His present status did not come on a platter of gold. They were attained through cheer determination, courage, never-say-die and the typical can-do spirit of most Nigerian entrepreneurs. He did not come from a rich family background. In fact, he along with his other 16 siblings had to engage in street hawking to augment the little their parents could afford. That is the summary of the beginning of Tajudeen Afolabi Adeola, the self-made man, who braced the odds to rise from point zero to attain fame and wealth; building multinational institutions that are today considered the first among equals
Born in January 1954 to a bank clerk father and petty trading mother, Tajudeen Afolabi Adeola was clearly not born with the proverbial Silver spoon. As the fifth in a large household of 17 children, it was obvious that the earnings of Fola’s parents could not in any way provide the basic necessities of life for the large family.
So, right from infancy, he was exposed to the world of survival of the fittest. He had had to learn how to do some little businesses to help the family. In fact, Fola along with his brothers had to hawk wares on the streets of Lagos, the proceeds of which were pulled together to take care of their educational needs.
However, despite the initial shortcomings, Fola’s father never lost sight of the need to inculcate the values of hard work and integrity in the children, the attributes which later came in handy as Fola and some of his siblings later in life began to climb to the top of the ladder of success in the corporate world.
The young Afolabi started his education at St Paul’s School, Breadfruit, Lagos and then proceeded to the Methodist Boys High School (MBHS), also within the Lagos metropolis for his secondary education. At MBHS, Fola’s innate qualities began to manifest as he not only passed through the school but left his footprints as his name is among the 46 most outstanding students on the school’s Hall of Fame.
After his secondary education, Fola proceeded to Yaba College of Technology to read Accountancy and graduated in 1975. An exceedingly brilliant individual, Fola became a chartered accountant five years after graduation following an intensive training he got under Deloitte, Haskins and Sells and D.O. Dafinone& Company (both Chartered Accountants), where he had variously worked.
From the accounting firms, Fola joined the defunct NAL Merchant Bank as manager between 1982-1986 from where he moved to Continental Merchant Bank Limited between 1986-1990 and rose to become the bank’s deputy general manager and divisional head, financial services division.
After about 15 years in paid employment, Fola Adeola took a life changing decision that was to later transform both his person and career and register his name among the great and mighty, both in Nigeria and on the global business plane. Along with his bosom friend, the late Tayo Aderinokun, Fola consummated his vision and dream of owning a bank with the establishment of Guaranty Trust Bank in 1990.
At the age of 36, coming from the position of a Deputy General Manager and divisional head, financial services division of CMB, Fola became the pioneer Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, perhaps, the youngest to attain such a lofty height then.
However, long before the birth of Guaranty Trust Bank, Fola had nursed the ambition to build a strong institution, whose corporate ideals and philosophy would revolve around integrity, professionalism and enduring corporate strategies, the ideals which essentially were the products of his limitless exposure he garnered in his career advancement pursuits.
After graduating from Yaba College of Technology and working under various notable accounting firms, Fola received professional development training at renowned institutions worldwide including Harvard Business School, INSEAD, and the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland. With these exposures and the desire to create an institution that will clearly set him apart from his poor background, Fola put everything into the making of GTBank.
However, while the process of the formation of what is today’s GTBank was still in the works, Fola and Tayo decided to have a business partnership, and experimental endeavour so to speak, when they pulled resources together to establish a barbing salon, named Finishing Touches in the high brow Ikoyi area of Lagos in 1986.
The decision of the duo was born out of the desire to exploit a yearning gap which the absence of a barbing salon in Ikoyi and environs provided. At that time, Business Courage learnt that the closest salon to the highbrow area which provides comfortable abode to some of Nigeria’s upscale citizens and some highly upwardly mobile middle class corporate executives was somewhere on the mainland. The implication of this is that Ikoyi residents have to journey down to Surulere or Yaba on the mainland before they could get a decent barbing salon.
More importantly, what spurred the idea of owning a salon in Ikoyi was the rather shocking experience he had on one of his barber scouting trips when a ghastly accident occured on the Eko Bridge. “The only thing that came to my mind was whether the victim of that accident was also on his way to the barbers! I decided we would put barbers in Ikoyi. The only person I knew that would entertain such a fanciful thought was Tayo Aderinokun. We both dipped into our pockets, and thus Finishing Touches Barbing Salon was born, ” he noted.
Till date, the salon has remained in business but it is no longer owned by the duo of Fola and Tayo as they long sold it out following the acquisition and commencement of GTBank.
