Between Robust Succession Plan and Performance: Lessons from the Zenith Bank Template
Zenith Bank Plc, one of Nigeria’s leading financial institutions, has a tradition of grooming successors from within. Strict adherence to this tradition, which is in line with a laid-down corporate succession policy, has seen the bank achieve seamless transfer of power on the two occasions it has had to effect leadership change.
It is the reason the bank has been able, within its 26-year history, to actualize its vision, “To become the leading Nigerian, technology-driven, global financial institution that provides distinctive range of financial services”.
First it was Jim Ovia, a co-founder of the bank and pioneer managing director and chief executive officer who bowed out in 2010, when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy that limits the tenure of bank chiefs to 10 years came into effect. Ovia, it was, who literally built the bank from ground zero on its three core values of people, technology and service, steering it through the stormy consolidation exercise of 2005 into arguably the biggest second generation bank in Nigeria and one of the strongest financial institutions on the African continent.
While Ovia held sway, Godwin Emefiele was his deputy, a position that made him the natural understudy to the former. That was even when the CBN had not thought about imposing tenure limits on chiefs executives of banks. This means that long before the policy came into existence, Zenith Bank had put in place a deliberate succession plan that was designed to ensure smooth transition in the top echelon of its leadership whenever it would become necessary. In other words, the bank prepared for tomorrow before it came.
The wisdom of having a deliberate succession policy in place and also grooming successors came to the fore barely four years into Emefiele’s tenure, when he was appointed governor of the CBN. In organizations where there are no succession plans, Emefiele’s sudden departure, six years earlier than expected, could have created a leadership vacuum, with the attendant succession struggle with destabilizing effects. Not with Zenith Bank.
With Emefiele’s call to national service, Peter Amangbo, who had been his deputy for four years, stepped in to ensure the boat wasn’t rocked. Amangbo did not need a whole of 10 years to prepare for the top job, thanks to the world-class training that staff at Zenith Bank receive as a matter of routine, which has enabled the bank to build a strong corporate culture of excellence. It’s a culture that allows the staff to be creative and innovative and, coupled with excellent motivation and application of cutting-edge technology, the bank has remained in the forefront of the banking revolution in Nigeria.
Amangbo mounted the saddle fully equipped, with over two decades of experience with the bank in such strategic areas as Corporate Finance and Investment Banking; Business Development, Credit and Marketing; Financial Control and Strategic Planning, as well as Operations. He had earlier been appointed to the board of the bank and its subsidiaries in 2005, namely, Zenith Bank UK, Zenith Insurance Limited, Nigeria; Zenith Pensions Limited, Nigeria and Zenith Capital Limited, Nigeria.
As an executive director of Zenith Bank for nine years preceding his appointment as managing and chief executive officer, Amangbo was responsible for the supervision of corporate and commercial banking, corporate finance, trade services, as well as all the bank’s subsidiaries.
He was part of the team that drove the strategic planning and successful execution of the various initiatives that culminated in repositioning Zenith as one of the best banks in the country. He assumed his current position with a rich pedigree of leadership and team-building skills, in addition to an exceptional ability to drive product, process and customer service improvements, as well as a rare talent for building partnerships with key business decision makers. With proven ability to motivate and mentor, he has been able to lead talented senior professionals and also direct cross-functional teams to achieve strategic objectives for the bank.
Amangbo joined Zenith Bank from PriceWaterHouse Coopers where he was a senior consultant, covering assignments in financial services, manufacturing and general commerce.
A 1988 graduate of Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Benin, Amangbo attended the Warwick Business School from where he obtained an MBA, and also did courses in Strategic IQ Programme, Strategic Thinking and Management for Competitive, as well as Executive in Action (The Art of Turning Strategy into Action) at Harvard Business School, Wharton School of Business and HSM, in New York, the United States.
He is an alumnus of INSEAD and a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
Impact of succession policy on performance
A well designed corporate succession policy has ensured stability in Zenith Bank, a key factor that has enabled it to maintain its tradition of excellence over the years, which is evident in its consistent leadership position in Nigeria’s financial sector in several indices, chief among which are profitability, customer service, corporate governance, size, etc.
The high level of stability at Zenith Bank is continually reflected in its sterling performance year in year out, despite the notoriously difficult operating environment in the country in recent years.
For instance, while the 2015 operating year was extremely difficult for most financial institutions in the country as evidenced in the not-too-impressive performance by a good number of them during the period, Zenith Bank was able to maintain a sustained growth, despite some factors that destabilized banking operations on the country, such as increase in loan loss expenses and high interest costs.
The bank closed the year with gross earnings totaling about N432.54 billion, one of the biggest revenue figures among companies quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. It posted an after tax profit of N105.66 billion, a 6.6 per cent over the previous year’s figure, with dividend payment of N1.80 per share, against N1.75 in 2014.
Zenith Bank is arguably the bank with the highest number of awards and certifications in Nigeria, thanks to a strong culture of corporate excellence that successive chiefs executive officers have been able to maintain. The following awards bear testimony to this verdict:
- Best Corporate Governance 2015 – International Finance Magazine
- Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria 2015 – International Finance Magazine
- Biggest bank in Nigeria by tier-1 capital 2013 and 2015 – The Banker Magazine
- Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria 2013 – World Finance
- Best Bank in Corporate Governance 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 – World Finance
- Most Customer-focused Bank in Nigeria 2014, 2015 and 2016 – KPMG
- Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria 2013 – World Finance
- Best Customer Service Bank in Nigeria 2015 – Global Banking & Finance
- Best Corporate Governance Bank in Nigeria 2015 – Global Banking & Finance
- Best Commercial Bank in Africa – Capital Finance International
- Third Biggest Company in West Africa – Forbes and CNBC Africa
- Best Local Trade Finance Bank in Nigeria 2013 – GTR Africa Leaders in Trade
- Pharez 2013 – 2015 Rating: Credit Rating – Aaa
- Fitch 2015 ratings: Credit Rating – B+
- Standard & Poors 2015 Ratings: Credit Rating – B+
Three key International Standards Organization (ISO) certifications attest to the robust health of Zenith Bank. They are: ISO 22301 (Business Continuity Management); ISO 20000 (IT Services Management) and ISO 27001 (Information Security Management).