The circumstances that birthed Diamond Bank is an all-time classic case study in African entrepreneurship.
Three weeks ago, Pascal Dozie recounted this to Peace Hyde for Forbes Africa magazine. It was the 79-year old’s second appearance on the cover in 6 years, sharing it this time with his son Uzoma.
Father and son talked to Forbes Africa about, among other things, the future of banking and wealth. In 2014, the younger Dozie took over leadership of the bank as chief executive officer. But barely 42 hours ago, his job as we know it ceased to exist.
From Uganda to Nigeria
Three typically African but significant events forged Diamond bank into existence. A young Pascal Dozie had finished his studies at the London School of Economics in the mid-1960s, done his bit in consulting but finally wanted to return home. He wouldn’t have his way due to the Nigeria-Biafra war. What does he do? He moves to Uganda and gets some more consulting experience.
Then Idi Amin brings down the Milton Obote Ugandan government in a January 1971 coup. Instability disrupts business.
Dozie and wife, Janet, return to post-war Nigeria and start hustling. Eastern Nigeria is, at this time, destabilized by war.
The Igbo man still had to trade, however, but journeying to Lagos with bags of cash led to frequent robberies and loss of fortunes. Dozie found $5 million dollars and, with 20 staff and his wife as first customer, he unearthed an unpolished idea and called it Diamond Bank.
But he could have left Nigeria almost as soon as he returned from Uganda and had nothing working for him. The bank that would be founded in 1991 partly owes its origin to the request by Dozie’s mother, ailing at the time, to not relocate to the United States so she could relate with her first grandson, the future last CEO of the fruit of Dozie’s ingenuity.
Diamonds Aren’t Forever
Access Bank has bought over Diamond, or merged, or both. In its heydays, the latter led in innovations like electronic transfer, the facility that solved the journeying-with-cash problem for Igbo traders. However, it has had issues in the last decade and a half, likely originating from the Dozie family relinquishing much of its stake to meet up with the 2005 Soludo Recapitalization. The patriarch stepped down a year after and some analysts say the pearl never shined quite as brightly since.
The future of the bank’s assets, its shareholders and customers (and debts) now rest on the management led by Herbert Wigwe, the Nsukka-trained accountant born within the period the senior Dozie was wrapping up his first degree in London. Wigwe took the reins at Access the same year Uzoma Dozie was handed his father’s company to run. But there may be something about the former having proven his worth for ten years at Guaranty Trust Bank (where Uzoma interned for his NYSC), plus the Aig-Imoukhuede factor, that presents him as assured. He now runs Nigeria’s biggest bank, by assets at least.
First of many conversations with stakeholders in the journey to building a platform that will play an integral role in the inclusion and transformation of African lives #beyondbanking @HerbertOWigwe @DiamondBankNG @myaccessbank pic.twitter.com/UDqE1NlIC9
— Uzoma Dozie (@Uzoma_Diamond) December 18, 2018
The Gem Will Go On
This is no disaster for Pascal Dozie, anyway. The best in the business of business know when to quit and don’t look back. With a $50 million-base in Kunoch Limited, the family-owned investment firm, he will keep seeking new horizons and making long-term bets till and beyond his 80th birthday next April. He still chairs MTN Nigeria, and remains a respected figure in the finance industry.
If nothing, he must be a proud father and mentor of businesses. The four other Dozie boys are responsible for some work and finance innovations around the country, including Cafe Neo and OneFi. Last week, the latter company secured the first ever credit rating for an African Fintech. They will be alright.
You feel there is a sense in which all of these innovation can be tied to their patriarch’s ’80s story. In a way, Diamond bank will remain the legacy by which he will be best identified. Bar the ‘hidden charges’ complaints of its customers over the years – complaints typical of customers of every Nigerian bank – Pascal Dozie’s Diamond Bank story is safe as an inspiring example for making the best out of a situation and solving a need.
Think about those Igbo traders who could travel safely to Lagos to buys goods and secure merchandise in post-war Nigeria, the good it did to their businesses and families.
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform