Zenith Bank: Dr. Umeoji, New Dream Team and the Gale of Expectations

Any planned organizational change comes with expectations of better days ahead. This is more so if the change involves top level leadership or management. The new helmsman is expected to step in bubbling with vigour, ideas and ambition. The case of Zenith Bank Plc is no exception.

With effect from June 1 this year, the leadership of the bank’s Executive Management exchanged hands. Dame (Dr.) Adaora Umeoji, OON, took over as the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive from Dr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, whose five-year term had expired on May 31, 2024, after a very successful tenure. Earlier in May, two other new Executive Directors – Mr. Adamu Saliu Lawani and Mr. Louis Odom – also joined the management team.

These management changes have raised expectations that the bank is set for take-off on a flight to higher levels of greatness. Those who nurse such expectations have many reasons to do so. First, the simple one: Dame (Dr.) Umeoji is the bank’s first female GMD/CEO since its inception. All eyes are, therefore, on her to see if she can live up to the expectations of those who hold the view that ‘what men can do, women can do better.’ Zenith bank has been an exemplary success story in Nigeria’s banking industry under men’s leadership. Dr. Umeoji, an outstanding woman of very high professional pedigree, is expected to take it to higher levels of success.

Corporate culture

Another basis for high expectations from the new Executive Management is that the new MD/CEO and all the members of her team are products of the Zenith Bank system – and that is not by accident. Zenith bank has developed a seamless executive transition tradition, succession plan, and strategy of grooming leaders from within. This is exemplified by the fact that all the bank’s Chief Executive Officers that succeeded Jim Ovia, the Founding CEO, have all emerged from within the bank. The tradition of seamless in-house transition is part of the bank’s wider corporate culture of excellence and strict adherence to global best practices. Over the years, Zenith Bank has combined vision, skillful banking expertise, and cutting-edge technology to create products and services that anticipate and meet customers’ expectations; enable businesses to thrive and grow wealth for customers. These strong values, brand equity, corporate culture of professionalism and service excellence are the foundations upon which the bank was built. The new Executive Management which is a chip off the old block is, therefore, expected to leverage on the bank’s culture of excellence to take it to the next level.

History and winning mentality

The corporate culture of excellence has become Zenith Bank’s winning formula as it has seen the bank grow in leaps and bounds during the over three decades of its existence. This growth is manifested in virtually all indices of performance – service excellence, operational spread, capitalization, earnings, profitability, return on investment, among others.

Zenith Bank was established in 1990 as a private company with a capital base of only N20 million to operate a commercial bank. Today it is one of Nigeria’s biggest, fastest growing, and best performing banks. It has 393 branches and business offices in prime commercial centres in all states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Zenith Bank also has subsidiaries in Ghana, Zenith Bank (Ghana) Limited; Sierra Leone, Zenith Bank (Sierra Leone) Limited; Gambia, Zenith Bank (Gambia) Limited. The bank also has representative office in The People’s Republic of China and plans to take the Zenith brand to other African countries as well as the European and Asian markets. It currently ranks as the 10th biggest bank in Africa.

It is Nigeria’s biggest bank by tier-1 capital with a shareholder base of more than half a million. The Bank grew its shareholder’s fund of N20 million in 1990 to N1.38 trillion as at year end 2022.

Zenith Bank Plc’s latest audited results for the year ended December 31, 2023, showed a remarkable triple-digit growth of 125% in gross earnings from N945.6 billion reported in 2022 to N2.132 trillion in 2023. This impressive triple-digit growth in gross earnings resulted in an increase of 180% in Profit Before Tax (PBT) from N284.7 billion in 2022 to N796 billion in 2023. Profit After Tax (PAT) also recorded triple-digit growth of 202% from N223.9 billion to N676.9 billion in the period ended December 31, 2023.

There are indications that the bank will likely surpass this impressive performance in 2024. Its unaudited results for the first quarter ended 31st March 2024, showed another impressive triple-digit growth of 189% in Gross Earnings, from N270 billion reported in Q1 2023 to N781 billion in Q1 2024. Profit before tax (PBT) rose to N320 billion in Q1 2024, representing an increase of 270% from the N87 billion reported in Q1 2023. Profit after tax (PAT) equally grew significantly by 291% from the N66 billion reported in Q1 2023 to N258 billion in the current period.

