‘Young people must be trustworthy, hardworking to excel’
Tijjani Mohammed Borodo has been the Company Secretary of FBN Holdings Plc (formerly known as First Bank of Nigeria Plc) since September 2012. He served as an Executive Vice President and Secretary of First Bank of Nigeria Ltd, General Manager and Deputy General Manager of FBN Holdings and Director, First Bank of Nigeria Plc. His banking career spans 29 years. He shared with journalists how he was able to transcend from public sector to a private organisation. Helen Oji and Gloria Ohaighe were there. Experts
It’s been over three decades in the bank, transiting from First bank into the Holding Group. Can you please describe the journey so far?
Exactly almost three decades, it has been an interesting journey; particularly when you are talking about transition from the First Bank to FBN Holdings. From the beginning I was working with Kano State Government as a Director of Public Prosecutions. That is where I started my career until I got to the level of Director, Public Prosecutions when I moved to the bank. I moved to the bank in October 1988. You can see its over 29 years, that was when I joined First bank in Kano as a regional legal manager.
I was in Kano for a couple of years before I moved to Lagos, as an assistant company’s secretary. That is where the company secretariat started. Then First bank was a public company where it had all the shareholders and subsidiaries. Until late 2010, the directing minds of First Bank Group says we cannot continue to run all the business we have all under First Bank, we are going to have a Holding company.
I was the Permanent Secretary of First Bank, I midwifed the creation of the Holding company and by the time we finished the midwifery, I had wanted to move out and continue with other things not knowing that by providence I was going to continue to be the company secretary of the FBN Holdings.
That is really the public phasing entity for the totality of the First bank, and of course that is where the shareholders are and arguably as the company’s secretary, one of the key responsibilities is managing the shareholders, so it is the shareholders I have been managing while in First bank that migrated to another vehicle, FBN Holdings. It did not make much sense for me to stay back in the bank knowing that there was no role I could play there and knowing that one of my critical responsibilities is to manage these shareholders and then move to another vehicle, of course it will be difficult for me to stay back in First Bank.
So, you can then see where the transition came, how I joined the First Bank Group; the company’s secretary and also the company’s secretary at the FBN Holdings. That is where we are.
How did you cope within these 30 years period? Family on one hand, responsibilities from the bank and of course the shareholders.
The critical thing for me was that I enjoyed it. One of the things that kept me going when I wake up in the morning is that I have passion for my job and also a sense of satisfaction. These are the kind of things that keeps me going. But of course there are challenges, family, society and the job itself.
For family, I am from a polygamous family of about 23; I am about the number 10 but close to my father. We had values; we emulate only integrity, handwork and above all religion. My father ensured we have integrity in whatever we do and with utmost commitment with the hand of the Almighty God. I think the family value helped me through the thick and thin of my career.
For the businesses that we run, we are looking at stakeholders because they are beyond the shareholders. When we say stakeholders we are looking beyond the environment that we operate, responsibilities towards that environment, our employees, the shareholders, the business associate, it is a multitude of people. So managing these has not been an easy task. Just like I mentioned that the critical thing you should have is the focus, the passion and the satisfaction you have in the job. So when the challenges come you face them and deal with them.
Migrating from the public sector to the private sector completely with different orientation, philosophy and approach to work which is more tasking and more time consuming. How did the transition happen from a public service worker who has risen to the position of a director to end up working in a bank?
I will tell you that it is providence. Before I joined the First Bank Group, I had offers to go to another bank through a colleague of mine, my childhood friend working in the Ministry of Justice. I told him that when I finish in the Ministry of Justice that I am going to set up my practice. He went back to my uncle who got the offer and told me that the uncle said there was room for all of us. I thanked him and said I am not going to any financial institution to work that I want to set up my practice. That is why I said it is providence. You can see me leaving public work to private work for another 30 years.
When I moved into the private sector, there was shift in terms of focus and in terms of what responsibility I was given. But prior to that, I think I had one of the best privileges, I had senior counsels in the Ministry of Justice who are there to show you the rudiments of the practice, solicitors’ work and advocacy, sorts of training that can guide you in terms of responsibility, leadership, among others. So, by the time I left the Ministry of Justice, I was already the Director of Prosecution and arguably that time I had the largest number of criminal cases next to Lagos State and you can imagine what that was.
The only struggle I had was when I said I was not going to leave the Ministry of Justice to any financial institution that I will go into my own practice that was years before I became the Director of Prosecution. But when this offer came, I struggled but the moment I made up my mind to go, I made some consultations with the family and my seniors and that was it.
When you finally joined First Bank, did you feel the anxiety of been in a new organisation?
It is a natural thing , I did not apply for it, there was a vacancy and I was sort out to come and do the job, so I had that feeling that I must measure up and the person who did the hunting insisted that I must come. I also felt that there was something I could offer. One of my mentors believed that I could do it and insisted that I should take the job. I made some consultations, I can mention names, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, late Muhammadu Bello, and other mentors I had, because they knew that I had a career path.
