Ade Ayeyemi, the cost hunter from West Africa

He is one of the most influential bankers in Africa, Nigerian Ade Ayeyemi. The CEO of Ecobank is leaving his post this year at the age of sixty, after straightening out a facility that was in poor condition when he arrived seven years ago. He is our “portrait” of the week.

Ade Ayeyemi is what in the business world is known as a cost killer.

It was precisely because of his ability to put derailed trains back on track that Ade Ayeyemi was chosen in 2015 by Ecobank’s shareholders to lead his group. Benoît Chervalier, investment banker and teacher at Science Po Paris, knows Ade Ayyemi well.

“We needed a profile that was not a communicator profile, which is not – I dare say – a developer profile, but a profile that would put the bank back on track, by streamlining credit, no doubt by a few. Branches that had to close and the redundancies that followed, but it was a precondition for getting the bank back on its feet.

Radical measures on his arrival at Ecobank Ade Ayeyemi was then a defector from the American Citibank, where he had spent most of his career, and when he took over the reins of Ecobank, he discovered a facility undermined by quarrels, burdened by dubious debts ( a billion dollars anyway!) and with profitability at half bar. Barely installed, he takes radical measures, closes branches, lays down a fifth of the staff and reorganizes the group around three professions. As he explained three years ago to the British site The Banker.

“We understood that we needed large companies, governments and financial institutions with us to be able to move the economy forward. So now our strategy is based on three pillars. Commercial and investment banking, commercial banking and retail.”

Ade Ayeyemi is an outspoken man. For example, when he is criticized for not lending enough to companies, the CEO of Ecobank gets hurt. He responds here to our correspondent in Lomé, Peter Dogbe: “The challenge we have here in Africa is that the big businessmen are those who borrow but do not pay back. And when they do not pay back, they make it difficult for others to access credit ”.

Diplomatic qualities Behind this American-style leadership, which is therefore sometimes brutal, he was able to preserve Ecobank’s identity. And when Peter Dogbe asks him what he thinks of the attitude of the major international banks that have left the continent for several years, Ade Ayeyemi immediately turns to the pan-African ideal that is, in a way, the DNA of this bank that was created thirty years ago. year.

“They should not disconnect. In general, I do not like to see people go. But if they go, we can not do anything about it. Like Ecobank, I can not leave! We have no other place to go, Africa is ours. “And it’s up to us to build this continent. It’s up to us to make it attractive to everyone who wants to come here and be with us.”

One question remains: was this man who saved Ecobank from a catastrophic fate a great CEO? Benoît Chervalier tries to answer that.

“I would say he was a good leader, he may not have been a good leader, in the sense that the bank did not scale. The bank has really streamlined. It is still a leader in the financing of SMEs and EITs in particular. “It has a certain balance between East and West Africa. But a number of structural elements remain. That is, on the one hand, the absence in North Africa and South Africa. Ecobank remains medium-sized compared to its African competitors and remains a small bank compared to its international competitors.”

It is difficult to be both a calculator and a visionary. Still, Ade Ayeyemi was able to preserve the future of a bank that was ranked seventeenth at the continental level but only in the Uemoa zone, the former West African franc zone.

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