This serial and multi-faceted success story of Zenith bank has imbued in its staff, not the least those in the executive management category, that winning mentality to soar even higher. That is the mentality that Umeoji, the new MD/CEO, and members of her Executive Management are expected to exercise to regenerate and reposition Zenith bank for a new and higher phase of greatness.

The new Executive Management Team

Coincidentally, the new helmsman (woman) at Zenith Bank has assumed the driver’s seat in 2024, the year when the Zenith Bank Group plans to complete the transition to a holding company structure, which is anticipated to position it advantageously for exploring emerging opportunities in the Fintech space while bolstering its digital and retail banking initiatives. This is another basis for high expectations from the new Executive Management. The new management is expected to leverage on this structural change and other advantages to excel.

The last, but not the least, reason for high expectations at Zenith Bank is the quality of the Executive Management which Dr. Umeoji is presiding over. As can be seen from their profiles below, the nine-member Management team has brought over a combined century of years of their banking professionalism and experiences to the management. They are expected to deploy these to support the reputable Board, headed by Mr. Jim Ovia, the bank’s Founder, in propelling the bank’s vision, operations and performance to the next level.

Dame (Dr.) Adaora Umeoji, OON

Dame (Dr.) Adaora Umeoji OON, is the Group Managing Director/CEO. With close to 30 years cognate banking experience (26 of them with Zenith Bank) and broad executive management experience, Dame (Dr.) Adaora Umeoji, OON rose through the ranks to her current position.

Prior to her appointment as MD/CEO, Dr. Umeoji has been the Deputy Managing Director of the bank since October 28, 2016.

She is an alumnus of Harvard Business School; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Jos, a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and a first-class honour in Law from Baze University Abuja. She also holds a Master of Laws from the University of Salford, United Kingdom, a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Calabar. She is a graduate of the Advanced Management Programme (AMP) from Harvard Business School, a graduate of the Global Banking Programme from Columbia Business School and she holds a doctorate degree in Business Administration from Apollos University, USA. Her dissertation was on inspirational leadership and her findings have been recognized as a major contribution to leadership and people management.

She attended the strategic thinking and management programme at Wharton Business School, USA, holds a Certificate in Economics for Business from the prestigious MIT Management Sloan School and a Certificate in Leading Global Businesses from Harvard Business School, USA.

She is a fellow of notable professional bodies including the Chartered Bankers Institute of London, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Institute of Credit Administration, Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Nigeria, Institute of Chartered Meditators & Conciliators, and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators of Nigeria, among others.

The MD/CEO has presented lead papers at major academic conferences and symposia. She was a keynote speaker at the Zenith Global Economic Forum held in New York City, USA, where she delivered a thought-provoking lecture on Financing Growth Drivers in the Nigerian Economy.

Dame (Dr.) Umeoji, OON has at different times participated in high-level bankers’ meetings with impactful contributions towards the advancement of the banking industry, national economic growth and development. She has delivered several motivational speeches at strategic sessions aimed at mentoring youths and managers, especially banking professionals.

Beyond banking, Dame (Dr.) Umeoji supports research and learning on inspirational leadership, mentorship, talent development, collaboration, change and adaptability, strategic thinking, innovation and creativity, amongst others.

She promotes the Pink Breath Cancer Care Foundation which supports several healthcare programs within the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.

She has won numerous awards for excellence and creativity in management. Her contribution towards improving humanity has been recognized by various organizations including the Nigerian Red Cross.

As a result of her passion for promoting professionalism in the banking industry and improving the well-being of the less privileged, Dr. Umeoji founded the Catholic Bankers Association of Nigeria (CBAN), a platform she uses to promote ethical banking and service to humanity.

Dame (Dr.) Umeoji is a Peace Advocate of the United Nations (UN-POLAC), and a Lady of the Order of Knights of St. John International (KSJI), and was recently awarded a Papal Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester by His Holiness Pope Francis.

In 2022, the Federal Government of Nigeria honoured her with Officer of the Order of the Niger, as a recognition of her contributions to nation building.

Henry Oroh

Henry Oroh holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Benin, Edo State, and an MBA from the Lagos State University as well as an LLB Degree from the University of London. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and an honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIBN), Nigeria.

He has over two decades of banking experience. He began his banking career in 1992 at Citibank where he served for seven years in Operations, Treasury and Marketing. He joined Zenith Bank in February 1999 and has worked in various Groups and Departments within the Zenith Group Office. His expertise spans Operations, Information Technology, Treasury, Marketing, including the Manufacturing, Food and Beverages, Pharmaceuticals, Oil and Gas, Public Sector, Consumer, as well as Corporate Banking and Business Development.

