigenes.

That’s sad! One of the most difficult things to do in this country is doing business as a Ghanaian. But the businessmen and entrepreneurs in the country have done so well to have risen up to the challenge. We are hard at work to position ourselves to compete with any business concerns anywhere in the world.

To recount why we are in this mess, Ghana, after independence, didn’t have Ghanaians with the capacity to establish businesses to support the government from the private sector. So government had to open its doors to foreigners and this is done in every country. So, the foreigners came in and took over all the major sectors of the economy.

From telecoms to the mines, the banking sector, and the oil and gas, we didn’t have Ghanaians at the top realm of businesses. But when Ghanaians started establishing such businesses, it became evident that it’s extremely difficult to compete with the foreign counterparts because they were and are still government sponsored.

These foreign counterparts receive two aspects of sponsorship– one from their country of origin and the other from the government of Ghana. The one from the Ghanaian government was meant to attract them to invest, meanwhile, the government was not offering the same support to growing local business and leaders.

This made it and still makes it extremely difficult for Ghanaian businesses to compete with their foreign counterparts. Until the late 1980s that government realized the trend and started moves to reverse it, this was the hard realities of the economy of Ghana.

Despite several moves to undo this trend, it is becoming increasingly difficult in an ever increasing global world to just take a drastic step to reverse the trend. What we need as a country is bold and courageous leadership to reversing the trend. If not, our economy has no future.

TVM: You are currently adjudged the “Overall Best Entrepreneur of the Year 2016” for your exceptional contributions towards the country’s socio-economic development. Considering your experience, how can the nation breed successful entrepreneurs who would contribute to the country’s socio-economic development as well?

NKD: This country only needs good economic fundamentals and a strong economic base. Entrepreneurship is talent! This is a Godgiven talent and so people have to take advantage of it. But if the environment doesn’t support it, you cannot do much.

So, what we should do as a country is to create the enabling environment so that people, either technocrats, academics or sports men and women will be able to unearth their God-given talents. That’s all that’s needed from government.

TVM: You averred you began your entrepreneurial journey with an amount of GHc 27, 000 and currently accrued it into an asset of almost GHc1billion. But you also stated “You don’t need capital to start a business. What you need is integrity”. How do you align these two statements?

NKD: Saying that I started my business with so little capital is very true. So does everyone start their businesses. No one start with GHc100million. Even the current President of the United States, Donald Trump did not start with a billion dollars, not to talk about the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets.

When I first said this most listeners misconstrued it but I still stand by it that “you don’t need capital to start business but integrity”. What it simply means is that no matter how much capital you have, if you lack simple integrity, your capital can’t make you succeed.

Of course, everyone needs money to start business because it doesn’t make sense to start business on an empty pocket. But with the minimum capital, coupled with integrity and the grace of God, you will succeed. I started my business at the same time with some friends and colleagues who had huge sums of monies as start-up capital but today, their businesses are not even up to 1 or 2percent of my business.

This may be because they failed to exercise and exhibit any integrity in their business dispensation. Through your integrity, you are able to prove to your customers, investors and other stakeholders, who later help build your business because of your integrity. That assertion was to disabuse a perception that without huge capital, you cannot start business.

So, what I meant was one does not need a huge capital to start business but with a little capital and integrity, one will succeed and not that one can start a business with no money at all. Capital itself can never translate into successful business; never!

TVM: The new government, as part of its campaign message, assured Ghanaians the establishment of one district, one factory. Is the establishment of this one district, one factory a sustainable agenda considering past experiences such as Komenda Sugar factory, etc.?

NKD: Every government has a vision and this particular one is to expand our economic base. This is a matter of truth and it must be done. Whether it is done rightly or wrongly, posterity will determine. When such an ideology is implemented the economic base becomes broadened to curb the high urban migration from the rural settlements.

Through this initiative, jobs will be taken to the door steps of the people and so they don’t need to come and over populate the urban settlements. Our urban areas are growing at such an alarming rate. Current studies show that the urban and rural population, which used to tilt in favor of rural areas, is now getting even. By 2030, it is estimated that there will be more people in urban areas than rural areas.

Do not forget that the more people flock to the urban areas, the more there is pressure on facilities such as roads, electricity and water. The one district, one factory model is a good initiative and it’s up to every Ghanaian to take advantage of this government policy and be able to improve their lives.

If a factory in a district can employ a 100 people, with each one of them having a wife and three children, that will be 500 people kept away from an already-choked urban area.

