Otunba Subomi Balogun : Giving is Living
AT 80, Otunba Subomi Balogun is a man who has achieved a lot but uncommonly given a lot back to his society. Life on the glossy footing is always laced with slippery pitfalls but unlike most children from a rich background, Otunba Subomi went ahead to carve a niche for himself, his generation and his nation through hardwork, diligence and supernatural assistance from the Almighty God, unto whom he attributes all he has achieved in his glorious 80years on earth. Otunba Subomi’s biography, titled: The Cross, The Triumph and The Crown is one that inspires you. He has dedicated his life since retirement to the upliftment of the downtrodden in Nigeria and Africa in general.
Born into to a polygamous home from fairly well-known background in Ijebu-Ode, both of his parents were educated. Otunba’s father was one of the pioneer native authority workers in the colonial days, during the reign of late Oba Tunwase, the Awujale of Ijebu at the onset of colonial rule. The mother was the only educated wife of his father, so he had an edge. Otunba fondly recounts, ‘my mother was rather very helpful in giving me a head-start’.
The Olori Omoba of Ijebuland had a fairly brilliant educational career. Went to Igbobi College and was one of the first Nigerians that did GCE advanced level in Nigeria and passed first Grade. Otunba recollects people like Prof. Ayo Banjo, and other contemporaries. I then decided to go and study law. Because my father was a court registrar at that time and my father, at over 50 at the time, was being bossed by a young boy who was trained as a lawyer. So I said I’m going to study law too, so that I can also become a boss, otunba says of his decision to study law at the time. But by the time I was finishing law, the government of the then Western Region gave me a scholarship to be trained as a Parliamentary Counsel, and I was the first Nigerian to be so trained in that field, by the government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I think the Eastern Region followed by sending one fellow, he said.
On coming back to Nigeria, Otunba subomi worked with the Western Regional Government, and in 1962 he was posted to Lagos and became an Assistant Parliamentary Counselor of the Federation. He later moved to the then newly founded Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) being set up by the World Bank as a Secretary and became the Company Secretary. ‘That was what opened the vista’, Otunba posits.
That he founded a merchant bank is a story he loves to relive over and again. According to him, an incident prepared his path to success. “I was cheated as an employee for another institution created by Nigerians and Americans,” he recalls. And as a result, he went on a course abroad and returned brimming with ideas to set up a merchant bank. “That was what we called it in those days and everyone knew that I birthed it but when it was time to elect the chief executive, I was told in spite of all entreaties that because I had a basic training in law, I could not be the chief executive! I was 42 years old and they brought a 32-year-old man with little or no experience from America to be my boss.’’ Embittered, he resorted to prayers and did not lose focus. He reminisces: “Some of the gifts God gave me are courage, tenacity of purpose and discipline. I knew where I was going but the vista was misty. It was unbelievable that one Nigerian would say that if he did not get a position in a bank, he would set up a bank. I was not interested just in money, I was trying to prove that given the opportunity and with the support of the Almighty God, I had the mettle to attain the commanding heights in the management of a financial institution,” Balogun says. In fact, the inspiration to start my own company came through my then eight-year-old son. I always sought the face of God in whatever I do. My family and I were in the chapel in my house praying to God for the way forward after I was cheated out of the investment bank I helped start for NIDB, when my son said ‘why are you worrying yourself on being a boss of another person’s business, why not start your own?
Resigned from the job but not to fate, he embarked on a voyage of faith when he single-handedly set up a stock broking firm. Some people thought I was crazy, some thought I was over-ambitious. But they forgot God. And it happened. That marked the beginning of City Security Limited (CSL) in 1973. The later culminated in the establishment of the first wholly Nigerian owned merchant bank, First City Merchant Bank.
First City Merchant Bank has since transmuted into a conglomerate and has also shelved the toga of a family bank to become one of the strongest post recapitalization banks in Nigeria. The Olori Omo Oba of Ijebuland (Head of the Princes) says, FCMB was started by one young man named Subomi Balogun. But after sometime, we invited everybody to be part of it and we became quoted. So it is no longer a family bank. The average Nigerian doesn’t see anything good in something that benefits one or two people. But somebody has to do the thinking. FCMB was not started by a family; it was started by a young man, who just happened to belong to a family. But then, this is the story of all big companies all over the world. If you talk of the Morgans, Guinness, Cadbury, just like Michael Ibru, etc, they all started as family businesses.
Politics in Nigeria
Let us pray that God will give us men or leaders, those that can lead us to the promised land. Men who have the interest of the common man and the country at heart. Men who will subsume their personal interests to national interest. Otunba believes that all Nigeria needs to realise a self sustaining economy is selfless, public-spirited leadership, people who will look closely at the problems of the country and face them squarely, with the fear of God. Men who will regard the survival of the nation as an entity in which poverty, ethnicity and hatred are things of the past.
