Life Lessons 9: “You can turn a setback into an advantage” – Tunde Lemo


Tunde Lemo, who left the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as a Deputy Governor three years ago, after completing his 10-year term, is a banker that has played successfully in two worlds. First, as a banker of note, having risen from the ranks to become the Managing Director of Wema Bank Plc; and second, he was pulled from Wema Bank to the apex bank as a regulator.

When I asked Lemo during my interview with him in his Ikoyi office, in Lagos, what one key life lesson he wanted to pass across, the one he emphasised so forcefully was that even when you have had a bad start in life, you could always redesign your life and neutralise those seeming disadvantages.

“I did not start with good grades in my early years in school. But when I realised that I was not disadvantaged in any way, I woke up one day and reasoned that I had to re-write the script of my life. That paid off. I rewrote my School Certificate exams and I made Division One. I also finished my University degree with First Class Honours. That also propelled me to put in my very best from the start of my career till I left three years ago.

Lemo, who now consults for corporate and public institutions, shares some more life lessons. Enjoy his insights.

Lesson 1: Career
Do more than you are paid to do.
The first lesson I learnt in my banking career is that if you must make a success of your endeavour from day one, you need to be different from others. I made up my mind that I would do more than I was paid to do. I saw a lot of my colleagues just putting in the minimum, just getting by. I refused to join the crowd. Interestingly, I was not bothered whether I was rewarded or not. My attitude was that even if my current employer did not reward me, I would have learnt some skills that I could employ to run my own business. I was putting in my best, and I didn’t know that those little things were being

watched. Ultimately, I made it to the top as I was made the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Wema Bank five years after joining the bank.

I also learnt that integrity pays. I remember a deal where we were to be offered some huge amount of money by the client, but I told the person that whatever he intended to give us, he should add to what was due to the bank. Eventually, the deal went bad. But, thank God I was spared the embarrassment that followed.

One key lesson I learnt as a public servant is that if you are after public applause for decisions you are making, you will make little progress, and this ultimately, destroys the society. Your job is to make decisions that are, in your judgment, in public interest, who most times do not even know what is good for them.

Lesson 2: Money and Investment

You don’t have to own your business to be rich.

The key lesson here is that we are individually wired for different things. We all don’t have to own businesses to make impact or to be wealthy. For me, the most important thing is to ask God the purpose for which He created you, and go after it with all your might. That was exactly what I did. People have become successful being number two or number three, for instance, to Aliko Dangote.

Make saving a permanent habit.

I started saving from the very first salary I earned, even if it was one kobo or one Naira. Those little things eventually added up. There was also one interesting policy I adopted: I never allow my taste to catch up with my rising status. I look at my friends who are teachers, or doing something else earning one third or one fifth of my salary. Yet, I limit my expenditure to the salary that they are earning; whatever is the difference I save. That really worked for me. I buy shares, I buy land, and I tell people you cannot go wrong buying land, provided you have your title. Land does not usually depreciate in value.

Don’t put money in business you don’t understand.

In a bid to augment our salaries, my wife and I started transportation business. But, sad to say that everything came to naught. We lost all the trailers and tippers we bought in the process. The lesson we learnt from that was: do not go into a business you don’t understand. I advised my wife to concentrate on her profession, which is teaching; and she agreed with me. She is doing well running her own schools.

Lesson 3: Health

When you lose your health, nothing else makes sense.

Many of us don’t understand that when you lose your health, everything else you have acquired loses meaning. Your attention would be on how to regain your health, and you are willing to sell everything to be healthy. I try as much as possible to exercise. At a point, I stopped exercising when I joined the CBN because of work. I almost paid dearly for that, as I suffered a health condition that almost kept me indoors if not for God’s timely intervention. I have learnt to check my blood pressure on a daily basis. I have changed my diet and I now exercise. When you get to middle age, you must adopt life style changes. Again, your heart must be free: don’t bear grudges. Bitterness destroys your biological system; don’t be bitter. Don’t be jealous. The race of life is not a 100- metre dash. It is marathon.

Lesson 4: Spirituality

A life without God is full of crises.

I gave my life to Christ in 1981. A life that is in Christ is a life devoid of crisis. First and foremost, you are insulated from a lot of pitfalls that sweep young people away. If you are sincere, you will not be into fornication, and you are no more drinking, and so forth. I probably wouldn’t have had the time to study diligently as I did if I did not give my life to Christ. All those distractions of girl friends and so on were removed from me.

Lesson 5: Marriage

Pray for God to give you your own spouse.

The first thing I am grateful for is that God gave me somebody who shares the same faith, views and values that I hold dear as a wife. Your wife must be your

best friend. And from day one, you must make up your mind that your marriage is going to work. You cannot marry a perfect human being. Nobody is completely useless and nobody is 100 per cent perfect. As a man and head of the home, you need to show leadership. Most women will love if they know you are committed, if they know you love them. They begin to act up if they realise that you are not committed. When it comes to discipline of the children, you should both speak with one voice.

Lesson 6: Relationship

You need to invest in friendship

My principles in friendship are godliness, integrity and consistency. If you are ungodly, indolent, and you are someone that has an unserious disposition, you are not likely to be my friend. I am committed to all my friends, and I will not be happy to have someone who is not committed to me.

Lesson 7: Attitude

You can turn a setback into an advantage.

There is a way in which the environment you grow may create some obstacles for you. I had to work as a young teacher in a modern school. That was the first distraction I had. I did not start with good grades in my early years in school. But when I realised that I was not disadvantaged in any way, I woke up one day and reasoned that I had to re-write the script of my life. That paid off. I rewrote my School Certificate exams, and I made Division One. I also finished my University degree with First Class Honours. That also propelled me to put in my very best from the start of my career till I left the CBN three years ago after completing my three-year term.


  1. The Holy Bible and Christian literature
  2. In Search of Excellence: I read it several years ago; it helped me.
  3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
  4. The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama
  5. My Llife, by Bill Clinton

I also love to read autobiographies; I have read the one written by Jack Welsh


Classical and Christian music, especially the ones by Commander Ebenezer Obey, who is one of my idols.


I worry about the way we talk about the future of Nigeria. In fact, this is one issue that keeps me awake on a daily basis. We should emphasise our commonality and leverage our size and diversity for greatness. We should copy examples of Indian and China, Malasia, etc. Hate speeches and divisive conducts should be discarded by all.


I turned down an offer as an Officer in a popular bank a few decades ago. I was to do six months to be promoted to an Assistant Manager. I insisted that with my First Class Degree, the least I deserved was an Assistant Manager from day one. My friends that took up the job got confirmed in six months, while I was still looking for the same job. So, having rejected the job, I got a lesser job a year after those that accepted the job I turned down became my boss.


As much as possible before I sleep, I try to reflect on what I got right and what I got wrong.

Best Advice

One from my late boss, Dr. Rufus Giwa: That when you are humble, people are willing to overlook your mistakes.

Two, was from Chief Joseph Sanusi who told me, ‘young man be truthful; falsehood may appear to be holding sway, but it cannot run for too long. I have held unto that.

Dr. Lekan Are also taught me that everyone cannot like you even when you are doing good, but remain consistent and continue to do good whether people appreciate you or not.

Giving back:

By the grace of God, I have a foundation called Tunde Lemo Foundation through which we give back and help the less-privileged people to realise their dreams.

Erratum: In the last week’s life lessons featuring Chief Samuel Adedoyin, we erroneously put his age at 85 instead of 82. The last but one line in lesson 4 should also read: ‘Now, I make millions from rents on those properties’, instead of ‘Now, I make hundreds of millions from rents on those properties’ as published. Please adjust accordingly.