Home Headlines Eyes on power: GTB-Innoson debacle: The price of executive arrogance (Column)

Eyes on power: GTB-Innoson debacle: The price of executive arrogance (Column)

Segun Agbaje, MD, GTB; Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman Innoson Group
Segun Agbaje, MD, GTB; Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman Innoson Group


Nobody should shed any tears for the collateral damage Nigeria’s premium financial institution, Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, suffered in the court of justice last week; it was self-inflicted and the bank should have itself to blame for it. The entire debacle was unnecessary, thoughtless and ill-motivated, driven by executive arrogance and a predatory instinct characteristic of our political and business culture. In our business and political life, might and wealthare always right – except where the court sees it fit to intervene, as in this case.

By this, GTB has shown that after all, it is a Nigerian company susceptible to the same idiosyncratic foibles and, leadership and institutional recklessness common and associated with us. A clear lesson in this matter is the wide cultural gulf between the bank and its leadership. As a brand, GT has attained global status and renown; however, its leadership is still ensconced in the Nigerian cultural milieu – immature, lawless and exploitative.

What was GTB’s interest in a matter between Innoson and Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, except that the deposit was domiciled in the bank? Did GTB appeal the High Court ruling for itself or on behalf of NCS? Who will pay the now much higher judgment debt of N8.8 billion – GT or NCS – when the initial bone of contention was a miserly N2.4 billion? What is the value of the corporate brand damage suffered by the bank on account of this misadventure?

It is all in our character and depicts the penchant for arrogance and impunity by the high and mighty toward the lowly and helpless. A combined force of NCS and GTB is intimidating and formidable enough to cow the faint hearted and cowardly.But they met their match in Innoson not because of the rightness of his cause but the fairness and firmness of the judiciary – the much talked about last hope of the ordinary man. But at least he had the resources and courage to pursue his case.

A characteristic behavior of public institutions and officers is to ride rough-shod over others forgetting that power and positions are temporary; if the NCS unjustly auctioned Innoson’s goods after he had paid the duties and the court awarded him damages, why should it be GT’s headache to challenge the decision? Is it that GT does not want NCS to pay or simply to frustrate and punish Innoson for seeking his claims?

It doesn’t make sense at all, and GT must come clean on the matter and explain its role in this fight of blame which has not only diminished the brand equity but wasted shareholders fund in litigation and judgment debt. GT engaged the services of a SAN in this case and we know the fee is not cheap – informed sources said N100 million.

This writer had anticipated this outcome and advised a small team of the bank’s management at a meeting with the media to tread softly and seek a political solution out of the logjam because head or tail, GT will lose. Life is not always about right and wrong; sometimes, you need to lose to be able to win.

This should have been GT’s approach to the impasse but it was stubborn and narrow minded egged on by a self- serving legal team. GT lost sight of the bigger picture and the ethical implications of its position.The case was a PR disaster for the bank; a legal and moral defeat, financial loss and brand diminution.

A corporate fight with Innoson is not only a mismatch but unwholesome. It is like fighting with a man who is already on the ground; he will only drag you down. GT is a global brand that plays by a different set of rules. Its set of ethical conduct and corporate governance practices make it the envy of others. All these cherished traditions were sacrificed for what? For ego and power drunkenness!

In terms of brand equity, GT is the number one global brand in the country and this position confers on it a big responsibility to protect it. GT is the only corporate institution in Nigeria that has attracted more attention of Harvard Business Review, HBR, than any other. In the past 20 years, HBR has done three major studies on the bank, which is a remarkable accomplishment for a Nigerian company. Such studies have helped to reposition the bank by highlighting its strengths and weaknesses and opportunities.

In a study of the banking sector in 2008 at the peak of the financial crisis, JP Morgan reported of GT: “Among the seven leading banks covered in this report, our top pick is GT. Based on our target pricesGTB is the only bank offering positive share price performance on a 12 month view”.

GT is also the only bank among the top five that is really democratic and does not have a god-father breathing down the neck of everybody like Zenith, UBA, First Bank and even Access. It is a true bank of shareholders and therefore required a strong and matured leadership. In fact the issue seems to have proved the wisdom in the godfather strategy because this could never have happened in those other banks.

GT came with a clear vision of banking and how to play by its own rules. It did not depend on public sector funds like most banks and avoided all the vicissitude associated with it so that when eventually government introduced the TSA – Treasury Single Account – GT was the least affected.

Since inception the bank has maintained such high standard of performance and decorum that made the current issue out of character and a departure from tradition. It is a matter of leadership failure and perhaps desperation, and  should be avoided in future.

Mr Segun Agbaje, youthful, urbane and elitist has been around since GT and a part of its soaring success, but he appears to lack the humility, maturity and simplicity of his predecessors – men of sterling qualities who changed the course of banking in the country. His appointment was somewhat contentious; one hopes his end will not be controversial, because in a saner clime the Innoson brouhaha would have set fire on his tail.

This may not happen here because of the docility of shareholders and controlling interest of the management. But tough questions should be asked at least to clear up this matter.In the end the bank is the ultimate loser.







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