The hallmark of a great organisation is its flexibility, the ability to transition authority and adapt to changes effortlessly. Such agility is made possible by the quality of personnel on board at such organisations and the well-crafted strategic direction. Kunle Aderinokun writes
Timeless organisations like Standard Bank, with over 154 years of rich heritage, Coca-Cola, Ford Motors, and Tata Group all managed to master the art of attracting and retaining top-flight talents early on, which explains why they have remained successful brands hundreds of years after establishment. Their in-house talent pool is such that these companies have a wide variety of experienced talents to choose from to lead the line, in good or bad times. The ability to retain talents is mostly dependent on the business’ skills at articulating a robust growth prospect for employees. Standard Bank and other enduring brands understand this so well, which is why they have well laid out leadership training and succession plans. Such plans not only give peace of mind to the employees and the brand, they help unleash unlimited growth potential while creating tremendous value in the form of brand equity.
Succession planning is a key plank in corporate governance and it is important that organisations understand this even as the agitations for corporate governance practices by firms continue to grow. While many Nigerian businesses struggle with succession planning, perhaps there are a few lessons to be drawn from the recent leadership changes at one of Nigeria’s financial services giants, the Stanbic IBTC Group.
The Stanbic IBTC Changes
Chairman of Stanbic IBTC, Atedo Peterside, and Chief Executive, Mrs. Sola David-Borha, both resigned their appointments to take up new roles in Standard Bank. Yinka Sanni and Demola Sogunle were elevated as CEs of the Holding company and the bank. These changes were done seamlessly, with the precision of a well-drilled military formation, much like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, United Kingdom.
Indeed, it was obvious there exist a well-honed transition template. The succession template must include a grooming period to prepare each officer for leadership. Sanni has functioned across the key business units of Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB), Personal and Business Banking (PBB), Asset Management, Pension Administration and Trusteeship in Stanbic IBTC Group. Sogunle, with over 24 years’ experience, has functioned in Treasury, Risk and Compliance, Investor Relations and Pensions, among others. The new helmsmen are fully couched in the ethics and culture of the Stanbic IBTC Group and will no doubt adapt readily to their new roles as they looked to consolidate on the Stanbic IBTC strengthen. As a result, Peterside was “very confident that those behind are more than capable to steer the ship in the right direction.”
Atedo Peterside’s Legacy
The important role played by the erstwhile chairman in ensuring the business growth and market relevance through the institution of a robust succession plan cannot be overemphasised. Indeed, Peterside’s legacy at Stanbic IBTC is not only profound, it is worthy of constant celebration. To fully appreciate his indelible imprint, it is important to put in perspective the key role he played in transforming Stanbic IBTC to what it is today.
Peterside founded what is today Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC (then IBTC) in 1989 at age 33. As Chief Executive Officer of the Bank from inception until 2007, he was able to achieve an unprecedented growth, which saw the organisation became the number one investment bank in the country. Following the CBN-mandated banking consolidation of 2005, IBTC became Stanbic IBTC and Peterside transitioned seamlessly from CEO to chairman of the bank from 2007 until 2012, and later chairman of Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC till March 2017.
To his lasting credit, Peterside built Stanbic IBTC on the principles of equal opportunity, where every employee with the right qualifications has equal chance at career growth and leadership, regardless of their background. This dispassionate approach threw up Sola David-Borha to replace him and now Sanni and Sogunle wield the authority. This was totally against the “conventional practice” where a founder grooms and positions a family member or someone from his region to replace him.
His influence permeates the financial services industry and his expertise at projecting his bank and the industry beyond the country earned him local and international acclaim. “Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Atedo’s style and the culture that he has created at Stanbic IBTC. I have come to appreciate his immense value and be inspired by his person. He has taught me the power of an integrated life. I’ve observed the seamless way in which he integrates his knowledge of Nigerian, African and Global financial services, his passion for good corporate and civic governance, his family and national identity,” Chief Executive, Standard Bank Group, Sim Tshabalala, said of Peterside.
