As part of our vision at Whoot Africa, we believe in the power of possibilities, determination and choosing to focus on the positives and the inspiration being birth out of Africa everyday.
In a world full of negativity, and the glass too often viewed as half empty. We at Whoot Africa owe ourselves the duty to navigate and showcase the best of the accomplishments springing out of Africa everyday.
In this new series, “Working with the Greats” we get to profile the great men and women whose excellence and success continues to inspire future generations, as well as exclusive interviews with the men and women who have worked with them and have been directly impacted by these great men and women.
“Whoot Africa, believes in the African brand, and is proud to show it off to the world”
We dare you to believe in Africa!!!
Welcome to this new inspirational series…. Working With the Greats.
Today on Working with the Greats, we will be talking with Ladi Balogun, CEO of First City Monument Bank with focus on the “Business Great” Otunba Subomi Micheal Balogun
Outside of the journals, press write-ups and exaggerations often motivated by sales, can you tell Whoot Africa a little bit about Ladi Balogun, the businessperson, banking giant and Entrepreneur?
Firstly I am not a banking giant. I am fortunate to lead a remarkable banking institution that is 30 years old and serves 2 million customers. As a person, I am quite private and some would say self-effacing or shy. But when in my comfort zones, I tend to come alive and can talk your ear off. My comfort zones tend to be all things financial or developmental, helping people and businesses solve problems and also public speaking on meaningful topics.
As a businessperson, I am creative, a risk taker and someone who has a vision. I also see business as a means of helping people. I firmly believe if you are in a business that doesn’t help people achieve something, even if its as simple as helping them cross a road or a river, the business will not be viable or sustainable. It’s unusual for a banker to be a risk taker, but all good CEO’s need to be. The critical corollary is that a strong defensive team that ensures the downside is well protected must support you.
I also believe in authenticity, integrity and using the bible as a guide for my conduct. I stress guide, as I am a work-in-progress. I am passionate about Nigeria and Africa as a whole and feel that people like me (educated, principled, exposed, experienced and well networked) have a responsibility to help fix the place, but not in government. Strictly in business, leadership, counseling and social enterprise.
Can you share with us a little about the history of business and entrepreneurship in your family, besides your dad?
FCMB Group’s history is remarkable. If I weren’t a protagonist in its story, I would make a TV series out of it. We were founded in 1977 as City Securities Limited (a stockbroking and investment banking boutique) and very quickly dominated the Nigerian Capital Markets through sheer determination, a strong client focus and great execution for our clients. By 1982, CSL gave birth to First City Merchant Bank, then Nigeria’s first privately owned merchant bank without foreign partnership. FCMB steadily rose to become the most profitable merchant bank by the end of the millennium.
We had a few ups and downs and quickly saw that as a wholesale bank, our mortality was a little too obvious, so we began a gradual transition first from a merchant bank to a universal bank in 2001. Between 2004 and 2013, we successfully institutionalized the business and put it on a sustainable and broad-based business path. Firstly, we listed the business in 2004 on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and then we acquired 3 small commercial banks in 2005. In 2007, we raised our capital base to just short of $1 billion by attracting a large contingent of foreign portfolio investors. This greatly strengthened governance and investor relations. In 2012, we acquired a mid-sized retail bank and by 2013, retail banking had become a key value driver for what is now a diverse financial services group with interests in commercial and retail banking, investment banking and asset management. We have 270 branches, a full banking subsidiary in the UK, established in 2013, 2 million customers and a little known fact is that we disburse over 200,000 personal loans every year, making us one of the most inclusive lenders in the banking industry today. Our competitive strategy is centered on delivering an excellent and helpful customer experience.
Entrepreneurship runs in the blood of the family, but we are very institutional. We are not motivated by profit necessarily, but more by building valuable and relevant legacies. Reputation is extremely important if you want to be a long-term player. My oldest brother was one of the founders of Econet Wireless Nigeria, now Airtel Nigeria. He also founded Nigeria’s leading investment banking advisory firm Chapel Hill advisory partners, now Chapel Hill Denham Limited, which will soon be 10 years old. My immediate older brother is a successful real estate developer and my younger brother has transformed CSL Stockbrokers into the largest locally owned broking firm in Nigeria and 3rd largest including the international houses. In addition to leading the transformation from merchant to universal bank and also creating the retail banking business, all of which I consider entrepreneurial endeavours, I have been fortunate to also establish within the auspices of the group, the largest micro-lending outfit in the country today, which serves over 200,000 active customers.
Your Father, Otunba Subomi Micheal Balogun remains one of the biggest and most successful business personalities in the history of business in Nigeria, what was it like growing up with your parents, especially your dad? Fondest memories!
Our home was very strict, built on the foundation of Christ, but naturally very loving. I believe it’s the discipline that gave us our penchant for hard work, the Christian values that gave us the principles we aspire to and the love that has given us our confidence. Our parents are best friends, very different, but inseparable.
I have too many fond memories to mention. I must stress it wasn’t a perfect home. My brothers and I got in a lot of trouble both at home and at school. And at times, we would clash with our parents, but we always knew who was boss: my Dad; and who was the Deputy CEO: my Mum.
Otunba Subomi Michael Balogun, started The First City Monument Bank from scratch and has made history as the first Nigerian bank without government support or FDI’s. He has also worked hard over the years to make it what it is today, are you ever pressured sitting at the helm today at the First City Group? How do you handle the true test of your grits and gutsiness, with such an outstanding bar set by your dad?
