Women Of The Year

What an amazing year it had been! I have the Good Lord to thank for His blessings, for His mercies and for the ideas He put into my mind in 2015 to write the kind of books that excite and challenge me. One of such books is the idea to write on “Boardroom Leadership and Corporate Governance”—a book that I believe would have really freaked my departed friend Pastor Dimg­ba Igwe were he to be alive.

God has been so faithful. Look at the list of boardroom gurus who sat down with me for over an hour, talking about their boardroom journeys—how they climbed the corporate ladder to become chair­men of the board, what they do in the boardroom, how they lead in the boardroom, how they prepare for board meetings, why we need a board, what the board does and why we need corporate govern­ance. For me, it’s been one whole year of going to school again, hearing boardroom tales from busi­ness leaders and corporate icons like Dr. Michael Omolayole (former Chairman, Unilever), Dr. Chris­topher Kolade (former Chairman, Cadbury Nige­ria), Olusegun Osunkeye (former Chairman, Nestle Nigeria and Lafarge Cement), Ephraim Faloughi (Chairman, Sovereign Trust Insurance), Prof. Joe Irukwu (former Chairman, African Development Insurance Company), Sir Ogala Osoka, Chief Dele Fajemirokun, Chief Christopher Eze (Chairman, Fidelity Bank), Adedotun Suleiman (Chairman, Cornerstone Insurance), Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, Biodun Shobanjo (Chairman, Troyka Holdings), Chris Ogbechie (Chairman, Diamond Bank), Steve Omojafor (former Chairman, Zenith Bank), Sam Ohuabunwa (Chairman, Neimeth), Sir Remi Omo­tosho (former Group MD of Odua Group). The list goes on and on.

Much as I was enjoying these interviews, I was getting uncomfortable that I wasn’t getting women board chairpersons to interview. But as God would have it, there was a boardroom revolution this year resulting in women breaking the proverbial glass ceiling and chairing the boards of some of the big banks in Nigeria. At First Bank, we have Mrs. Ibukun Awosika becom­ing the first women to chair the board of Ni­geria’s oldest bank. At Guaranty Trust Bank, we have Mrs. Osaretin De­muren as the new chair of the board. And at Access Bank, there is Mrs. Mosun Belo-Olusoga (Aunty Mo) as the woman chairing the board. For breaking the glass ceiling and sitting on the board of these three powerful Nigerian banks as chairperson, I declare the three women as Nige­ria’s “Women of the Year”.

I have already inter­viewed two of them and have an appointment to interview Mrs. Awosika sometime next week. Oh, you need to meet these women. They are so cerebral, so professional, so confident. They make you feel proud to be a Nige­rian. A graduate of economics from the University of Ibadan, Mrs. Belo-Olusoga had wanted to be a doc­tor but after having an accident and seeing so much blood at LUTH, she chickened out and took to ac­counting after her father, then veered into banking. A pioneer member of Guaranty Trust Bank, she paid glowing tribute to Fola Adeola and Tayo Aderinokun who both mentored her—but Fola Adeola in particu­lar of whom she says: “I am his protégé. I have been fortunate in my life to be mentored by someone like him.” Even as chairman of Access Bank, she is still influenced by him. “I knew his leadership style. That you better come with a lot of information, a lot of knowledge.” Another influence was Prof. Oyawole who as chairman of GTB “came with maturity. And because he wasn’t a banker, it was very educating. He would let people talk before he makes his own contribution.” Yet another influence is Gbenga Oye­bode, the former chairman of Access Bank: “He too is a man of few words. He is not the kind of person who likes listening to his voice. He makes everybody contributes. When you are too quiet, he asks: ‘What do you think about this?’ Then he has a way of sum­marising everything and coming to a succinct view­point that everybody agrees with. On all the boards I sit, if there is any one dissent, the board doesn’t do it.”

On her part, Mrs. Demuren who studied in the USSR is a calm, demure woman who came into the boardroom after 33 years in the Central Bank. She was the first woman to become a director at the Cen­tral Bank. For two hours, we talked about her life— what took her to Russia, how she spent 33 years at the Central Bank, what makes a good board and what she is bringing to the board of Guaranty Trust.

“In a good board, you must have knowledgeable people, professionalism, diversity, openness—you don’t have to vote in a board. Everybody must reached consensus.

“I am a very calm person. And I listen a lot. To me, no idea is foolish. I am bringing on the board my experience in Central Bank—especially in line with compliance. For a regulator, compliance is very important. In those days, some banks were willing to pay fines because it was cheaper for them to pay. But I tell my board, it is not the money that matters. CBN is not looking for money. It is better to comply than pay fines. For instance, I could ask: Did we pay fines in the last quarter? If the answer is no, I am very happy. If you paid a fine, why did you pay the fine? Why do you think you should be using depositors’ money to pay fines? What is the difficul­ty in complying? And I keep saying: If there is any difficulty in complying, you approach the regulator. If your views need to be looked at, they would look at it. I tell my fellow board members, if you come to pay, it means that you are also breaching corporate governance. Regulators want you to be in business. They are doing it not because they want you out of business.

“I think I am bringing to the board the need for us to be coercive as to know what you are doing. I also bring to the board the feminine touch. I tell the board: Can’t we have some get together? We need to know ourselves better. It is not just we de­part now and till three months before we meet again. I believe in interpersonal relationship. I just believe it’s not work, work, work. We are working but we need have some personal relationship. It makes you understand people when they are making contribu­tions on the board. You know where they are com­ing from. When you know who they are, what they are, what issues touch them, it makes us understand ourselves better as human beings. We are not like robots.”

Preparation is critical for any board chairman. “Before any board meeting, I shut down for one week,” Mrs. Demuren says. “My children know it. No grandchildren comes here. No distraction. Board leadership is a serious matter. You can’t be agreeing to something you don’t know where it is coming from. In corporate governance, you are first line. I don’t want to be accused of something I was not accused of in my 33 years at CBN. I take the board papers seriously.”



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