By Omoh Gabriel, Business Editor
ON Friday, August 30, 2013 Otunba Michael Subomi Balogun had a media chat with select journalists in his porch house at 1, Milverton Road, Ikoyi. The chat was centered on “FCMB at 30: a reflection from the founder.” Otunba Subomi, in a very relaxed form said “I am not a pharisee of real life experience, my journey to what you now see had been divinely guided.
And if you care to know, I’m happy and thankful. If any of you go to PrimroseTower, the headquarters of the organisation, this block prim-rose-tower is dedicated to the glory of God as an embodiment of a young man’s faith in the unfailing support of the Almighty God and in his own destiny, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
It is also a monument of a young Nigerian’s determination to succeed and prove that given the opportunity, Nigerians have the capacity to attain a commanding height in the management of financial institutions. Lastly, it serves as a lesson to all and mankind that in all things, men may have their say but in the final analysis, the Almighty God will have His way”.
HOW the journey stared
I had a dream, I had a vision. I was cheated, I was an employee in another institution created by Nigerians and Americans, as well an expertise I would say, but I was the brain behind the whole thing. I went on a course in the US and I came back with ideas with which we should set up a merchant bank.
The whole of the company was aware that I was behind it. But when it came to selecting the Chief Executive, I was told that in spite of all entreaties, that I could not be the Chief Executive because I happened to have a basic training in law. I was 42 and they brought a young man with little or no experience, from America, at 32, to come and replace me.
One of the gifts God gave me is courage and tenacity of purpose. I decided to pray to my God in addition to my decision to fight it out, so that was what happened to the dream and the vision which was clear. By nature God gave me what we call courage, tenacity of purpose, discipline, I knew where I was going but the vista was as misty and unbelievable. I was surprised that one Nigerian would say that if he didn’t get the position in a bank; he would go out to set up a bank. I wasn’t interested just in money but as this encapsulated, I was trying to prove that given the opportunity and with the support of the Almighty God, I had a meteor to attain the commanding heights in the management of the financial institution.
I was trying to prove a point, that I wasn’t arrogant or envious, but with the support I had and with the grace of the Almighty God so when I felt cheated by not being allowed to head an institution created by foreign institutions and then former employers. I had a courage to desire and without anything in my pocket except my God, I decided to start a on a journey of self actualization.
It wasn’t a proud journey, it was a journey of faith, a journey on the handbill of my God. My confidence in myself and my trust in the Lord God our Savior. All these I started with and they are up till today. In the course of the whole journey, it has been turbulent and for many people to see me still I am after about 40 years of doing what no other Nigerian had done, I wish they learnt something from what happened to me. I had a focus, I had courage, I had an unstated faith that the good Lord will carry me through, come rain come sunshine, that mortals may have their say, but in the final analysis, the Almighty God will have His way.
By the time I started my journey, the whole thing had been punctuated by my faith in my God. Maybe that was one of the reasons why I was made the Asiwaju of the Ijebu Christian association, but that faith was very strong.
So 35 years ago without thinking of what to do, I threw in my letter of resignation. One of the things we have come to learn in this country, is that in the first process of having a vision or a dream, only an individual does dream, other people would join later on. And in this country in those days, it was an anathema for an individual to set up an institution; one man show; one man show, as if when you’re dreaming, more than one man can dream.
Looking at the Nigerian environment 35 years ago, and what we have today, would you say 35 years ago had offered more opportunities to Nigerians than what we have today?
To a large extent am happy you said opportunities. Definitely, the opportunities are growing by lips and mouth. But whether the opportunities have been taken advantage of, I will not want to comment.
Tapping the opportunities
Listen to me, there are opportunities but people have not tapped those opportunities enough.
What you had in mind, I mean your dreams and vision was a merchant bank but now the environment has changed all of that. Would you say you are comfortable with what you have in the First City Monument Bank (FCMB)?
I thank my God for what we have but my mind is stretched because of the environment, to something much bigger than what we have now. That was why I led FCMB to be quoted on the market, that was why I left FCMB to become a universal bank and taking the proceeds, that was why I disabuse the minds of people who thought those beautiful buildings I built was only meant for a lips, some people will say, that bank is only for rich people but go into FCMB we are very much involved in retail banking because in those days, it was ACB, from this corner, you will find it from that corner, you will find It. That is why FCMB has grown from five branches to nearly three hundred and we are still growing.
So its more or less a function of the environment that were going the way we are going. We are just about half way where we are going, and I thank God that I am associated with the present chief executive, his dreams are much wider than what I ever thought.
He took it from me its just about one hundred and something branches its about three hundred and we are still growing whether organically or anything of that such.
So the environment have prompted us, it means that FCMB is a dynamic institution, FCMB has not become complacent, we have not reached the halfway of our journey. The chief executive says within a particular time, he wants to make us among the first five, I pray for him and am in full support of him as long as the good Lord gives me the breath and order definitely environment and management is the key.
Sir, can you be specific, at what point in time when your mind was so high that you think or you said you have to go and achieve what becomes an industry bench mark?
Let me tell you, I myself have set a stage that at a particular time, I must allow the old order to change. Yielding place to new.
