1. You had an illustrious career at the CBN where you were the first female director, how did that experience shape you for your role as Chairperson of GTB Bank?
I’d been in the CBN for a long time, it’s where I started my career and the CBN has been my only employer. I cut my teeth in the CBN, I grew up through the ranks. The structure and name of CBN taught me a lot, that’s where I gained a lot of my knowledge and competence. The CBN is a great institution, it has remained very solid with a great structure. It’s a learning institution, which is great for you, as long as you’re ready to learn. It doesn’t get involved in politics, has its own mandate and has stuck to that mandate over the years as much as possible. The CBN prepared me well, it takes learning very seriously, it ensures that by the time you get to management level you’re well prepared.
2. How did your appointment as Chairperson come into being?
I retired in 2009 and they [GTB] approached me in 2013. I was already in my retirement, thinking about what I should do. I’d set up an NGO, because I thought I should give back to the society what i benefited from it. I’d benefited a lot from the system, both through my educational experiences and the Central Bank, not many people had the experiences I’d had. At the time I was retiring the failure rate in public secondary schools was very high, we had a failure rate of 97% in Lagos state. It was very high, in the 90s. When I was going to school it was the opposite, the success rate was in the 90s. So I thought to myself, how can I give back? So I set up this NGO to help children did not finish secondary school, to give them a second chance to learn a trade or continue to further their education. The vision is still alive, it’s just the time I’m struggling with.
I started getting calls from different organizations asking me to join their board, the first was a pension company so I joined and I was the only Independent Director so I had to be on most of the Board committees plus attend-ing Board meetings, which doesn’t leave you with much time. Another appointment came, a Micro-finance bank, then GT came and I thought to myself, ‘Can I cope?’ I got encouragement from my husband and my children who said I could, so I involved my children in the work of the NGO and we’re gradually working towards it. It’s something I’m very passionate about. I didn’t leave the CBN thinking I’d join a Board, I was pensioned, I thought of setting up this NGO to keep busy and give back, but here I am, back in the corporate world.
3. What have some of your experiences been as Chair-person so far?
I was invited to join in April 2013, it came to me as a big surprise first because it was GT and second because I had no plans to return to the corporate world whatsoever. People used to ask me how ambitious are you? Ambition wasn’t one of my strengths, I just wanted to do a good job.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out I’d been nominated.
I wasn’t expecting to go back to the banking industry and a bank of the status as GT, a good brand, integrity, profit-able, very compliant bank, Corporate governance is very much entrenched.The calibre of the other board members is high, they’re all experts in their own right and it’s very diverse. It’s been a great experience and I’m very humbled.
4. There are three females chairs currently, do you think this reflects a change in attitude towards women leaders in the banking industry?
Yes. Globally men are always in self denial that women can be leaders, some of them think ‘it’s a man’s world and a woman’s place is in the kitchen’, but times have changed and we have to be ready to change with the times. We need to recognize that at least 50% of any nation’s population are women, if 50% of the population are women why would you run your economy without half of the nations energy, resources and skills that you need to build?
In the banking industry the affirmative action of Sanusi [former CBN Governor], that stated the banks should have at least 30-35% women employees, that has helped, no doubt. Banks are conscious they haven’t met that percentage, even though there was no machinery to enforce it banks were very conscious that they had to do it. I think [our appointments are] some kind of recognition that we can’t continue to neglect women, either in leadership or human resources. Yes, we’re three and thank God for that, but the people that have been appointed are not just a token. We’re all knowledgeable, we know our onions and we’ve all come up in the banking industry, we’ve been through the system. It’s recognition that women have a lot to offer in the development and growth of any institution.
