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Saturday, March 25, 2023

FULL SPEECH : UBA Chairman’s Remarks at National Defence College, Abuja

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Topic: ‘Strategic Leadership: My Business Experience’


  • Good morning All.
  • I would like to thank the Chief of Defence Staff, General Irabor for inviting me to deliver this lecture;
  • The Commandant of the National Defence College, Rear Admiral Murtala Mormoni Bashir;
  • The leadership of the National Defence College;
  • Senior officers from the Nigerian Armed Forces and paramilitary services present here today;
  • And the visiting senior officers from other countries here.


  • When I received the topic for today’s lecture, I was very impressed that our military top echelon is interested in discussing the impact of strategic leadership in business.
  • I believe so much in strategic leadership because it cuts across both the private and public sectors and it make a big difference in outcomes and in delivering outcomes and fulfilling goals, mission vision and purpose, – be it in the private or public sector.
  • Coincidentally for me, all my experience is in the private sector.
  • In approaching this topic, one is mindful of the fact that there is a thin line between discussing and doing this topic justice, and self-promotion
  • But as this is a serious platform known for dialogue, frank engagement, and exchange of knowledge, I will approach this conversation judiciously, basing it on my own personal experience
  • I want to say upfront that this should not be misconstrued as blowing one’s trumpet
  • So I will share my perspectives and experience in line with the advised topic for the purpose of advancing knowledge and sharing experience with this elite cadre of African leadership
  • Going straight into this topic of strategic leadership, there are things it entails from my personal experience. 
  • First is that great leaders start by setting priorities. They set the purpose and define goals. It is a core imperative and attribute if strategic leadership
  • Strategic leaders plan how to execute the vision/purpose/goals
  • Strategic leaders set timelines/milestones
  • This is what we want to accomplish, the timeframe, and timelines to get to your destination
  • Strategic leaders know Effective communication/Clarity of Purpose
  • People don’t buy into a vision they don’t understand so you must define the purpose and break it down in order to mobilise all stakeholders, in such a way that everyone in the chain understands, buys into this purpose and knows what role he or she is to play to contribute to the purpose and make it a reality
  • The more people who buy in, understand the destination and how to get there, the more you are able to accomplish the purpose
  • Strategic leaders learn and know how to mobilise resources
  • To execute your purpose, of utmost importance is resource provision: assembling human, financial, machinery, technology resources etc. In my experience this is critical.
  • Great leaders are dispassionate in assembling and motivating the right people
  • Motivate people
  • Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, reward, recognition etc
  • Usually, the journey to your destination is not linear.
  • Make your people think and feel like they can walk on waters.
  • When they encounter difficulties along the way to achieving the purpose, they are able to withstand is as you have made them believe they can walk on water.
  • Culture, ethics, values, principles
  • How are we going to behave on the journey: Dos and Don’ts; guiding principle. These are useful in shaping and guiding your people
  • Discipline and higher calling
  • Seeing beyond today
  • Thinking long term
  • Developing the capacity and resilience to withstand difficulty
  • To achieve a vision that is worthy, you must face and encounter obstacles.


