Subomi Balogun: God Has Given Me Everything at 85



Otunba Subomi Balogun is the founder of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) Group and Olori Omoba of Ijebuland.  Balogun, an accomplished banker and philanthropist, who also is the head, Christain laities in Ijebuland, turned 85 recently. Nsonma Nnadi captures his diverse record of achievements and God’s numerous blessings in his life

Those who argue that there can be no greater treasure in life than the early understanding of purpose and its diligent pursuit have a point. In it, is the wisdom of according a pride of place to the Almighty in all of one’s affairs – the doors of limitless possibilities just seem to remain eternally open, and favours of unimaginable proportions tiding towards one’s ways. You need only to take a glean at the life and antecedents of Nigeria’s exemplar-entrepreneur and man of the moment, a great colossus of the month of March, to be generally reassured of the truism in the above assertions.

Not only has The Olori Omo-Oba Akile Ijebu treaded on daunting paths, in some cases as pioneer, but has set records of accomplishments in those paths. Having contemplated and dared; having succeeded where others have failed, and even for that courage to go and succeed anywhere whims had taken him, the first Nigerian to single-handedly set-up a Bank, now fits the bill of the proverbial saying: `whatever he does, clap.’ Otunba Dr. Michael Olasubomi Balogun, CON, is one man whose epithets could fill a basin. Variously described as the billionaire with taste and charisma, an icon of a rare kind, a pathfinder, Nigeria’s grandmaster of banking, the man with a heart of gold and a pillar of the Christian faith and more, Otunba Balogun has become more than an inspiration, a man whose quietness also speaks volumes.

Imagine for a moment, the several thousands of Nigerians, even foreigners that have been provided platforms to express their skills and talents because someone had provided a platform. Think for a moment, all the difference that has been made because one decided to, not only dream but fight to accomplish the dreams. These are why, as he adds another year this season, the bells cannot but toll, and the citations cannot but roll, for the impact that he has made and continues to make in life.

In the corporate world for example, he is the torch-bearer of the financial power house with numerous outlets, the FCMB Group. Through that alone, he has become a beacon of hope for Nigeria in the financial services sector of the economy. One man who has produced over 10 Managing Directors of different Banks in Nigeria, all his former staff, not only is the story behind FCMB founding also a lesson in perseverance and vision, its cutting-edge service delivery in the sea of other equally determined competitors, is still a subject of corporate study. How else can a single life be more impactful? How else would anyone desire to pass through this existence! Yet, it is not the beginning. The whole story goes back to that auspicious 9th day in March in 1934 in the Nigerian traditional and legendary town of Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State, and the infant Subomi was born. The stars may not have dimmed, but there was no doubt that a mortal of rare qualities that would translate ingenious ideas and unusual commitment had come to sojourn. The account has been re-narrated times over, how quite early in life, he began to show signs of his unique individuality, beginning with his decision to get right early, his spiritual side.

It was unheard of at the time, but for a man that understands both vision and capability of the sovereign God, there was no deterring. This was how, supported by his wife of inestimable value, Olori Abimbola Adetutu, he ‘waylaid’ the then Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, seeking the assistance of being given a banking license.  Flash back again to his early life: He was just 13 when the conviction to convert to Christianity dawned on him, and if you had expected the young lad to do so in a brash manner, you got it wrong. Instead, he tabled the matter maturely before his parents who were established Muslims, via his loving mother. Which parent would refuse a child endowed with respect and driven with determination? The rest, as they say is history.

The paradigm shift in philosophical focus happened while he was schooling at Igbobi College, and after school, Subomi took up employment as a class room teacher, helping to groom the future hope of the nation as at that time.  Thereafter, he left the shores of the land for the United Kingdom where he studied law at the London School of Economics. Thanks to the right foundation he had before traveling, and in line with his life of vision, the young Subomi did not allow the klieg lights of Europe distract him from his vision of being an accomplished man. This can be attested to by the fact he remained diligent in attending fellowships in faraway UK. All through, he never left anything to chance; instead, he always demonstrated readiness to give what is required, and to pay the price necessary to obtain the desirable goals. Earlier, he had passed out with a Cambridge Grade One School Certificate in 1952, from Igbobi College, and later the London School of Economics (LSE) where he read Law. He graduated from LSE with Second Class Honours Degree in June, 1959 and was called to the English Bar in December, 1959.