5. What are some of the challenges that face women as they try to reach board level?
Number one, as I said at WIMBIZ [Annual Conference], we must be ourselves. We’re women first and foremost and as women we have a lot of advantages. We do things differently and we’re more prone to compliance and doing things right. I believe because we are mothers we want the best for our children, to be well behaved and we should carry that extra gift from the Almighty to our jobs. We should be ourselves number one. Number two, compassion, being on your job, you should also bring those values God instilled in us. Bring joy, bring happiness. We must have good relationships with other people without compromising integrity or competence. We shouldn’t expect things to be given to us on a platter of gold because we’re women, we should go in there believing I can perform just like a man but by doing things differently. It’s important to have an open mind, hear people out, get different views and to remember that no one is perfect. We should be open to learning and determined to give and do our best at all times.
6. What female leaders do you admire?
Golda Meir was a women I admired from childhood, the first female Prime Minister of Israel, a very humble, simple woman and down to earth. She did what she needed to do and did her job, a humble woman as high as she was in the history of Israel. I found her very inspiring. here have been some women that blazed a trail in Nigeria as well that have been inspirational. Dr Nike Akande, is a woman I admire, she managed to combine brains with beauty and stays relevant in the corporate world and she carries herself very well. Ngozi Okonjo-Owela has also made her mark and many others as well.
7. How has mentorship impacted your personal or professional life?
Yes, generally going through life you need mentors. There are some mentors that you’ll never meet
but you read their biographies or autobiography. I had male mentors in Central Bank, directors, my superiors who saw something in me and just encouraged me. I had mentors all along the line. My grandmother was my first mentor, a woman of industry, she had lost her hus-band early in life and she had six children to take care of. She was a merchant in her own right, she taught us industry when we’d spend holidays with us. She’d give us assignments with a monetary incentive for those who completed the assignments correctly. She taught us industry, hard work and how to be meticulous. My father was also a good mentor, but I’m sure he didn’t know he was mentoring me,.
8. How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Well, I went through the ranks of the system at the CBN, went from level to level and gained a lot of knowledge and experience. I also believe there’s no shortcut to life, there is a procedure and a process we have to go through all the processes to get to the peak or purpose for which God has created us, just like you can’t skip death and come to life or vice versa. It’s a process and it takes time. I’ve had experiences throughout my life and that’s what has prepared me for what to come.
9. How do you maintain a work-life balance?
Well, now we thank God my children are all grown up, but there’s still a lot to do. So I just take it one step at a time. I prioritise what I can and can’t do. My diary is very important, keeping track of all the dates. You have to diarise all your activities and sort out your priorities. Where should you be? Which one can you go half way and get the best out of it and leave? Time management is very important and prioritizing, I move around with my physical all the time. Going through my career my social life was zero, you have to give up something. As a career woman you have to give up your social life, it’s not the time to want to go to all the parties in Lagos on a Saturday. My Saturday’s were spent in the market and preparing food for my children to eat during the week. During that phase I lost a lot of friends but I have no regrets , I’m trying to catch up with those that are available now I’m retired. It’s a short time, 15-20 years, but it’s critical as a career woman.
10. What qualities do you think are important in leadership?
Humility is very important in leadership, because you walk your talk. You don’t need a title to be a leader that’s what Marl Sandburg said, anyone can be a leader. The way you carry yourself, if you’re a leader people should want to emulate your humility and how down to earth you are. Loyalty is very important, in whatever you’re doing. Good relationships, because a mark of a leader is how you use other people to achieve results.
11. What advice would you give to young women that want to pursue a career in banking?
Some of the young ones…they’re in a hurry, they feel they know it, they have technology on their side there-fore they can move fast, but the thing is you can move so fast and get into a position and get stuck. It’s hard work, it’s time, that is what builds you up. Along the way you learn what it takes, the principles of what you’re doing, you learn what it takes, pick up the skills, learn from others, make mistakes and learn from them, Be yourself, Seek knowledge, improve yourself, always be willing to learn, be patient and look around, there’s no shortcut in life. Be prepared to go through the necessary processes and of course, hard work. Home is also very important, don’t neglect it, marry someone who will help you build your own character and support you. It’s also very important to have confidence in who you are, be confident and be yourself.