  • I will now proceed to share three key hard work experience in my business world and how I applied these attributes.
  • It took me time to develop these attributes from my own experience – having led people from as early as 26 years old, and identifying and reflecting on what worked, and what did not work, what I succeeded in – as well as also having studied the successes of others across the military, private and public sectors – what were their wins, what were their lessons, why did they fail? Etc.
  • In 1997, I assembled a group of professionals to take over a distressed bank.
  • At the time, we were all very young. I think I was the oldest and I was 34 years old at the time.
  • Our number 1 intent at the time was to become financially viable because we were a distressed bank
  • Our number 2 intent was to become one of the top 10 banks in Nigeria, and we fixed timeframes to achieve this
  • We measured this by how many people were coming to our banking halls to transact.
  • Number three strategic intent was to become one of the top 3 banks in Nigeria in ten years from 1997.
  • We defined the purpose and ensured clarity at all levels until it became clear to the team what we wanted to achieve and what role everyone had to make that purpose come through.
  • So, the lesson here is that Leaders set purpose and priorities; they break it down; provide clarity; and mobilise people so everyone knows what role they play and how he or she can play a role
  • The next thing we did having set the goals, was to assemble resources because if you have a purpose and you don’t execute your purpose nothing happens.
  • We hired the right people, we estimated what we needed in terms of technology, and raised money to ensure we acquired the right technology and resources
  • We were dispassionate in assembling people – the right people
  • Following this we trained and capacitised ourselves – everyone including myself
  • The lesson here is that leaders understand that their people cannot perform miracles if they don’t provide resources for them
  • Great leaders know that in order not to have to fight an uphill battle to achieve success, they need to provide and mobilise resources.
  • The next thing we focused on was people factor: We realized that it was all about people.
  • Everything about leadership to a large extent is about people: managing people, directing, leading. that’s what it’s all about.
  • We realised that to win to a large extent depends on getting the right people, train/develop them and giving them the wings to fly.
  • So, we hired right, trained them, and instilled self confidence in our people.
  • We made our people feel they were the best and they became the best.
  • You make your people think they can walk on waters and indeed they will walk on waters if you make them feel so.
  • We created a reward and incentives system that encouraged and shaped the right attitudes in our people and this made them soar and perform.
  • Our driving force was to use our achievements to show to the world that our generation was not a wasted generation.
  • Our people woke up and went to work because of this generational commitment to show that this generation can make a difference and indeed they did make a difference
  • We identified a higher purpose and sense of corporate mission.
  • We must live it, exemplify it and let people see it in everything we do.
  • This became our manifesto and informed the kind of culture we had.
  • We became missionaries of our purpose, it was no longer a Tony mission, all of us had one mission.
  • And that’s what leaders do: we must take it to a level where it goes beyond you and others become even more passionate about the big mission than you.
  • Because we gave confidence to our people, because we made them know they could walk on water, they did perform miracles.
  • So, the distressed bank we took over within 8- 10, years we had grown this bank to the level to where the then standard trust bank merged with the 3rd largest bank in Nigeria to become one of Africa’s largest financial services Group.
  • Because we shared a common purpose, because we defined that purpose and because we mobilised everyone
  • So, leadership means to a large extent the ability to mobilise and galvanise people; if your people are mobilised they make great things happen.
  1. Pan African expansion:
  • Having achieved our goal at the time by becoming one of the top 3 banks in Nigeria – in fact at some point the biggest in terms of asset base and branch network in this country, we had to define a new set of goals, evolve new aspirations.
  • And so, we created the second how to become a Pan-African bank – to take banking beyond Nigeria to Africa.
  • Again, we sat together and asked ourselves what we want to do how are we going to do it.
  • We capacitised ourselves, we recalibrated, we re-energised, we asked questions if the same processes and resources that brought us thus far were equipped to take us into our next phase
  • Our tier 1 intent was to be strong in Nigeria, our tier 2 intent was to become a pan African bank and tier 3, to have a global footprint in key financial centres of the world.
  • UBA is present in 20 African countries, and in key financial centres of New York, Paris, London, Grand Cayman Island and most recently, Dubai
  • UBA is the only Africa bank with a deposit taking license in the USA – having scaled the most stringent regulatory requirements of the US financial services regulators
  • We have a customer base in excess of 25 million customers and counting across the world
  • This we were able to achieve because of the principles that I have shared here with you
  1. Building and driving a truly African integrated energy play:
  • We dream big; we apply rigour, we do all that it takes to succeed, and with God on our side, we are always successful.
  • In 2021, after 8 long years, Heirs Holdings, in partnership with affiliated company Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (“Transcorp”), Nigeria’s largest publicly listed conglomerate, announced its unconditional acquisition a 45% participating interest in Nigerian oil licence OML 17
  • We need energy to catalyse development in Africa; and as a Group we believed we had to a role to play
  • Many times along the way, my colleagues and I faced enormous obstacles that shook even the most confident of us, but never for one day did we turn back or lose faith.
  • It simply did not occur to us to acknowledge the various setbacks we faced as defeat.
  • Instead, we went back to the drawing board several times, reflecting and refining, restrategising and even reversing former decisions made, deploying patience and positivity every step of the way, until we reached the target.
  • Countless sleepless days that ran into weeks that gradually became months and years
  • Most remarkable about this feat is that we succeeded in raising financing of over US1.1 billion as an African firm in tough global markets, at a time of particularly low investor risk appetite, poor macroeconomic climate, and reduced investor confidence in Africa.
  • Inspired by our philosophy and guiding purpose of Africapitalism, we were driven by a mission to advance prosperity and social wealth in Nigeria, and across Africa,
  • We wanted to demonstrate a rare resilience and an unflinching optimism in our continent and show the world that there is no better time to invest in Africa.
  • I’ve never accomplished any goal that didn’t come without effort.
  • Embrace resilience and utilize it as your fuel for the long days that will come.
  • HHOG produces over 50,000 barrels of oil daily and 2P reserves of 1.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent
  • We do all of this to help in the industrialisation of our country and continent.
  • Oil theft in the country is a national emergency
  • Theft in the Niger Delta is a national challenge. You produce sometimes 100 barrels a day and the thieves will take up to 50,000 thousand. And to me it requires a national seminar. It is in my view point one of the most nerve threats to our country because it’s so much money in the hands of people who don’t pay tax, people you don’t regulate. The country is not safe. They do that to us, they do that to other operators also. Nigeria in the 3 quarters of last year; January to September lost over4 billion dollars to thieves- people who don’t pay tax and they use it to buy illegal ammunition and posing threat to our corporate existence.
  • This again requires demands strategic leadership. We need to deal with things like this. The lesson there is resilience of leadership. We don’t chicken out Tough times don’t last only though people do but We can’t continue like this; our country must wake up
  • We look forward to men and women in this room helping us end this national disgrace
  • This demands strategic leadership
  • Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (Transcorp) which I also serve as Chairman owns 2 power plants: Transcorp Power and the US$300m acquisition of Trans-Afam Power consisting of Afam Power Plc and Afam Three Fast Power Limited
  • Transcorp Power and Trans-Afam have a combined installed capacity to generate 2000 megawatts of electricity
  • We are well on our way to meet our goal of generating 25 percent of Nigeria’s electricity
  • Our strategy in the power and oil and gas sector is what we call an integrated energy play
  • Where the gas produced from our OML is channelled to power our gas plants
  • We have started this plan and are seeing significant value
  • Our dream is that ultimately, we reach the last mile consumer
  • I look forward to a day when Transcorp produces gas products that reach every home in the country
  • We look forward to executing on our ability to power Nigeria and indeed Africa by integrating our production, leveraging our infrastructure and delivering value across the energy value chain
  • We remain committed to the highest standards of safety, health, and community relations, understanding and fully appreciating our responsibilities to the host communities.
  • Resilience
  1. Empowering young African entrepreneurs through the work of the Tony Elumelu Foundation
  • In 2010, my wife Dr. A.V. Elumelu and I founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation to:
  • Touch lives and shape destinies
  • Eradicate poverty and create jobs
  • Empower the next generation of young African entrepreneurs from across all 54 African countries
  • I am standing here not because I was the most intelligent person in my class, it is all about luck.
  • My wife and I discussed how to try to democratise luck, not just in Nigeria but in Africa
  • Poverty anywhere is a threat to mankind everywhere
  • We don’t do what we do because we have so much money, it is because we understand that what counts is not how much you have in your bank account but how many lives that you have positively impacted.
  • We wanted to provide others the opportunities – luck – I was fortunate to experience.
  • It would be bad of us – selfish even – if we did not do the same in creating opportunities for others.
  • Today, the Tony Elumelu Foundation is the leading philanthropy empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, catalysing economic growth, driving poverty eradication and driving job creation across all 54 African countries.
  • Since inception, the Foundation has empowered and funded over 15,000 entrepreneurs and created a digital ecosystem of over one million Africans, as part of a ten year, US$100m commitment, implemented through its flagship Entrepreneurship Programme.
  • We gave ourselves timelines, we have embraced professionalism
  • In 2021 alone, the Foundation disbursed $24.75m to 5000 African SMEs from all 54 African countries; 68% of which were women-owned small businesses.
  • Self-funded, the Foundation is increasingly sharing its unique ability to identify, train, mentor and fund young entrepreneurs across Africa, with institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the European Union signed a $25m partnership with us last year – and other global development agencies.


