Tony Elumelu, who trained as an economist at first and second degree levels, made a remarkable appearance or rather a dramatic emergence in the Nigerian banking scene. He entered the banking industry from the backyard, not far from the corporate graveyard, where he prevented a bank gasping for survival breath from joining the crowd crossing into the ghost town.
It was nothing for the well established industry leaders to bother themselves about in 1997 when a young entrepreneur picked up one of several troubled banks in the marketplace to try his hands where many seasoned bankers had failed along the way. Elumelu appears to have laid the ailing bank on the master surgeon’s table, injected it with new liquidity and gave it a living name – Standard Trust Bank Ltd [STB].
As the bank came back to life, Elumelu gave it a quickening spirit that launched it into a new operating momentum. He redesigned its service framework to give it competitive niche and tentacles it lacked in the business.
He gave the bank firm footing in two new service areas that were yet to be explored even in a market that appeared overcrowded and saturated. These are management of public sector accounts – which opened a new window of rapid growth in low cost liabilities and personalized financial services – which seized clients from other banks in a new competition.
Having repositioned the bank on a viable path, Elumelu began to add new arms and extensions on the competitive field and to increase its operating speed – actions that soon got him and his bank noticed as a force to reckon with in the competitive arena. Banking services had gone a long way in the direction of customer orientation by the time Elumelu came on stream. He gave it yet a new momentum in that direction.
He applied innovative services to increase the length and breadth of banking services. The market responded positively – putting in his hands resources that set the bank growing well ahead of the industry leaders. STB became a reference mark in corporate turnaround from the brink of collapse to a high growth driver, excelling in service quality and products innovation.
While other banks were yet trying to cope with the competitive disquiet that STB’s emergence raised in the marketplace, Elumelu launched another competitive assault big enough to change the industry structure and market share. Then the banking industry was made up of the new generation banks that were rapidly building market share and the old generation banks that were struggling to defend their market shares. The newcomers came with innovative financial services that excited the market but the old brigade, with their large retail network, still held dominant market shares.
Elumelu went into his financial engineering laboratory and came out with a cross breed: a combination of the large size of an old generation bank and the high quality service of a new generation bank. This historic corporate titration added the high growth drive of STB to the massive business volume of UBA.
This reckoned as the largest amalgamation in the banking business in sub-Saharan Africa. The end product was the creation in 2005 of a new UBA and its transformation as a pan African institution. The new bank towers as one of the largest financial services organizations in Africa, operating in 19 African countries, as well as New York, London and Paris. The merger appears to have illuminated the path of consolidation that Nigerian banking soon followed.
When it comes to who is rightly the whiz kid in Nigerian banking, Eumelu is a name that rings a bell. He is outstanding for having built a bank that wears the corporate personality as Africa’s global bank. That towering corporate name emerged all the way from the backyard: from a bank that was losing its local market share to a dominant financial services institution at continental level.
The accomplishment clearly gives him a place of honour in the history of Nigerian banking. Elumelu is outstanding in his ability to pick up the smallest business idea and blow it up beyond recognition. He entered Nigerian banking with just a mustard seed in his hands – too insignificant to attract attention. Yet, with that, he has dramatically reconfigured the industry’s operating structure and took over the leadership of one of the nation’s largest banks.
Elumelu came into banking on a mission to accomplish backed by a strategy for action, which competitors never imagined was possible from a newcomer nursing a dying bank. It takes a vision to rightly define and successfully drive a corporate purpose through the thick and thin of the operating difficulties and regulatory policy hurdles that have strewn the path of Nigerian banking. It takes a well defined strategy to act once the opportunity presents itself.
Elumelu’s success formula is his ability to think big but begin small. He painstakingly worked on his dream to rule the banking industry unnoticed and when the opportunity came, he struck in what can be described as a business coup. This sums up the corporate story of how Elumelu has moved from an insignificant job of reviving a troubled bank in 1997 to presiding over one of Africa’s largest banks.
Elumelu is acknowledged as one of the most influential corporate leaders in Nigeria and a prolific African entrepreneur of the new generation. His accomplishment in picking up and nurturing a mustered banking seed to become a great oak in the African market gives Elumelu an enviable top ranking in the evolutionary journey of Nigerian banking. This has earned him presence on the Breton Woods committee, which is made up of senior leaders in the global banking industry.