Ex- Access Bank CEO, Aigboje Ai​g-Imoukhuede
Aigboje Ai​g-Imoukhuede

BY EMEKA EJERE

In an age when economies around the world are grappling with debilitating challenges, understanding what it means to seize opportunities and weather risks in Africa’s turbulent business environment is a virtue too priceless not to spread.

Recent moves by former group managing director of Access Bank Plc and founder of Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG), Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, speaks loud of a passion to engender prosperity and reduce poverty through sharing the secrets of his outstanding successes as a banker, businessman, entrepreneur and boardroom guru.

The latest of his efforts in this regard was the virtual launch of his new book, “Leaving the Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa”, and the unveiling of his Foundation. According to him, writing the book was an opportunity to recount his experience in a structured sense and to prepare the way for others.

“Herbert (the current CEO of Access Bank) and I went through a hell of an experience between 2002 and 2013 and for him that experience has continued. We learnt so much. We were exposed to so many things and we had varyingly great mountains that we climbed. And in a sense it will be very selfish of us to lock this up in a box and not share it with others.

“Because I think our experience can be used by any other person who has an ambition to go out there and do whatever it is they seek, whatever it is they dream about and so the notion of writing for posterity and record in this period in my life and probably more important the notion of preparing a way for others. Those are the things that drove me to write the book,” he stated.

Containing never-before-revealed insights into the Nigerian banking and financial sector, the book reveals how the creation of Access Bank resulted in spreading prosperity for thousands, and in so doing established Aig-Imoukhuede among the continent’s most inspiring and impactful entrepreneurs of the 21st century.

It is his narrative of the events leading to the acquisition of Access Bank in 2002 and growing it with Herbert Wigwe, his partner and present chief executive officer (CEO), into Nigeria’s biggest bank by assets and Africa’s banking powerhouse.

One of the significant announcements about his plans for the future at the book launch was an opportunity for five Nigerian youths to join his ecosystem of businesses and philanthropic ventures as mentored interns for one year.

For 12 months, the five interns will be paid a salary. They will work alongside Aig-Imoukhuede and other senior executives, and will benefit from one-to-one and group mentoring meetings throughout the one-year internship period. To be eligible for the programme, applicants must be Nigerians aged between 19 and 26, who either hold a degree or who will graduate at the end of 2021.

Outside the formal criteria for eligibility, Aig-Imoukhuede said he is looking for young people with grit, determination, a passion to succeed, and the will and drive to work hard to accomplish their ambitions.

“I strongly urge young Nigerians to apply for the internship programme. I guarantee that working alongside myself and my team of senior executives will be an edifying and extremely valuable energy- and time-investment,” he assured.

Despite Training a Lawyer

After being called to the Nigerian Bar in 1987, he began working as a lawyer with Chase Merchant Bank during his NYSC year in 1988. He had been encouraged to work with the bank and he soon got involved in core parts of the business of banking. In his words, “Very soon I discovered that I enjoyed making deals more than doing legal work so I made the transition to core banking.”

The switch in career paths would have needed some sort of retraining but not for Aig. He had to learn on the job. Having shown great skills in closing deals, he joined Guaranty Trust Bank as a pioneer staff, driving his career over the next decade to become a top executive.

“I was doing things at the age of 22 that most people did when they were 35 to 40 years. My life has been one where people look at my talent and basically, put me at things,” he said while speaking at the Oxford Business Africa forum 2019.

Despite being an Executive Director with heavy tasks on his desk, his desire for more kept him restless and dissatisfied, even with a career most people would break an arm for.

However, he did not figure out the missing link until he went to the Harvard Business School at the age of 32 for an Executive MBA. At this time, he read the book Buyout, written by Rick Rickertsen a corporate buyout specialist. It was the knowledge from the book that made him resolve to buy a bank upon his return to Nigeria “to become an owner-manager.”

The Access Bank Gambit

Buying a bank turned out to be more difficult than envisaged. His eyes were originally set on the top-tier banks. Not when even pooling resources with his trusted partner, could not afford controlling shares, they eventually had to move down the rung for something they could afford.

“We were both worth about two million dollars, and even then, our $2 million plus $8 million worth of leverage got us 52% of the bank,” he recalled.

