Otunba Michael SobunmiBalogun, a British trained lawyer, who has made a high mark in Nigerian banking, is a man ruled by passion for what he does. He has passion that runs on the speed lane for God and for business and he continually presses to attend to each with minute attention of a master craftsman.
The founder of FCMB Group speaks and acts in a manner that reflects the words of Gorge Washington, America’s 1st president that “it is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and His word”. For Balogun, it is impossible to rightly govern an enterprise without God providing the navigational compass. “Many people who know me appreciate that I have always put God as the foundation of whatever I do”, he said.
It is indeed rare to find company directors and chief executive officers giving openly the type of reverence that Balogun gives to God continually. This man, a Christian convert from a Muslim family background, has accomplished so much in the Nigerian banking industry in testimony that indeed he went along with God when he set out to build the first surviving indigenous merchant bank in 1979.
Through the many operating challenges, economic difficulties, regulatory hurdles, financial distress and global economic meltdown during which many highly reputed banks disappeared; the Balogun-led FCMB Group has survived.
Quite unlike many bank promoters, Balogun did not have to rush to secure a banking licence without first doing an extensive homework, defining the kind of bank he wanted to set up and consulting with experts on how to go about it. His vision was to set up an enduring financial institution and so he went on a fact finding mission until he met Sir Siegmund Warburg, a German Jew who started the oldest and most prestigious merchant bank in London.
Balogun took his time to read Warburg’s book, visited him and obtained a practical guidance on the operations of an acclaimed institution. He took from the man an inspiration fired up to accomplish a great mission in the Nigerian banking industry. “When I was planning to set up virtually single handedly a banking institution with a culture of excellence, I used as my template the legendary founder of one of the most prestigious investment/merchant banks in the United Kingdom”, he said.
Balogun studied law at the London School of Economics and was called to the English bar on graduation in 1959. On return to Nigeria, he was appointed first principal counsel & company secretary in then Nigerian Industrial Development Bank. He later joined Icon Ltd [Merchant Bankers] from where he proceeded to set up City Securities Ltd. That step was out of protest for being sidelined when he ought to have been considered for the headship of the bank where he worked.
Stepping out to set up his own bank was therefore like a protest seed sown in a hostile climate. It was a mission to prove a point and like all such missions it faced counter motions to disprove his point. The bank has therefore gone through daunting challenges through the years but Balogun ends up finding a way of escape from every entanglement.
FCMB has emerged as one of the few banks that have retained their brands in the post consolidated Nigerian banking industry. It is presently a member of the top 10 largest banks in Nigeria by the size of the balance sheet with annual revenue projected to be in the region of N180 billion at the end of 2016.
The bank currently has an equity cushion of about N180 billion and customer deposits of over N690 billion upon which its net credit portfolio of over N657 billion is built. FCMB servers the banking public from across its network of braches and provides direct employment to over 4,000 people.
Balogun has since left the day to day management responsibilities of the bank but not without handing over as well an important message. His message is that today’s managers and managers of the future should not be carried away by present day successes to the point of forgetting where they are coming from. He has preached it like a sermon, taught it like catechism and now expects everyone on board to sing it as an unending chorus.
“The kernel of the message, which we have been trying to put across, is that, in the building of our institutions, the current management would always be conscious of and have recourse to our foundation, the original vision and the set core values that we have established in the course of the years”, he said.
Many people tend to focus on the superstructure they can see and often get carried away by the towering pride of success. This is precisely what Balogun is calling on the present and future managers of FCMB Group to avoid. He has every reason to pride himself for a great monument he has facilitated to be built in Nigeria’s financial services space but he is rather laying emphasis at the supporting foundation and demanding that all hands be on deck at where the future is rested.
“Being equipped with all these”, he said, “the superstructure would be on a solid foundation, because it is a universal truth that all structures can only survive if they are built on very strong and enduring foundation”. This is the tradition that has stood the FCMB Group in good stead. “It has also been the secret of our uniqueness and our success so far”, he said.
Balogun is hammering on the entrepreneurial spirit , which is what kept him going in trying times and which today’s and future managers need in order to also keep going through the many imponderables of the future. His approach was considered as too much of a grip on the bank, which brought him in conflict with the regulatory authorities and consequently his exit as the chief executive officer of the bank.
Even while operating from the sideline, Balogun has not seized from preaching his message of building a bank that will have a place in the future. His purpose of building a bank was to make impact with it, not only today but also in the future. For the bank to continue to make impact in the future, he needs to build the people, not just in terms of expertise on the job but fundamentally the entrepreneurial spirit that provides the propelling force.
Balogun has gone an extra mile to make his message sink up, down and across by creating ‘The Founder’s Place’, a branch office development at his former residence in Victoria Island. The Founder’s Place is meant to keep site of FCMB’s beginning, guiding principles and values while moving forward. It is a visual element of the monument that Balogun has tried to engrave in the hearts of people, serving also as food for thought to the Nigerian banking practitioners that the future of a bank is much more important than its present.