To underline the respect he commands and his passion for corporate governance, the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2003 appointed Peterside to head a Committee set up to develop a Code of Best Practices for Public Companies in Nigeria. The code, which was voluntary, was expected to entrench good business practices, accountability, corporate discipline and transparency in companies.
Avoiding Lopsided Succession Planning
One common mistake of succession planning is often to focus only on the C-suite, the top echelon, while neglecting the middle and low level staff. This leaves gaping leadership holes when the time comes for an organisation to promote internal candidates into C-suite roles. To prepare an organisation for the future, there should be a deliberate succession planning for every step in the organization’s hierarchy.
Beyond the top echelon, Stanbic IBTC has shown it has a robust succession plan, encompassing every aspect of the business, in place, no doubt, drawing from Standard Bank’s vast experience and knowledge in succession planning and corporate governance. In the various business units, CIB, Wealth and PBB, internal talents are regularly given the opportunity to lead the line. For instance, when Sogunle moved to the bank, a talent from within took charge as chief executive of Stanbic IBTC Pension Managers. It was a similar story at the stockbroking arm of the business.
Stanbic IBTC Group has always prided itself as an equal opportunity organisation, a place where everybody is given the opportunity to aspire to leadership; where staff are exposed to quality and regular trainings to update their knowledge and skills, starting from its graduate training academy, where new intakes are exposed to the institution’s work ethics and core values, to the executive training programmes in Nigeria and overseas. Staff equally gain valuable cross-border experience and skills via postings to the different countries across Africa where the group operates.
Benefits of Succession Planning
Succession planning benefits all stakeholders: owners of the business in terms of attraction and retention of high quality talents; employees in terms of trust in the business and possibility of attaining the highest positions; trade partners in terms of consistency and processes; clients in terms of quality service; investors in terms of a strong brand; and above all, the business in terms of stability and ability to innovative and grow and attract the best minds in the industry.
Indeed, the business stability that a well-articulated succession plan engenders cannot be overemphasised. Stanbic IBTC has benefitted immensely in terms of growth as staff continue to show an uncommon dedication to duty and a passion to help project the Stanbic IBTC brand.
The financial scorecard over the past few years also showed a consistently impressive performance. Many of the subsidiaries have become market leaders and continue to show strong performances. Stanbic IBTC Pension Managers, for instance, grew to become the largest pension fund administrator in Nigeria and continues to consolidate this leadership, with asset under management now in excess of N1.8 trillion and over one million retirement savings account holders signed on. Stanbic IBTC Stockbrokers won the Nigerian Stock Exchange CEO Award for three consecutive years to 2016 for its strong performances in trading at the exchange. Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Limited currently has under its management the Stanbic IBTC Nigerian Equity Fund, Nigeria’s largest mutual fund, among other leading mutual and ethical funds.
In recognition of Stanbic IBTC’s strong corporate governance practices, strong liquidity position, highly trained workforce and adoption of technology to drive its processes, Fitch Ratings recently reaffirmed the triple A national ratings of the bank and its holding company, a rating it has consistently achieved over the past three years.
It is equally clear from the Stanbic IBTC example that succession planning is not about imposing a family member on the business, in the wrong notion that the founder’s interest is better protected. That is often the case with many businesses in the country. What usually happens in such a situation is that disenchantment sets in leading to the loss of the best hands.
The Great Place to Work Institute, a global research/consulting firm which produces the Fortune 100 Best Companies list in the US and similar lists in other countries, defines great workplaces as “companies where employees trust the people they work with, take pride in their work and enjoy a good relationship with their colleagues. Companies that constantly feature on the Fortune 100 Best Companies list like Google, Cisco, etc. are companies with solid succession plans, whom employees trust to provide a “degree of support for their personal and professional lives.” “
The bottom line is, organisational growth is a function of great leadership. So, it is important for businesses to be intentional about who leads the organisation in say 15,20,25 years from today. That is the only way great institutions that transcend owners, generations, periods and eras are built.