Personality Profile

TVM: There have been a lot of blabs as to who Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani is. How would you describe yourself?

NKD: I am Nii Kotei Dzani as you rightly said. I don’t see myself as a businessman but as an entrepreneur and an economist. I must state that there’s a clear difference between who an entrepreneur is and who a businessman is. Everyone can call himself an entrepreneur and a businessman as well but there’s a clear difference between the two. I see myself as an entrepreneur and not a businessman.

TVM: Why do you see yourself as that?

NKD: Take a tuber of cassava. A businessman will buy it for a cedi and sell it to you for a cedi and a half or two cedis, make money and walk away. But an entrepreneur will ask him or herself, what do I do with this cassava to not just make money but impact society in diverse ways? He or she takes that cassava, does a little research and proceeds to process it into gari, cassava chips, or any other product in order to derive more value.

Do not forget that while he or she is processing it, he or she has to seek the help of others, thereby creating jobs in the process. Entrepreneurs, therefore, are not necessarily profit minded people but create opportunities and businesses.

Entrepreneurs actually create businesses for businessmen and women. Entrepreneurs are more interested in expanding growth, creating jobs, improving lives and transforming societies while a businessman is more interested in the returns on his/ her investments.

TVM: So, did you always aspire to be an entrepreneur?

NKD: I think that the Lord directs our path and guides our steps. At every point in time in life, God directs you on what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. For instance, I wanted to be a footballer but… I believe God directed my path and planted me where I find myself today.

TVM: How was growing up as a child like? Do you think your growing up and the training you had contributed to what you are today?

NKD: I come from a very humble background and I never had the opportunity to be brought up by my father. I lost my father when I was just 10 years old. My mother was also not staying with us. I stayed with my late aunt who was close to 70years at the time. I think my whole life is a mystery. I think God in His own wisdom directs my path and I meet the right people at the right time and all those people contribute significantly to what I am.

TVM: Your success in business has been evident through the multiples of businesses established. What enduring principle(s) guide you in all facets of your business life?

NKD: The underlying principle in my business life is one word: integrity. To succeed in business, you need integrity. To earn integrity, you have to work it out. You have to purge yourself because every human has a negative side in him or her so the need to purge oneself.

You need to identify your strengths and weaknesses and fear God because once you have the fear of God all other things follow. For instance, on one occasion, during my usual audit of the books, I realized that we overcharged a particular client to the tune of GHc36, 000, even though he had finished paying the facility more than six year ago.

 

It was direction from the Holy Spirit and we tried all means to locate the client and offered him his money with interest to the tune of GHc50, 000.00. This act surprised the client so much that today he is one of our biggest clients and a prominent ambassador to the firm, bringing other clients on board. Integrity is important but that move is done through the fear of God. For God gives riches and adds no sorrow to them.

When you love your staff and your customers, you’ll do the right thing. I think that these are the basic principles in business and then the rest will add up. I don’t believe, with all humility, that your knowledge alone can take you far in business.

This is because there are thousands of people out there who are more knowledgeable than you. Your staff, majority of them are more knowledgeable than you are. It is just a thin line that separates you from them– the grace of God.

TVM: What is your business management philosophy and motivation?

NKD: My motivation is seeing thousands of peoples’ lives being impacted positively. There are times I wake up in the morning and it’s difficult to go out because I am exhausted or worn out. Suddenly, I remember that there’s someone out there who is looking up to me for his or her life to be impacted and that gives me the energy to forge ahead. My philosophy is: I do my bit and God does the rest!

TVM: How will you describe your leadership style?

NKD: I have an open door policy. I do a lot of consultations. I want to emphasize that I was quite an autocratic leader. I always wanted things to be done my way. But I realized that I cannot succeed with that. So, I employ broad consultation before making a decision and this aids my decision making. At Groupe Ideal, there are no classes of employees; from the security to the Groupe President, we are all the same and we respect one another.

I make them understand that everyone is important. It’s rather unfortunate in this life that the most important people in society earn less than those at the top. That is divine formula and there’s nothing I can do about it neither can anyone else.

TVM: What do you do in your leisure time?

NKD: Well, I don’t have enough leisure time for now but hope to create some in the near future. But, the slightest time available, I try to spend with my family; both nuclear and extended. I love spending time with my children even though I feel guilty I don’t spend enough time with them.

Also, I attend to a lot of visitors at the slightest time available outside of work schedule to address the needs of people and I use this to comfort myself.