In April 2012, he was seconded to Zenith Bank Ghana Limited as an Executive Director and became the Managing Director/Chief Executive in February 2016, where he successfully spearheaded the phenomenal growth of the Zenith Brand both within the Ghana market and the West African sub-region. Henry has attended several Leadership Programmes and Executive Management Courses at the Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, New York; University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, HEC Paris, JP Morgan Chase, UK; and the Lagos Business School.

He brings to the Board of Zenith Bank Plc strong competencies in Credit & Marketing, Operations, Information Technology, Treasury and impressive Leadership skills.

Mrs. Adobi Nwapa

Mrs. Adobi Stella Nwapa holds a Bachelor’s Degree (BA) in History from Imo State University, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Strayer University, Houston-Texas; a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Jack Welch Management Institute and an honorary doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) from Abia State University.

She has attended several local and international courses and programmes, including Leading Change and Organisational Renewal (Harvard Business School), Key Executive Programme (Harvard Business School), World Finance/Winning Negotiation Strategies (HSM Americas), Developing Strategies for Value Creation (London Business School) and the Senior Management Programme (Lagos Business School).

She is a Fellow of several institutes, including the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC), the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), the Institute of Chartered Management Accountants (ICMA) and the Institute of Management Specialists (IMS), United Kingdom. She is also a member of the Nigeria Institute of Management (NIM) and an honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (HCIB).

Mrs. Nwapa comes to the board of Zenith Bank Plc with over thirty years’ cognate experience in banking, being a pioneer staff of the Bank since 1990. She has held several senior management positions in the Bank, including business development and branch and zonal management, and treasury. Until her appointment as Executive Director, she was General Manager and Group Zonal Head of Ikoyi Zone as well as Group Head of Diaspora Banking.

Mr. Anthony Akindele Ogunranti

Mr. Ogunranti Akindele is a consummate professional banker with expertise across Banking Operations, Corporate, Commercial, Retail and Branch Banking, Multinationals, Power & Infrastructure, Oil & Gas, Public Sector, Structured Trade & Project Finance, as well as General Management.

He holds a B.Sc. (Hons) in International Relations from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, an MBA in Marketing, and M.Sc. in Banking and Finance, University of Ibadan. He has attended the Moody’s Credit Academy, UK, the Executive Development Program (EDP), Wharton Business School, USA and the Leading Change and Organizational Renewal Program (LCOR) at Harvard Business School, USA.

Mr. Ogunranti joined Zenith Bank Plc in 2004 as a Senior Manager and has held various leadership positions in the bank. Prior to his appointment as Executive Director, he served as the MD/CEO, Zenith Bank Ghana Limited, where he led the Bank to achieve outstanding results. Under his leadership, the bank received several laurels and awards, notable among which was the Bank of the Year 2020 and the Best Bank in Ghana 2021. He was also a two-time winner of the CEO of The Year Award (Banking Category) in Ghana.

He was until his appointment a Member of the Executive Committee of the Ghana Association of Bankers (GAB) and a Member of the Governing Council of the National Banking College, Ghana.  He was also conferred with the Distinguished Alumnus Award 2021, by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

He is an Honorary Senior Member of Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (HCIB), Honorary Fellow Chartered Institute of Credit Management, Ghana (FCICM) and a Member Nigeria Institute of Management (MNIM).

Mr. Adamu Saliu Lawani

Mr. Adamu Saliu Lawani is a seasoned Chartered Accountant with over three decades of cognate banking industry experience. An alumnus of Auchi Polytechnic, Nigeria, he graduated with a Higher National Diploma in Accounting, achieving distinction. He holds an MBA from both the University of Lagos, Nigeria and The Business School in the Netherlands.

Mr. Lawani joined Zenith Bank in 1996 and has experience in operations, credit and marketing.

He has held leadership positions in various groups such as Corporate Banking, Conglomerate, Consumer Credit Department, Export and Trade Finance Department and Agriculture Finance Department, among others. His contributions have significantly enhanced the bank’s growth and profitability.

Committed to continuous professional development, he has participated in Executive Education programmes at prestigious institutions, including the London Business School, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, INSEAD Business School, France, and Lagos Business School.

