Asue Ighodalo

Monday comment 

Adewale Okoya pays tribute to Asue Ighodalo, Chairman of Sterling Bank Plc, at age 60

We pass through life in stages and there is a rite of passage for each stage. We are born, reach puberty, get married, become old and eventually pass through transition. We also experience baptisms, confirmations, school graduation ceremonies and retirement parties. We pass through times which stand out as moments in which we become that little bit older, bolder and wiser. But as we grow older, we are tempted to think that our best life’s work and fun are behind us. Yet, a new report by Cigna Insurance Services (UK) has just established that life truly begins at 60 and not 40, as the American psychologist Walter Pitkin postulated in 1932.

As the Chairman of Sterling Bank Plc, Mr. Asue Ighodalo, celebrates the important milestone of a new beginning in life at the age of 60 today, a significant part of this rite of passage would be messages of felicitations and congratulations from associates, family and friends across the country and beyond. If the meaning of life at any age can be defined by what is most important to most of us, for Mr. Ighodalo, it will surely be his towering achievements as a boardroom guru. While many of his contemporaries may be looking forward to retirement, it is certain that Mr. Ighodalo will continue to find meaning in his many commitments to corporate Nigeria at the boardroom level.

Obviously, the highly respected former teacher of corporate governance and legal aspects of a director’s duties at the Lagos Business School could not have started his career in the boardroom. Having learned the benefits of hard work, integrity, character, strength and the fear of God from his parents at an early age, Mr. Ighodalo set out to be a banker by studying Economics at the University of Ibadan but his father had other ideas for him as a choice of profession. The elder Ighodalo prevailed on him to study law because it is a more “focused profession” and as a dutiful son, the younger Ighodalo agreed and proceeded to the London School of Economics to study after his Economics degree.

But true to what Sir Richard Branson, the British inventor, author and businessman said, that “There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.” Mr. Asue Ighodalo eventually returned to his first love and is today renowned for his exploits in the banking sector of the Nigerian economy. His core areas of practice are corporate and project finance, securities and capital markets, energy and natural resources, mergers and acquisitions and banking and securitisation. Ighodalo is also a founding partner of Banwo & Ighodalo, a multi-disciplinary firm which provides legal advice on aspects of corporate and commercial Nigerian law.

More than anything else, Mr. Ighodalo not only teaches the qualities which every director must possess to perform optimally in the boardroom, he has brought his considerable experience in corporate governance to bear on the fortunes of the companies where he serves as the chairman. The phenomenal growth of Sterling Bank in recent years and the company’s pioneering efforts in several areas of banking through the introduction of innovative products come to mind.

For instance, while many banks were unprepared for the latest directive from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on loan-to-deposit ratio (LDR) for banks, Sterling Bank is among the few ones that have surpassed the 60 per cent minimum LDR directive. The bank recorded an impressive 78.9 per cent LDR, overshooting the new threshold by N148.29 billion after lending N618 billion out of N783.26 billion deposits. The risks associated with the new regulation such as banks underwriting high-risk loans which could lead to further asset quality deterioration and destabilisation of the industry are non-existent for Sterling Bank.

It should surprise no one that Mr. Asue Ighodalo is a boardroom colossus today having undergone extensive training at the hands of some of the best and most accomplished boardroom giants in the annals of corporate Nigeria. Starting his career under the tutelage of the cerebral and meticulous Chief Chris Ogunbanjo who exposed him to the practice of corporate and commercial law at the highest levels, Mr. Ighodalo continued his training with Dr. Christopher Kolade, a great Nigerian public servant, diplomat and boardroom guru who he described as his “father” and mentor.

He was also fortunate to know and associate with Mr. Felix Ohiwerei, formerly of the Nigerian Breweries and the late Chief Adeyemi Lawson, two boardroom giants. Besides, he interacted closely inside and outside the boardroom with Messrs. Fola Adeola and Aliko Dangote and learnt a lot from all of them. In his words, “Learning from the best and having excellent mentors is invaluable.”

Summarising his thoughts on the duties of company directors, Ighodalo believes that company directors need to pay attention to the risk aspects of board membership, saying they could get into trouble if they breach their duties, or are negligent in the performance of their duties or do something wrong. “Being a director is really serious business which requires diligence, dedication and continuing capacity enhancement,” he said.

Today, Mr. Asue Ighodalo not only chairs the board of Sterling Bank Plc, he also sits on the boards of public and private companies and NGOs including the Christopher Kolade Foundation, University of Ibadan advancement board, Dangote Flour Mills Plc, FATE Foundation, Main Street Technologies Limited (sponsor of the Main One cable project), the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Union Bank (UK) Plc, Okomu Oil Palm Plc and Kakawa Discount House.

Mr. Asue Ighodalo is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and currently serves as the vice-chairman of the NBA’s section on business law. Asue is also a member of the International Bar Association (section on energy and natural resources law, Association of International Petroleum Negotiators, Nigerian Economic Summit Group, commercial law and taxation committee of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chartered Institute of Taxation, the policy and monitoring committee of the National Council on Privatisation, and the Edo State Economic Strategy Team.

As Mr. Asue Ighodalo turned 60 today, he should have a greater sense of fulfillment for having touched the lives of so many people and for being a source of inspiration to thousands of others. He learned at the feet of the masters and has mentored many others in their journey towards greatness. No greater sacrifice is expected of a truly great man. Here is wishing Mr. Ighodalo a long and healthy life.

 Okoya, former Editorial Chairman of Financial Standard Newspaper, wrote from Lagos