From the beginning of his tenure at Guaranty Trust, Adeola had sought to build an institution that would outlast him and one that would be reputed for strong corporate governance, including carefully laid out succession plans. For twelve years, Fola, ably assisted by his friend and soul mate, late Aderinokun, redefined banking practice and made it a strong financial supermarket, revered locally and internationally for its strict adherence to professionalism, corporate governance and best practices.
It was in this spirit that Fola, after 12 successful years at the helm of affairs, stepped down in what is today regarded as the best corporate transition in Nigeria. Today, about 10 years after his exit from the bank, GTBank has not only continued to wax strong, it has remained a numero uno in the annals of financial services delivery in the country.
The bank, over the years, has grown to become one of Nigeria’s foremost financial institutions with vast business outlays spanning Anglophone West Africa and the United Kingdom. The bank presently has an asset base of over N1 trillion, shareholders’ funds of over N190 billion and employs over 5,000 people in Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom.
Fola and his partner were able to build a bank that has a corporate banking bias and strong service culture that have enabled it record consistent year on year growth in clientele base and key financial indices since its inception in 1990. Its operational style, personnel conduct and service delivery models are built on eight core principles aptly dubbed; The Orange Rules in line with the bank’s vibrant orange corporate colour.
In September 1996, barely five years after it was founded, the bank, under Fola Adeola and ably assisted by late Aderinokun became a publicly quoted company and won the Nigerian Stock Exchange President’s Merit award that same year and subsequently for seven years from 2000 to 2009. In February 2002, just before Fola disengaged from the bank, GTBank was granted a universal banking license and later appointed a settlement bank by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2003.
Two years after Fola’s exit, the bank undertook its second share offering in 2004 and successfully raised over N11 billion from Nigerian investors to expand its operations and favourably compete with other global financial institutions. This development ensured that the bank was satisfactorily poised to meet the N25 billion minimum capital base for banks introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2005.
In the post-consolidation era, GTBank made a strategic decision to actively pursue retail banking and a major rebranding exercise followed in June 2005, which saw the bank emerge with improved service offerings, an aggressive expansion strategy and its vibrant orange identity.
In 2007, the bank entered the history books as the first Nigerian financial Institution to undertake a $350 million regulation Eurobond issue and a $750 million Global Depositary Receipts (GDR) Offer. The listing of the GDRs on the London Stock Exchange, LSE in July that year made the bank the first Nigerian company and African bank to be listed on the main market of the LSE.
In December 2009, Guaranty Trust Bank successfully completed the first tranche of its $200 million corporate bond targeted at increasing the depth of its operations in West Africa and Europe in the next couple of years.
There is no doubt that Fola Adeola left a rich culture tied to eight guiding principles called the Orange Rules; Simplicity, Professionalism, Service, Friendliness, Excellence, Trustworthiness, Social Responsibility and Innovation.
Its value system is hinged on professionalism, ethics, integrity, and superior customer service. It maintains a culture of excellence and goes to great lengths to actualize the popular phrase; The Customer Is King and thus delivers to its customers at all times.
The bank operates a very competitive environment, where people can learn its corporate culture and apply themselves in all they do. Employees are addressed by their first names from entry level through to the Managing Director as there is no “Sirs or Madams”. In addition, it operates an open door policy to foster a feeling of equality amongst staff and ensure everyone is accessible at all times.
The unparallel service delivery platform of the bank whose foundation was laid by Fola Adeola has paid off for the bank in a way that cannot be quantified as every customer testimonial about GTBank has continued to draw a great deal of business to the bank. The bank has also evolved over the past 20 years to become one of Africa’s leading banks with a unique reputation for service quality, innovation and excellent customer service; with significant footprints in all countries in Anglophone West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia) and the United Kingdom, and its sights firmly set on Francophone West Africa, it is poised to become the dominant player in the African continent.
But then, Fola’s entrepreneurial passion did not start and end with GTBank. Another of his major contributions to the growth of entrepreneurship in Nigerian, particularly since he retired from GTBank in 2002 is the FATE Foundation, a non-profit, private sector led organisation, dedicated to encouraging the creation of wealth through entrepreneurship, using an innovative mix of training, mentoring, loan support and consulting to support young Nigerians.
FATE Foundation was founded in 2000, following his oneyear sabbatical at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, Jos, Nigeria, where he carried out research on economic development and job creation policies.
Fola, who has never been a lone ranger in the achievement of his goals shared the dream of FATE Foundation with selected well meaning Nigerians for support for the lofty ambition. Naturally for endeavours like this, the late Tayo was Fola’s immediate confidant but the scope was expanded to include other eminent persons.
