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Personality Profile: Dr Kwabena Agyei

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“Business people are like vultures. We always look at where the money is. So, if everybody is doing alcoholic beverage in Ghana at the time, we all tried our luck.”

– Dr. Kwabena Adjei, Group Chairman, Kasapreko Group of Companies.

Ghana’s industrial sector has been on a decline for the better part of four decades. Despite the heavy advocacy and lobbying to salvage the sector led the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), the challenges continue to mount.

But with the new government seeking to revive the fortunes of the sector, which creates hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled labour, there is indeed light at the end of every tunnel. Players are patiently waiting for the best of policies to be put in place so that the much touted growth in the sector will start to manifest.

Despite the challenges, there has been a ray of hope with some companies battling the high taxes, currency instability, high inflation, high interest rates and energy challenges which have all contributed significantly to high cost of production.

One of such companies that have stood the test of time is Kasapreko Company Limited (KCL), the total beverage manufacturing company, led by Dr. Kwabena Adjei, who is currently the Executive Chairman. Kasapreko started with a small distiller but today employs thousands and exports its products to the West African market, Africa, Europe, USA and Asia.

The Vaultz Magazine (TVM) caught up with the ultra-busy Dr Kwabena Adjei (DKA) for a wide ranging interview that covered industrialisation, doing business in Ghana, and how he, as a person, made it and built such a fast growing global empire.

Industrialization

TVM: How will you describe Ghana’s industrial sector?

DKA: The industrial sector globally has been on the rise with millions of jobs being created in fast growing economies like China, Malaysia, Philippines, Mexico and other emerging economies. But over the past few years, Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown steadily but the industrial sector has played and continues to play a minimal role. To add to that the manufacturing segment has been experiencing a continuous decline and as such contributes negatively to the economy. The services sector has been the backbone of the economy and that’s quite pitiful because in every economy it’s the manufacturing sector that stimulates the needed growth. We just hope there’ll be new policies that the government will put in place to enhance the activities of the sector.

TVM: What do you think is the cause for this?

Dr. Kwabena Agyei

DKA: I think one major cause to this is sometimes the difficulty in running a factory, which is a major component of any manufacturing company. Another is also putting up such a huge investment. It’s difficult to get the necessary support from the government and that gives the service industry the edge because it’s easy to operate i.e. buy and sell.

The banks on the other hand also contribute to the situation: rather than support the industries, they choose to support the services sector or trade because they feel it’s less risky. All these, I suppose, are causing the declining state of the industrial sector, most especially the manufacturing. Moreover, some policies, especially increment in taxes on raw materials for operations and excessive taxes on sales, do not also favour a lot of the manufacturing companies and as such affect their operations.

TVM: There have been many calls for Ghana to industrialize as a matter of urgency. What is your position on this?

DKA: No country in the world has developed without industrialisation. Whether it is the USA, China, European countries or Latin America countries, none of them have seen sustained progress only on the back of imports, services or agriculture. Industry is crucial in creating jobs, goods and services.

I strongly concur to this call. This country is blessed with numerous resources. We should be able to turn these resources into finished goods by manufacturing our own products. By doing this we limit the amount of imports that come into the country. A lot of benefits are accrued such as checking the foreign currency imbalance, creating more jobs and above all more skills are generated over time.

TVM: You are one of the few successful industrialists Ghana can boast of. How do you suggest we start the journey to industrialization considering its impact on economic growth?

DKA: Two of the biggest impediments to rapid economic growth in Ghana are lack of funds and adequate skills. But when you get the capital, you can train the skills.

Therefore, to successfully launch into an industrialized nation, the government needs to set aside huge funds to be made available to companies that are willing to manufacture some of the basic products imported. If funding is made available at a cheaper rate as compared to that of commercial banks, it will certainly encourage investors to take the risk in manufacturing.

The government can also grant some tax breaks or reduce taxes for the manufacturing companies or put high taxes on imported products that can be produced in the country to deter importers. If the government makes such policies towards importation into the country a bit stricter it will certainly  help industrialize the nation. Also more businessmen should be encouraged to take more risks instead of just going into trades or the service industry.

TVM: What policies would you recommend to the government to get the country’s industrial sector become a beacon of hope for growth and development?

DKA: There are already some good policies in place. But enforcing them is the problem. Government should find a way of tracking imitators and deal with them adequately as they tend to destroy the quality of good products and harm genuine investors by churning out inferior products at lesser prices. The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) should be able to do more in such areas to enforce such policies and it should be able to help the manufacturing companies wither out the bad ones. Putting in place policies, government shouldn’t only focus on the manufacturing sector but needs to even go deeper into the education sector because if manufacturing companies are not getting the right human resources, investors may not even be encouraged to invest.

