Binoculars: With Ayo Arowolo
Having perfected his own unique way of spotting opportunities and raising leaders, Aigboje Aig-Imouhuede has slipped into low visibility, silently creating new structures to allow him step into a new phase that would enable him effectively use his time and talent to serve others while also perpetuating his legacy. He is the focus of this report by Ayo Arowolo.
I was one of a handful of senior media executives invited last September 29, 2016, to witness the inaugural meeting of the Panel of Advisers for the Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG), an idea established to be a catalyst for high performance across Africa’s public sector. In attendance at the highly restricted event, which was held at AIG Founder’s Ikoyi office, were some of the initiative’s partners and panel members: Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; Professor Ngaire Wood, Dean of Oxford University’s Balvatnik School of Government; and Olusegun Adeniyi, THISDAY’s Chairman of Editorial Board, among others.
Just as Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, AIG’s Founder and Chairman, stepped in to give introductory remarks explaining the vision and mission of the not-for-profit organisation, a senior journalist sitting by my side blurted quietly: “What is this guy (Aigboje) up to, really? Who or what is driving him? Is he not taking on too much too quickly?”
He wasn’t directing the questions at anyone in particular; he was just wondering aloud, echoing the sentiments of many of the close watchers of Aig, as he is fondly called by friends, who are keen on knowing what next is on his sleeve and why he appears to have a midas touch.
Thoughtfully considered, Aig’s story reads like a script, the story of David, reckoned to be the most impactful ruler of the state of Israel till date on account of his unbelievable exploits in warfare as detailed in the Christian Bible. For years and away from the glaring eyes of the public, David was in the forest building up his warfare muscles, training on how to use unconventional weapons to kill lions, bears and other dangerous animals which were after his father’s sheep. While on the job, he entertained himself with some music, a skill that would open a door of opportunity for him later when he was invited to the palace to play music for Saul, the then King of Israel who was suffering from bouts of mental illness. To many, it looked like just a small window of opportunity but in no time, conscious of the anointing on him, David quickly blew that window into a door, stretching it further into a cavernous archway good fortune, including overcoming Israel’s arch adversary, Goliath, which eventually landed him in the palace as Israel’s next king.
Many have said that success comes when an individual is able to connect a series of dots that have been pre-arranged by God.
One such connection came for Aig in the autum of 2000 while attending an Executive Management Programme at the Harvard Business School in Boston sponsored by his former employer, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), when his late brother in law handed him a book, entitled: BUYOUT: The Insider’s Guide to Buying Your Own Company by Rick Rickertsen and Robert E. Gunther. And that appeared to be what he needed to trigger off the entrepreneurial juices and a deep sense of independence that had been building up in him before that encounter. Aig recollects that moment in one of the notes he is putting together: “Not only was the title of the book appealing to me, the introductory notes from the author also caught my attention. The book started with a question that had been agitating my mind all along: ‘Do you want to work for other people, surviving on a salary and bonuses forever? Or do you want to seize your own destiny. If so, then this is the way to do it.” Aig adds: “It was at that moment that I knew exactly what I wanted to do, what I had to do.”
Moments after that encounter, and back at his desk at the GTB where he had recently been promoted as the youngest Executive Director of a bank, Aig stepped out of the comfort zone, resigned his appointment from the bank and set off on an entrepreneurial mission that has brought him success, fame and wealth.
“One other interesting thing I got from that book was a quote that dwells on taking risk if you truly want to succeed. ‘Behold the Turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.’ That was what I knew I had to do. It would be all too easy to stay in the comfortable shell of a big and successful employer, but I would never get to where I truly wanted to be if I did not stick my neck out”.
And this has paid off handsomely for Aig and Herbert Wigwe, his soul mate in his early banking years who also embarked on the entrepreneurial journey with him. During a period of 15 years Aig has been able to stamp his imprints on the country’s financial services industry in a remarkable way that cannot be ignored.
