Arunma Oteh’s ascent from Nigeria’s ‘Iron Lady’ to Africa’s pride was not an easy one. Yet, Oteh, who joined the World Bank as its Vice President and Treasurer in September 2015, has proven that even if the proverbial glass ceiling exists for women, it can be broken – and how.
As Nigeria’s Director-General of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), Oteh, known for her competence and tough decision-making skills, had boldly driven the transformation of the country’s capital markets and helped grow investor appetite.
At the World Bank, Oteh leads a large and diverse team responsible for managing more than $150 billion in assets. Her top priorities are to maintain the World Bank’s global reputation as a prudent and innovative borrower, investor and risk manager; manage an extensive client advisory, transaction and asset management business for the bank; engage, in her capacity as one of the World Bank’s key representatives, with outside stakeholders including global private sector financial institutions, the financial media and the sovereign debt and reserve managers in client countries, as well as ratings agencies; and collaborate extensively with the finance partners throughout the World Bank Group, expanding shared approaches, in particular around innovative financing for development and for key new projects.
In a statement, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, had said on her appointment: “Arunma has deep knowledge of capital markets and tremendous experience as the former Treasurer of one of our partner development banks, we are very fortunate to be able to recruit an individual of Arunma’s obvious caliber.”
Oteh is a phenomenal powerhouse but in person, is warm and unassuming. I met her on a balmy Friday evening in Johannesburg in mid-2015.
Her five-year term at the SEC had ended in January, the same month she turned 50.
“Fifty is the new 16,” she laughed.
“I couldn’t have imagined how enjoyable it will be. It’s like I am walking on air.”
Oteh said her singular objective would be to continue to serve her country, and Africa.
“I come from a family [where] my parents have spent their lives serving, so I am usually attracted to opportunities that help me serve,” she said.
Oteh speaks with passion about Africa, about security, capital markets, infrastructure, e-commerce and governance. She also speaks keenly about topics such as women’s empowerment and youth.
“I want young people to realize their potential. I want to see Nigeria become truly one of the most industrious countries in the world. I want to see Africa be the place where no one writes those articles about wars, disease and famine, and [where] people are writing about being inspired by all the entrepreneurial opportunities here.”
Her first experience of capital markets was sitting around the dinner table with her father, who would make her read annual reports to him.
“I hated it, but God was planting a seed in me for what I have done today.”
Clearly, her parents were her greatest influences.
“I believe early foundations are critical to who you become. I also want more parents to spend more time bringing up their children. My emphasis on character and standing alone came from my parents.”
Other influences have been Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Madam Walker, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Bono. For Africa’s women, she too is now up there on that list.