  1. Strategic leadership is about replicating yourself as a leader:
  1. It is about training and developing others
  • Training and development makes a lot of difference in the company environment; People make some honest mistakes because they have not been trained properly.
  1. It is about Mentoring your people
  • Leaders must take time out to mentor their people; it is crucial to help them and set them on the right path
  • It’s important share your knowledge and experiences with the aim of preventing your people from making the same mistakes you have
  1. Strategic leadership is about infusing your DNA into the organisation
  • You must ensure that habits and cultures cascade from the top of the organisation all the way down 
  • This is formed by being firm, ensuring discipline is maintained across the organisation
  • Leaders must exhibit the values they expect to see from the people they oversee
  • People often ask me how I do cope managing all the different people across our Group – given our sector play across the financial services, power and oil & gas, real estate & hospitality, and healthcare
  • They ask me what the secret of my success in leadership and I tell them that it is the people factor.
  • I cannot overemphasise this enough and I will explain why. People make all the difference.
  • What leads to success is execution and execution does not occur if you do not have the right people.
  • So, I would say amongst many other things, the most critical success factor is the people equation,
  • Getting IT right – getting the right people, incentivizing them, creating a feeling of friendship, making people stand up to go to work for a generational purpose, feeling important.
  • At times, what people want is not so much, it is just recognition, respect and pointing them in the right direction.
  • Creating as much as possible a merit driven organization and environment
  • Let the best person get what he or she deserves.
  • A person should not lose what they are entitled to because they are close to you, the same way another should not benefit unduly because they are close to you.
  • People must earn what they get.
  • Don’t be overly emotional.
  • Overcome your natural inclination to behave in a certain way and check favouritism.
  • Your organization should be merit-driven; there should be no “untouchables”
  • Be intolerant of indiscipline, gossip and backstabbing.
  • There is a difference between leaders who delegate and abdicate; the former builds success, the latter destroys it.