Access Bank was incorporated on February 8, 1988, as a privately owned commercial bank and commenced business operations on 11 May, 1989 after obtaining its licence. It later converted to a public limited liability company on 24 March, 1998, and by November of the same year, was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

But boardroom squabbles and the challenges of undercapitalization would conspire to have the bank rated number 65 among Nigerian banks in its years of operation.

Having recapitalised the bank, the team led by Aigboje as pioneer MD had a 13-point plan to turn around the fortunes of the bank, and have it listed as one of the top five banks in the next five years.

Although they did not meet the target, in 2006, exactly five years after recapitalizing, Access Bank won the ThisDay ‘Most Improved Bank’ in Nigeria’, and was classified by Augusto & Co, a respected rating agency, as a tier 2 bank alongside the then Diamond Bank, Afribank, Fidelity Bank, Bank PHB and the Nigerian International Bank (Citibank).

The change in ownership and management of the bank became visible in the balance sheet from the first year. In 2002 alone, the bank posted an impressive N1 billion profit before tax, much more than the cumulative profit made by the bank in the previous 12 years.

This also marked the beginning of what would be a six-year record triple-digit growth trend. Similarly, earnings per share had rebounded to 21 kobo from a negative 2 kobo position, leading to a declaration of a 5 kobo dividend to shareholders for the first time in three years.

When the team embarked on its first capital raising exercise in July 2007, it turned out very successful with an oversubscription of over 300%. The public offer comprised an Over-The-Counter GDR placement of US$250 million which was similarly oversubscribed by 700%.

Access Bank today is the largest bank in Nigeria, by assets and Africa’s leading bank by customer base, with a network of more than 600 branches and service outlets, across three continents, 12 countries and 36 million customers.

“One thing you will find about many of the men who have founded great banks in Nigeria is that they have worked for banks that crashed. That way, you learnt what not to do in banking,” he said while speaking at the presentation of Jim Ovia’s Africa Rise and Shine.

He recalled also how Jim Ovia, founder of Zenith bank, had advised and mentored him when he took the driver’s seat at Access bank, and stated that this played a great role in the success of the bank.

Moving Ahead

Aig-Imoukhuede handed over to co-founder, Herbert Wigwe as MD after 12 years at the helm to pursue other passions. He founded Coronation Capital Nigeria Limited, an Africa-focused private equity fund manager, whose aim is to invest and create value for multiple stakeholders who believe in Africa. He also founded the Africa Initiative for Government (AIG), a non-public institution established as a catalyst for high public sector performance in Africa, with himself as the chairman.

Winner of many awards including the EY, entrepreneur of the year, he sits on many boards, including Marina Securities Ltd, Global Business Coalition on HIV, and Petralon Energy Ltd, apart from his philanthropic ventures.

He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme and graduated as Class Speaker PMD 75. He has also attended several other business schools and institutes including, the Citicorp Institute of Finance, Euromoney Capital Markets Bootcamp, and IMD Lausanne, Switzerland.

He is a member of the sub-committee of the Banker’s Committee on Professional Ethics, Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria, as well as on the boards of FATE Foundation where he assists in inspiring entrepreneurial-driven youths to realize their potential. He is also a Fellow of ASPEN Leadership Initiative.

A Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) and winner of the National Productivity Order of Merit Award in 2009, Aig-Imoukhuede is a member of the Presidential Committee on the establishment of the African Investment Bank, a honourary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, and a Governing Council member of the Financial Institutions Training Centre.

Little wonder his book launch attracted comments from who is who in the world of business and economy.

Director-General of the World Trade Organization and Nigerian Minister for Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said: “Aig-Imoukhuede… gives us a frontline account of what it means to seize opportunities and weather risks in Africa’s banking industry. I recommend the book to all who want to get an inside view of what it takes to create and grow a successful business in Nigeria’s challenging but opportunity laden business environment.”

Aliko Dangote Founder & President of the Dangote Group said. “In his candid body of work, the writer thoroughly simplifies and brings into relatable context, timeless business know-how as building blocks for a sustainable enterprise. His undeniable footprints and giant strides in the African banking sector gives him the vantage position in this book to steer a growing breed of African leaders to success.”

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President Africa Development Bank and former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture said: “Written with brutal honesty, lucidity and humility, the principles in this book are sound, practical and pragmatic, drawn out of the deep wells of personal experience, and inked with sincerity, honest rendition and transparency on what worked and did not work, to help others.

One of the best business books I have ever read; easy to read; transformational, and memorable. Golden.”