• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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FBN Holdings’ UK Eke: Corporate boardroom guru par excellence

FBN Holdings’ UK Eke: Corporate boardroom guru par excellence

So many positive things can be said and views expressed about Urum Kalu Eke, MFR, fondly called UK Eke, and each one would be a good piece about him. However, like the description and interpretation provided by each of the six blind men of Indostan (Hindustan) on their historic visit to the elephant, as retold from an ancient Hindu fable in John Godfrey Saxe’s poem, each piece, good and compelling as it may be, will be but a small and inadequate view. And each view will be begging to be pieced together with all other small views to form a composite image, which will then need to be accurately interpreted to give the full portrait of this towering figure in corporate boardrooms.

One compelling piece/small view and a good place to start would be UK Eke’s education. After all, Sir Francis Bacon argues, “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man; and therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not.” Eke’s great memory, present wit and much cunning (wisdom, common sense and boardroom expertise) attest to his education. Or, more accurately, his continuing education, for he sees himself as a lifelong and continuous learner, ever eager to learn and keep learning. It was this attitude he exhibited when he doubled as Chief Knowledge Officer at FirstBank, to champion learning in the foremost financial services institution. This was while he was serving as Executive Director, Public Sector (South).

For formal education, Eke has Comprehensive Secondary School, Aba and the famous Government College, Umuahia to thank for providing him secondary education. The University of Lagos, where he studied Political Science, and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), for his undergraduate and post-graduate education respectively. Since then, further education and learning have come from numerous courses he continues to attend to remain in the cutting edge of knowledge and expertise.

Several globally-renowned educational institutions have contributed their part in facilitating Eke’s further learning through their executive management and board training programmes. Harvard Business School; Stanford Business School; IESE Barcelona; China European International Business School, Shanghai, China; International Institute for Management and Development, Lausanne, Switzerland; Wharton Business School and Lagos Business School, among others.

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Another view of this towering figure is provided by his background in corporate strategy with more than a decade of continuous presence in different corporate boardrooms contributing to charting corporate directions and shaping company policies. From his time in Diamond Bank where he was on the boards of the bank, Diamond Capital and Diamond Bank du Benin, Eke has served continuously on more corporate boards, and continued to bring his vast experience and expertise to bear on the workings and decisions of the various boards.

As Group Managing Director, FBN Holdings Plc, Eke is a director on the board of FirstBank. Also, within the FBN Holdings Group, he serves or had served on the boards of FBN Bank (UK) Limited, FBNQuest Merchant Bank Limited and First Pension Custodian Limited. On these boards he has chaired and served on various board committees such as those dealing with human capital, governance, audit, risk management, credit, strategy and finance, compensations and investment, among others.

Beyond the Group, he is on the board of Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund), where he chairs the Externally Managed Investment Committee. He is also involved in helping the sovereign wealth fund to pursue capital raise among a number of capital market activities. He has also been active in the Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIBN) and the Institute of Directors (IoD), where he has chaired several committees.

Eke is a leader among leaders and an astute administrator blessed with sound managerial and motivational skills, which are essential factors for effectively leading one’s troops. A Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International, part of his values is philanthropy or commitment to charity, which inspired him to establish the Elder (Chief) K.U. Eke Memorial Foundation in honour of his late father, a Scotland-trained nurse. Through the foundation, Eke has been supporting education scholarship, women empowerment, training of clergymen (pastors), mentoring and capacity building.

On the national stage, Eke has been honoured with two national honours: Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) and Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). As an ex-staff, he is a recipient of the Deloitte Distinguished Alumni Award. And only days ago, Eke, who is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants, Fellow of the Institute of Directors, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, bagged the highly-acclaimed Zik Prize in Professional Leadership.

Just for the sake of argument, the question may be asked, given all the views offered of this corporate guru: What is it about UK Eke, who, by the way, turned 57 on 20th November 2021, that makes him the towering guru that he is in corporate boardrooms? The answer? Probably a lot more can be enumerated and explored in a time-bound article with very limited space. But a lot more remains to be highlighted. For example, nothing was said of the view of his knack for doing big things and leaving giant footprints on projects and endeavours he has been involved with. This knack for doing big things probably presents a dominant view of the subject who has consistently maintained his course in the big league, and continues to land the big stage of Nigeria’s corporate world – the boardroom.

However, while one trait, characteristic, attribute or aspect of UK Eke’s life may provide a dominant or prominent view of him and his status in corporate boardrooms, it is possible that other views that are less considered probably mask the immense influence and shaping all other aspects of his life have had on the person Eke has been in the boardroom. The total package that Eke is and presents in the boardroom may not be reducible to just one aspect or dominant view of his life.

The total package that Eke is, built over several decades, may be the sum of all the known and identified aspects of his life in the public domain, as well as the not-so-well known and the unknown that readers are encouraged to decipher through exploration.

In an uncanny way, the argument about what makes UK Eke tower in corporate boardrooms is analogical to the question(s) the six blind men of Indostan (Hindustan) tried to answer through their visit: What is the elephant (like)? The answer, as everyone (except those six blind men) knows, is not the “broad and sturdy” side or the “very round and smooth and sharp” tusk or the “squirming trunk”. Neither is it the creature’s knee nor its ear nor its “swinging tail”. Saxe’s verdict on their interpretations was clear: “Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong.” All six blind men were in the wrong!

What makes the elephant is the totality of the iconic creature, just as what makes UK Eke the corporate boardroom guru that he is today is the totality of his person – his total package. Eke leaves no side of him outside the boardroom. He delivers his full package in boardrooms. Eke has an unusual if not prodigious ability to bring to bear all the sides to his person, all the traits, attributes, aspects and views of his person in his presence and participation in discussions in corporate boardrooms.

This is part of the reason Eke is being celebrated as observers and analysts reflect on his resourceful stewardship of FBN Holdings Plc. The hope remains that this corporate guru has a critical mass of younger people who have modelled themselves on him, so that going forward, anytime and every time traits, attributes and views of his person, like the ones this write-up has highlighted, are pieced together, the resultant composite portrait will be another UK Eke – a corporate boardroom guru par excellence.