His greatest success so far and the one that has brought him much recognition is his turn-around exploits at Access Bank. When Aig and his friend launched an acquisition campaign against Access Bank code-named ‘Operation Festival’, they inherited a bank that was mired in bad debts, poor corporate governance, poor management and bereft of a modern banking world view. They turned things around quickly and by persuading the board they inherited to back them, within a short time they were able to successfully position the bank on an unprecedented growth trajectory, transforming it to a Top-5 leadership position in Nigeria, with assets of USD 12 billion and 350 branches, employing over 20,000 staff in nine countries.
Aig has evolved from a banking whiz kid into a highly regarded thought leader in Nigeria’s financial markets, leaving indelible footprints in every single intervention he has made there. He chaired presidential and national banking industry committees on various monetary policy initiatives and was elected Chairman, Board of Trustees, of the Financial Market Dealers’ Association. As chairman of the Bankers’ Committee sub-committee on Economic Development, he convinced Nigerian banks to adopt the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles, a voluntary code of practice for sustainable banking. Aig was also a key founder of FMDQ OTC Exchange which today specialises in fixed income securities and derivatives, serving as its pioneer chairman. He is President of the Nigeria Stock Exchange.
Expectedly, Aig has become like a magnet to awards, attracting several national and continental laurels that recognise his contributions to different fields of endearvour. He is a recipient of the National Productivity Order of Merit (2009) and in 2011 was conferred with the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) and has served on several additional committees and initiatives focused on the progress and well-being of Nigeria.
In 2012, Aig was appointed by Nigerian President Good luck Jonathan to chair the Presidential Committee on the Verification of Fuel Subsidies which helped the country save billions of dollars in fraudulent fuel subsidy payments.
Notable among Aig’s social and entrepreneurial philantrantrophic engagements are: serving as Chairman of Friends of Africa, a partner organization of the Global Fund; serving as Chairman of the Board of GBC Health; being a founding member of the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria . In 2010 he announced a $1million contribution to the Global Fund and has also mobilized millions of Dollars in donations to the Global Fund through the ‘Gift from Africa Campaign’
Earlier this year, the trio of Aig, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and Attahiru Jega were elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a prestigious group of world leaders with an uncanny quest to find solutions to the challenges facing humanity. The admission is given to individuals who have initiated projects that not only show their commitment to the overall development of Africa and its people, but are also models that can be replicated globally for the good of all. And only last week it was announced that Aig had joined the Advisory Board of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government.
END OF ACT 1
Today is Aig’s 51st Birthday, and by tomorrow, he will be stepping aside as the President of The Nigerian Stock Exchange which he stepped into three years ago. Many believe that this effectively closes the first phase (his business associates would rather call it Act 1) of Aig’s professional exploits. Within a space of three years, Aig’ Council, working with the management of the Exchange, has been able to change the NSE’s software architecture and Aig has been able give a best shot to the promise he made when he assumed the Presidency of the Exchange, that is making it to operate at a level comparable to its peers in more advanced economies, become the flag bearer of global best practice.
His tenure as President of the NSE witnessed a number of innovations including the landmark publication of a Due Diligence Book which is expected to transform the quality of listing applications.
Significantly also, Aig says one of his proudest achievements during his tenure at the exchange was planting the seed of bringing gender diversity to the council. If all goes according to plans, the NSE, at its AGM tomorrow, will be announcing the appointment of three distinguished female members to the Council of the NSE.
Many people have often wondered what could be the business model Aig has employed that has enabled him to start up or acquire companies and make a huge success of the experiment.
In their seminal book, Teambuilding, Alister Frazer and Suzanne Neville profiles eight personality types (known as Belbin Team Roles) that must be present in a successful project. According to them; Shapers (SH) generally make good managers because they thrive under pressure; Coordinators (CO) are known for their abilities to cause others to work towards shared goals; Resource Investigators (RI) are good communicators within and outside the organisation; Monitor Evaluators (ME) are good at analysing problems and coming up with suggestions; Implementers (IMP) are known for their reliability and capacity for application; Complete Finishers (CF) have great capacity for follow through, unusual attention to details and seldom start what they cannot finish; Team Workers (TW) are always known to prevent interpersonal problems and assisting to ensure that everybody contributes effectively within the team.
