By PRINCE EMEKA OBASI
At the end of the consolidation programme, Diamond Bank managed to scrape through the steep recapitalisation requirements after a moderately successful initial public offer and merger with the former Inland Bank. However, just as it was settling down to business in the giddy post consolidation era, the CBN wielded its big hammer again by asking Mr. Paschal Dozie to step down from his exalted position as Chairman/CEO of the bank. The board of the bank was asked to demerge the two positions. Coincidentally, Hallmark Newspaper scooped the story, fortuitously through very high-ranking government sources. In the circumstances, Dozie opted to give up the position of GMD/CEO and retained the position of chairman of the board. In order to fill the vacant position of GMD/CEO, the issue of Uzoma Dozie’s ascension to the top job emerged. It had always been his thinly disguised ambition to have his first son to step into his big shoes. Unfortunately for him, virtually none of his colleagues on the board shared his confidence in Uzoma.
As a matter of fact, it was an open secret in the bank that virtually no one among the staff, management and board, was enamored of Uzoma. In the words of one senior manager, he was a little more than a papa’s boy, “who lacked the requisite experience, professional competence, intellectual depth and character to assume such a strategic position”. But of course, Mr. Dozie was the core investor in the bank and was largely influential. Hitherto, his words, often rarely overtly expressed, were law. He was an old board room maestro, who hid a measured hand behind an affable and disarming paternal disposition. A veteran of numerous boardroom maneuvers, he was always a formidable opponent. However, in this instance, his intimidating prowess was upended by a simple tactic his opponents employed. His adversaries were no less formidable. Led by the equity investors, ACTIS, they resolutely insisted that all the prospective candidates for the top position would be required to sit for a formal assessment. The position was adopted by the board. In the event, Emeka Onwuka led the pack and was closely followed by U.K Eke and Ohis Ohiwerei with Uzoma bringing up the rear. In the circumstances, Dozie had no option than to accept the new reality. That was how Onwuka emerged as the GMD/CEO.
To all intents and purposes, the Pascal Dozie era was over. But was it truly? Usually reliable Diamond Bank insiders confirmed to me that whereas Emeka was the ostensible top man, real powers still resided with Dozie. Of course, that was understandable. He still retained his position as chairman of the Board and along with his various interests, represented through the investment arm of his Kunoch holdings, maintained the controlling shares of the bank.
Even as GMD/CEO, Onwuka knew where the real powers lay. An urbane and dignified gentleman, he was a veteran Diamond Bank staffer who enjoyed the goodwill and confidence of the Dozie’s. Infact, it was often alleged behind ear shots that he was only allowed to ascend by Dozie as a reward for loyalty, someone who could be trusted not to rock the boat but rather keep the ship at bay until the coronation of the “crown prince”. In other words, he was largely a regent. Indeed, it is one of the abiding ironies of the Diamond bank saga that Onwuka ended up in the ever-lengthening enemies list of the Dozie family despite his best efforts at bending over backwards to accommodate virtually all the elastic demands of the Dozie’s. It was quite telling that most of the latitude he allowed Mr. Dozie, including the superfluous position of Chairman, Advisory Board, were promptly jettisoned by the new and strict professional regime of Alex Otti.
By the time Onwuka completed his initial tenure and opted not to be considered for a contract renewal, Dozie once again felt confident to renew the Uzoma project. But yet again, the board was equal to the task. It approved a proposal to retain the high street firm of KPMG to head hunt a GMD/CEO for the bank. In the ensuing interview, Alex Otti who was until then an Executive Director at First Bank emerged tops. Uzoma, who was also tested, brought up the rear. Otti thus got the job and proceeded to comprehensively re-invent the bank and give it a new lease of life.
During his tenure, the bank witnessed exponential growth across all performance indices. For the records, at the time he assumed office in 2011, the bank’s numbers were less than stellar. It made a loss of N13.94bn at year ended 2011.
By 2014, a short period of three years, Diamond was a radically different institution. It had become sustainably profitable, earned plaudits, locally and internationally for professionalism, efficiency, cutting edge products and first-class customer services delivery. Its retail banking arm boomed while corporate and public sector arms flourished. What was even more important was the high morale of its various staff cadre. A new atmosphere of confidence, pride and enthusiasm enveloped the entire institution. Indeed, for the first time since its inception, except for the short stint of Ernest Ebi as Chief Operating Officer(COO) in 1998, Diamond bank was being professionally run. The results were immediate and sparkled. Alex Otti, a slender man, with rather tall ambition and even taller vision, dreamt very big dreams for this iconic lender and infused the staff with the kind of self-confidence that were hitherto only associated with Zenith and GT banks.
Accordingly, the brand equity of the bank soared. I recall a memorable encounter I once had with the young lady who managed my accounts at the Adeniyi Jones branch of the bank. Of course, she has since ported to another bank in the first rush of the post Otti exodus, “Oh, sir, Diamond bank has really changed. The staff are happy, eager to work, excited and even more competitive. I look forward to coming to work now. There is always something new and exciting coming out of head office. Marketing is no longer a challenge. Often, when we go for marketing now, the customer will say, “I know your MD, he is my friend”. Or, “your MD just spoke with me”. Can you believe that even at my level, if I have a challenging marketing prospect, I will tell my manager who will inform head office. You won’t believe it sir, but sometimes, the MD goes on marketing calls with us!” That was the Diamond bank Alex Otti built, a customer centric, service oriented financial powerhouse with subsidiaries in the West coast of Africa where most of its catchment South East market do business, and even a London office franchise!
In a recent report by the global financial advisory agency, Moody, “Diamond bank went from making profits of N28.5bn in 2013 to making losses of around N9bn in 2017”. Indeed, by the end of that financial year, it was obvious to all perceptive observers that the Diamond bank operations were in deep trouble. The numbers in red spoke eloquently of the severe dysfunction of the management. Inside its gilded offices, the atmosphere was chaotic, the mood severely depressing and staff morale, dismal. A constant exodus of talented and experienced manpower reflected the painful realities of the GMD/CEO’s competencies and questionable vision. It was glaring that he could not inspire confidence and loyalty. He was remote, abrasive and brooked no interference. In place of the collegiate leadership style of the previous management, he enthroned a new regime of absolute dictatorship and consigned the board to the fringes.
A former staffer once confided in me, “we organized a series of town hall meetings to enable the GMD/CEO gauge the feelings of the staff and allay their fears. But the situation almost got out of hand. Many staffers were angry and bitter and spoke out loudly against the management openly. People were very critical, especially of the increasing emphasis on electronic banking, even more than marketing and deposit mobilization. All the GMD wanted to do was hi-tech banking, even when our market segment made up mainly of traders, were not too comfortable with gadgets”.
Perhaps to underscore the spiraling loss of confidence, most Diamond bank staffers often transferred their salaries to other banks at the end of every month. Thus, about N2bn usually left the bank monthly in this manner. The bank which was rapidly losing customer confidence was also losing even the confidence of its own people. It became increasingly obvious to a few members of the board that in order to save the beleaguered institution, drastic measures would have to be adopted, beginning with the removal of the GMD/CEO. It was a position Uzoma himself agreed with, at least initially. But his father, and then the real power behind the throne – Mrs Chinyere Dozie, once described as the most powerful wife of a bank owner in Nigerian history – refused. With their position, Diamond bank’s fate was virtually sealed and fatally doomed.
Prince Emeka Obasi: [email protected]