He is the maverick entrepreneur in the hat – who has worn many hats: the precocious kid; the investment mover and shaker, the banking wizard. Whenever you see Atedo Peterside in his flowing robes in the heat of a Lagos afternoon – you know a big deal is cooking.
Right now, wherever Peterside lays his hat, that’s his home. His diary shuttles him between Lagos and Abuja; he is on the board of six listed companies; he is chairman of the National Council on Privatisation’s technical committee and runs his own foundation on good governance. On top of this, Peterside is behind many of the biggest investment deals in Nigeria.
We talk at his Victoria Island penthouse, full of art and family portraits. This is Peterside’s quiet haven, away from work and his other passion, polo – a sport he has played for more than two decades with a current +1 handicap. He has a string of fine polo ponies.
Peterside is in the news these days for reasons other than maverick business and polo, but he is quick to clear up that he is no political aspirant – merely a devotee of the greater good; a philosophy born of years of sweat and risk in the dynamic Nigerian banking sector.
At 33 years old, a little older than he would have liked, Peterside became the youngest bank CEO in Nigeria, when he founded the Investment Banking and Trust Company (IBTC Bank) in Lagos.
“Because I was young, people were quite nervous about a bank being run by a ‘kid’, businesses wouldn’t take you seriously. So, I invited some other shareholders who would join the board to create the understanding that it was a mature decision,” says Peterside.
He ran IBTC Chartered Bank for 18 years. Now he is Non-executive Chairman for Stanbic-IBTC, following a merger with South Africa’s Standard Bank Group Nigeria operation – Stanbic Bank Nigeria.
It was the fruit of a merger, in 2007, Nigeria’s first ever tender offer. A foreign direct investment of $525 million took place and Stanbic IBTC was born.
“The most difficult problems I faced as CEO were self-imposed – when I started IBTC, I made a personal decision not to cut corners. I made a resolve to never get involved in any form of corrupt transactions and practices. I had a strong personal commitment to integrity and good ethics. We were going to be above board. I never wanted anyone to say ‘This guy built a bank but they are a bunch of crooks’. While it was very difficult for many to operate this way, for me it was quite easy as I was bent on creating a quality and reputable institution that will stand through time.”
In 2005, following a directive by the Central Bank of Nigeria on conversion to universal banking – a system that allows a bank to engage in all aspects of banking under a single license, Peterside’s IBTC was the only pure investment bank left at the time. There was an eventual compliance and a ripple effect – out of this came IBTC Chartered Bank.
“Acquiring two small retail banks took us out of pure investment banking into universal banking which was never my strength as I was an investment banker through and through.
“But even before we got to that point, I knew that it was time to move all the way to a different type of institution. In effect, if we were going to have a universal bank, I thought we could team up with an international bank. I was happy with IBTC as a well-connected domestic investment bank and we could have kept that model going for many years but there were new requirements that came with the change that affected the tight control unit that had existed previously – I thought, I might as well go all the way and started exploring the direction of a merger with an international bank. Stanbic was the obvious choice. They also had the need to expand their footprint in Nigeria.
“Simultaneously, I divested substantially and reduced my percentage shareholding and also sold some shares to Standard Bank – that too, was deliberate. I was not comfortable leaving too large a chunk of my personal net worth in one institution as I was already seeing signs of vulnerability. I didn’t want anything to get in the way and preferred to have my net worth spread over regulated businesses. Also, events of 2005 showed me that in a heavily regulated system like banking, the regulator can destroy your business overnight with the wrong decision and sometimes you are only as safe and secure as your regulator allows you.”
This is all part of a career, born of foresight in his days at the London School of Economics, where he earned a master’s degree and steeled himself for the world.
“At that time, I was one of the people who were bent on returning to Nigeria – I never contemplated staying a few more months after my education. I was back in Nigeria within two weeks of receiving my master’s degree. In reality, I got a sense, even at my age of 21, that Nigeria would go places very soon and I thought by staying in London to search for a job I’d be missing out on the great things that would happen back home,” he says.
“Oil had just been found in large quantities and I thought my country was going through a very important phase. The civil war had ended in 1970; I was to return home in 1977. So, I thought that was Nigeria’s now moment and I didn’t want to miss it. I wouldn’t say I was phenomenally patriotic, I just felt Nigeria was a place where the sky was the limit. I identified with every single thing that was happening and I felt I could move mountains here – I could have an impact.”
On his return, Peterside was clear; he wanted to be an entrepreneur and chose the field of finance because he felt he could do well. First, there was compulsory time to be worked for the government in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Peterside didn’t want to waste time and requested to be posted to an investment bank.
“I was told the investment banks were not registered with the NYSC scheme and my next best bet was a commercial bank. After spending about six months there, I met the CEO of NAL Merchant Bank, who registered with the NYSC scheme, so I could join their team after I expressed my initial interest. I finished my NYSC at NAL Merchant Bank and stayed on after my service. I worked with this bank for 10 straight years – after which I left to start my own bank,” he says.
“I was heavily exposed while at NAL Merchant Bank. I had a lot to do. I did not complain because I was learning. People wondered why I had been given so many responsibilities but I believe it was a mutually beneficial situation for the CEO as well. He had a lot of confidence in me and he threw a lot at me.”