By their classification Aig would perfectly fit into the last category which they have called Plant (PL). Plants, according to the authors, are very creative individuals who are known to invent things and provide seeds and ideas on which major developments spring. Plants, according to them, are needed at the initial stage of a project or when a project is failing to progress as planned. They conclude that in most cases, plants have made their marks as founders of companies or originators of new products.
But those who work closely with Aig think he has been able to develop a unique business model that not only recognises his role as a plant but has also created structures that enable him employ and deploy individuals with other personality types to make success of his endeavours.
Aig confirms this in an informal chat with me: “I think the strength I have is that I embrace frameworks made up of science and theory that allow me to express my instincts in a much more effective manner. This is what I mean: I have instincts that allow me, for instance, to identify opportunities e g buying a company which many are scared to touch. But I don’t just buy companies, I assemble teams of gifted people, send them to schools to learn how to acquire and build companies and then empower them to apply their talents to build great institutions.”
Aig adds: “People who worked with me at Access Bank knew that I always talked about frameworks. What is your framework for doing this? What is your structure to manage this opportunity? God has blessed you with the ability to see but that does not mean you are able to exploit what you have seen and create sustainable value out of it. You need a framework to dimension what it is that you have seen, apply the science of numbers or finance. You need to be able to ask and answer some strategic questions: What is the likely return and risk associated with the venture? Not many people are comfortable with doing that. That is what I do. People sometimes say this guy does not fail; what people don’t see is that my investment in systems, people and structures to guide what I do and reduce the risk of failure to manageable levels.”
When Aig and his partner took over Access Bank, they needed to find something to offer the market that the other banks were not offering. They had very strong treasury skills which involved a lot of client relationship management; they had extensive trade finance and corporate cash management knowledge; they were also confident about their being able to build a team of professionals; between the two they also had extensive connections and respect of CEOS, Chief Financial Officers and Treasurers of several large companies. But all those put together were not enough to compel organisations to switch; they needed to do something extra-ordinary.
Their value chain model did the work; they had to put their intellectual endowment to task. They identified big corporations, looked through their entire value chains and looked at where they could help them to reduce costs and increase revenue. And they went to work to design solutions. That sent the corporate world into frenzy, from Dangote Group to MTN Communications.
They wasted no time implementing the innovations they shared with the board; they introduced a reward structure that enabled them to attract good brains from Citbank and GTB; they established entry-level training programmes designed for the best graduates from leading universities; they leveraged their value chain strategy to migrate their loyal customers from GTB to Access; they also played to their strengths earlier identified. That has stood out them in the banking arena.
FROM SUCCESS TO SIGNIFICANCE AND LEGACY
Many leadership experts –Lloyd Reeb (From Success to Significance); John Maxwell (From Impact to Significance);John Cook (From Success to Significance)- suggest that many people in the first half of their lives tend to measure life in terms of success: wealth, recognition, power and status. They also agree that those who would achieve true success shift into another phase-using their talents and time to serve others.
While Aig’s exit from the NSE is believed to have effectively closed a phase in his professional pursuits, the establishment Coronation Capital a platform for the building of great companies in the financial, oil and gas and digital technology sectors; philanthropic investments, such as Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG) and other initiatives that are silently being worked out opens Aig’s next act, which would see him move to a stage of significance and legacy.
This is how an insider puts it: “Now we are expressing our enterprenurial skills across platforms such that in about 20 years, we will have built the equivalent of several Access Bank-type stories. Having perfected his own unique way of spotting opportunities and raising leaders, Aig is said to be now moving out of his comfort zone, creating companies in sectors outside banking and empowering leaders to run them while maintaining low visibility to enable them establish their own identity. Aig throws more light: ‘My job in this phase is not to run the companies but my job is to inspire those who run the companies, transfer what I have and know to them so that they can use that advantage to run the organisations. These managers have what I did not have. They have Aig behind them. They have my network and contacts behind them. They also have my systems and structures to run with. I will be spending quality time with the CEOs and management teams of the companies I have created.’
