Mr. Arnold O. Ekpe is the current Group Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, although he will be retiring come end of this year, pursuant to company policy which stipulates a retirement age of 60. Ekpe is 59 years of age.
A Mechanical Engineer by training, Ekpe graduated with a first class Honours Degree from Manchester University, and subsequently earned a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Manchester Business School.
He worked extensively for Citibank and rose through the ranks to become the Vice President and Head of Sub-Sahara Africa Structured Trade and Corporate Finance in the 1990s. In that position, he played a prominent role in building Citibank’s corporate finance business in Africa, including several ground-breaking transactions.
With over 30 years in the financial industry, Ekpe was first appointed the Chief Executive Officer of Ecobank in 1996, but his stay was terminated in 2001 due to divergent views about the best course to chart in growing Ecobank into the Pan-African enterprise that it has become. He then served as the Managing Director of United Bank For Africa [UBA] between 2002-2004. During that interval, the Ecobank Board must have had a whiff of the ‘Ekpe prowess’ because he was recalled in 2005- on even juicier terms I am sure-.
Described as a thoroughly humble and modest individual, Ekpe has a wealth of knowledge in banking and financial transactions. His passion, as he has stated and restated, was to build a truly Pan-African financial Organization and promote Pan-African private sector initiatives. Since his return to Ecobank in 2005, Mr. Ekpe has led the ongoing transformation of the Ecobank Group, which has truly become a genuine, leading Pan-African Banking Institution, with operations in more than 35 countries in Africa; more than any other bank in the world. The Ecobank Group under his leadership is a driving force in Africa’s development with over 1,140 branches spread across Nations.
Bringing together the differing cultures of Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone countries in Africa is an immense challenge that few, if any, have previously achieved in a workable way but Ekpe has accomplished it to create Africa’s first indigenous multinational bank. He says, “I think we have been able to weather the storm better than most because we are diversified. When one country is not doing well, others make up for it. That is the strength of our diversified portfolio.”
African Banker Magazine stated that, “Arnold Ekpe is one of a handful of African business champions who have become legends during their own lifetimes.” Impressive, but like all things, such success is not bereft of challenges. When asked by Anver Versi, the African Banker Editor what such challenges were, he stated. “…We never saw impediments as such, we saw challenges. Our motto in Ecobank is ‘We never give up’. So for example, while the issue of regulation across Africa is a challenge, for us it is also a competitive advantage because we know how to do things. Infrastructure is a challenge and so we built our own infrastructure – we have the largest corporate telecoms network in Africa. We built a $50m technology centre in Accra and right now we are running the whole group from it. Other banks are trying to do the same thing but it will take them another three to four years, so we have an advantage. African countries are relatively volatile but we take a long-term view. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire we were the last bank to close and among the first to reopen, and we still made a significant profit.”
Maybe it is the ‘E’ in their names, but Ekpe and Ecobank have produced unparalleled success over the years. Ekpe is an outstanding leader with a vision of what can be achieved in Africa and the tenacity to follow it through. For the 12 months ended 31st. December, 2011, the Group’s total assets reached US$17.2b, up 64% from the previous year; customer deposits grew to US$12.1bn, up 52%, whilst basic earnings per share were 1.76 cents (2010 1.14 cents). Asked how the Bank has evaded the snares that have befallen so many of its competitors and which particular aspects of corporate stratagem have most contributed to these good results, Ekpe came up with one word ‘diversification’.
In view of his pending retirement, Ekpe discussed the high points of his service in Ecobank Group in an interview with Andre Versi. Says he, “I have a certain belief in Africa that I think drives everything we’re doing in Africa. I’ve worked with some of the most incredible Africans and they’ve come from all nationalities; and I don’t know what you get your high from but I get a kick from the fact that you know you have 10 people around the table and they’re from 10 different nationalities and the language is going between English, French, English, French and now we’re adding Portuguese; but the key is that there is a common objective….I am very passionate about Africa and I think opportunities in Africa are understated; I think there is a perception issue. All of the challenges are short-term challenges – we take a long-term view. When people ask me what is your African strategy, my answer is simple: Africa is our strategy.
In 2008 alone, the Ecobank Group received global acclaim for innovation, leadership and excellent banking services across the African continent. Ecobank was conferred with the African ‘Bank of the Year’ Award, and Ekpe was honoured as the ‘African Business Leader of the Year at the Africa Investor-UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) Investment Awards.
The same year, the African Banker Magazine also conferred “Africa’s Most Innovative Bank’ Award on Ecobank at the IMF/World Bank annual Meeting in Washington, United States. Ekpe was also awarded the ‘African Business Leader of the Year’ Award, organized by the Commonwealth Business Council in London.
The Ecobank Group also bagged the ‘African Bank of the Year’ Award in this year’s African Banker’s Awards, fending off competition from six other nominees to win the highly coveted prize. Ekpe was also honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The annual awards, which reward outstanding talent and achievement in Africa’s financial sector, were held under the patronage of The African Development Bank at its Annual General Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania.
Commenting on Ecobank’s continued success, Omar Ben Yedder, Publisher of African Banker Magazine said: “It’s been another milestone year for Ecobank, especially with the acquisition of Oceanic Bank in Nigeria, and the Group produced a very solid financial performance overall. In terms of its footprint and achievements, it continues to drive forward and remains ahead of its competitors. Its investment banking operations, although smaller than its rivals, are growing rapidly, closing a number of landmark deals in 2011.”
At the Award Ceremony, Ekpe praised his team; in his words, “It has been my privilege to oversee the development of Ecobank during a period of rapid growth and innovation. I am immensely proud of what my team of highly professional and very committed people has achieved in building the first pan-African bank and these awards are a testament to their hard work and determination on a daily basis.”
Need I say more?