‘Meet the Boss’ is a How we made it in Africa interview series where we pose the same ten questions to business leaders across the continent.
Ebenezer Essoka, CEO, Standard Chartered Bank, South Africa
1. What was your first job?
My real first job was in banking but when I was in university I worked as a waiter and made a lot of money serving people. That is why I am good in the service industry.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My parents. They advised me to be bullish and believe in myself. That belief has taken me across the space.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
It is not about what keeps me awake at night but rather what makes me want to get up in the morning. I want to cut across generational barriers because I realise that the people I manage are aged between 20 and near 40s. I must wake up knowing that I have got to inspire them to make a difference because that is the generation that will transform this place.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I believe in people and relationships. I am also a myth buster; when you say it can’t be done, I believe it can be done. That is why in Standard Chartered, across the world, I was the first black man made CEO in Africa after the company had operated in the continent for more than 135 years. I am a natural myth buster.
5. What are the best things about your country?
I am a pan-Africanist; you should probably ask me about the continent. I am born Cameroonian but I am an international citizen and particularly an African. The best thing about Cameroon is the people. They are wonderful.
6. And the worst?
There is leadership deficit in Cameroon.
7. Your future career plans?
I would like to have extremely enjoyable legacy conversations a few years from now where I would say I was at the centre of development in the continent, made a lot more money, and networked with young people like you.
8. How do you relax?
I spend good quality time with family having conversations about life and the future. When I have extra time beyond family, I can hang around with a few friends and have fun at the golf club. I love dancing and people see me a lot in nightclubs.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
It’s a question of belief, driving innovation and going to school. The transition from school to employment is important for every youth being educated today. My advice to them, like I give to my children, is that in today’s world you don’t need to depend on anybody. You could start [your own business], be innovative and creative or be a thought leader and do the transformation you need.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
By executing what we have talked about for several years. I think it is a question of less talk and more action on issues we have talked about like trade, education, infrastructure and private sector engagement with the public sector on projects. We know the solutions and we have for several years talked about them, but not spent enough time executing.
Ebenezer Essoka is the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) South Africa, and area general manager in Southern Africa. He joined SCB in 1986 and has managed several of the Group’s core subsidiaries in Southern, East, Central, and West Africa. He has served on 12 SCB subsidiary boards.