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Fellow of the Institute of Credit Administration, Fellow of Nigerian Institute of Management, Fellow of Chartered Institute of Strategic Management, an Honorary Senior Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, and an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria.

Mr. Louis Odom

Mr. Louis Odom is a graduate of Accountancy from the Abia State University and has an MBA from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom and M.Phil (Management) from Nile University of Nigeria.

He joined Zenith Bank in January 1997 and has worked in River/Bayelsa Zones and currently in Abuja, FCT, where he serves as the General Manager in charge of the Abuja and Northern Zones and has contributed to the growth and profitability of the Bank. Prior to joining Zenith Bank, he had worked in Diamond Bank and is well versed in operations, credit and marketing.

He has attended several Executive Education programmes both within and outside the country, including London Business School, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School and Lagos Business School.

He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, and Honorary Senior Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Nigeria.

Felix Egbon

Mr. Felix Egbon is the Chief Risk Officer of the bank. He is a General Manager (GM) and currently the Group Head, Risk Management Group of the bank.

He participated in the establishment of a robust Risk Management function in the bank.

Mr. Egbon joined the services of the bank in May 2006 with responsibility for branch coordination and subsequently Internal Control and Audit and was responsible for review and enforcement of the bank’s procedures, controls and policies in branches bankwide.

He is a fellow, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), honorary member, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria and Senior member, Risk Management Association of Nigeria.

Prior to his engagement with Zenith Bank, he had worked with PricewaterhouseCooppers as Audit Senior, Auditing and Business Advisory Services; United Bank for Africa Plc as the Principal Manager in charge of branch coordination, internal control and Audit responsible for review and enforcement of procedures, controls and policies in the bank branches.

Michael Osilama Otu

Michael Osilama Otu is the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of Zenith Bank Plc. He joined the bank on July 14, 1997 and became the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser in February, 2002.

He graduated Second Class Honours (Upper Division) in Law in 1992 from the then Bendel (Edo) State and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, and attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos State between 1992 and 1993. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1993 with Second Class Honours (Upper Division). He obtained a Master’s Degree in Law (LL.M) from the University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos State in 1996.

While at the University and the Nigerian Law School, he won several awards including – the Best Graduating Student in Banking, Insurance and Negotiable Instrument, Sir. Darnley Alexander’s Prize for Best Student in Legal Drafting and Conveyancing, Chief Ernest Shonekan’s Prize for Best Student in Legal Drafting and Conveyancing, Chief F.R.A. Williams Prize for Best Student in Legal Drafting and Conveyancing.

His professional Banking experience spans over two decades beginning in 1993 when he was employed as a Legal Officer in Crystal Bank of Africa Limited (now UBA Plc). He also worked as a General Counsel and was Deputy Head of Chambers in Vincent Omegba& Co. (Legal Practitioners).

He is a member of various professional bodies including the Nigeria Bar Association (N.B.A); Nigerian Society of International Law and the International Bar Association; Honourary, Senior member, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (HCIB) and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb). He is a Resource Person for the Financial Institutions Training Centre (FITC) and the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) amongst others.

Mukhtar Adam, PhD

Dr. Mukhtar Adam is a distinguished finance professional with over two decades of cognate experience. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Finance from Leeds Beckett University, an M.Sc. in Finance – Financial Sector Management from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, an MBA in Finance from the University of Leicester, and a B.Ed. in Social Sciences, specialising in Economics and Management, from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Dr. Mukhtar Adam also holds a Diploma in International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) from the esteemed Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Islamic Banking and Insurance from the Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance in the UK.

Dr. Mukhtar Adam is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School (Advanced Management Program – AMP) and Wharton Business School (General Management Program – GMP).  He has also participated in several executive programmes at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and INSEAD Business School. He is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ghana (ICAG), and the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN).

Prior to his current role as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Zenith Bank Plc, Dr. Mukhtar Adam served as the bank’s Deputy CFO, leading the Financial Reporting, Tax Management and Strategic Planning Groups and supervising the Zenith Group’s entire financial reporting function. Before joining Zenith Bank in 2007, he honed his skills as a Senior Consultant in the Financial Services Group of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

His vast expertise spans numerous financial areas, from financial sector management and policy analysis to financial reporting and analysis, tax management, audit management, strategy development and execution, enterprise risk management, credit risk management, and financial advisory. He is also accomplished in capacity building and training. Dr. Mukhtar Adam is a prolific researcher with several professional and academic publications.