Life Has Taught Me That Nothing Is Impossible-Segun Agbaje, MD, GT Bank

‘Why I’m passionate about building SMEs’

Aside the fashion runways, GTB Fashion Weekend was a hub for different attires , cosmetics and food. The event, which attracted the crème-de-la-creme in the society was held in Lagos last weekend. At the venue, Sunday Sun had an interview with the convener of the event, Mr Segun Agbaje, CEO, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc who spoke about his motivation and more.

What’s the relationship between banking, food and fashion?

What we are trying to do is building SMEs. If you look at the rest of the world, if you look at a country like Italy, SMEs are truly controlling their economies.

Even in Nigeria, truly, the biggest businesses are SMEs. I’m sure if am to ask you, your brothers, your sisters, your spouse, most people have SMEs. So, we’ve chosen to pick some industries to support, which we think are very popular, and in which a lot of Nigerians are partakers.

We first looked at the food industry. Lots of young Nigerians are into agriculture, food processing and fast food business, so, we decided to support them, and we’ll continue to, not just in creating a platform for them to excel , we would also support them with loans when we understand their cash flows. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is to facilitate infrastructure which is where we are going.

We would like to facilitate infrastructure for them where they can enjoy same economies of scale like big companies. The second industry we focused on and that is very popular is fashion. In the fashion business, there are retailers who deal in shoes, fabrics like aso-oke, adire, as well as cosmetics which is huge. What we are doing here is giving them a platform that’s hopefully as good as anywhere in the world.

We are hosting master classes where they can learn from peoples experiences and also a platform for them to sell . All these were organized at no cost to them. Don’t look at it as food or fashion, look at it as building SMEs up, but we have chosen to concentrate on food and fashion. We have other things we can concentrate on but the truth is, I have learnt in my life that if you try to do too many things, you will do nothing. So, we’re focused on these two and we’ll see how far we can go.

This is really a nice one. If you weren’t a banker, what could you have been?

A banker (laughs). My father was a banker. I have always wanted to be a banker all my life, but I think my definition of bankers has changed after doing this for 26 years. I really think what Guaranty Trust Bank is today, is a platform for enriching lives. We have to give people a platform to excel at whatever they do.

Nigerians are so talented and I really don’t see myself anymore as just a banker but now as the CEO of a business enterprise. Other firms are competing with banks right now whether it’s apple pay, pay pal etc. Even, we must start to see ourselves as more of traditional banks and that’s what we are migrating to.

What do you like about your job?

I love everything about my job. I love the fact that I’m talking to you here, I love the fact that we are hosting this fair, I love the fact that we have good participants, I love the fact that we have 60-70 young millennials who are working so hard, who are so passionate , whose lives we’re touching. I can’t pick up any other thing around me than doing this.

How fashionable are you?

I’m not very fashionable. Bankers are very boring people. My wife is an interior decorator and more fashionable than I am. If you’ve noticed, I’m not so out there a lot, I’m in my office a lot and I live a little bit of a private life.

Between now and the next edition of the fashion show, in what ways do you hope to further enrich this sector?

First of all, we are going to place their names on our market hub. As you know, the market hub is free, just like this is free, we don’t charge you for being here.

We’ll help you and for those whose business we understand, we are going to support them with loans. I also pray and hope we can form alliances with developmental agencies because in the world today, there are so many developmental agencies that have products targeted at fashion. If we can help them access them, hopefully we’ll do it. Our country is very challenging but hopefully we will get there.

What has life taught you?

Life has taught me to be very humble, to trust completely in God and to know that nothing is impossible if you work hard, pray hard and you are surrounded by the right people.

You speak with a foreign accent; did you grow up in Nigeria?

I attended St Gregory’s College, Obalende here in Lagos and subsequently schooled abroad.