Success without successor
Success without a successor is not success. so at a point, I was already thinking at what stage would I retire and I actually said to myself the age of 70, but between 60, 65 and 68, hell was let lose. People wanted to fight me though I knew confidentially I hadn’t done anything but my God was with me so it was on the eve of my seventy that I retire.
I’ve always had it in mind that like any human being, I would get to a stage where I could no longer cope with the zeal, with the sort of energy require for growth. Growth is something that is continually and so I had it in mind so I was making arrangement for the succession but about the age of sixty seven, sixty eight, there was a rumor and people thought oh! It’s high time you got rid of this man but God said no.
So about the age of 70 before I left, it was God, it wasn’t human imagination some one even said he has stayed too long why shouldn’t he go. But my God said no. When even will propose somebody to be the Managing Director, they said no hah hah hah, he wants to perpetrate himself
So many people right now especially young professionals are looking up to you as a role model they want to take up the attribute that you engaged in but it looks like the environment is really harsh what would be your words of advice for this people, so that they can still take up what we call corporate government and others?
They should not despair; they should rather persevere and be saying that through the guidance of the almighty God all will be well. They should not give way to the symbol of doubting Thomases, they should be saying I cannot fail; I cannot fail because of Jesus, because of Allah. I cannot fail. So they should be determined, focused. If you read through my autobiography, and the other book, the financial monument billed by God, there was a time in this country that some one said, that man is finished. When I showed up at a party in my flowing white agbada, they say this man? laughs who knows? But let me tell you I am a human being even if I was worried that people were fighting with me, I dint show it. I have courage I put my chest forward, I have faith, I have confidence in what God has done for me.
Having express confidence in the present management of the group and having observe equally too that if you have gone just half way and haven seen the hand of God in your life, where would you want to see the group in the net decay?
Not because Lade is my son and I’ve said something which is embarrassing to him even my family.
He is my third son but God choose him and his brothers don’t envy him rather they are very supportive. He has two elder brothers and one younger brother, the sky is the limit and I want him to continue to exploit very soon, the London branch would be expanded his uprising is being widened but in Nigeria, there is a prime need to bring back banking facility to your computer, to your mobile telephone. For you to stay in your bedroom and say transfer a hundred thousand to the anonymous account and it would happen cashless, you see, the best of the state of the act practices in the banking.
I want FCMB to be bigger. I want FCMB to be among the first five banks. But its not just in sight, but in service, in the ordinary person regarding FCMB as a bank, the ordinary person, accepting the FCMB slogan “My Bank and I” that when they consider banking, FCMB will be their first port of call to do that, you need the best use of sophistication to do that, not just electronics state of act services.
Like I said, if for instance you take FCMB card either credit or debit as soon as you sling it into the machine, I bet you in two minutes you hear khan! in your mobile telephone they will say the sum of two hundred thousand has just been taken from your account if you don’t agree please let us know. In London, I did something, I did it deliberately to be proud. I went into a shop bought something and they wanted me to pay. I said you shouldn’t mind, let me give you a card, my credit card. They saw my picture there at least that shows that I am the owner of the card they said how much. He did not ask me to give him my number he just looked at me and ask me to sign?
Yes, no regrets at all in fact, when I look back I smile and raise up my hands and say thank God! A few weeks ago, my classmate in the secondary school, we gather there we were celebrating our 61 years of leaving school (1952), and we look round everybody was saying this and that I said God I thank you that is what am doing.
What could be the good advice that you will give to young CEOs of banks who people view as flashy in their conduct what would be your advice to them?
OK, professionalism, being ethical a culture of excellence, a faith in your God and anchoring everything you are doing on the Supreme Being you should notice that I’ve been emphasizing God that much as what has happen to me has been God dream. There has been a lot of turbulence but I said they should be professional. People talk of corporate governance the broader thing is to be professional in what you are doing.
I have learnt considerable lessons in life, and I have gone through the cruishable of the chastising experience with the support of providence I have renewed my strength like an eagle and I am now in a position to soar to whatever level my God will take me.
I will testify that I have discovered by God the almighty, the only one who can make and unmake,the only wise God although I was thoroughly shaking I was not uprooted and my head about but not crushed in -spite of all these, the almighty God gave us the grace to reorganize the book in order to forge ahead. I thank my God that neither my health nor my personal composure within the system and the public, suffered any devices.
My boss my managing director says he will want to take up within the first five in the years not just the size not just in profitability but in acknowledgment that all of you that you will leave here and go and take the form to become customer.
If you are made the CBN governor, what will you do to contribute to the system?
I am an old man and I am 80. I don’t involve myself in controversies if anything I pray for I never get in controversy
How big is FCMB, can it finance multinational OIL companies and businesses?
We are already doing that in a big way not only finance, but even facilitating other people joining to finance one of the big project. FCMB may not for now be medium size bank and it has to do with the way we started we started as a merchant bank.
If we have started as a checking bank, maybe by now we would blotted but gradual by gradual but the way we were doing to finance the largest of businesses and if we cannot do it alone we have an investment banking now to bring others to move.