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Onyeagwu: A pacesetter at Zenith Heights

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The several feats by Zenith Bank Plc top of which include positive verdicts by some credible globally recognized rating agencies speak to one indisputable fact – that its pacesetting Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, his management team and employees are truly united and focused on the institution’s core business strategy which is anchored ‘on people, technology and service’ as well as create value for its numerous clientele.

Surely, this plan of action was enunciated by the bank’s pioneer visionary CEO and current board chairman, Mr. Jim Ovia which also explains why its teeming customers and those who have regular transactions can testify to its seamless and impressive services given the digital innovations deployed by the institution for maximum benefits of customers and related stakeholders.

In other words, the recent recognitions are totally justified as they derived strongly from the solid foundation and impressive performance by the bank since inception in May 1990.

Onyeagwu, a greatly experienced banker with Midas touch who has been deeply involved in the institution’s successful narrative, in the mold of his predecessors in office, prior to his appointment on June 1st2019, carved a reputation for himself as mobilizer of employees through charisma, persuasion and leadership by example in sustaining the bank’s tradition of excellence and profitability.

Consequently, the rewards for these tireless efforts have been manifesting and not unexpected. For instance as at the last count, and notwithstanding the harsh operating macroeconomic environment triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Zenith Bank under Onyeagwu has clinched no fewer than eight prominent awards to the delight of the board, staff and shareholders.

For instance the string of successes recorded include, Bank of the Year (Nigeria) in The Banker’s Bank of the Year Awards 2020, Best Bank in Nigeria in the Global Finance World’s Best Banks Awards 2020 and Best Corporate Governance ‘Financial Services’ Africa 2020 by the Ethical Boardroom.

Also, the bank emerged as the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria, for the fourth consecutive year, in the Banker Magazine “Top 500 Banking Brands 2021” and Number One Bank in Nigeria by Tier-1 Capital in the “2020 Top 1000 World Banks” Ranking published by The Banker Magazine.

According to the rating, Zenith Bank has grown astronomically in its 30 years of existence to become Nigeria’s largest and one of Africa’s biggest financial institutions by Tier-1 Capital, with shareholders’ funds of NGN1.1 trillion ($2.64 billion) as at 31st December 2020.

However, for the sake of clarity, Tier-1 Capital, as defined by the latest Bank for International Settlements (BIS) guidelines, includes ‘loss-absorbing capital, that is common stock, disclosed reserves, retained earnings and minority interests in the equity of subsidiaries that are less than wholly owned’.

The lender also, has distinguished itself by emerging the 454th bank globally and the only Nigerian bank in the top 500 in the ranking which was published in July 2021 edition of the Banker Magazine, based on the 2020 year-end Tier-1 Capital of banks.

Similarly, domestic laurels bagged by the institution included, Bank of the Decade (People’s Choice) at the ThisDay Awards 2020, Retail Bank of the year at the 2020 BusinessDay Banks and Other Financial Institutions (BOFI) Awards, Best Company in Promotion of Good Health and Well-Being as well as Best Company in Promotion of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment at the Sustainability, Enterprise and Responsibility (SERAS) Awards 2020.

It is also note worthy at this point that Champion Newspapers had blazed the trail in the string of recognitions when in 2019, the year Onyeagwu was appointed GMD/CEO, conferred on him the Bank CEO of the Year based on his unblemished record of meritorious service, a clear indication that the medium made the right judgment.

In separate reactions, some financial experts viewed the awards as the outcomes of independent, diligent, discreet assessments and painstaking investigation by the affected agencies even as they ruled out the likelihood of selfish motives and manipulation of the process insisting that “these are not just the usual doctored awards”.

Predicting that more of such laurels are in the pipeline, they anchored their optimism on Onyeagwu’s pedigree as an experienced banker, professionalism, integrity, competence, total commitment to the objectives of the lender as well as a man endowed with such attributes as passion for numbers, attention to details, good judgment and engaging personality.

With over 30 years experience in the banking industry, the GMD is also barely 30 months in the hot seat having assumed office on June 1st, 2019.But like the Biblical mustard seed, the institution in its journey so far, had been adequately watered and nurtured by Mr. Ovia.

It is also gratifying realizing that Onyeagwu has the full complement of a team of dedicated and tested professionals as he leads the bank to continually leverage its robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure to provide cutting-edge solutions and products through its network of branches and electronic/digital channels not only in Nigeria but in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and UK.

Gladly, Zenith Bank under Onyeagwu’s watch has remained committed to sustaining the profound legacy of its Founder Mr. Ovia, whose crucial role in building enduring structures facilitated its tradition of excellence and adequate returns on investment by shareholders.

The top banker whose penchant for hard work and excellence is unrivaled seems to have imbibed Albert Einstein illuminating admonition that, ‘You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else’ which is truly in line with renewed determination by management and employees of the institution to attain new heights through improved services and dividends payments to shareholders.

A man of many firsts, the CEO whose first name Ebenezer comes from a Hebrew phrase that means “stone of help” contained in the Biblical story told in the Book of 1 Samuel, in which Prophet Samuel laid a stone to commemorate the help that God had given the Israelites, became the first among his graduating class to qualify as a chartered accountant of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) in 1988/89 session.

Besides, he achieved this amazing feat shortly after graduation during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) year, following his outstanding performance in the Higher National Diploma in Accounting from the famous Auchi Polytechnic, finishing as the 2nd best graduating student with Upper Credit which is equivalent of a 2nd Class Upper in the university.

Again, Onyeagwu’s thirst for more academic distinctions also took him to the prestigious University of Oxford, England, from where he bagged a Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Strategy and certificate in Macroeconomics before embarking on executive level business education in Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School of Columbia University, the Harvard Business School of Harvard University (all in the United States) and Lagos Business School of the Pan African University, Nigeria.

He became a Fellow (FCA) of the ICAN in 2003, a year after he joined Zenith Bank as a Senior Manager in the Internal Control and Audit Group. Before then, he had a stint at Citizens International Bank Limited between 1991 and 2002 where he distinguished himself as a thorough-bred professional.

Between 2003 and 2005, he rose quickly from Assistant General Manager, Deputy General Manager and General Manager during which he handled strategies for new businesses and branch development, treasury functions, management of risk assets portfolios,  strategic top level corporate, multinationals public institutional relationships among other sensitive assignments.

Onyeagwu was named Executive Director of the bank in 2013 and put in charge of the daunting Lagos and South-South Zones as well as strategic groups/business units of the bank including Financial Control & Strategic Planning, Treasury and Correspondent Groups, Human Resources Group, Oil and Gas Group, and Credit Risk Management Group.

He never disappointed but rather excelled before been elevated to the position of Deputy Managing Director in 2016, a position that entailed an oversight over the bank’s Financial Control and Strategic Planning, Risk Management, Retail Banking, Institutional and Corporate banking business portfolios, IT Group, Credit Administration, Treasury and Foreign Exchange Trading, as well as general administration of the bank, among others.

In apparent reward for his exemplary career, he was appointed the GMD/CEO effective from June 1st 2019 and against the backdrop of his brilliant credentials, entrepreneurial skills, visionary leadership and vast experience, the pacesetter, who is married with children has the needed capacity to lead Zenith Bank not only on the path of its current industry leadership position in the country but also attain new unassailable heights while remaining as one of the healthiest financial institutions in Africa.

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