  1. Strategic leadership is about building to last
  • We have exemplified this by creating the Holding company – the HH Office
  • It is about sustainability, leaders must emphasize the importance of succession and business continuity
  • When the decision from the Central Bank of Nigeria came that all MD/CEOs of banks who had spent 10 years on the job needed to go
  • We at UBA were ready in to appoint an extremely capable hand to continue the work we had started
  • We could have fought the CBN in court but that would have helped no one
  • And besides we had instituted a pipeline of worthy successors who are embodiments of the culture and ready to ensure business continuity
  • Since then, we have had 2 Group Managing Directors of the Bank emerge
  • Sustainability also points to the conscious effort to institutionalise governance in all our organisations
  • Governance and oversight are incredibly important
  • Institutions that practice good governance end up outliving founders
  • It is something that though we are working on it in this part of the world, we have not yet gotten it right
  • Strategic leadership is about legacy
  • Leadership is not complete without legacy
  • The thoughts about how we want to be defined is key in shaping leadership behaviour and conduct.
  • In business, we set out to make a generational statement.
  • We set out to improve lives and transform Africa.
  • And in humanity, it is about the impact and legacy.
  • Hence the Tony Elumelu Foundation
  • You must realise that the office you occupy today will go one day
  • That myopia, that feeling that we will be there forever is what makes us think we will be there forever
  • Opportunity doesn’t come twice; ask yourself what type of legacy – what will history say of you
  • Will you age happily?
  • It happens in business as in public sector that we think we are there forever.
  • We don’t think of institutionalisation; we don’t think of building to last
  • Steve Jobs lived a short life
  • Long after his death, his company became the first company in the world to cross a trillion dollars in market cap.
  • Again this year, his company became the first to cross $3b in market cap
  • This is possible because he was building with the end in mind
  • “I Steve Jobs will not live forever”
  • I need the people, resources, processes
  • Leaders must have foresight and discipline of mind and self to lead while alive
  • Strategic leadership is incomplete if in everything we do, we don’t think of this
  • It is only a wise and smart man that sets the path while he is still alive, to set what happens after he is gone.
  • If we run businesses and sign all the checks, we will die one day.
  • Even the way we bring up our children, we must always think about if we are building them up in the right way
  • This is the heart of strategic leadership
  1. Foresight/Long term/Resilience


