THE recent seamless succession in the leadership of Zenith Bank Plc which saw the emergence of Mr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu as the Group Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer (GMD/CEO) has expectedly been generating reactions from customers, shareholders and stakeholders in the sector most of whom affirmed their total confidence in the ability of the top banker to sustain the bank’s growth trajectory and array of financial services.
Though his elevation and subsequent assumption of office on June 1st this year was announced beforehand, and welcomed by many as a round peg in a round hole, the board, management and staff of the bank were earlier thrown into revelry following the reappointment of one of their own – Mr. Godwin Emefiele- as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Governor for another five years by President Muhammadu Buhari and his confirmation by the 8th Senate.
Emefiele, prior to his first appointment as CBN Governor in February 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan was the GMD/CEO of Zenith Bank.
Famous for its tradition and succession strategy of grooming leaders from within, the bank since inception in May 1990 has been consistent in throwing up experienced and astute bankers at the helm of its affairs beginning with its founder and pioneer Managing Director and current Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mr. Jim Ovia.
Emefiele succeeded Ovia and the former handed over to Mr. Peter Amangbo whose tenure as GMD/CEO ended on May 31, 2019. During the two decades of leadership, Ovia without doubt, helped position the bank as one of the largest and most profitable financial institutions not only in Nigeria but Africa.
Therefore, Zenith Bank under the new leadership, according to some analysts, is expected to sustain its current range of banking services, break new grounds as well as actualizing its avowed vision of becoming the “leading Nigerian technology-driven, global financial institution that provides distinctive range of financial services”.
‘Like a tree planted by the rivers of water’, the bank over the years, has blossomed and become an irresistible brand and investors’ delight that has grown in leaps and bounds in its almost three decades of existence with strong indices pointing to a healthy financial institution including a huge shareholders’ funds, total assets, gross income, client deposits and high returns on investment as dividend payout yearly.
According to the bank’s audited financial results for 2018 for instance, profit before tax (PBT) stood at N232 billion for the year ended December 31, 2018 and consequently handsomely rewarded its numerous shareholders with a final dividend pay-out of N2.50 per share, bringing the total dividend to N2.80 per share.
That PBT represents an increase of 16.6 per cent over the N199 billion recorded for the same period in 2017, while the results also showed that profit after tax (PAT) witnessed an impressive growth of 11 per cent year-on-year to N193 billion from N174 billion.
Similarly, gross loans and advances during the period under review was N2.017 trillion; customers’ deposits N3, N69 trillion; total assets N5.956 trillion, and shareholders’ fund, N815.75billion.
Given the above performance, it was no surprise that the bank was ranked as the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria in 2018 by highly influential The Banker Magazine
According to an analyst who didn’t want to be named, the coming on board of Mr. Onyeagwu who, until his appointment was the Deputy Managing Director, with oversight over the bank’s Financial Control and Strategic Planning, Risk Management, Retail Banking, Institutional and Corporate banking business portfolios, IT Group, Credit Administration, Treasury and Foreign Exchange Trading, as well as general administration of the bank, among others, would not only “consolidate the bank’s culture of innovative services but would take the institution to greater heights, adding that the bank would continue to thrive on its “strong values, brand equity, corporate culture of professionalism and service excellence which are the foundations upon which the bank was built”.
Assuring that the new GMD during his tenure in conjunction with the board, management and staff would sustain the bank’s growth trajectory, the top banker said: “The new GMD is a banker par excellence with mathematical and analytical ability, effective communication, honest, a leader with integrity and above all bringing to his job strategic thinking, inspirational leadership, energetic and entrepreneurial skills”.
He further averred that “building a healthy and stable financial system that will advance loans to critical sectors of the Nigerian economy to create additional jobs and wealth as well as boost the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth tops the immediate challenges facing Onyeagwu and other CEOs of commercial banks” in the country.
Also setting an agenda for the new GMD, National Coordinator, Progressive Shareholders Association of Nigeria, Mr. Boniface Okezie, said: “My agenda for him is to continue with the good works the bank has been doing over the years in the area of enhanced dividends pay out so that the price of the bank’s shares will continue to soar high in the stock market.
“He should also make sure that the bank continues to lift the real sectors of the economy by financing agricultural businesses which the bank has not been lagging behind in the past. I have no doubt that Mr. Onyeagwu will excel in his new assignment”.
According to him, it is the hope of shareholders that dividends will grow bigger under the new CEO, stressing that “we will see more capital appreciation in his tenure and see him grow the bank in terms of opening more branches in areas where the bank’s presence is yet to be felt. He should ensure that Zenith Bank is located in every part of the country while workers’ welfare should be given adequate attention and improved upon”, he added.
An alumnus of the prestigious University of Oxford, England, from where he obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma in Financial Strategy and Certificate in Macroeconomics, the new GMD also undertook extensive executive-level Business Education in Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School of Columbia University and the Harvard Business School, all in the United States of America (USA) as well as Lagos Business School of the Pan Africa University, Nigeria. A graduate of Accounting at Auchi Polytechnic in Edo State, he is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
And before attaining the pinnacle of his career recently, Onyeagwu had joined the erstwhile Financial Merchant Bank in 1991 and later held several management positions in the defunct Citizens International Bank Limited until 2002 when he secured employment at Zenith Bank.
He started his career as a senior manager in the Internal Control and Audit Group of the Zenith Bank and by 2005 had become an Assistant General Manager. Eight years later, he was named Executive Director of the bank in 2013, and put in charge of Lagos and South-South Zones as well as strategic groups/business units of the bank including Financial Control & Strategic Planning, Treasury and Correspondent Groups, Human Resources Group, Oil and Gas Group, and Credit Risk Management Group.
Onyeagwu has been on the board of Zenith Bank Ghana, Zenith Pensions Custodian Limited, Zenith Nominees Limited and African Finance Corporation (AFC) within the last six years. In AFC, he served on the Board, Risk & Investment Committee (BRIC) and Board, Audit & Compliance Committee (BAAC). At Zenith Bank Ghana, he chaired the Board, Credit and Governance Committees.
Before his latest appointment, Mr. Onyeagwu was the bank’s deputy managing director having been appointed to the position in October 2016 and spent the last 17 years working with Zenith Bank. He will be assisted in his new assignment of moving the bank to its peak by a team of seasoned management staff led by Dr. Adaora Umeoji the bank’s Deputy Managing Director, who has over 20 years cognate banking and broad executive management experience.