TVM: The government has implemented its ‘One District, One Factory’ initiative as a means of industrializing the country.What is your view on this?

DKA: Any policy that seeks to industrialise the economy is a good one and I think it’s a good course because with this initiative, we are looking at over 200 factories established all over the country and that will spur development.
But for it to be successful, I think the government should partner with private businessmen that will certainly make the project more viable. These factories should be managed by experienced persons or industrialists and not by political appointment to avoid the factories suffering ill-fate after there’s change in government.

TVM: Is the pursuant of this initiative an ideal way of revamping industrialization in the country?

DKA: Yes: provided we don’t repeat past experiences. If the factories are not put in place for political motives, then this initiative should be able to help revamp industrializing the economy.

TVM: You have successfully manufactured products that have become internationally recognized and as such have made your brand accepted in the global market. What did you do differently that other industrialists in the country have not?

DKA: Kasapreko Company Ltd. is currently exporting a lot of its products not only to West African countries but to South Africa, the United States, Europe, and other places in Southern America. In the West African zone we export to Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and these are our strongest markets.

What have we done differently? The question begs asking. It is all about quality. One thing we don’t compromise is the quality of our product. We ensure it’s always better than what is on the market and meets the global standard. In order to compete with products in developed countries such as the UK or U.S, the quality will need to match-up to the quality of the manufacturers in such countries and as such we make sure our quality is always top notched.

One of our policies has always been “a step beyond excellence” and that’s what we’ve been doing since inception, about 28years ago. Currently, we’re in the process of implementing the ISO 22000 and this makes us the first beverage firm in Ghana to acquire such a certification. When we acquire such a certification, we will be able to penetrate the global renowned marts such as Walmart in the U.S. etc. So quality has been very key to our success on the global stage.

TVM: How can other Ghanaian industrialists also move beyond the shores of Ghana to play in the international market?

DKA: For Ghanaian industrialists to get their products outside the shores of this country they need to visit the countries they intend to do business, study their laws and policies. Afterwards, they need to register the product in that country and skew their marketing strategy to suit the country’s terrain. The quality of the product also plays a key role in the quest to penetrate that country.

The quality should be made to meet the global standard. If all these requirements are met, then the products are ready for the export market. Industrialists should also recognize that countries have their unique needs; so they should be willing to tailor their products to suit the needs of that country.

Dr. Kwabena Agyei in his factory: Kasapreko

TVM: But do you think there are specific products and or services that thrive outside the shores of this country?

DKA: No. I think every single product that is manufactured in this country is worth exporting so far as the quality is of the global standard. A lot of the times, industrialists can even consider smaller countries where industrialization is at the barest minimum and almost everything seems to be imported for use. With such countries, a Ghanaian industrialist can decide to tailor his manufacturing strategy in Ghana to meet that kind of market.

TVM: What do you feel is the most important characteristic in order to be successful with an Industrial Revolution in Ghana?

DKA: Cost cutting and efficiency are the two main things for industries to thrive. We need to ensure things are not taking for granted. Manufacturers must be disciplined to make sure their workers are also disciplined. Work should be conducted as structured and everybody must be committed to the growth of the company. Every worker should see himself/ herself as part of the growth process of the company. To revolutionize the industrial sector in Ghana, everyone has a role to play from government to employers to employees.

TVM: Electricity plays a significant role in the industrialization of a country. Ghana has in recent years faced supply challenges in terms of availability and price of electricity. How can industrialists deal with this major limitation?

DKA: Electricity is very key to any manufacturing company. Over the past years we’ve seen electricity cost jump over 100 percent which has certainly affected our cash flows. It has affected our margins on some of our products. With the fluctuations of the power it does certainly affect productions, machines break down etc.

Unfortunately, there are some products that, even in their preparation when electricity goes off, you may need to discard; so that affects efficiency and cost as well. When the power goes down, some machines generally will have to stop before the generator-set will come on and with this sometimes you  lose out precious time because some machines take time to power up and that certainly affects efficiency. Companies just have to make sure they put in place substantive back up powers like generators, solar etc.

TVM: Some proponent say that using a generator set is cost effective than normal electricity. What’s your take on this?

DKA: I’ve heard such assertions but I bet to defer. I still believe the power from the government is cheaper than the generator set. Because with the generator set, it has a life-span and running it 24/7, the fuel consumption may be equated to that of the electricity from the government but we shouldn’t lose sight of maintenance and its life-span that will be shortened as a result of its continuous usage.

