He became a first amongst equals as the youngest bank MD ever at the time, if not even till date. He later morphed IBTC into a holding company; Stanbic IBTC and when he resigned as the Group Chairman on 31st March 2017, Stanbic IBTC had a market capitalization of N177.80 billion!
The dream of every young man is to live to an age when he can bow out successfully from any business he has built from scratch with the loudest ovation possible. To leave behind a legacy that will stand the test of time. To be remembered in history as one of the greatest minds that ever worked in that chosen field. To be respected and admired by the generation after him and be used as an inspirational guide for them to follow. Atedo Peterside is a living testimony of such dream. And even better, because he is blessed to have the luxury of time now and more importantly, the energy, he has left to pursue new challenges. This is a rare feat as most men with Atedo’s level of success rarely bow out when they still have several more years of added value to give in an empire they built from scratch but not Atedo Peterside. This selfless act, in itself, speaks volumes about the man behind the name. RUTH OSIME spent an afternoon with this legend of his time and his interview is definitely an inspirational read.
You said you did not retire as Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc but that you resigned. Why is this so important for you to clarify?
It is about what is legally and technically accurate. We should never deliberately mislead the public or knowingly misinform. I wrote a letter of resignation and it said I wanted to concentrate on new challenges different from a direct involvement in Stanbic IBTC. I have not reached the age for retirement from the Board of Standard Bank Group Limited and it’s subsidiaries. Indeed, I am still a Director of both Standard Bank Group Limited and The Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd. Those are newer challenges that commenced in August 2014 and they require me to keep abreast of developments in the economies of South Africa, Angola, Kenya, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria etc.
The resignation therefore was about ending my “sojourn” in the Nigerian banking industry when I resigned as Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc on 31 March 2017 after 28 consecutive years as Founding CEO and/or Chairman.
What is the most popular question you have been asked about your resignation and why?
People wonder how I can just get up and go away after 18 years and 8 months as Founding CEO followed by 9 years and 5 months as Group Chairman. Youngsters come up to me and say they have a problem now sepa-rating me from IBTC. I went to Lagos Polo Club last week and the grooms were still calling me IBTC. Some of them never knew my name was Atedo Peterside. They always simply called me IBTC.
Leaving after 28 consecutive years at the top is very different from leaving after, say 10 years. With the latter you may have mixed feelings and later regret your early or premature departure. Those feelings don’t or cannot exist in me after more than a quarter of a century with IBTC.
You still have many more years of service in you. Why did you choose to resign now?
If you helped to develop younger people and they have come of age in the way and manner that you hoped and prayed for, should you not thank God and bow out and put them in charge? It was also easy for me to leave because many of Stanbic IBTC’s businesses have “matured”. Indeed, IBTC was Number One in Stockbroking and Mutual Funds and also Number One in Pension Funds Management even before I stepped down as CEO in October 2007. A decade later we still hold on to those positions. It is largely the subsequent foray into retail banking and trustee services that are yet to mature.
But it was reported that after the merger be-tween Stanbic and IBTC in 2007, you advised the parent company to send a trusted hand from the Head Office in Johannesburg to become CEO of Stanbic IBTC for the first 3 years or so? Why would you do a thing like that instead of asking that one of your Nigerian protégés from IBTC be appointed CEO to replace you?
At the time, nobody in IBTC really knew their way around the Johannesburg Head Office. This was immediately after a merger between IBTC and Stanbic. Banking is a service sector activity. It is a people business and it thrives on trust. If people do not know you and they do not trust you, nor trust your judgment, then it will take a long time and lots of questioning before they endorse your major recommendations. Trust has to be earned over time – you cannot decree it.
By asking Standard Bank to send one of their trusted Lieutenants down here as CEO, that helped to accelerate the trust building process. It also proved that IBTC had nothing to hide. Through that new CEO and others, the Nigerian top management team became more and more familiar with Group Head Office (Johannesburg) Personnel, Processes and Procedures. It is futile trying to run when you have not learnt to crawl. I was not surprised when Mrs. Sola David-Borha from IBTC became CEO of Stanbic IBTC three years later. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race.
Do you feel the older generation is stuck in a time warp?
