On Friday 30 August 2013 Otunba Michael Subomi Balogun had a media chat with a select journalist in his porch house at No1 Milverton Road Ikoyi. The chat was centered on “FCMB at 30: a reflection from the founder.Otumba Subomi in a very relaxed form said I am not a pharisees of real life experience, my journey to what you now see had been divinely guided. And if you care to know, I’m happy thanks. If any of you go to Prim-Rose Ttower, 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 Nigeria’s determination to succeed and prove that giving the opportunity; Nigerians have the capacity to attain a commanding height in the management of finance institution. Lastly, it serves as a lesson to all and man kind that in all things, men may have their say but in the final analysis, the Almighty God will have His way”.
Excerpts from the reflection of a lawyer, investment banker and an accomplished investor
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 United States of America, and I came back with ideas with which we should set up a merchant bank. The staffs of the company were all 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 because I happened to have a basic training in law; that I could not be the Chief Executive. I was 42 then and they brought a young man with little or no experience, from America, at 32, to be my boss.
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 that was what gave birth to the dream and the vision which was clear. By nature God gave me what I call courage, tenacity of purpose, discipline, I knew where I was going but the vision was clear, unbelievable but I was surprise at the time that some Nigerians would say that “if he didn’t get the position in the bank; he should 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 what it takes to attain the commanding heights in the management of a 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, when I felt cheated by not being allowed to head an institution created by a Foreign institutions and my then former employers, I had the courage to desire and without anything in my pocket except my God, I decided to start on a journey of self actualisation. 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. In the course of the whole journey, it has been turbulent and for many people to see me still 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, and I had complete 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 process of having a vision or a dream, only an individual do the dream, other people would join later on. And in this country in those days, it was an anathema for an individual to think of setting up an institution; one man show; one man show, as if when you’re dreaming, more than one man dreamt.
Looking at Nigeria environment thirty five (35) years ago, and what we have today, would you say thirty five years ago had offer more opportunities to Nigerians than what we have today?
Yes, to a large extent. I am happy you said opportunities. Definitely, the opportunities are growing by leaps and bounds. But whether the opportunities have been taken advantage of, I will not want to comment. 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 stretch because of the environment to something much bigger than what we have now. That was why I led FCMB to be quoted on the stock market. That was why I left FCMB to become a universal bank and taking the proceeds. That was why I disabused the minds of people who thought those beautiful buildings I built was only meant for a lips service and the well to do, 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 it’s more or less a function of the environment that we are 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. It is just about one hundred and something branches it’s 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 half the way 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 give me the breath. Definitely environment has placed a role in redefining the vision.
Can you be specific, at what point in time did you make up your mind to retire?
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 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 seventy (70), but between 60, 65 and 68, hell was let loose people wanted to fight me even 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 have 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 required for growth. Growth is something that is continually on the move 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 Seventy before I left, it was God, it wasn’t human imagination some one even said he has stayed too long why should he not go. But my God said no. When we proposed 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 these people, so that they can still take up what we call corporate governance 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 Thomas, they should be saying I cannot fail; I cannot fail because of Jesus, because of Allah. I cannot fail. So they should be determined and focused. They should have integrity. Out of the scarcity in a tough environment, God will show them the way out, they should not give up. If you read through my autobiography, and the other book, the financial monument built 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 said this man?
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.
I left everything into the hands of God. So tell them this while a number of young men had come to collect some copies of my books to read some universities ask me to give them copies because not just being a role model or an icon, I believe God has used some of us as a pointer to the oncoming generation that they should not loose faith, they should not give way easily, they should fight to the end not violently but to hold on to what you believe but have as your armor faith in God.
Having expressed confidence in the present management of the group and 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 have said something which is embarrassing to him even my family. He is my third son but God chose him and his brothers do not 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 explore, very soon the London branch would be expanded. His uprising has been widening. However 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 any account and it would happen cashless, you see, the best of the state of the act is practiced in banking.
I want FCMB to be a bigger and stronger in IT service delivery. I want FCMB to be among the first five banks. But its not just in size, but in service, if the ordinary person identifies with 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 point of call to do that, you need the best of IT 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 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, I 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 am the owner of the card they said how much, he did not ask me to give him my pin number he just look at me and ask me to sign?
In a few seconds later, my telephone made a sound that I had a message. I scroll it up and showed it to him, a sum of this huge amount has just been debited to your account if you are not aware of it let us know. For now I feel fulfilled in what has happened to them but I am still looking forward to the Grace of the almighty God for the unknown future. My boss my Managing Director says he will want to take up the position within the first five in the years ahead 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.
What do you engage in that makes you healthy even at your age?
It is the grace of God that is making me to look young. It is the grace of God for instance when you people are gone I will either be in the swimming pool or working around this place. I just feel that God still have a big plan for me, even till hundred as long as I do not do anything intensively. Moderation is key, but the basic thing is to ask God to give one that grace to leave well and also to serve him in total contentment. With what God has done for me, I am not over ambitious throwing myself like a hook and net as a fisherman throws it into the water and leave his faith to what will give him. So that is it grace of God.
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.