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Sanusi’s Exit Adds New Twist to FBN Restructuring

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Since This Day broke the news of Sanusi Lamido’s imminent appointment as Nigeria’s next Central Bank Governor, there has been plenty of speculation over his eventual successor at First Bank. The task of leading Nigeria’s oldest and biggest bank is one of the most important jobs in the financial sector and there’s sure to be a lot of lobbying.

First Bank usually appoints its helmsman from within its ranks so it was naturally assumed that the battle for the top job would be a straight fight between the bank’s seven executive directors. The favourites were Bola Adesola, Alex Otti and Kehinde Lawanson who respectively head the Lagos, South and West directorates.

However, it appears that the board has broken with tradition and selected Remi Babalola, a former executive director of the bank who joined the Yar’Adua administration in 2007 as the Minister of State for Finance. If these reports turn out to be accurate, the bespectacled Babalola would not be a surprising choice in light of recent developments at the storied institution. Last week, First Bank unveiled a new corporate structure that included two exotically Mckinsey alums. The appointments of Onche Rajesh Ugbabe and Eyitope St.Matthew-Daniel as Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Corporate Transformation, respectively, underline the bank’s intention to implement a far reaching strategic shift.

Another interesting appointment was that of Celine Loader as Chief Marketing Officer. The former magazine publisher was poached from the rival United Bank for Africa and is expected to revamp the First Bank’s staid image. While the bank has an army of loyal older customers, its inability to shed its somewhat undeserved reputation as a technology-averse company has hurt its standing with younger consumers who are drawn to the more creative “new generation” banks.

If his eventful career is anything to go by, the Ibadan-born Babalola could be willing to accept the job. His friends say that he’s always looking for new challenges and his peripatetic career includes stints with PWC, Andersen Consulting, Zenith Bank and First Bank. He has been one of the better performing ministers, retaining his portfolio after the president sacked half of his cabinet last year. And unlike most of the luddites in the cabinet, the tech savvy Babalola maintains his own personal website and responds to emails from the general public. He has also initiated a much publicized Red Cross project.

A highly placed source within the bank, who asked not to be named because she was not authorized to speak to the press, says that Babalola is the ideal person to implement the bank’s new strategy. “Most of the executive directors are brilliant bankers but Remi brings more than intelligence to the table. He’s an incredibly open-minded person who’s willing to listen to suggestions from all quarters. We know that our bank is strong and highly regarded but we need a leader who can sustain this success and imbibe a culture of innovation.”

An Abuja-based financial analyst believes that Babalola is likely to make the move. He says that First Bank is adept at managing leaks and that the news wouldn’t have been made public if he hadn’t already accepted. If this egghead is off the mark, First Bank’s grey eminences might find it difficult to recruit a minister who believes that “service to humanity and fatherland is the greatest endeavour in life.”

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