Doing business in Ghana

TVM: You currently play in the international market. How will you describe doing business in Ghana relative to other jurisdictions?

DKA: Doing business in Ghana differs from other jurisdictions as the terrains differ from one another. Doing business in other jurisdictions as an international player requires a lot of more commitment to quality, right certification and abiding with the laws and policies of that country. So you play by the rules. Going outside is good but there are rules to comply with.

TVM: Is the conduciveness of the business environment the sole responsibility of the government?

DKA: No! The government’s role is to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and businesses must make good use of that environment to boost their markets. I don’t believe in government interfering in businesses.

What I say to those in politics is simple: they should focus on their politics and do it well; farmers should focus on their farming and do it well and businessmen should focus on their businesses and do it well while government rather encourages the parties to prosper for them [government] to be able to collect their taxes. So, to build the country does not only rely on the government. Everyone has a role to play.

TVM: What role can the business community play to support the government to ensuring such?

DKA: Businesses should dream big, create more jobs, employ more of the youths etc. Above all, businesses should pay their taxes because out of these taxes the basic amenities such as roads, hospitals etc. needed to enhance the livelihood of the people shall be provided.

TVM: Many entrepreneurs claim that the main challenge with setting up a business in Ghana is the lack of suitable funds required. What is your position on this?

DKA: This is true. The cost of money is high in this country. Unfortunately as a startup business, banks find it difficult to finance your business because the money is also not for them. Banks only take deposits from people and as such need to be responsible for its usage. Because you are a startup and have no structured evidence of pay back, they find it difficult to give you the funds as your risk for defaulting is high.

Dr. Kwabena Agyei and son Richard  Agyei in factory gear

I encourage startups to source for their own funds themselves either through starting small and growing big or borrowing from friends and family. Once you become big, these same banks will queue at your doorstep begging to give you the loan.

Personality Profile

TVM: Many people have seen your achievements through the brand you have successfully built. Who is Dr. Kwabena Adjei?

DKA: Dr. Kwabena Adjei comes from the Western Region from a village called Bronyiama. I was born some six decades ago and was raised by a single parent. The highest education level I attained was elementary Form 4 at the time. I had a very difficult beginning but I have been able to overcome it. For me, I don’t see difficulties as an excuse not to move on but see them as hurdles to overcome.

After going through various challenges in life, I tried to move on and did some courses; GCE O’ Levels. At a point in time I did a course at Institute of Adult Education and at the same time, I was also having a one-on-one study at Workers’ College in Accra while I was working.

My first job was at Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO). It was after VALCO that I started my business.

When I started my business, I realized my education was not the best to help me build a business empire so I set a target for myself. I studied about three different courses in a year and that’s how far I have come. The last course I did was at Harvard Business School, called Owner, President, Management (OPM) programme. It was a three-year program and I finished it about a year ago.

TVM: What was your aspiration while growing up?

DKA: Well, I didn’t have any particular aspiration whiles growing. I saw myself as an ordinary person but growing up a bit I realized if I didn’t think, I’ll end up the ordinary way. In order not to end that way, I said to myself “I need to take steps” and those steps are what we’re seeing today. It’s been a very challenging journey that I embarked on some years ago and I’m still moving on.

TVM: You were involved in merchandizing a wide range of products in the country including alcoholic beverages. What ignited the spark in you to formalize the business venture?

DKA: That’s true. Growing up, I was just navigating the business circles until I joined the masses to vend this alcoholic beverage as a hobby. I traded this as a hobby for five years using crude machines until one day when I came back from an outing and was informed we had sold 25 cartons of the beverage.

Dr. Kwabena Agyei showcasing Choco Malt brand

That day has been a very memorable day in my life and that’s how it started. But, it’s been through creativity that we’ve been able to move it from 25 cartons to now millions of cartons a day.

TVM: How did the idea for the manufacturing come about?

DKA: Business people are like vultures. We always look at where the money is. So, if everybody is doing alcoholic beverage in Ghana at the time, we all tried our luck. It wasn’t my intention to grow the empire as it is. It started small. I was doing everything in bits and pieces until I saw there was potential in the industry. I then abandoned all other things and focused on what I thought had the prospects. That was how I entered into the manufacturing space.

TVM: “Kasapreko began on a small note of producing Alomo Bitters. We have been able to build what was seemingly impossible to what we have become today,” you revealed. Can you brief us on the past, the present and the future you envision for the company?