The FCMB Dream
“I had a template with which I started with— a Jewish German, Sigmund George Warburg. He started the oldest merchant bank in Britain. He was my template, I read his book and visited him before he died. People thought it was sacrilegious for an individual to set up a bank, whereas I was setting example. I got into banking because I had a vision and I put in my own personal culture of always looking for the best, culture of integrity, business ethics which has permeated through,” he states. Soon, his name and exploits in financial services began to resonate and it was time to up his game. “I was only very well known in investment banking which is the easiest way to start banking,” he explains citing blue chip companies he had worked for. “Everyone was wondering who we were but I gave the impression that the place was owned by another person who only asked me to manage it. Later, I found that investment banking was not enough for us to make profit that can make us compete with the other banks. When the idea of universal banking came, I was in the vanguard,” he adds.
Retirement and FCMB’s Succession Moves
Like they say there is no success without a successor, “I had set the stage that at a particular time; I must allow the old order to change, yielding a place to a new order. Success without a successor is not success. I had begun to think at what point I will retire. I set the age of 70 but between the ages of 60, 65 and 70, hell was let loose! People wanted to fight me even though I knew quite well I had not done anything. It was on the eve of my 70th birthday that I retired. I had always had it in mind that the time will come when I can no longer cope with the energy required for growth and I made arrangements for a successor,” he says. However, I did not just pick a successor by myself. It was God who guided me in naming my successor. In any case, who wouldn’t pray that his child succeeds him? Today, he has a worthy successor in his son, Ladi Balogun, of whom He says, “he is my third son, God chose him and his brothers don’t envy him. Rather, they are very supportive and the sky is the limit.’’
Otunba Subomi Balogun is well reputed to be one of the biggest philanthropist in Nigeria today giving and contributing to several humanitarian causes since his retirement, he reiterates by saying, ‘if beyond banking I haven’t done to improve the welfare of my people; my life would not have been worth it’. Before his 60th birthday, Otunba adopted and endowed the children’s wing of the University Teaching Hospital (UCH) Ibadan, (named after him) and also built a 40-bed children’s hospital named after his mother in Ijebu and donated it to the government. Typical Otunba style, he funded a purpose-built children’s hospital – Otunba Tunwase Specialist National Paediatric Centre, Ijebu-Remo, probably the biggest of its kind in West Africa, if not in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Otunba says, the late Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti encouraged me to build a referral institution patterned after the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, whereby cases involving children can be treated, whereby they can do research, and difficult cases concerning children can be referred. That informed my decision to build the Paediatric Centre and, by the grace of God, I have spent over N2 billion of my own personal resources on the project, and secured the services of one of the best paediatricians. The facility is not only for taking care of children but I’m ensuring that no child in Nigeria shall die of any curable disease, and also ensuring that no nursing mother dies of any communicable disease. We are also embarking on neo-natal treatment for children born pre-maturely. The Centre has over 10 incubators, and with one of the best laboratory services around, he added. All these are giving me some satisfaction that the good Lord has blessed me in my chosen career. It is my way of giving back to the society.
Married to Olori Abimbola, who refers to as his Siamese twin, he said, If you see my wife and I, you will marvel at our closeness. We behave like two young lovers. She is in her late 60’s. I don’t go anywhere without my wife. We have come a long way, having being married for almost 50 years. She is my inseparable companion. There is hardly anything I want to embark on in life that I don’t discuss with my wife and asking her what to do. When your wife is the closest person to you, you can never go wrong. Even in times of the crises in my life, my wife stood by me. I always say that, anybody who will succeed in life must have a price to pay. This life is like going through what I call a crucible. And the most brilliant metal goes through the fire. Life is not always a bed of roses. I thank God that my wife was by my side during my periods of crises. We pray together and we do all things together. They are blessed with four sons who are all accomplished professionals in banking, finance, stock broking and legal practice.
Otunba has kept himself real busy since retiring from the bank, he says proudly, I am active in church and spend a lot of time talking to my God. I also spend time in my swimming pool or going in my boat. Also, I travel a lot; I read and watch international news. I have a large expanse of land in my Ijebu-Ode home – 50 acres – and I just walk around, or sometimes I go round my farm, in the orchards picking fruits.
If there is any man who exemplifies the core value of GENESIS INTERNATIONAL, live your dreams, then Otunba Subomi stands out, he summarises his life thus, ‘I will like to be remembered for putting smiles on people’s faces. I will want to be remembered for my conception of noble and lofty thoughts, for my wisdom noble character and rise in position of influence and blessedness. I will love to be remembered for my vision for excellence and care for the survival of children.
In fact, the inspiration to start my own company came through my then eight-year-old son. I always sought the face of God in whatever I do. My family and I were in the chapel in my house praying to God for the way forward after I was cheated out of the investment bank I helped start for NIDB, when my son said ‘why are you worrying yourself on being a boss of another person’s business, why not start your own?
I have learnt considerable lessons in life, and I have gone through the crucible of the chastising experience with the support of providence I have renewed my strength like an eagle and I am now in a position to soar to whatever level my God will take me.
If you read through my autobiography, and the other book, the financial monument billed by God, there was a time in this country that some one said, that man is finished. When I showed up at a party in my flowing white agbada, they say this man? laughs who knows? But let me tell you I am a human being even if I was worried that people were fighting with me, I dint show it. I have courage I put my chest forward, I have faith, I have confidence in what God has done for me.