Today, we present to you the story of the Managing Director of First Registrars and Investors Services, Mr. Bayo Olugbemi, who rose from a humble beginning to become a successful player in Nigeria’s financial sector. So many aspects of his story as a bus driver, trader, Pastor and a manager of resources, have profound lessons. He spoke with DAPO AKINREFON & CHARLES KUMOLU.
YOU have distinguished yourself as an investment banker by rising to the position of a managing director, how was it like getting this far in life?
There is no story without God because He is the most important factor. No matter the kind of success that can be ascribed to me, without God, I am nothing. I will not call myself an accidental banker. However, my first love was journalism. But because of my poor background, I could not go directly to the university after secondary school.
I had to pause, work for about four years after which I gathered some money and went back to school. But as God destined it, I got stuck but for good.Looking back, I will say that it was a necessity to enter the banking industry so I can raise funds and go back to school.
It was actually a good decision because I was torn between going into insurance and banking. I got an appointment to work in an insurance company while Union Bank almost at the same time employed me.
On growing up: Going down memory lane, I will say that I grew up in a very poor family because the poor called us poor. To pay N28,00 for my School Certificate Examination was a Herculean task but at the end, we paid, though very late.
Everything about banking
After the examination, my parents said I needed to look for a job so I can gather money to further my studies. That was how I was employed by Union Bank on August 6, 1982. Prior to that, I had worked with Michelin as a messenger for seven months.
By the time I was posted, I was sent to a head office department called Registrars Department. When I got to the department I was surprised because what I saw was not core banking because I had thought that everything about banking ended at the Banking Hall. It was a place where I was asked to be carrying files, looking at binders and records of shareholders.
I was swimming in the midst of dividend warrants and share certificates. My plan was to work for four years and go back to school. I got admission into a university to study accountancy in New York in 1985 but as I was preparing to leave, the Lord spoke to me and I heard him clearly saying I should not go.
When I told my brother who had paid for me, he asked what happened and I told him that God asked what would happen to my younger ones if I go.
On earnings: I was earning fairly well then with an annual salary of N2,38,00. With that, I took over my brother’s responsibility. Today my younger brother is a member of the House of Representatives. Almost immediately, I registered for banking exams.
Most people will say that they had straight As in secondary school. That was not the case with me because I had F9 in Mathematics but I knew that if I had to do banking, I had to sit for mathematics again.
I had to register for mathematics, accounting, and statistics and to the glory of God, I passed the subjects by the time I sat for the exams. While I was doing that, I was exposed to training in the FITC and other professional training. I later got the B.Sc and ACI almost at the same time in the late 80s and early 90s.
Eventually, I landed in First Registrars, which was a subsidiary of First Bank. I also registered to do an MBA in Unilag in addition to a Master’s Degree I obtained at Leeds University in the UK. One thing that is left for me in terms of acquisition of knowledge in addition to other certificates I had at Harvard and other places is my Ph.D.
On investment banking: Since I came here I have been able to raise an army of investment bankers. When we took over here it was regarded as a dumping ground for banks that had Registrars departments.
They bring people they believe are not doing well, those that are on their way out of the banks or people that have disciplinary issues. They send those with disciplinary issues here instead of sacking them. The Registrars Department then was like a Siberia where they dump those they think are not adding much value.
But we turned around. Before I came here, I had started the Registrars outfit of some firms like Diamond Bank, Rims Merchant Bank, NAL Registrars which later became Pace Registrars. Because of the policy of the CBN that no bank should own a Registrars outfit, all of them were sold and they had to change their names.
Today, apart from the people I hired when I was leaving my previous employments, so many people have risen in the industry because of my inputs. From here so many people, who I brought up in the industry, who are now heading the Registrars outfits in the country were hired. Our footprints are everywhere in the industry.
We have been able to influence new professionals who have taken registrars business from what it used to be to what it is now. In terms of support services, the bulk of Registrars today uses a software called Easy Click which was developed by a consultant who used us as a guinea pig.
We actually brought him here from FCMB, he had worked with me before at Rims Merchant Bank. When I was coming here I told him that I will not be able to pay him because he was working with FCMB.
I told him to pull out of FCMB that we would pay him as our consultant. Today, 80 percent of registrars are using the software. So, we don’t only develop Registrars, we create support services in the industry. We have also been able to help courier services to become independent.