DKA: When I entered the industry at the time, about 90percent of us were putting our products in ‘Key Soap Boxes’ and then we were also all using one flavour called ‘Ducworth’. I began to question the processes of the industry regarding why we were all using one flavour and packaging in ‘Key Soap Boxes’ which apparently wasn’t hygienic for consumption.

So, I tried to turn the situation around. I engaged some few friends, made my own boxes, went to Germany, made my own customized bottles then the thing started growing. After a while I made some few researches and travelled to London to acquire some few things to be added to my flavour (Ducworth) to give it a new sensation and made it a bit distinctive.

That’s how people started buying our gin. Having experienced the rural life and realized how my forefathers chop roots of trees into bottle and added the local spirit ‘akpketeshie’ and consumed it over and over again, I picked a cue from there and decided to implement.

But to be able to conduct that without harming my consumers i.e. to know what kind of roots to use and the quantity, I needed people with expertise. That was why I approached the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine to explain my idea to them.

Initially the idea was declined. Knowing the kind of person I am, I persisted until I succeeded and we started the research process. I funded them to provide me with the right formulation to make the Alomo Bitters. From sources, I still remain the only beverage industry to have conducted such a feat in the whole of the country till date.

Currently, the company has added more products to its product line spanning alcoholic beverages to soft drinks to mineral water. Innovation and continuous investment in technology keeps the brand ahead of its competitors. Recently, we decided to commercialize the locally made hibiscus drink called ‘Sobolo’ which shall be well packaged under hygienic conditions for various outlets such as schools, shops, restaurants, offices etc.

The future of this company considers the hygienic nature of its products very paramount. To avoid any human interaction with the processes, the company commissioned about  US$2.6million machine last year which shall be blending all sections of the drinks at the press of the button. We still have a lot more to churn out. So as the time approaches, we shall unveil them. It’s marketing creativity and that’s what we do. We are going to do more, we haven’t finished at all.

TVM: You mentioned earlier that as of then, the beverage players were using ‘Key Soap Boxes’ for packaging the beverages. Was that what inspired you to establish Royal Crown Packaging Company Ltd.?

DKA: Royal Crown Packaging Company Ltd. came about as a result of our tradition in the group which is anchored on the 3Ms. The 3Ms which denotes: Quality Materials, Quality Manpower and Quality Machinery. As a result of this mantra, we buy our machines from Germany. We have one of the fastest alcoholic beverages manufacturing line in Africa doing about 40,000 bottles per hour. To be effective in our operations, we considered having all relating activities under one umbrella and that’s what led to the establishment of Royal Crown Packaging Company Ltd. to provide the best quality of packaging.

Dr. K. Agyei

It’s been one and half years now and we are the third in the market and we have the best machines one can get in Ghana and the fifth of its kind in Africa. We’re all about quality!

TVM: “The business world is a journey which has got its ups and downs, and you need to keep going,” you averred. What were some of the daunting challenges you experienced at the earlier stages of the business?

DKA: There have been a lot of ups and downs in the business since we started. We encountered two pertinent challenges along the way which were: accessing funds and market penetration. I didn’t start with any huge capital. In trying to accessing a loan, I went to about three banks and they all turned me down.

Then I attended a course organized by EMPRETEC, a United Nations programme established by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to promote the creation of sustainable, innovative, and internationally competitive small- and medium-sized enterprises.

There I met Hon. Alan Kyerematen, who was also a resource person at the event. After the course I explained my situation, and then he advised me that as a small business entity, I shouldn’t go to the foreign banks to secure a loan because they won’t grant it to me.

He then advised I go to a local bank and that I did. That’s how I accessed the loan. I used my house as collateral. So accessing funds is a one core challenge I encountered which was then followed by market penetration. I remember going out with some samples to some retailers and my products were rejected. That led me to strategize on how to penetrate the market. And today here we are.

TVM: You are the first and sole Ghanaian business tycoon to have been inducted into the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurs Hall of fame. How does it feel to have achieved such a feat?

DKA: I am very humbled to receive such an award and be inducted into the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame. I was elated when I got to Monaco and I saw my name on the screens on the streets and my name being mentioned alongside a Ghanaian music being played to the hearing of the whole world.

Such an achievement is very humbling. It propels one to do more especially coming from such a humble beginning. Though I like awards, the best award I can give to myself and recommend for every Ghanaian is the award of “Success”.

TVM: Considering all these awards you have won, the best of them all is the one you’ve given yourself, because from all indications you’ve succeeded.