I don’t compare myself to my Dad. He retired over 10 years ago, and since then in many parameters: profit, customer base, balance sheet and reach, FCMB has progressed geometrically. His foundation was invaluable as has been his continued guidance. My role was simply to institutionalize the business, develop and execute a strategy to help the business outlive both him and myself. He is more talented than I am; no doubt, as I think there are few people on earth like him. I am a bit more typical. I feel no pressure in my job whatsoever. People sometimes say (including my parents) that they pity how hard I work and how difficult it is to run a 3,000-employee business with aggressive and activist regulators and an increasingly high risk and dynamic environment. I say to them, that I am fortunate to have the opportunity. I’ve learnt more in the last 20 years I’ve been in banking than many get to learn in 3 lifetimes and I am only 41 with so much ahead of me. I see my 1st 20 years as my learning years and the next 20 as my high impact years. I believe that by the grace of God, I will achieve that impact.
Your Father, Otunba Subomi Micheal Balogun has always been vocal about his faith and the part it plays in his every quest to go beyond better, especially with the concept of political correctness. Do you share his ideologies that faith and business go hand in hand or is that just one of those things the older generation had in common, which is not necessarily our thing in today’s business circle?
I certainly share his belief in the importance of faith. However, I am a bit more pragmatic and a bit weaker in that respect. His faith is total and almost unshakeable even in business. Because of my academic and professional training, I am more analytical. However, I sincerely believe that God is working his purpose out and we must ascribe all success to him. I sometimes feel I am on autopilot and just being led by Him and fuelled by Him, as I really don’t know where I get the energy from or the ideas or the words. Often when I speak in public I never prepare and somehow the right words come out. I don’t think that’s my work.
Looking at your Parents today, what words come to mind at their remarkable business journey and prowess?
3 words: Great Role Models. And I mean that in every sense.
What are some of the vital business lessons you have learnt from your father, Otunba Subomi Micheal Balogun that you intend to pass on to your children?
In terms of lessons generally, I would say the power of love. Love can give so much confidence to people and I practice that with my children. In terms of business lessons, I would say courage and challenging status quo. One difference between the way I raise my kids and the way my father raised us is that I encourage them to challenge me, so that they have little fear. They know who calls the shots but I don’t tell them to accept anything because I say it. I encourage them to prove me wrong, ask me why and if I see sense in what they are saying and it is inherently good, I back down.
Nigeria has a lot of sycophancy and mental laziness where we do things just because of custom or tradition and such things are counterproductive to business and a fulfilling life. I am not a big fan of tradition. But I do respect our history and our customs. Businesses steeped in tradition can be guaranteed certain demise. One must not let the past limit your future, but one must learn respect and learn from the past.
A lot of people criticize rich kids when it comes to business, they claim everything gets done and is easier, do you ever feel like people don’t give you the chance to show your expertise and prove that you are well capable beyond the trust fund kid stereotype?
Frankly no! People have always given me a chance. I don’t know why. Maybe its because my approach has always been to help. From the age of 25 when I first worked in FCMB, I was helping companies raise $5 million to buy vessels, helping companies get trade finance lines to import bitumen. When you are helping people even if they’re twice your age, they don’t care about your age. As for regulators and colleagues at work, one saving grace was that my Dad had a great deal of goodwill and so they tolerated my petulance or precocity probably because of their respect for him.
If you had to describe your experience with heading First City Monument Bank today in eight words, what would they be?
Roller-coaster. Fun. Educational. Fulfilling. Stressful. Hazardous. Life-changing. Blessed.
What drives you?
The desire to impact lives positively.
First City Monument Bank’s services and operations have really evolved with the e-commerce trend with the range of retail services the bank currently offers – some of which include 48 hours salary loans, mobile banking and wallet which covers bill payments across multiple products and services, online banking and the zero deposit Nairawise account. How would you describe the bank’s growth with E-commerce in figures?
To be fair, we are just starting with e-commerce. It only accounts for a very small portion of our revenue. Though technology as a whole (much of which gives the enablement for e-commerce) is a huge area of investment for us. However from the perspective of reducing the cost of serving our customers and bringing greater convenience to them, the impact of e-commerce is rising fast and it will certainly be the future for the retail business, not just in FCMB but globally and throughout Nigeria. We intend to be leaders in this space.
First City Monument Bank recently signed a $150 million syndicated term loan facility to benefit entrepreneurs in the oil & gas, manufacturing and the agribusiness sectors – with nothing for e-commerce which today is a thriving industry, as a banker, why is the financial sector not supporting e-commerce in Nigeria?
Most successful e-commerce businesses are financed by equity. Typically venture capital and not debt. We have e-commerce customers that are extremely successful (in fact the two biggest in Nigeria are our customers) but when we offer them debt they refuse. They want equity. The reason is that for the first few years of an e-commerce business you are investing in infrastructure and logistics and building a brand through marketing. Your cash flow will be negative and your profit will also be negative. Hence if you are intending to repay your loan, you will not achieve that objective as an e-commerce company.
If you had to share words of wisdom to a conference room full of energetic and aspiring young people, what advice would you share with them on the secrets of success, based on your experience over the years?
Be principled. Be helpful. Have a vision and pursue it assiduously. Finally, if I were speaking to Nigerians, I would say instead of shunning the country or criticizing it, find a way to be the change that we need. There is no better field to live out your dreams than home field.
Lastly, 30 years from now; what would you want the world to remember Ladi Balogun for and what more should we expect from First City Monument Bank?
In terms of what the world should remember of me, as long as I can be a source of pride to my children when their father’s name is mentioned, I am fine with whatever God has in store. As far as FCMB is concerned, I plan to see to it that we are a top 3 franchise in Africa and providing a customer experience that is globally sought after.