“We were moved to share our gratitude for his inspirational leadership over the five years that we worked with him. So much was learnt from him, both personally and as the Brand Communications partner for the bank”, expressed Terhas Berhe, Managing Director of Brand Communications.
Few business leaders have left a more indelible mark on African financial services. African Bank Editor Anver Versi writes, “Arnold Ekpe is one of a handful of African business champions who have become legends during their own lifetimes”.
Arnold Ekpe was at the helm of Ecobank from 1996 to 2001 and then from 2005 to 2012 again, consolidating and growing its expansion across 33 countries in Africa.
Kaye Whiteman, a seasoned British journalist specialising in West Africa recounts, “During those two periods, he has been able to build and mould the first truly African-owned private sector Pan-African Bank. In June 2012 Ecobank recorded a customer base of 8.4 million, total assets of US$17.2 billion; and shareholders’ equity (a majority in Africa) of nearly US$1.5 billion.”
In a recent interview Ekpe was asked what he considers as his biggest achievement under his leadership.
“That’s a difficult one. I think that we’ve done something that’s fairly unusual. We have shown that there is significant potential for integration in the private sector – bringing various nationalities, languages and cultures together to create a pan-African institution. That model hadn’t been tested or proven before and I believe we’ve managed to do that.
As a consequence, we’ve seen other institutions, not only in the banking sector, but also in other sectors, trying to do the same. This can only be good for Africa because, ultimately, the future for Africa lies in being able to create large and attractive markets and not small, fragmented ones.”
A mixture of organic growth and shrewd acquisitions spearheaded by Ekpe underpinned Ecobank’s expansion. He consistently drove a measured consolidation of the bank, where the platform, talent and customer service was consistently synergised to deliver greater efficiencies. Most of all, a focus on discipline, ethics and a passion for Africa characterised his leadership.
“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.
For me, it’s something that I just feel is the future of Africa, that’s what Africa should be. We shouldn’t lose identities but we should have that common objective and if we had that then we would build a unique continent. You know people say Africa is fragmented, but that should not be a basis for not working together towards a common goal. In Ecobank that’s what we set out to do. We’re not yet there yet, but we’ve made considerable headway.
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”.
Arnold Ekpe has indicated that he is now in the fortunate position to choose the projects that he is interested in going forward. We salute this humble yet strong African leader and his vision for, belief in, and commitment to the continent, as he embarks on the next era of his illustrious career.