The impetus behind FATE stemmed from a strong concern for the high level of unemployment and poverty in the country. FATE’s philosophy is based on the commitment to assist Nigerian youths, establish and grow successful businesses by equipping them with the tools, skills, networks and financing required for this task.
Indeed, FATE’s mission is to foster wealth creation by promoting Business and Entrepreneurial development among Nigerian Youths. The vision behind this is to foster the growth and establishment of over 1,000 businesses by 2005 and 5,000 businesses by 2015. These businesses will lead to the creation of employment for at least 50,000 Nigerians by 2015.
Since FATE’s inception, it has worked and continues to work with global corporations, institutions, and organisations. It has along with these, also received tremendous support from publicspirited individuals.
Fola, a boardroom maverick, is a corporate player that no serious corporate organisation wants to ignore. He is on the board of quite a number of companies that operates within and outside the Nigerian economy. For instance, he is the chairman of the Main One Cable Company Limited currently building an open access submarine cable system that will span 14,000 kilometres and will provide international and internet connectivity to countries on the Atlantic Coast from Portugal to South Africa, connecting these countries with each other and with the rest of the world.
Fola has served as the chairman of a range of institutions including UTC, Asset & Resource Management Company Limited, ARM, Eterna Oil, Tafsan Breweries (board member), and Credit Registry Services, Omatek Computers Limited and Socketworks Limited.
He is also the chairman, board of directors of Lotus Capital, a full-service, ethical investment management boutique specializing in Shari’ah compliant asset management, private wealth management and financial advisory services. Lotus Capital was founded in June 2004 with the specific objective of meeting the investment needs of ethical individuals, businesses, and organisations across West Africa.
Lotus Capital is duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as Fund Managers, Corporate Investment Advisers and Issuing House. Lotus Capital is a Nigerian pioneer in this emerging financial niche with a unique equitable interest-free solution. Interestfree financial services primarily known as “Islamic Finance” is the world’s fastest growing financial sector with over $200 billion in assets worldwide growing at 15- 20 per cent per annum.
He is also the Chairman of Cardinal Stone Capital, a full service financial institution which arranged a N10 billion debt investment in Sterling Bank Plc. The firm began operations in June 2008 and is currently registered by the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission to operate as an Issuing House, Fund Manager and Broker/Dealer.
The firm’s activities are carried out across five business units – Asset Management, Investment Banking, Principal Investments, Securities Trading and the Business Support Group.
He is on the advisory board of The Kathryn Hauwa Hoomkwap Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation set up to continue the work of the late Kathryn Hauwa Hoomkwap, with the goal of supporting projects in the five major areas of Kathryn’s work thus: youth development, good governance; women issues; family and society as well as interreligious dialogue.
A council member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, and Institute of Directors of Nigeria (IOD), Adeola served as member of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa between 2004 and 2005. He served until 2006 as a member of Global Advisory Committee on Philanthropy at the World Economic Forum, attended the HRH the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conference in the UK and was invited to join 24 other business leaders for the Aspen Institute ISIB Annual Business Leaders Dialogue in Aspen, Colorado.
In the public sector, Adeola served as the pioneer Chairman of National Pensions Commission and was a member of both the National Awards Committee and the Solid Minerals Committee. He also chaired the Lagos State Disaster Relief Committee, which was created following the January 27, 2002 bomb blast tragedy in Lagos. He was appointed a member of the Governing Council of Lagos State University in November 2004 and the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State until January 2011 and was the Chairman of Ogun State Development Trust Fund Committee.
With over twenty papers presented oi various countries on a wide range of topics, Adeola has also obtained degrees from the London School of Accountancy, the International Institute for Management Development (IEP), the Lagos Business School (CEP) and the Harvard Business School (OPM). In 1999, Fola was awarded membership of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies.
The number of firsts and achievement he has recorded in the field of business, Fola has on three different occasions unsuccessfully failed to translate his economic success into massive political gains. He contested for the Ogun Central Senatorial district ticket under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but lost the ticket to Iyabo Obasanjo- Bello, daughter of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo and also lost his bid to become Nigeria’s vice president in the 2011 presidential election when he contested as running mate to Nuhu Ribadu, former head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), under the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN.
Clearly, Fola Adeola has a towering status in Nigeria’s corporate landscape and for many years to come, there appears to be no end to the number of feats which the banker turned corporate maverick will achieve.