Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede has two broad areas of accomplishments in the Nigerian banking business that have admitted him into the industry’s hall of fame. One is the ability to pick up a bank left behind gasping for survival and dress it up to attain the standard of the topmost industry league in a decade. The other is his expertise in structuring deals, employing the most aggressive business acquisitions to achieve one of the most rapid institutional growths in the world of banking.
In 2001, Aig-Imoukhuede led a group of ambitious bankers to acquire Access Bank and by the end of that year, the bank was successfully recapitalized. He took over the leadership of the bank with a mandate to place it among the top five largest banks in Nigeria in six years. The task to bring a bank all the way from the backyard to the forefront in a few years looked very much like a joke.
Aig-Imoukhuede was however driven by his inner conviction that the task was achievable not because he could see how but because he had a vow never to be left behind standing on the platform. He had taken that vow in tears as far back as when he was 10 years of age. He was then returning to school from Lagos to Kaduna but in a scramble to board the aircraft, he was pushed aside. The plane filled up its seats and took off leaving him behind standing on the platform. Taking on Access Bank then from where it was left behind by competition was a man driven by a vow never to be left behind in the future.
The bank’s reconfigured growth engines fired off in 2002 and by the end of his tenor in 2013, the mandate that looked like a day dream had been surpassed. At the end of 2015, Access Bank was the 4th largest bank in Nigeria by asset base, which amounted to N2.59 trillion. Its growth record of 23.1% in the size of the balance sheet in the year was unmatched by any other bank in the industry.
At half year in 2016, the bank’s asset base was up by 26.5% to N3.28 trillion and Access Bank is seriously contesting to become the 3rd largest bank in Nigeria. Aig-Imoukhuede moved the bank from the fourth tier to the first tier competitive league in 11 years. “During my tenor as CEO, I witnessed the transformation of the institution into one of the largest banks in Nigeria with sizeable operations in the Dominican Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, United Kingdom and Zambia”, he said.
Access Bank’s transformation and unprecedented growth testify to the difference that management quality can make in the life of an institution. The top ranking banker that pushed the long established banks to the rear is a lawyer from University of Benin. He attended Harvard Business School’s Executive Management Programme and also attended Citicorp Institute of Finance, Euromoney Capital Markets Bootcamp and IMD Lausanne, Switzerland.
Aig-Imoukhuede commenced his working career in Continental Merchant Bank and he was hired to render legal services. He found himself better fitted for the core banking job than the legal work he was engaged to do and it did not take him long to make the switch. Later he joined Guaranty Trust Bank where he garnered a lot of experience at senior management level and rose to the position of executive director. From Guaranty Trust Bank, he left for the transformation job at Access Bank.
Not long after completing the recapitalization of the bank and while the turnaround task was yet at the critical stages, CBN came out with its N25 billion minimum capitalisation requirement in 2004. The prospects for a bank yet under intensive care retaining its brand in the biggest equity building endeavour in the Nigerian banking industry were quite slim. It raised a question mark as to whether the men on rescue mission at Access Bank would need to be rescued.
Aig-Imoukhuede put to work his expertise in making deals for which he gave up his professional training as a lawyer. Backing up his expertise was the burning desire to fly and never to be left behind standing on the platform. His desire found a successful expression with the acquisition of two banks that enabled him build the required equity capital for Access Bank. This was a major accomplishment for the Aig-Imoukhuede-led team and an early signal that the man was headed for a high stake.
With consolidation, Aig-Imoukhuede launched Access Bank into a new phase of growth within Nigeria and offshore. In 2008, he made strategic cross border acquisitions that took the bank to Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo Cote d’ Ivoire. The bank also started operations in Burundi and then reinforced the home front with the acquisition of Finbank.
The Central Bank’s intervention that quarantined weak banks in 2009 opened yet the biggest opportunity for Access Bank. Aig-Imoukhuede went fishing with the eyes of a dealmaker scouting for candidates for a merger or an acquisition. It is apparent that he called off any further search when he got to Intercontinental Bank. It was indeed a golden opportunity that isn’t likely to happen more than once in a lifetime. He made a quick move on the bank that can be likened to the pounce of a hungry lion on its prey.
Intercontinental Bank was a first tier institution and it was up for sale just for technical insolvency, a condition in which a bank can live with for many years and which can heal with time as long as it is liquid and profitable. It was indeed a big haul for Aig-Imoukhuede, an acquisition that launched Access Bank to the Nigerian banking industry frontline almost overnight.
The acquisition of Intercontinental Bank in 2012 was rated Africa’s top M&A deal of that year under which Access Bank literarily swallowed up one of the giants in the Nigerian banking industry. Almost overnight, Access Bank launched into the top competitive league and became the fifth largest bank in Nigeria by asset base with total assets soaring by nearly 60% at the end of 2012. At current rapid growth, the bank looks likely to double the 2012 asset base in the next one or two years.
Business acquisition is one proven strategy for rapid growth and Aig-Imoukhuede stands out in the Nigerian banking industry for having followed this route effectively to realize the mandate of making a first tier bank out of a fourth tier institution. This is the strategic route that has elevated the 27-year old Access Bank to the point of lurking competitive horns with the old time industry titans.
Aig-Imoukhuede is the man behind the biggest takeover bids that rattled some major banks at one time or the other. He led a management team that was tagged ‘aggressive’ by the industry reading. By his own definition, he was only thinking differently – which was the effect that a three-month course at Harvard Business School produced in him.
He was sent to the business school in 2000 from Guaranty Trust Bank where he was then working. He said that should be a lesson for business leaders to let their top managers stay that long at Harvard Business School because they will think differently when they return. It happened to him, as he could then see the competitive positioning of the banking industry from a different perspective. To him, there was no real competition in the business in which the few industry leaders held 70% market share and with that they lost the drive for excellence, became complacent and then went to sleep.
Somebody needed to wake up the banking industry from sleep and lead the operators through the path of a new competition. That person was Aig-Imoukhuede, whose different thinking after returning from Harvard Business School soon set him on a different mission. The only way to wake up the industry from sleep and complacency was by snatching market shares with a new drive for excellence. By growing his bank well ahead of the industry, Aig-Imoukhuede has played the unique role of waking up the banking industry and defining the new path for Nigerian banking – which is competition based on drive for excellence.