By Emmanuel Aziken
MR. Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede is a quiet man whose actions speak volumes. Yesterday, the last working day of the year 2012, was epochal in some sense for him. It was the eve of his last full year as Chief Executive Officer of an institution whose culture and character has been defined by the persona of Aig-Imokhuede and a few friends. In under ten years, they not only turned around an institution, but redefined the style and system of the banking industry.
On his ninth floor office at Access Bank, Mr. Aig-Imokhuede, 46 was attired in a sky blue shirt upon a pair of grey trousers apparently at peace with himself.
As the Vanguard team settled in for an interview session – his first interaction with any newspaper – Mr. Aig-Imokhuede tried to hide the costs and challenges of managing one of Nigeria’s top five banks. His motivation it emerged was a fear of not falling behind in any game or competition.
More than thirty years ago, as an eleven year old returning for holidays in Benin, in the then Bendel State, Aig-Imoukhuede was left behind at the tarmac of Kaduna airport following a melee that often trailed boarding flights of the now defunct Nigeria Airways. It was an experience that turned into a motivating factor for the young boy. As the pains of being stranded hit hard on him, there at the tarmac, a spirit of competition arose in him. The young boy vowed that he would never again be left behind by a plane, and certainly not in any other competitive endeavour.
It was a spirit that has in the last thirty plus years steered him through his various landmark accomplishments notably in the banking sector that has become his playground. Through his stints at Prime Merchant Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and then Access Bank, he survived every storm in the industry turning every one into a stepping stone.
Remarkably, for Aig-Imoukhuede and his team at Access, every upheaval has been used as a stepping stone unto greater heights. When in 2004 the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Prof. Charles Soludo, gave a one year deadline for banks to achieve the N25 billion capitalization threshold, Aig-Imoukhuede immediately saw an opportunity in what many others considered a death call. Before the meeting ended that day inside the CBN meeting room in Abuja, Aig-Imoukhuede sent a text to his deputy and close partner in the revolution at Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe.
“The CBN Governor has made an announcement that would make our dreams come through,” he remembered yesterday.
His success has inevitably brought national recognition, one of which was his appointment as a member of the federal administration’s Economic Management Team and chairmanship of the Federal Government’s Committee on Subsidy Payment Verification and Reconciliation. Such exposures have unavoidably attracted hostility from vested interests bringing in its wake, security concerns for Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede.
Given the controversies that have trailed his involvement and the central role of the bank’s chairman, Mr. Cosmas Maduka in the deal with Capital Oil’s Ifeanyi Ubah, Aig-Imoukhuede refused to be drawn into the controversy. His simple response despite all entreaties was that the work of the committee was guided by professional dictates.
The work of the committee he said, was done irrespective of personality, asserting that the documents used by the panel speak on any issue. Just two years ago, Aig-Imoukhuede and his team had successfully taken over the former Intercontinental Bank, a bank which by sheer size and structures around the country was considered an octopus in the industry.
Was it by a sleight of the hand, we asked him yesterday? It was a question he apparently had been expecting and which he never had gotten the opportunity to respond to publicly.
Interest in a bank
His response was enchantingly unnerving. His bank he claimed was apparently the only bank that showed interest in a bank that even if it was big, but had seen its financial fundamentals eroded.
Aig-Imoukhuede was formally appointed Managing Director of Access Bank in 2005, after acting in that capacity for a few years. Last year at the bank’s annual general meeting, Aig-Imoukhuede gave notice of his retirement as Chief Executive Officer of the bank. That is three years before his mandatory retirement from that position.
He was not just avoiding a melee on the tarmac, he was apparently going ahead of his time, plotting a first class seat for himself in his next endeavours. As the Vanguard team sauntered into Mr. Aig-Imokhuede’s office, the picture presented to the team was that of a man at peace with himself and his future.
A holder of the national honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON, an alumnus of the Harvard Business School, University of Benin and Nigeria Law School, Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede was last year named as the 2011 winner of the “Ernest & Young West Africa Entrepreneur of the Year”, he was also named in 2012 as among the top ten most respected CEOs in the PricewaterhouseCoopers Most Respected Companies and CEOs Survey.
Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede, a man who has led the successful turnaround of one of the major banks in the country, taken it to greater heights and in the course won recognition from far and near is the first runner up for the Vanguard Man of the Year.
See full interview tomorrow.