  • From one’s business experience, strategic leadership applies to both worlds. We need strategic leadership both in public and private domains
  • What applies in business applies also in public sector
  • Same principles I shared above applied will help to uplift humanity
  • We need strategic leadership on the continent for the upliftment of mankind and ensuring job creation, and ultimately eradication of poverty
  • The importance of strategic leadership cannot be overstated especially in the public sector where leaders are elected or appointed to improve the lives of the citizens.
  • It means that the government will be able to galvanize citizens towards a national vision, aspiration and mission.
  • It means that the people have economic opportunities that will ensure that they have hope, dignity and the resources to meet their basic needs and those of their immediate family.
  • It means that entrepreneurs have an environment that enables them leverage their skills and creativity to come up with innovative technologies that will address the biggest problems that we face.
  • Strategic leadership will ensure that the poorest, marginalized and most vulnerable groups have an equal chance to life and opportunities as those who are relatively better.
  • It means that the complaints and cries of citizens are taken seriously and there indeed exists consequences for inaction.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that this is one of the biggest challenges that we have across Africa.
  • The sooner we are able to embody strategic leadership across our public and private sectors, the greater our pace of development as a continent.

Tony O. Elumelu, CON

Chairman,  United Bank for Africa (UBA)

Heirs Holdings Limited

Founder,   The Tony Elumelu Foundation



Q1. From your experience we’d like to know how you strategized to put together the effort of getting or developing capital in starting your business. Give us an insight from the beginning. We know that one of the challenges of achieving success is at the beginning stage. How did you start?

To embark on any journey, a leader must be humble, knowledgeable, informed and experience to know that he alone cannot make that journey. He needs people. As leaders you must select people. What we started at STB we decided to painstakingly assemble first 100. In that 100 we had experience people and we had fresh people who were trainable. It’s always good to have people who you train because of culture- culture is so critical for success in anything. We hired people and trained them.

People must understand destination, you must communicate very well, you must keep preaching as a leader, that’s your job. You are an evangelist. You must evangelize, you must share your message so that everyone buys into it people perform from their heart. People are led not by fear but by what’s in their heart and the goal they want to accomplish.

Again, doing things dispassionately. Let the best person get it. When we don’t operate in that manner, we don’t know how we are destroying the fabric of our continuous society. Let people know that to move from one level to the other, you have to deliver and you have to perform. Let your organisation be seen as a merit driven organisation.

Human beings are rational and rational human beings set rational expectations and these expectations shields and drives the people.

So in summary, to get it right, train them, share the vision with them and put in measurement system they can swear by. Your people should know that if they do well, they would be rewarded.  It kills the soul of an organisation when a person works hard and someone else gets recognized for it.

These things seem little but they make up the strategy. These strategies are replicable and can be applied to any field and this is how you build organisations that lasts.

Q2. How can African businessmen also contribute to the fight against terrorism and participate in the promotion of African peace?

