Reginald Ihejiahi at 60 –Tribute to a “Human Being”

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Reginald Ihejiahi

Emma Esinnah

Most people know Reginald Ihejiahi, immediate past Managing of Fidelity Bank, as a very brilliant banker. They talk about his academic exploits at ABU Zaria, where he studied accounting and London School of Economics, where he obtained his M.Sc. in Finance and went on to become a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) of England and Wales. Many people also know he holds the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and a Doctor of Business Administration, DBA, (honoris causa), UNN. Most people also know that his performance in Fidelity Bank was nothing short of spectacular. Under him Shareholders’ funds grew from N3billion in 2003 to N167billion in 2013; branch network grew from 17 in 2003 to 213 in 2013; Customer base went from 150,000 to 2.5million and Capital Base rose from N20billion to N1trillion.

But the things that really define Reginald Ihejiahi are more than those. I served as head of marketing communications and his special assistant in all his 10 years as CEO of the bank. And after office, we have remained close. I have seen him in grief and in glee. As he clocks 60 years on the 11th of April 2019, I consider myself fairly qualified to talk about him. I will proceed to highlight some less-talked-about aspects of him:

A big heart, and a large heart: About four months into Ihejiahi’s tenure as the CEO of Fidelity Bank, Prof. Charles Soludo, then CBN Governor, announced the consolidation programme that shrank the Nigerian industry from 89 banks to just 25 in 18 months. Most people did not give Fidelity a chance of survival. But it was something that revealed Ihejiahi’s mettle. He was able to galvanize the board and the staff to undertake a capitalization programmethat astounded many. More importantly is how he managed the integration of the banks (FSB and Manny) that he brought together under the Fidelity umbrella. He truly saw himself as head of one big family, and never allowed the incidents reported in other banks where the acquiring banks saw the acquired banks and their staff as conquered. H Everybody either rose or fell on their individual merit.

Insightful Leadership: During the 2008/2009 economic meltdown, most banks in the country down-sized. A proposal was brought to Ihejiahi that Fidelity should lay-off 20 per cent of the staff. He rejected that. His reason was that no proper assessment had been done to determine who this 20 per cent should be. He said “if I tell you supervisors now to supply the names, you will quickly bring the names of people who are not greeting you well. The 20 per cent you want to bring their names did not cause the global melt down. So, all of us, not some of us, will bear the pain”. He then approved that everybody, including himself, should take a temporary 20 per cent salary cut. That was how everybody’s job was protected. More importantly, when the situation improved, not only that the 20 per cent was restored, but also the deduction was gradually refunded.

Man of faith and self-discipline: Ihejiahi does not wear his religion on his sleeves. But his simple faith in God and devotion to Him serve as compass for his life. Throughout his first year in office, he would first attend the 6.30am church service at Falomo, Ikoyi, and still get to the office for 8am. In over 15years that I have worked closely with him, he has never missed a flight or been late to a meeting. At a point he was the only CEO in the Nigerian banking industry living on Lagos Mainland and working on the Island. Yet, he was never late to work.

A compassionate leader: One morning in 2007, I entered his office and narrated how one of our female staff in the Operations department who had closed late was attacked on her way home. I could see the agony in his face. He quickly called the Corporate Services department to arrange to buy an additional bus for the sake of staff working late – to take them to bus stops closest to their homes. That was the origin of Fidelity’s second night bus.

A family man: It’s not just his family that he loves. If you relate with him, he would encourage you to love your own family. The family is so important to him that his dictum is : before you vote for the politician seeking to govern you, find out how he governs his own family.

Love for Community: perhaps ones of the best stocked public libraries in Nigeria today is Eziachi Secondary School library, Orlu, Imo State, Ihejiahi’s hometown. He personally built and stocked the facility with diverse books.Beyond education, some elderly and indigent people in his community are on his roll of periodic assistance, which he does very quietly.

A thinking man: one of the things that stand him out is what he calls “thinking time”. He must devote some time daily to uninterrupted thinking and reflection. He hardly says or does anything that he has not reflected on.

A reading man: at every point in time, Ihejiahi is reading at least three books. In addition to professional books, his favorite subjects include biographies of famous leaders, history, travelogue, geography, people. It was from him I came to I know about the Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa. From him I knew about the works of Suetonius – Lives of the Caesars/The Twelve Caesars, the biographiesof Julius Caesar and the first eleven emperors of Rome.

A man of order: ihejiahi does not leave anything to chance. Everything is orchestrated and choreographed with the outcome in mind. If he wants to communicate an important message to you, he would send you a text, call you to ask you if you got the text, and discuss with you and ask if there is anything you did not understand. No room for excuses.

His kindness is purposeful: he believes that the best support is to assist them have a graduate. He did it for his first driver from Kogi State, who got an accountant and another graduate, in addition to retiring into his own house. His current driver’s son has also just graduated.

He truly cares: many of his former staff in the bank testifythat they own the piece of the earth they occupy today because he guided them. He would call you into his office and ask you “what investments do you have?”. He would remind you that your honest income is enough for you to invest and live happily if you shun living other people’s lives.

He does big things: He does not settle for half measures in anything. He can’t stand small-minded people – those he calls “men of straw”. And nothing peeves him as much as seeing somebody who has been challenged with big things quarreling about small things.

Respect for people: He admires people who do their work well – from the cleaner to the clergy. If won’t respect you, he would avoid you. And he never mixes up the place of each relationship in his life. His respect for people of diverse cultures probably stems from his early life. Born ofIgbo parents in Zaria, in northern Nigeria, where his parents were federal civil servants; his early childhood was in Uyo in the South-South; his secondary education was at Government College Umuahia in the South East, where he made lasting friendships; and over the last 37 years, he has lived and worked in the South-West, and has cultivated friendships.

There is so much to say about Reginald Ihejiahi as he turns 60. But we will have opportunity to say even much more about this compassionate, brilliant, God-fearing, and disciplined professional in future. So, may your days be long and troubles few. Happy Birthday, Sir.