With specific reference to Nigeria, I believe our society has been rigged against the youths and it is sad. It was not always like this. A generation that was allowed to achieve great things when they were 30 or 40 has simply refused to let go 20 or 30 years later. Worse still, they have erected barriers and made it impossible for today’s youths to enjoy the same upward mobility, which they enjoyed. I was allowed by the authorities to become a bank entrepreneur and CEO at 33 because I had 10 years banking experience already and that was the minimum requirement at the time. Today, they won’t let you do what I did at 33. They started demanding 20 years (later revised down to 15 years) experience instead. Shortly after IBTC emerged in early 1989, came Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) and Zenith Bank in 1990 and many others. Yes, many Nigerian banks failed in the early 1990s, but the survivors such as IBTC, GTB and Zenith had more youthful CEOs when they were founded. Many banks started by older bankers failed also, but then that was deemed okay by the authorities because their hair was grey. As at 31 March, 2017 when I resigned, the top 5 banks in Nigeria, by market capitalization, were GTB, Zenith Bank, UBA, Access Bank & Stanbic IBTC. Incidentally, they all had youthful founders or were acquired and transformed by youthful CEOs and yet the authorities revised the rules to shut out the youths.
What have you learnt from the youths of today?
I have learnt that in Nigeria, they have been shut out of most economic activities except perhaps in the creative arts where it is difficult for a 75 year old to compete as a hip hop artist or a fashion designer. In virtually every major sector of the economy, entry barriers were raised which made it impossible for the youths to participate. Our youths are angry and believe that greedy and not so competent elders have conspired to shut them out. Perhaps our youngest Federal Minister today is 50 years old. That is a bad joke because, in virtually every field, our youths are more knowledgeable and competent than the elders who are wearing reading glasses and bungling virtually everything every day.
You said you learnt one thing from Arsenal Football Club that strengthened your resolve to resign, can you please elaborate on that.
Yes. Arsenal Football Club Supporters do not doubt that the current manager of their Club (Arsene Wenger) helped build and transform the Club into a giant club and yet probably 50% of the Arsenal supporters today would celebrate and jump for joy if the Board sacks him. His only offence was that he outstayed his welcome. The best time to leave is when they are begging you to stay or when the ovation is still loud. If you hang in there past your “sell-by” date, the chances are that you will slowly rubbish your own image.
The day you stopped being CEO in 2007 and became Chairman, you refused to have a party. Why did you now decide to mark your resignation as Group Chairman in 2017 with a party? What has changed?
The truth is that left to me alone there would have been no party even in 2017. My argument was that movement between subsidiaries in the same group or from a subsidiary to a parent or vice versa should not warrant a party. Mr. Yinka Sanni (CEO) and Mrs. Sola David-Borha overruled me with the full support of Standard Bank Group Head Office. Their counter-argument was that my leaving Stanbic IBTC signified the end of a 28-year era in Nigeria from inception on 02 February 1989 until 31 March 2017 and so the party (held at a venue with less than 150 seats at my insistence) was to mark the end of an era.
What key things did you learn from those that worked under you?
I learnt that they will only respect you if you practice what you preach. They know the difference between “do as I say and do as I do”. That is also why I tried to be punctual for every meeting and every appointment for 28 consecutive years.
You spoke about something you learnt from a lower staff about knowing when/how to balance your bark and your bite as a boss. Can you please elaborate on that?
When IBTC started on 02 February 1989, I was 33 years old. I was the Founding CEO and the largest single shareholder. I was the youngest Bank CEO in the country, but I was the oldest member of staff in IBTC. All the other managers and staff were younger than me. For a 21 or 22-year-old working under me, they thought I was mature and experienced. Meanwhile, 50 or 58 year old bankers looking at IBTC from outside felt I was a kid. Perhaps they even felt that I was a reckless kid that did not realize that he should be an employee. That I was playing polo was further “proof” that I was reckless. The joke was that each time I fell off a horse some IBTC shareholders almost had a heart attack. The kids under me taught me to be forgiving. If they misbehaved, it was largely because they were kids. If I tried biting them very hard every time they made the mistakes that kids make, there would be no bank today. So, I learnt to “bark” at them for minor misdemeanors and only “bite” them if and when they committed very serious offences.
Like some other Chairmen who have left the board, are you going to play an influential role in the choice of your predecessor?
I played an influential role in trying to make sure that only men and women with integrity were invited to join the Board. If you put a bad apple on a board they will eventually reveal themselves through their actions and utterances. Nigerians will walk up to you and say, “What is that crooked foreigner or Nigerian doing on your board”?