SUCCESS AND WEALTH MEAN DIFFERENT THINGS TO HIM
Aig also explains that he views success and wealth differently. ‘First of all, I believe that success that does not endure is not true success. I measure the success of an individual particularly when it comes to institutions by what happens to that institution after the person had gone.’
“Again, I also don’t see wealth as accumulation of cash. I define my own wealth in terms of the institutions I am creating and their impact, the businesses I am building that deliver dividends, pay taxes and employ thousands, the contacts and networks that I have built over time that I can now make available to the companies I am involved in. This, to me, is the real wealth. Every single Naira I earn is reinvested in an existing or new opportunity and by doing that I am allowing the principle of compounded returns to work for me. So, for instance when you ask me for N5million, I am not likely to have that in cash. Everything is reinvested.
THE UNSEEN HANDS
Beyond strategy, beyond education, beyond deployment of structures and systems and frameworks by himself and other people to take advantage of opportunities, Aig says there have been too many coincidences that make him to see the hands of God in every face of the journey so far, which he publicly acknowledged during a THISDAY Award in 2004: “The more I reflect, the more I conclude that I am just fulfilling God’s well-laid out plans. He just arranges for me to be at the right place at the right time.”
While he was at GTB, Aig developed personal relationships with senior officers at FMO, the Netherlands’ Development Finance Company, relationships that have endured till date and which were to prove very critical in Aig’s entrepreneurial journey. In 2004, the CBN Governor had suddenly announced that all banks must raise their capital to N25billion failing which they would be merged with other banks. Few days to the December 2005 deadline, Access Bank still had some gaps to fill and FMO bent all protocols and saved the day by converting an exiting credit line to the bank into a $15million equity investment.
In 2002, a Director of the CBN had opposed the confirmation of his appointment as Access Bank CEO, insisting that he was too young to own a bank. That delayed confirmation lasted two years but turned out to be God sent when the 10-year tenure rule was introduced. It meant that instead of having to exit in 2012, Aig had two additional years to plan for his exit and ensure the smooth, much admired succession with Herbert.
Could Aig have been able to achieve such phenomenal success without the complementary roles of Herbert as well as his wife Ofovwe Aig–Imoukhuede? Aig says: ‘During the 12–year period that we worked together as CEO and Deputy, Herbert and I had never had a divergence of views or positions on issues of corporate governance and risk management. I constantly thank God for giving me wisdom in the choice of my Deputy. He was my friend and professional colleague for 10 years before we came together at Access, and he is a tremendously gifted and respected banker. But the basis of my choice for this ‘second pair of eyes’ was my confidence that we shared the same beliefs and values regarding how a bank should be run.’ He came into banking at the same time with Wigwe and both were from parents who were civil servants.
For his wife Ofovwe, who left a high profile job at Citibank to be the family CEO, Aig says she is the pillar of support. His wife is more than an intellectual match able to engage him at the same cerebral level in all aspects of his professional and entrepreneurial endeavours. Ofovwe holds a Law degree, an MBA from Cambridge, a MSc from the London School of Economics (LSE). She is pursuing a PhD in Development. Aig says ‘she is a perfect companion.’ He also believes his four children who have tolerated him to nurture his dreams deserve commendation.
While much may not be known on the details of Aig’s next move, it is only logical to predict that they are likely to enable another string of enduring successes.
Kindly use as appropriate and as space permits
“During a period of 15 years Aig has been able to stamp his imprints on the country’s financial services industry in a remarkable way that cannot be ignored”
“Aig has evolved from a banking whiz kid into a highly regarded thought leader in Nigeria’s financial markets, leaving indelible footprints in every single intervention he has made there”.
“First of all, I believe that success that does not endure is not true success. I measure the success of an individual particularly when it comes to institutions by what happens to that institution after the person had gone.”
“The more I reflect, the more I conclude that I am just fulfilling God’s well-laid out plans. He just arranges for me to be at the right place at the right time.”
“For his wife Ofovwe, who left a high profile job at Citibank to be the family CEO, Aig says she is the pillar of support”.