TVM: What sporting activities or hobbies do you love most and engage in?

NKD: I love jet skiing. I love cruising with my speed boat. I love driving at top speed and I enjoy it a lot as a hobby.

TVM: What kinds of movies and books do you watch and read respectively?

NKD: I like to watch documentaries when it comes to motion pictures. I enjoy reading autobiographies of successful personalities. I also like the Pan African writers a lot, but above all, I also read the Bible every day. There are two things I do every night before I go to bed: I read the Bible and I listen to a Pan African fighter’s speech.

TVM: Is there any particular book(s) that has significantly influenced your life?

NKD: The Bible is the most influential book in my life. When you read the Bible you get the solution to everything in this life. It is the book of all wisdom and knowledge. I will encourage everyone to read the Bible.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

NKD: I love classical music.

TVM: You are a car enthusiast and have acquired fleet of them. Which is your most favorite and why?

NKD: Well, Hyundai i30 is my favorite car. I love that car.

TVM: What kind of a husband/ father are you?

NKD: This question should rather be directed to my wife but what I can say is I do my part as a husband and God does the rest. For my children, they appreciate the little time I spend with them. They look up to me as a leader. They appreciate my efforts a lot and that puts a lot of smiles on their faces and urges me to spend more time with them.

TVM: Due to your wealth of experience in life and business, do you intend to document it in a book (autobiography / biography) to benefit the younger generations?

NKD: Yes. I am currently working on that and hope to launch it soon. May be that’s what is influencing my consumption of autobiographies from which I gain a lot of knowledge.

TVM: If you had the opportunity to rewrite a wrong. What would it be?

NKD: Well, there is one or two of them that I’ll want to keep confidential. Perhaps, joining my colleagues to take the Cape Coast University to court when I was a student is something I wish I could rewrite. I think I was the first person to take the university to court and challenged authorities and that’s something if I had an opportunity, I’ll rewrite. But why I wish I could rewrite this is very personal.

TVM: What should Ghanaians be looking forward to next from your table?

NKD: Each and every day of my life I do my best and God does the rest. For now, I don’t know what God has in stock for me. My whole life is directed by God. I have never planned anything for my life. So, if God calls me for another service tomorrow; Why Not! I don’t have any plan for anything.

TVM: How’s a day in your life like?

NKD: I wake in the morning, read the Bible and then pray to God. Then I dress and move out to the office to work and then come back home and receive visitors and then read the Bible again before I retire to bed.

TVM: You’ve received numerous awards this year. What significance do these awards portray to you?

NKD: It humbles me! When people and organizations are recognizing you, you need to respect them and accept their recognitions. But, this does not excite me at all. This portrays to me that a lot of expectations are demanded from me so I can’t afford to fail and disappoint them. It is rather a very highly uncomfortable situation one can find himself/ herself. But, notwithstanding, we depend on God for His unfailing love and protection.

TVM: Do you have any intention of running for presidency in the Republic of Ghana in the near future?

NKD: Recall I said initially that my whole life is a mystery and that there has never been any point in time I have decided on what I want to do. At every point in time God directs my path and gives me the opportunity to serve or to do something. For now, I don’t know what God will give to me to do tomorrow or next. Of course, if God wants me to be the next president of Ghana, why not! I will thank Him and embrace it with all my heart but I have no intentions for now. To be honest with you, I have no such intentions. But wherever God wants me to serve, if even as the governor of the Bank of Ghana, why not! For me, it’s not about ambition. It is about doing what is right, touching lives and transforming society.

TVM: In all your submission, you exhibited a great reverence for God. What accounts for this demonstrative attitude you’ve portrayed?

NKD: I mentioned earlier that my whole life is full of mysteries. It was only by God’s grace that I experienced a second cycle education. Then proceeded to the university on that same grace before graduating and started working with Barclays Bank Ghana Ltd.

My journey in life to date has witnessed God’s involvement in all stages including meeting and marrying my wife, so why will I not hold God in high esteem. This is my tale as Paul clearly accounts in the Bible; “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” – Phil 1:21.

TVM: What advice would you give to the following?

– The Government

NKD: As a member of Council of State, my advice to government is private and not public and so when the need be I’ll effect as expected.

– Businesses

NKD: Businesses need to be focused. If you want to succeed in business, then you need to be focused and not be distracted. They must have God at the center of their lives. Once they have God, they’ll have integrity.

– Aspiring entrepreneurs& youths

NKD: The principles of the businesses are simply applicable to them.

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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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