Like a man on a mission, Peterside studied the system, identified loopholes and carved out a niche. The genesis of his own bank proved a problem. The qualification to be a bank CEO, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria, was at least 10 years’ experience.
“I was bent on becoming a bank entrepreneur in Nigeria, because I felt that the existing investment banks at that time were not very good. So, I was in a hurry to set my own bank up and take them on,” he says.
After 10 years of work, in 1989, license in hand, Peterside gathered young professionals and older heads to found the top investment banking institution in Nigeria.
“I was also lucky in another area – the minimum capital requirement to start an investment bank at the time was quite low. It was therefore within my capacity as I was able to muster some savings, own about 20 percent of the bank and invite others to own the rest of it. I saw a window and I didn’t know how long it would remain open for – I had to grab the opportunity while it existed. Also, when I began, the requirement was a minimum of 10 years’ experience. Several years later, the requirement became 20 years’ experience. Today, it has become 15 years. So, there was an element of good fortune in my case,” says Peterside.
Through it all, a sprinkle of luck and a mean hand played by Peterside won through. This was pure Peterside, a calculating player, who split his life into three segments.
“The first 25 years for me, was to get educated, the next 25 was to be productive, gain financial independence and be well invested. The next stage is to start investing my energy into giving back to society, see how to improve the country – I have that time now.”
It is a belief born in childhood, he says. Peterside grew up, one of three children, in Lagos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He recalls a strong parental influence.
“I think I almost grew up with the message that: Yes, you must do well and be successful but that also came with a contract that says if you achieve all of this, promise to devote some of your time to the greater good of society. So, I’ve always taken this to be a duty.”
One of Peterside’s big duties, right now, is overseeing the privatization of Nigeria’s parlous power generation. The country has a mere few thousand megawatts to share between more than 160 million people. He is the chairman of the technical committee of the Nigerian Council on Privatisation. With the privatization of the Nigerian power sector being one of the biggest issues on the continent, Peterside and his team have their work cut out.
“One thing we must remember is that Nigeria’s power sector was neglected for decades in terms of the priority given to it by government. We were at rock bottom. A number of us believed that the way forward was to launch a power sector reform program that was driven at the heart by privatization. We did all that and actually went out to advertise transparently, got prospective asset owners to compete transparently and it is fair to say that the entire transaction was hitch-free,” he says.
“If we had made a decision to sell the entire power sector to one individual, I’m very sure there would have been no takers. The activity is just too complex, not to mention the staggering financial requirement.”
Many Nigerians expect the lights to switch on overnight. Peterside warns that is not going to happen and there are also issues around the reform of gas supply. Most of the country’s power generation relies on gas, which suffers from unreliable supply.
“People also have a right to be angry, however, and they have a right to demand accountability but it will not happen overnight. We should expect to start seeing improvements within six to 12 months and, for as long as these improvements continue, then we are getting somewhere,” he says.
Peterside says he is now semi-retired and has closed the CEO chapter in favor of striking out on a new path. Seven years ago, he founded the ANAP foundation. The foundation name, also his nickname, is based on the initials for Atedo Nari Atowari Peterside. It is a non-profit organization fostering good governance.
“I’m convinced that my purpose is to be able to influence those in political office in the right direction and I think that’s a full time job on its own. I believe this is something I can do effectively too,” he says.
“I have no interest in holding political office itself – I don’t think that was ever my purpose. I’m more gifted with being able to influence their decisions in moving the country forward. My focus is on projects that will bring good to the greater society and not individuals – we are trying to impact lives.”
Apart from banking, Peterside has invested in aviation and property.
He is inspired by people like Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist and prophet of the free market, Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore and Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.
With a good polo pony collection, ranch and boat, Peterside enjoys himself and time with a close knit family. On the future of Nigerian financial institutions, Peterside is optimistic.
“We must remember that the Nigerian banking sector was dominated by Nigerian institutions. It was important to allow Nigerians to form banks if one wanted the sector to develop. Stopping people from trying was going to be counter-productive and Nigeria was right for allowing some of us to give it a try,” says Peterside.
“When there is a lot of stumbling and falling however, it is also right to take them out – there should be no room for sentiment. It is dangerous to allow failing institutions to remain in business in finance and banking. Ultimately, we are well on our way to having a mature banking industry and the only way we can get there is by making and learning from our mistakes.”
Peterside believes all entrepreneurs should surround themselves with good people. Good staff, good board members and good business partners.
“I always remind people that everyone does not have a divine right to get to the top. By definition, only a handful will get there. When you forget that you are likely to fail through a combination of arrogance, lack of humility and/or poor homework,” he says on why some entrepreneurs fail.
As Nigerian banks move forward in the 21st century, they should tip their hats to the maverick who is rarely seen without his.
Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing
As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed.
Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.
Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.
Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.
A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.
We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.
As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”
With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.
Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.
In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.
For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.
Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.
– Unathi Shologu
Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa
Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.
In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.
On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.
In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).
Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.
“I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra.
That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.
The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.
The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”
He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.
“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.
“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”
Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.
It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.
But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”
And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.
“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.
The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.
Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.
“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”
Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.
Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died
The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.
It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.
READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo
She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.
That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.
She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.
One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.
Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.
-Jill De Villiers
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