Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
My first job was in finance in what was then IBTC.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
I think the person who has had the biggest impact on my career is a man called Atedo Peterside. He is currently the chairman of the bank but I think the reason he has had the biggest impact on my career is because he took an interest in it. He gave me chances very early on in my career, chances to lead, chances to experiment… so he got me to fly very quickly.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Growing the business and getting people to come along on the journey.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Well, you should first ask me if I think I am successful. But I would say that the things that have made for good progress so far are [firstly] the fact that I can work with other people. There is no way that you can be successful or achieve anything meaningful by yourself. And the second reason would be tenacity.
5. What are the best things about your country, Nigeria?
There is so much… The population is fantastic. It’s a great consumer market; it’s great today and will be greater tomorrow. Also, the nature of the people lend themselves easily to hospitality, it’s a warm environment… It is a population of 170m people [and there] are a few bad eggs but if you look at the rest of [them] there is so much that is worth fighting for… Nigeria is home to all, there is no one who [considers] themselves a stranger having spent a couple of months here. And we do have hundreds of thousands of expats who have come and never left. The Nigerian is the ideal partner. In any kind of engagement you will find someone who you can partner with here.
Nigeria is a country that is just full of such potential. So apart from people we have got land, we have got natural resources, but we need to have a market that can be self-sustaining and can also help others, and we are sitting at a great point on the continent. I call it the ‘trigger point’ of the African continent. Our potential is fantastic.
6. And the worst?
You know, we take too long. We don’t have power not because we can’t but because we take too long to sort out our vested interest. People can sometimes be a bit too selfish, so we do not always see the bigger picture…
7. Your future career plans?
I like what I do… I am involved in growing an institution that has significant upsides to it. I kind of see myself doing this for quite a while longer.
8. How do you relax?
A couple of things. I read. I run. I just got back into playing golf. I spend time with my family, and I like to travel with them because that is [when] we get to spend the most time together. I go shopping with my wife… things like that, and spending nice quiet time, helps me relax.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
In every difficulty, see the opportunity and stay with it. Patience pays off if you are focused on what you want to do. If you want it bad enough, you will have it because the opportunity is there.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
I believe Africa will get to where it should be by paying attention to its people. Education and healthcare are critical in being able to raise the quality of life and therefore the quality of expectation of the people, leading to quality of output. The continent must pay attention to those two things: education and healthcare.
Obinnia Abajue is an executive director and head of the personal and business banking division at Stanbic IBTC in Nigeria, a member of the South African-based Standard Bank Group. Abajue is a graduate of Actuarial Science from the University of Lagos, and has an MBA from Imperial College London.