People have been sent off from here to help the industry grow. When we came here everything was being done manually, but within a year, we changed everything and people got to know about us in the industry and First Bank Group.
As of then, everything about Registrars was in Lagos but ensured that we opened liaison offices across the country. So, we embarked on continuous innovations and services. We introduced e-dividend which ensures that dividends are loaded in people’s cards.
In all these, what were those influencing factors that brought you this far?
The most important factor is God. The Bible says when the way of a man pleases God he will make his enemies at peace with him. Diligence is the second factor. Perseverance which speaks to resilience is also contributory. There were challenging times, but I was focused on my studies and job.
In fact, when I was growing up in Union Bank, we had some people who were called difficult and wicked people who people run away from. I didn’t run away from them because I did not see them as being wicked. I saw them as people who are hardworking and highly demanding.
They want the best out of you, so, if you are lazy they will not like you. Some of them were Muslims but even Muslims ran away from them. But I thank God for their lives because they brought out the best in me.
Jobs without certificates
There is no one I can’t work with. Those that people run away from are the ones I like working with because I know there is something in them that others are not seeing. There is something in them that they want to impart in people but lazy people didn’t see it so. If you want to succeed in life you must have mentors. I call them distant mentors or side mentors.
But I have real mentors that patterned my life. One of them is a Senior Pastor in the Redeemed, Pastor Obed Akinmulewo. He was a Chartered Accountant before he became a pastor.
He did not become a pastor because he was frustrated. He became a Pastor because he was convinced. He used to tell us in the past that those, who have jobs in the banking industry, should acquire more educational knowledge. He used to say that it is better to have certificates with a job than having jobs without certificates.
He used to say it prophetically that those in the banking industry should go and get certificates because a day will come when some more qualified people will come and they will send those with lesser qualifications away. It happened barely five years when Hakeem Bello-Osagie had taken over in UBA and a lot of people with lesser certificates were sent out of the banking industry.
Having a mentor who had gone through your part before is important. Another one was my Senior Manager at the then Union Registrars, Mr. Badejo, who later retired as the Managing Director of Union Registrars. The third one was my mentor in the Capital Market, Deacon Olayemi.
At a point, he was the President of Insurance Stock Brokers. God used them to mentor me in the profession and spiritually. Also, I chose my friends. I have a lot of acquaintances but I chose my friends. A friend that cannot make you grow will diminish you. My Principal in Secondary School used to tell us to associate ourselves with men of quality.
He said If we esteem our reputation, it better to be alone than to be in bad company. That quote by an American philosopher, really shaped my life. Giving my life to Christ early in life helped me a lot. I was not involved in those distracting things that young people indulge in.
Of course, continuous education not just in the four walls, but outside shaped my life and helped me to acquire knowledge that will last me all my life because when you stop learning, you start sinking and start dying. I learn every day. I learn from the young, old and books.
As of when I was going for my Master’s Degree in 1997, some asked why I was doing so because they felt I had much. But barely a year after I concluded my Master’s Degree, there was an advert and I applied and got this job I am doing now because that particular qualification which I had just acquired was among the requirements for the job. Whenever people find themselves, they should improve the qualifications that brought them there.
You got your employment in the bank with a School Certificate, but today, the same qualification hardly gets people employed into anywhere and that has contributed to the unemployment crisis. How does that make you feel?
In 1981 when I joined with school certificate, how many graduates did we have in this country? How many universities were in the country? What was the population of Nigeria? So, as population increases, there are other challenges that come with it.
Are you saying that there is a nexus between the unemployment crisis in Nigeria and population growth?
Yes. There is a nexus between both of them. There is also a nexus between economic development and unemployment. If an economy is not growing how can people be employed? When there is no infrastructural development, there is a problem.
A lot of our graduates are unemployed today because industries are closing down. Power is a major problem. If the issues of power and development are resolved, there will be development. Today, nobody wants to learn any trade again because of power problem.
I observed that Nigeria looks at unemployment from the point of graduate unemployment alone and that is wrong. What of the artisans and others? Even the educational system is so bad now that some of our graduates are unemployable. I have been on a panel where an Accountancy graduate did not know the contents of a balance sheet.
The person said they were thought that she sat for the exams and passed. Many have certificates but don’t have skills. Our graduates should be retooled. The situation also borders on the kind of teachers we have today. They are not committed. A lot of our youths don’t want to start from the basics.