23 February 2014

Nigeria: Emefiele - an Introvert Goes to the CBN

Godwin Emefiele, President Goodluck Jonathan's nominee as the next Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria comes highly recommended on loyalty. For the president, taciturn Emefiele will be an assuring departure from the vocal Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that he will be succeeding.

At the imposing, glass structure on Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island, Lagos that is the headquarters of Zenith Bank Plc, the financial institution's topmost boss will be anonymous to non-staffers. Godwin Emefiele ghosts within the premises so unassumingly - no airs, no frills, no escort - that you are likely to bump into him and as he tells you "sorry, please," you'll ask him to usher you to the office of the managing director and chief executive officer of one of Africa's leading banks.

In the banking industry where, globally, CEOs huff and puff, epitomise flamboyance and glitz, and are unpretentiously nursing either a cabinet ambition or leadership of the central bank, the Zenith Bank MD/CEO is a taciturn departure. Introverted, as he admitted, Emefiele has never been known to be much of a patronizing bank chief, or the typical Nigerian top banker pounding the corridors of power for government committee headship, or even ordinary committee membership. In banking, Emefiele has always been contended with being an a silent achiever.

So last week when the news broke that President Goodluck Jonathan had picked his nominee as the next CBN governor, the question among many Nigerians was: Godwin who?

Emefiele, of course. Like President Jonathan who nominated him did of his political march, Emefiele has sneaked to the top of his professional career. Even after assuming headship of Zenith Bank, the banker would rather ensconce himself in his moderately-appointed office working the bank towards further global appreciation than curry media and political attention. For Emefiele, media interviews and attendance at social and political functions were a rarity.

Between 2001 and 2010 at Zenith Bank, Emefiele was the virtually unknown, but passionately loyal deputy to the then MD/CEO of the bank, Jim Ovia. Within those nine years, the CBN governor nominee, a top source within the bank confided in Sunday Trust, was the unseen brain behind the bank's steady march to the top rungs of the Nigerian banking industry.

After stints as lecturer at both the universities of Nigeria and Port Harcourt, Emefiele had moved to Zenith Bank to be part of the team redefining the banking business in Nigeria. The mid-1990s had been turbulent for the industry, with many banks going distressed. Zenith Bank itself was established in May 1990 and began operations in July the same year as a commercial bank. It became a public limited company on June 17, 2004 and was listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange on October 21, 2004 following a successful Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Emefiele has been a key part of the bank's phenomenal rise over the years. Its operating results have been impressive, with Emefiele building strongly on the Ovie legacy. The bank's nine months results for 2013 showed gross earnings of N255bn, up 11 per cent from the N229bn recorded in the corresponding period of 2012. While net interest income rose by 16 per cent to N138bn, from N199bn in 2012, profit before tax grew by 10.4 per cent from N75bn to N83bn, while profit after tax rose by 8.9 per cent to N69bn as against N64bn in 2012.

Currently, Zenith is the largest bank in Nigeria and the seventh largest in Africa by tier-1 capital. Forbes & CNBC Africa ranks the bank as the third biggest company in West Africa. Capital Finance International (CFI) adjudged the bank the 'Best Commercial Bank in Africa'.

World Finance also voted the bank as the best Nigerian bank in Corporate Governance in 2013. The Corporate Governance award is in recognition of the bank's ability to set an industry-wide example of best practices in corporate governance. The bank was evaluated on a wide range of criteria that included quality of policies and procedures, quality of disclosures, elements of innovation in corporate governance practices and excellence in stakeholder relationship management. In 2013, Zenith Bank was recognised as one the 20 Global super brands, with KPMG rating it bank as the 'Best Customer-Focused Bank'.

Zenith Bank was also awarded the 'Bank of the Year Nigeria 2013' honour by The Banker Magazine, a publication of Financial Times of London. Nominees for the award were judged by their ability to deliver shareholder returns and gain strategic advantage in terms of market visibility and positioning.

According to The Banker Magazine, Zenith Bank was selected based on the overall performance of the institution and the opinion of leading financial analysts from the world's financial markets. The award also indicates the level of trust and confidence on the brand and is a testament to the strong management, sound business model and prudent risk approach of Zenith Bank plc.

Under Emefiele, Zenith Bank has grown its agriculture loan portfolio, ranking it among the highest contributors in growing the industry portfolio from 1 per cent in 2010 to over 4 per cent in 2012. The bank also took active part in financing some of the power projects that changed hands from government to the private sector investors.

The bank is adjudged to be of incredibly high standard not just on a national level but an international one. Zenith Bank ranks among the world's 500 valuable brands. Brand Finance plc ranked it as the 11th most valuable brand in Africa.

Under Emefiele's watch, Zenith Bank shares currently trade on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) following a listing of the $850 million worth of its shares at $6.80 each in a major step aimed at improving liquidity in the stock through Global Depository Receipts.

President Jonathan's choice of Emefiele, however, goes beyond these professionally intimidating credentials. The nominee's greatest quality for recommendation would lie in the virtue of loyalty, which he had not only exhibited under Ovia, but has also mentioned in an interview as something he not only totally gives, but he also demands of course, there are also political considerations.

In these interesting times, as politicking towards the 2015 election gathers steam and all sorts of allegations of misappropriation fly around, the president wants at the helm of the CBN an aide he can trust absolutely. Emefiele comes highly recommended.

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