Mustafa Chike-Obi, new Chairman, Fidelity Bank

BY EMEKA EJERE

The recent announcement of Mr. Mustafa Chike-Obi, as the successor to the outgoing chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Ernest Ebi, may have opened windows of expectations both from within and outside the leading tier 2 financial service provider.

While those who see Ebi as an excellent performer will expect Chike-Obi to follow his footstep in order to meet the demands of the new office, those who see performance gaps in Ebi’s tenure will expect the new chairman to improve upon the achievements of his predecessor in order to take the banking brand to a greater height.

But what seems to unite both sides of the divide is the fact stepping into the big shoes of an accomplished boardroom guru like Ebi requires a combination of experience, competence, exposure and influence among other qualities.

Ebi is one of the most respected bankers of his generation. Since quitting active banking, he has become a most sought-after business leader, applying his wealth of experience in steering the boards of companies within the banking and manufacturing sectors.

An advocate of merit, he was once quoted as saying, “Today a lot of people are in a hurry. They want to keep up with the Joneses forgetting that Rome was not built in a day. They are not grounded but seek positions and levels for which they do not have capacity or experience.”

Chike-Obi’s appointment is part of a minor reshuffling of the Board of Directors which will also see Mr. Seni Adetu, a former managing director of Guinness Nigeria Plc, retire as a non-executive director.

Both Ebi, a former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who also has many years of commercial and merchant banking experience, and Adetu are retiring having completed their tenures in compliance with the company’s internal governance policy. While Adetu completed his tenure on June 30, 2020, Ebi will step down on August 14, 2020 and Chike-Obi assumes the chairmanship on August 15, 2020.

“Mr Ebi will however continue in the role until the in-coming chairman assumes office, as part of the process of ensuring a smooth and successful transition. The changes being announced further attest to Fidelity Bank’s high governance standards and best practices in compliance with internal succession policies”, the bank said in a statement.

The lender expressed gratitude to the outgoing directors for the contributions towards enhancing its brand equity, including the significant growth recorded across key financial metrics under the leadership of Ebi.

“Under the chairmanship of Mr. Ebi, Fidelity Bank recorded significant growth across key financial metrics with both Messrs. Ebi and Adetu playing significant roles, complementing management effort in the delivery of these milestones; in service of the long term vision of the bank,” the statement said.

“The bank’s market share position has also been materially strengthened over this period.”

The man Chike-Obi

Mr. Chike-Obi who presently serves as the executive vice chairman at Alpha African Advisory, has over 40 years of experience in investment banking and the financial services sector, working with reputable global investment banking and asset management firms. He provides overall leadership at Alpha African Advisory and has direct oversight over the capital raising division.

Before joining Alpha African Advisory, he was the inaugural chief executive officer, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), a federal government backed institution, established to resolve the problem of non-performing loan (NPL) assets of Nigerian banks after the 2008 global financial crisis.

The concept of AMCON is in consonance with the operation of the National Asset Management Agency of the Republic of Ireland and Malaysia Pengurusan Danaharta. The corporation acted as the buyer of banks for federal government by acquiring their NPLs. The original book value of the acquired NPLs was ₦4.02trillion at a price of ₦1.76trillion with a commensurate issue of Zero Bond for the NPL acquired.

After several years living abroad among the Nigerian Diaspora, Chike-Obi returned to the country in 2010, sensing that he could make a positive impact. He immediately began to do just that through his position as AMCON’s CEO, where he played a key role in setting the national tone for fiscal responsibility, accountability and efficiency.

“Avoid the ostentatious lifestyle; it is not sustainable,” he advised the youth at a BusinessHallmark Public Policy lecture in Lagos at a time. “Dependence on foreign goods is not sustainable either. Let’s do things our own way, and let’s hold our leaders accountable.”

Speaking at a forum on what makes the structure of AMCON different from the way other countries approached the financial crisis, Chike-Obi explained:

“AMCON was set up to stabilize, rather than bail out the financial system. There are four major stakeholders in each bank, namely the shareholders, the management, the staff, and the depositors. Those bailed out were the depositors and the staff. The depositors got all of their money back and most of the staff were retained.

“Management was completely wiped out, so they were not bailed out, and all of the existing management was removed. The shareholders lost, in many cases, over 90% of their investment, and so they were not bailed out. They were left with a nominal amount.”

He also explained the successful sell-off of some of the assets AMCON had acquired at the time:

“There were three banks that were bridged in 2011, although it was never part of the plan to bridge those banks when AMCON came into existence. Even though we had a mandate to recapitalize institutions, we never expected recapitalizing to 100%.

“Those three banks came about because they could not find any buyers at the time, and we knew that we had to divest as soon as was practical, then stabilize and recapitalize the bank; doing so made it divestible. We thought that we would recover 20% of our investment in those banks, but we ended up recovering close to 30%, so we did better than we expected.”

Chike-Obi was founding president at Madison Advisors, a financial services advisory and consulting firm in New Jersey, specializing in hedge funds and private equity investment advice. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Lagos (First Class Honors) and an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Little wonder the management of Fidelity Bank is optimistic that his board chairmanship will impact positively on the lender’s operations, improve returns on shareholders’ investment and enhance customers’ satisfaction in the years ahead.

Expectation

The managing director, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, while appreciating the contributions of the outgoing board members, noted that the institution benefited immensely from their experiences and was looking forward to continuing the upward growth trajectory with Chike-Obi as chairman.

“The board and indeed the bank has benefited immensely from their experiences and looks forward to continuing the bank’s upward growth trajectory with the incoming chairman-designate,” Okonkwo said.

On his part, the outgoing chairman expressed satisfaction with the results achieved by the bank during his tenure and expressed confidence that Chike-Obi will maintain the tempo.

He said, “I feel that the management team has consolidated on our plans to become one of the fastest-growing banks in the country strongly rooted in technology only comparable with the best in the world. I am confident that my successor will continue on that path to take the bank to its next stage of growth and advancement”.

Outsiders are not any less optimistic and expectant. Dr. Patrick Modilim, senior partner at Patrick Modilim and Co, a financial, business and management consulting services provider, described Chike-Obi as a good choice for the job given his track record, especially his ability to successfully manage bad loans at AMCON, an ingenuity he expects him to replicate in his new office.

He said, “Managing bad loans is the most difficult aspect of banking. Anybody that can do that successfully is a very good hand. So I expect him to replicate that kind of ingenuity in heading the board of Fidelity Bank.

“The bank should perform better than it is doing having started operation even before some of the leading tier 1 banking brands in the country today.”

On his part an investment analyst, Mr. Teslim Shitta-Bey, said the appointment of Chike-Obi can only be to the advantage of the bank in every sense as his reputation and rich contact base will be great assets.

“Although Chike-Obi as the chairman is not going to be involved in the day-to-day operations of Fidelity Bank, the bank can leverage his reputation, experience, local and international contacts to drive its strategic objectives.”