GT Bank recently stepped out of its traditional banking services to pull off a stunning experience anchored on a food and drink fair. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha report

There was no mistaking the pride in his eyes as he accepted a handshake here and acknowledge a smile of admiration there, after one of the Masterclass sessions with Nigerian-born international chef, Raphael Duntoye. It was the second and last day of the GT Bank Food and Drink Fair. And that was when accolades started pouring in. Raphael whose visit to Nigeria was, hitherto, mostly dewy couldn’t refrain from lauding the brain behind the fair, Segun Agbaje, Managing Director of the bank. The turn-out was beyond expectation and he was impressed by the knowledge of the participants. He even got the participants to give a standing ovation to Agbaje.

Agbaje was quickly besieged by many who sought to have a word with him. To do so meant one had to penetrate the thick wall of his subordinates who protected the helmsman with their lives. Cautiously, they sought his permission to talk with persons of interest. During those defining moments, one could catch the eloquence of the Managing Director of GT Bank throwing his head back in laughter in response to AA joke or listening attentively to what was being said.
There was hardly a moment that he was not smiling.

Although, the vendors and all other participants were visibly elated, arguably, one could say that Segun Agbaje was definitely the happiest man at the fair. To those who recognized him, he was one of the major cynosure at the event that attracted food connoisseurs and enthusiasts to the sprawling grounds at the Water Corporation Drive, Oniru-Lagos.
For two days, the fair held guests spellbound with its thoroughly-planned activities. From the exhibitor stands to the outdoor restaurants, even the children were included by the organisers who created a fun-play playground for them. There was no dull moment for guests.

Being a public holiday weekend, the weekend of the Workers’ Day Holiday, the turn-out was magnanimous. Advertorials on social and traditional media had heightened excitement. Therefore, people left the comfort of their homes to revel in the fascinating fair. Although, there was ample parking space, it could not accommodate the large number of cars which doubled towards the evening sessions, causing a nasty traffic gridlock on the entire stretch of Ligali Ayorinde Street. The organisers can take a hint from Ayo Animashaun, the organiser of The Headies whose event also pools a mighty crowd to the same venue. To save guests from being stuck in traffic, Animashaun provided a bus that took them to the venue from designated spots where they had to park their cars.

Apart from that, every other activity in the fair was clinically executed. Right from the gate, one could tell the scientific precision. Everyone who entered the arena was countered. The security guards carried out their security checks politely. Everyone was handed a branded GTB fan which had codes for mobile banking, airtime purchase and other online services.

The spacious open ground had thatched huts occupied by restaurateurs. Guests had the chance to sample different tastes from the grills and ovens here. The main fair-ground itself was an ultra large tent, neatly delineated into exhibition booths. Guests were free to visit everywhere else, except the Master Class rooms and the VIP Reception area to which entry was restricted.
A spot for relaxation was created highlighted by its cozy setting enhanced by a lush green carpet. It created a unique restaurant feeling. Guests also had the opportunity to sign on the big sign wall and take selfies in front of the bold attractive signage of the fair.

In order to avoid misdirection, a map of the event ground was pasted on the wall, right at the entrance. This gave a big helping hand to anyone who had a need to locate anything at the fair.

Inside the main fair-ground, orderliness was at its best. There were two entrances and one exit and the GT Bank men in white ensured that nobody took the wrong turn. The air inside was more bubbling and frenzied as exhibitors tried to woo visitors to their stand. Household items companies like Philips, Adam and Eve had on display different innovating cooking equipment, while organic product retailers flourishly advertised their products to consumers. Eateries like Tastee Fried Chicken were also there to attend to their teeming customers.

Not to be outdone, the beverage section boasted of cocktails, lemonades, green juices, exotic wines and what have you. And for those who have a sweet tooth, there were enough bakeries and ice-cream stands to have a lick or take a bite.

One of the thrilling innovations at the fair was the mini-broadcast studio which performed the normal functions of the traditional media-inform, educate and entertain. A steady stream of music filled the hall, but it would have been nice if the sound was kept at a decibel or two lower in order to entertain and not to add to the din. Intermittently, a public service announcement was made by someone who lost an item or another. There was even the announcement of a missing child. The studio also served exhibitors who came on air to educate guests about their products and services. Certain experts in their field were also given a chance to talk about their specialty. They also had the opportunity to greet to loved ones.

Next door to the broadcast studio stood what was supposed to function as the Media Room. Ostensibly created for journalists, as it’s often the case large fairs, there was an expectation to see information bulletins and a battery of internet ready computers from which reporters could work. This was, perhaps, the only aspect of the fair a finger was placed on, but not fully realized.

Down the orange coloured carpet on the left side, an elevated platform was built. It was here that the VIPs lounged and talked business. Right beside it was the Masterclass hall. This was where top chefs like Tiyan Alile, Alex Oke, and others including the international guest Chef Marcus Samuelsson taught aspiring chefs and foodies new skills and thrills in the culinary world. It was here that Duntoye wowed his audience with his lively charisma. And when they (participants) insisted Duntoye should return for the next edition, he threw the question back to Agbaje and he subtly obliged.

The Master class sessions which were not open to all witnessed great attendance. People scurried to enter the hall where a make-up kitchen stood between two giant screens that captured all the actions in the hall. Those who couldn’t go in felt somewhat content to catching glimpses from the glass doors.

There was no doubt that this inaugural show was a huge success to the bank. Capitalising on its entrepreneur forum called SMEs Market Hub, GT Bank created a fair that focused on the burgeoning food and beverage industry. Surely, great time and efforts were invested as well as a feasibility study carried out to determine the success or otherwise of such project before embarking on it.

But if you ask Agbaje, he would say, “I just went with my guts. Unfortunately, I’m not as smart as most people, so I don’t always work with numbers, I work with my guts, my heart, and if I feel there’s something working, then we will do the proof of concept after and not before. Sometimes, if you only do things based on statistics, it will never get going, but if your guts and spirit tell you to go, then you go.”

Indeed, his proof of concept paid off well and good.
With almost five years as the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the bank, he has reached enviable milestones. With the creation of the SMEs Market Hub, Agbaje’s trained eyes like a hawk has been able to unlock untapped potentials in the SMEs. “The market hub is about creating a platform for SMEs to have another delivery channel other than their shops and offices and ultimately some industries. Everyone is focusing on all these ones, you know, schools, distributors, professionals but like the food industry which is big, if you look at it, whether in supermarket or elsewhere, people book cakes that the market hub is already made for.”

He disclosed that the food and drink fair was a way of rewarding the SMEs who had continually given to the bank. He hinted that it won’t be the only reward coming their way. The upper crust banker has another game up his sleeve.

Moreover, he is already dreaming big. In the next three years, Agbaje will probably take GT Bank to greater heights by being the dominant food bank in the country. “I think my competitors may not be happy. There is another sector, which I can’t tell you yet until we showcase them, that is also tailor-made and ready to be showcased. We will do one more this year in another sector.”