One of the things going through my mind was what to tell these people, but when I finally told them my mission, they encouraged me and said “Tijani I know about where you are going, I think it is a good place to go to because it is First bank, that means you are still serving the country. All I will urge is to continue with the dedication you have shown while working in the Ministry of Justice “
Sir, in the course of your career, you must have worked with many Managing Directors and Chairmen of banks. I just want you to describe your experiences working with them?
In First bank till date, I have worked with ten different MDs and I have worked with six or seven Chairmen depending on what you want to ask. Our Group Chairman was the Chairman of the bank and I worked with him there. He was the sixth Chairman of the bank I worked with. So when we moved to FBN Holdings, he wore a new cap as the Chairman of FBN Holdings. That is why I said it depends on what you are looking at. Effectively, I can say I worked with seven Chairmen. I have worked with maybe up to 80 Directors because members of the board come and go. So it has been rarely an interesting thing. But the critical thing is I have learned much early in my career is that this work is about people, from shareholders to Directors and then stakeholders.
You have spent 30 years here and in the public sector, would you say you have mixed anything? What are the distinctive features? Do you feel you walked away from the career path you thought you were building, would you have loved to continue on that trajectory?
Honestly no regrets. What I woke up with is the passion and satisfaction I have for the job. When I moved into this job, there were people who believed in me and by the time I started seeing such encouragement, I realised it is something I should go into. But I also decided that if it is something am not happy doing, I will take it for a while, thank them and leave but as you can see, it is quite rewarding, so giving me another chance I will go through the same bank.
Let us deviate from your public life to your private life. What is the family front like, considering your job schedule, do you think you had sufficient time to instill moral values to the children considering the fact that they were male?
I have a wife and four boys who are now men. Some are married and are all doing fine. Due to my job schedule, I should have created more time for them but my consolation is that I have this wonderful wife who was everything to us. Sometimes I will come back from work and find her in the garden playing football with the boys. She had her own career too but whenever the boys are playing football in the field she joins them and when I come back from work and see them playing, I join them too. The critical thing I got from my father while growing up is firstly, whatever you do, you must do it well, you must not be found wanting, you must be committed and dedicated. Secondly, you must have integrity, under no circumstances should anybody find you wanting and thirdly, is having the grace of the Almighty God, which is the religious aspect. These critical aspects are the things I learnt from my father when I was small and these are the three things that have carried me through. These are the things that I have passed on to my children.
I want you to share with us those things you will miss about this brand. Are there things you would have done differently?
Honestly, one of those things I will miss is the family that First Bank is. I have seen people who have left in the past 15 years; they are still part of the family. I have spent more than two decades working in this building. You can imagine for 20 years when you pick your bag daily and walk into this place. It is something that has become part of my life.
On what I have done differently, honestly, I am a bit rush. Maybe I should have done a little more of listening. But I think it is something that comes with age. There are people who are naturally listener; I am the talking type, and I wish I had listened much more.
As you are leaving, someone is coming to replace you and often time there seems to be difference between the successor which most of the time change the values already created by the predecessor. What are your expectations from the person taking over from you?
To be honest with you I can say that this is my life, thirty years career and you are going to walk out of it. I will be really interested on who comes in. I am really interested that the person who comes in would continue to uphold certain things that have kept this institution going in terms of values and operations. I am interested to see the person come and continue with this.
If you look around the company, it revolves around a tripod. There is a Chairman of that company, there is a MD or CEO and there is a company secretary. There are things that I have kept to have worked with all these Chairmen and MDs to get to where we are now. So I am interested in who comes in to take over and even add and improve on it. So we are going through a very rigorous process to get my successor, we are involving external consultants, board committees and processes.
I am very confident that the person coming to take over from me is not a novice; he is a consummate practitioner with experiences. I am confident that he is somebody that when he comes in will continue with this. I am sure that he is going to carry on with the values we have here.
What is your advice, not just from who is taking from you but to the entire institution on the work ethics that brought you this far and your plan after service. Are you going back to practice?
Staring from your second question, I am going to activate my initial plan after public life of practice, though with some amendments. You see I have been called to the bar since 1980, so that time I said I was going to continue with my legal practice but so much water has gone under the bridge and I am not the same person again. I have seen so much, learnt so much, I have been involved in so much and these has shaped the kind of person I am going to become.
So certainly yes I am going back to practice but not the kind of practice I had in mind initially because I want to believe that I have gathered a lot of experiences with this particular professional legal practice, company secretary services. I intend doing a bit of some talking, business schools, corporate governances, and ethics among others.
What I will urge younger people to do is to keep the trust given to them. Whatever anybody entrust you with, keep to it. That is the keyword I have for anyone in the banking industry. Again handwork, faithfulness to almighty God and creating time for family life are good virtues.
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