I was watching CNBC when I came across this programme featuring my friend, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede talking about his new book, “Leaving The Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa.” He was being interviewed by the writer Uzodinma Iweala. I instantly recorded it and kept it with the aim of featuring it in this column. So here we go:
WHY A MEMOIR
I left Access Bank, retired as CEO in 2013 and I knew that I needed time off, just to recharge my batteries, so to speak. I didn’t think I would have more than a year and a half before my perpetual emotional character took over once again. And so I wanted to use that period as productively as possible. I had a year and a half and what better thing to do in a year and half than write a book? For me, it was an opportunity for posterity, to tell the story to my children in a structured sense because before then I hadn’t had the opportunity to sit down with my kids and say “this is what I did today or this is what I did yesterday, and these are the highs and the lows of this journey.”
Herbert and I went through a hell of an experience between 2002 and 2013. And for him, that experience has continued. We learnt so much. We were exposed to so many things, we had really, really great mountains that we climbed, we scaled some pretty high heights and so on. In a sense, it would be very selfish of us to lock this up in a box and not share it with others. Because I think our experience can be used by any other person that has an ambition to go out there and do whatever it is they seek, whatever it is that they dream about.
And so, the notion of writing for posterity and recording this period in my life are probably more important. The notion of preparing a way for others. Those are the things that drove me to write the book.
WHAT INSPIRED THE TITLE
Like many children, there is this moment in your life where innocence is taken from you. And I think for me, the story of going to the airport when I was flying back home from school in Kaduna, unaccompanied, and feeling firsthand what it meant to suffer at the hands of a corrupt system and despite the fact that I had a confirmed ticket to go home, and I was at the airport early, and I was subjected to this really, really cruel experience, discovering that it didn’t count. That you’ve got to fight a system that sells more tickets than you have seats on the plane. And it doesn’t matter whether you are 10 years old or you are eight years old. We subjected ourselves to this type of system. And I fought. And I didn’t get on the plane. I was on the tarmac and I saw the plane leave. And I said to myself: never again. Never again would a system like this leave me standing on the tarmac. And that’s the title of the book.
There was one thing I said to myself I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t learn how to cheat well. I wouldn’t learn how to beat down people well. I wouldn’t learn how to be great at the corruption game. I felt that there is a way to make sure that you don’t remain on the tarmac. Respecting the law, respecting the other human being, competing fairly. And so, in a sense, this story is about how Herbert and I put together a group of people and said: “Let’s create a unique organisation that pursues excellence in every ramification. But then, at the same time, convince Nigerians, starting with those we work with, that we don’t need to cheat to win.”
The book is really focused on my career as a banker, my time at Access Bank and my formative years as a young adolescent male growing up in Nigeria. In terms of timing, the first is that I felt that Herbert needed space and even though the book was ready, in a sense, I wanted to wait and give him time to really settle into the job. The other reason I delayed was that I was in two minds about what I noticed was going on in Nigeria. And I was like: Is this the book to in a sense give Nigerians the nudge at this time? Or did I need to come at this issues a different way? But then, the more I reflected and the more I see what is happening in Nigeria, I think the message to Nigeria should be that: let’s not be left on the tarmac collectively as a people. How do we get our acts together and make sure that if the analogy of a plane taking off is this world, moving from Third World to Second to First, moving into the 21st century, moving into a digital future, how do we make sure Nigeria is on that plane, on the front seat, prepared to really, really take its place in the world? And that’s why I think it’s a good time now for me to share this book to the world.
BUILDING A BANK
Without a doubt, I was very blessed. So in the book, not once, maybe more than two or three times, I allude to the fact that it’s not about me and it’s not about Herbert. It’s about the Almighty. There are too many coincidences, there are too many accidents of good fortune, there are too many unexplainable events that allowed this story to happen. We were blessed. We were privileged. We were lucky. One thing I would tell anyone embarking on this type of journey is: if you rely on luck, go make your luck happen, if like me you rely on God, make sure you have a relationship with God where God matters. The role of God in this whole story is immense. So is family: my wife, my children and my parents, my in-laws. My brother-in-law (he is late now) just left his MBA at Harvard Business School when I was doing three months’ programme. And he was the one who gave me a book called BUY OFF which I read three times the same day he gave me that book. And that was what inspired me to go off to go buy a bank. Family. Then, of course, friendship and partnership. That is the relationship between Herbert and I. Then being in the right place at the right time. It was very important that we were in the sweet spot of what I call the Nigerian Renaissance. That period between 1999 and 2007 when in a sense, all things came together: talented people in government, really entrepreneurial, young men and women. And we all had this point to prove that Nigeria could get its act together. These are the things the book tells you about.