DKA: Yes and I’m proud of myself because I didn’t inherit any money from anyone. That notwithstanding, I am doing more to ensure this continues. I am currently going through a succession phase and as such I’ve trained and equipped my children to be able to take over and they are currently in charge of the various firms.

This I believe will soon be a national celebration for business owners in the country as they shall see successful transition from first generation to second generation as practiced in developed countries.

TVM: “No excuses in business! Once you set your mind to do something, yours is to go ahead,” you professed. Should this always be the case as a business man?

DKA: Business is like driving a car. When driving, you constantly look forward but you look at the rear mirrors to guide you. So with your passion going forward, at times you have to pause and look around and assess if what you’re doing is right before you continue going.

I have a philosophy that when I set my mind on doing something I do it but that does not mean that if I’m falling into a ditch, I have to go on. Wisdom demands I take calculated risk and not all risks and that’s what I do. I dreamt and then gave my dream legs.

TVM: What are your ideals in business?

DKA: Good question! Every businessman need to have ideals which will constantly guide you along the way. Mine include perseverance, focus and flair for success.

TVM: What would you say are the top three skills (values) needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

DKA: These three ideals I professed above can aptly be for any desiring entrepreneur who wants to be successful; perseverance, focus and flair for success.

But to be a successful entrepreneur one needs to be financially literate as well. Every successful entrepreneur should know how to grow money, trim fat costs in their business, and know how to plug holes where there are leakages. They should also understand their business models other than that, they’ll be making money and it’ll be going away.

TVM: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently? Why?

DKA: I think I have and am still enjoying my life. God has been kind to me. If I have the chance to come back to life again I will come back to the same life but probably a bit refined because of my age and my experience but to depart from what I’m doing I don’t think I will.

I have my own philosophy in life which is respect yourself, your neighbor, and your staff. The mere fact that he/she is a staff doesn’t mean the person is a nuisance or something else. So, I make friends with those who are close especially my staff. I am very happy with my life because when I sleep, I sleep well; I sleep with my eyes closed.

TVM: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

DKA: In Ghana, I will say Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. He was a visionary person. Within a short span of his leadership he achieved a lot for the country. I see him as my role model probably because he is from Nkroful in the Western Region and I’m also from that region.

TVM: What motivates you to keep doing what you do?

DKA: Currently, coming to work every day for me now is not about money but about empowerment. Empowering the youth to show them that what they intend to do can be done is my motivation. I want to serve as an inspiration to the upcoming generation.

TVM: What book(s) has inspired you the most and influenced your personality?

DKA: I have read a lot of books but the one that has inspired me a lot is the book titled “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. It is very simple but detailed and very inspirational.

TVM: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your journey of entrepreneurship?

DKA: Probably some alliances with other companies that didn’t go on well. I burnt my fingers few times trying to work with others but didn’t augur well.

TVM: Describe how a typical day in your life looks like?

DKA: For the first 10 years in business, I worked like crazy. I never took a break or holiday; no leave. I operated the business and sacrificed all. But now, especially when my children are on board, I’m more relaxed. During this period I’ve learnt to play golf, learnt to fish etc., so I don’t come to work as I used to because my children have now taken over. I try to respect my new owners [my children] and not try to disrupt their operations. I seek their views and consents on any decision to be made in regards to the business operations.

TVM: So, would you say fishing and golfing are your hobbies?

DKA: Yes and relaxing. I swim as well. I go for massages from time to time.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

DKA: I love a typical Ghanaian music more especially a highlife song. At times I listen to funky but highlife is my best. Papa Yankson was my favorite artist.

TVM: What is your favorite delicacy?

DKA: As a descendant of Wasa Amenfi, my favourite food is Fufu and palm nut soup.

TVM: And also your favorite wine?

DKA: I love Alomo Root Wine a lot because the root wine is very medicinal. It’s the lower version of Alomo Bitters but people don’t know much about it. If I want to go for stronger spirit, I go for Alomo Bitters but if I want to go low, I go for the root wine. Alomo is such that as you’re drinking, you are also healing yourself in a way because it’s medicinal.

TVM: In your assertion, you seem to have passion for the youth. What three pieces of advice would you give to the youths who want to become entrepreneurs?

DKA: It is said that Rome was not built in a day. It’s taken me over 30 years to be who I am today. I would say that whatever dreams they have, they should give their dreams legs. They should always aspire to do something for themselves and not be idle. They should not always think of somebody coming to their aid and should take responsibilities.

God has given us brains for us to use. So my advice to the youth, with all due respect and no insults, is that they should use their brains to achieve their aim and once they do that, the God that they pray to will also give them the fortitude to achieve their results.

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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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