 The solution is at the heart of a philosophy I strongly share and believe which is Africapitalism; a call on the private sector on our continent in particular to lead the way to economic prosperity by investing on sectors that help to catalyse growth and prosperity.

On unemployment, personally I believe that people who have economic hope will not take to extremism. People who have jobs cannot be recruited into extremism. People who can eat will want to live. People who cannot eat will ask themselves why they are not eating and why should others enjoy and so we become easy prey for the extremists. This is the root cause of all the problems we see today and I dare say until we get serious in our continent, it is just starting.

Our young ones’ everyday want to migrate to Europe under very stringent, suffocating and dangerous conditions because they believe it is better to die in the Mediterranean Sea than to continue the hardship they face back home and what will put a stop to all of this in both the private and public sector is strategic leadership. If we get it right, our people will not suffer. There can’t be peace when people are hungry.

What the Tony Elumelu Foundation has done in conjunction with the UNDP has launched a programme to lift 100,000 people out of poverty in the SAHEL region, giving non-refundable seed capital and training to them. This is what we have done in Africa through friends of Africa.

Also in conjunction with the ICRC, The Tony Elumelu Foundation partnered to support people in displaced areas of Nigeria especially the north eastern part of the country.

However, that is just a drop in the ocean and that is why I speak with global leaders to team up to give to Africa what it really needs and that is economic opportunities. Africans are hardworking, ambitious, intelligent and energetic but they lack opportunities. There’s a lot to be done and the government must wake up because the young ones will hold us accountable. We have plenty work to do; both the private and public sector 

Q3. It is said that UBA has a strategic policy to prioritize only those with specific qualifications. Having spoken on the democratization of luck, what is your view on that?

Having been qualified for the job, I went a step further to show willingness and eagerness to deliver and I was lucky to have been given the opportunity and it is that same luck that we must democratize.

Every organisation has levels based on skill set and expertise because you can’t have everyone one 100%. UBA gives everyone opportunities to get to the top and as people scale up they move to other areas

Q4. In Africa, we have a lot of currencies. Do you think that it’s an advantage to have many currencies and if it is a weakness, what are efforts that strategic business leaders doing to create an African currency to be more powerful in the international stage?

The private sector does not have the power to create currencies. It is the sovereign right of the nation’s leadership. However, in my opinion, I think countries should have their own currencies and have strong macro economic policies before we think of harmonizing currencies.

The starting point is for every African country to grow their economy, be disciplined and put in place macro economic policies. We already have the AFTCA, we may soon need a harmonized currency.

In UBA, we operate in 20 African countries improving payment systems across these countries.

Q5. Nigeria is the richest economy of Africa however, the richest in economy has more than 60% of the population living under the poverty line. What is the real problem?

I think it’s for our leaders past and current to answer. However, it’s not about the blame game, let’s start to make progress. We can correct these things in a matter of time. My team and I took over a distressed bank- so it’s not rocket science; these things can be done. We can have a deliberate plan and I think the awareness is there that we need to do more.

Q6. Our leaders in the public sector with all human and material resources have not been able to make the people happy. They cannot achieve the basics. Why is that so?

There are fundamental issues that we need to address. In the public sector national mobilisation and re-orientation is very important. We need to imbibe the spirit of responsiveness, accountably and responsibility- these work together.

We need to take things one step at a time. If you have a system that is bad and bring in a few good people, a bad system will affect them. That is why we need a serious technical and moral reorientation and rethink certain things- not quick fixes. We need to rebuild but let the journey begin.

Q7. What level of input has been made from the private sector regarding the free trade and what are the challenges the AFCTA has infringed on the private sector?

I think the AFCTA is the way to go. Intra-Africa trade is poor. Trade can be a lot more with economic policies put in place. It will bring Africa together.

However, for you to trade with someone, you must have what to trade and the product to sell. If we don’t have what our neighbours want, we cannot trade. These is a challenge.

Another challenge is the infrastructure. Infrastructure we have is wired around colonial lines. It’s easier to move trade from Nigeria to the rest of the world than from Nigeria to other African countries.

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