With the academic feathers firmly in his pocket, he returned to his fatherland, promptly joining the then Western Region’s Ministry of Justice, where he was a Crown Counsel and later, a Parliamentary Counsel. Another turning point of his life dawned in 1966 for it was in this year that he joined the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank, a dream work place for many young Nigerians then. He invested some nine years of diligent work, being the first Principal Counsel and Company Secretary, and also worked at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), otherwise known as the World Bank, and its private sector affiliate, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) both in Washington DC. Here, he caught another vision, but it was not a vision caught while idling away, but one that flowed from the diligent engagement and sinking of one’s self in the daily, but daunting work regimen of the financial institution.

Thus, began an intriguing rendezvous with investment banking, a quest that has since brought a paradigm shift in his entrepreneurial endeavours, and indeed the banking direction of the entire nation. Subomi Balogun’s elite position amongst banking moguls in the country is not without a reason, but comes from the missionary journeys he has led, and the pioneering roles he has played. He is reputed to have been the leading advocate for the establishment of investment banking in Nigeria, using the auspices of the NIDB.  Any Nigerian banker of note would always regale the story of the then ICON securities, a merchant banking outfit which was established in 1973 as a subsidiary of NIDB. He made great things happen, even in anonymous ways while holding the forte as the Director of operations in the institution. His was not devoid of intrigues, for while it was expected that he would naturally move up to head the institution where he had invested tremendous passion and diligence, the opposite was happening.

Like it is said, you cannot bottle a man of vision, and this was what precipitated Subomi Balogun’s move to leave, a move that culminated in the founding of a Broking and Issuing House that was shortly to become a household name – City Securities. Its cutting-edge delivery saw to it netting business relationships with equally bluechip oil service firms and institutions of the time like Mobil, Texaco and Total. Upon reflection in the near past, he had equally shared how it was he was inspired by entrepreneurial feats of Siegmund Warburg, who co-founded S.G. Warburg.  His was not an admiration from the distance; he actually paid an understudy visit to the firms in London, prior to birthing his bank for merchant financing. Then came 1979 when he took the bold step of applying for a merchant banking license to establish the FCMB. The dream came to fruition four years later in 1983, – a new dawn in Nigeria’s banking culture had begun, in that Balogun’s new baby came with an infectious culture and tradition, such that has impacted lives and businesses and set new vistas of service delivery in the banking firmament.

Otunba Balogun established an entrepreneurial culture at the new bank, unique as an owner managed bank in contrast to the government owned banks at the time. His business philosophy is unique and has accounted for the soaring success that FCMB has recorded since inception. Those who know say this is anchored on his human faced profit mentality, in the sense that he is a serial investor in persons, individuals, groups, institutions and the society.  This is exemplified in his massive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) engagements as both an individual and as a corporate player.

Recall that in 1987, he was the first in Nigeria, through First City Merchant Bank Limited to endow a Professorial Chair in a University when at the University of Ibadan he set up a Chair for Capital Market Studies in the Department of Economics and Finance. A Research Fellowship domiciled at the Legal Department of the University of Lagos, is also to his name, the roll call of benefiting institutions from his milk of human kindness including the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Yaba College of Technology, African Leadership Forum, the Children’s Emergency Unit in the University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan as well as the Ijebu-Ode General Hospital. One of his many legacies is the fully equipped and air-conditioned 40-bed Children’s Centre at the Ijebu Ode General Hospital, a fulfillment of a promise he had made earlier.

Otunba Subomi endowed, perpetually, an annual award of scholarships to the best students in Muslim College, Ijebu-Ode in honour of his late father; and also set up another scholarship endowment in honour of his mother known as “Iye Subomi Scholarship”; an endowment at the Nigerian School for the Blind at Oshodi, as well as an Annual National Marathon Championship for Disabled Athletes. He has single handedly endowed churches and even the establishment of dioceses in some Christian denominations in Nigeria.

It is difficult to think of any sphere of society where he has not left footprints. Otunba Balogun is the pillar behind the “Otunba Tunwase Foundation” to cater for all his philanthropic endeavours and services to the community.  When the construction work of the “Otunba Tunwase National Paediatric Centre (OTNPC), took-off in earnest, he handed over a cheque of N10 million and on June 7, 2013, Otunba Balogun wholly donated the Paediatric Centre, valued modestly at N3.7billion, to the University of Ibadan at a signing of Deed of Total Gift ceremony. These are just specters of the several interventions he has made to life and society, the reason he is a leading socialite in the country. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management in recognition of his contribution to the development of Corporate Management & Leadership; Former Chairman of U.I. Ventures Limited (a business group of the University of Ibadan recently renamed Otunba Olasubomi Balogun Conference Center and Hotels); he is a recipient of the American Biographical Institute Inc’s Distinguished Leadership Award for outstanding contributions to the development of Investment Banking.

Others are the University of Ibadan’s Degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) in recognition of his outstanding achievements both in the field of Law and his contributions to the socio-economic development of Nigeria. A Merit Award for philanthropic services to Ogun State in particular and the country as a whole, and also the Ijebu Development Association award and Council Membership of a number of multi-national Chambers of Commerce. The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria made him a Fellow of the Institute for his pioneering and outstanding contribution to the Banking Industry. “There is nothing I did I wish I had not done. I have no regrets over any of my past actions. When I was starting FCMB, I said I was coming with a culture of excellence and I defined what the culture of excellence would be. I was the first to create a special dining room for banks. I was the first to insist that my staff should be wearing dark suits. I wouldn’t say that I am anything more than a human being but there is the unseen hand of God holding me. If I come again, I would do all that I have done again”.

If you want to know where all the expertise had come from, and the foundation for all the favours that his life has experienced, he is quick to respond, “my God , the good Lord has done it all. God has given me everything”, up to how he was able to get the kind of extremely supportive and understanding wife that he has, given that it is somewhat challenging to make it in the corporate world without a peaceful and cooperative home front. Otunba Balogun says of his wife: “God gave her to me.  I believe there was a manifestation of God’s influence on my choice” Even as he celebrates, there is no doubt as to his enduring desires. According to him, “I want to spend the rest of my life, giving my service to God and humanity. I want my God to give me the opportunity of showing my appreciation”.

In terms of awards, he has a harvest, enough to erect a mansion. Each of such awards is an endorsement of his many good works in the society. Aside his national honour at home, he has equally been recognised in faraway Italy, since 1994. In January of that year, the President of the Republic conferred on him the prestigious honour of “Cavaliere” dell’Ordine “Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana” which means, “Knight of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy”. He is the Olori Omo-Oba Akile Ijebu, conferred on him by His Royal Majesty, the Awujale of Ijebuland; Baba Oba of Ijebu Ife by the Ajalorun of Ijebu Ife; the Asalu-Oba of Ijebu Mushin, and the Asiwaju of Ijebu Christians by the entire Christian community in Ijebuland.

The Olabisi Onabanjo University, has awarded him a honorary degree of the Doctor of Science in Management Sciences (D. Sc. Management Sciences, Honoris Causa); he is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Fellow Chartered Institute of Bankers, Former Deputy President now Life Vice President of the Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce, Council Member of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chairman, Primrose Investments Limited; Chairman, Bluechip Holdings Limited; Chairman, Swiftdrill (Nigeria) Limited, Chairman, Primrose Properties Investments Limited and Director of a number of other companies.

Married to Olori Abimbola Adetutu Balogun (nee Ayoola), the Yeye Olofin of Ijebu-Ife, the Yeye Tunwase of Ijebu, and the Yeye Oba of Ode Remo, they have four illustrious sons.

QUOTE: One man who has produced over 10 Managing Directors of different Banks in Nigeria, all his former staff, not only is the story behind FCMB founding