It’s always a difficult proposition, handing over the reins of a business you have painstakingly built ground-up. But for Pascal Dozie, Nigeria’s self-made investment and finance guru, there could not be a better successor than his eldest son, Uzoma Dozie, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank. But Uzoma has learned from the best.
The rise of Pascal Dozie can outrival any rags-to-riches Dickensian tale. He gained a fortune through tenacity, hard work and wit, on a long and difficult road from Owerri in Imo State where he was born in 1939. His entrepreneurial journey began against the backdrop of a Nigeria marred by the bloody Biafran war waged between 1967 and 1970 that saw over 30,000 Igbo lives lost. Pascal, at the time, was finishing his degree at The London School of Economics where he shared a class and rubbed shoulders with The Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, who dropped out to form the English rock band.
The war back home meant he had to find alternative means of making a living. Learning to be independent since the loss of his father when he was only 15, Pascal’s major influence was his mother who owned a bakery.
As a young man, he found himself on the streets of Uganda cutting his teeth in the exchange business until the Idi Amin coup truncated his work.
“When Amin took over, we were no longer wanted, so we had to come back to Nigeria but there was no money to come back home with.”
Pascal and his wife were unemployed and as a result, the couple planned to relocate to the United States (US) in search of greener pastures. But they changed their plans in the last minute due to his mother’s ill-health and her wish to be closer to her first grandson, Uzoma.
Pascal had to quickly find another way to make ends meet. He decided to start a consulting firm, the African Development Consulting Group, where he worked for multinationals like Nestle and Pfizer.
“My first objective was survival and of course I had an ambition. You set up a company, you want that company to grow; you want it to be robust and profitable. Being in consulting was a tricky affair because you have a lot of receivables. It was a hustle job. A hustle to get payment and a hustle to do the job all the time.”
Then there was the issue of rudimentary communication systems to contend with.
“There were no phones. At one point in time, I had to meet someone in Sokoto, and I boarded a flight to go there. Lo and behold, in the queue boarding that plane was the man I was going to see, catching a flight to another destination. So he apologized because there was no way for him to tell me not to come. So he asked me if it was possible to wait for two days. We had no choice and we found a hotel and waited for the man to come back. If there was any delay, there was nothing we could do but keep waiting until he showed up,” says Pascal.
Slowly but surely, his business began to prosper, but Pascal had even bigger aspirations. During the days of his consulting business, he conducted a feasibility study of banks and unearthed a hidden opportunity. But that was the easy part. At the time, Nigerian law stipulated that to set up a bank, no one single person could have more than 5% shareholding in the bank and the firm’s shareholders must be representative of Nigerians from all over the country.
“Now the problem was how do you find them? That was a major challenge. Once they are found, you are now dealing with so many different people from different backgrounds, which means a lot of time; there were a lot of quarrels. We traveled around all of Nigeria to find people who will invest in the bank.”
Secondly, Pascal had noticed traders from the remote villages in the east of the country, where he grew up, faced the problem of carrying huge bundles of cash when they traveled to Lagos on business, making them prone to robberies. To make matters worse, there were a number of shortcomings in the banking system. For example, to deposit money in a bank, one would have to wait long, sometimes queuing up for almost four hours before a single transaction.
“And to cash a cheque was also difficult. You could go to the bank and they will give you a number in the queue. You could then leave the bank, go to the shop and do so many errands that by the time you come back, your number would still not have been called. There was that gap in service,” says Pascal.
With a passion for economic development, he believed that without a strong financial sector, the Nigerian economy was not going to develop.
“You need a robust financial system to get the economy working, so I said ok, ‘why don’t we try looking at this and provide a solution’. I said ‘if we could get a bank to mitigate against all the things we are lacking, then we can create value for businesses and also contribute to the economic development of Nigeria’,” says Pascal, who was featured on the cover of FORBES AFRICA in October 2012.
Meanwhile, Uzoma, the eldest of his five sons, was contemplating which career he was going to pursue. The choices boiled down to engineering, medicine or law. He had witnessed the tough early days of his father’s entrepreneurial journey.
“I think my parents were hustling when I was born. We were five boys and I remember we lived at 27 Commercial Avenue, which was also my father’s office. It was a three-bedroom flat and I remember two of the rooms were offices and one was the bedroom for all of us. My dad was a consultant, so he didn’t have a fixed job then and I think my mother had a more stable job than him. Because they were hustling, life was very practical,” says Uzoma.
Where his father is assertive and confident, with each word measured and delivered as though he was giving a keynote address, Uzoma’s youthful exuberance is infectious. But there are similarities too. Pascal is a gentleman in every sense of the word, who loves Mozart and Bach, while Uzoma also has a calm down-to-earth demeanor.
Watching both father and son speak is like looking at two old friends catch up over drinks. Affectionately calling his father ‘PD’, there is an air of reverence and respect for the man who has orchestrated the Dozie legacy and built a multi-million dollar empire from a modest consulting firm, today spanning banking, private equity and telecommunications. Pascal commands his investment and finance empire through the family-owned investment company Kunoch, which pours money into everything, from power generation to gas processing, oil exploration, real estate and banking.
However, for Uzoma, banking was not his first calling. After some initial soul-searching, he opted to be a doctor and that journey led him to the United Kingdom (UK).
After studying Chemistry at the University of Reading, he pursued a masters in Chemical Research at University College London (UCL) before completing an MBA at Imperial College London.
A serendipitous recession in the UK meant Uzoma was unable to find a job, and decided to relocate to Nigeria to enrol into the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme set up by the government.
It involves Nigerian graduates in nation-building and the development of the country. Pascal, through his contacts, secured a role for Uzoma at Guaranty Trust Bank, which was the start of the latter’s love affair with banking.
“When I left university in the UK, I had a lot of credit from banks. I had a credit card, I had a debit card, I had a cheque guarantee card, I was using ATM and when I came back to Nigeria, it was like going back into time. None of those services existed. You had a chequebook, which may be, only one of the new generation banks offered, and one of the motivations or aspirations for me with Diamond Bank was trying to deliver in the Nigerian market those services which I was used to in the UK,” says Uzoma.
Both father and son fervently believe in the power of technology to drive efficiency in the financial sector. The first thing Pascal did to solve the issue of carrying cash over long distances was to set up the Diamond Integrated Banking System (DIBS).
This meant that you could carry a chequebook instead of cash and when you came into the bank, you received your cash. It may sound pretty easy and standard now but at the time in Nigeria’s history, it was revolutionary.
“Nigeria has come a long way. The area that we have not had much success is on our political front. There has been a lot of progress on the economic side; [but] individually, almost everybody is working in silos. But until we have that political will to get the economy to where it ought to be, we are just paying lip service.”
He sold the consulting business to raise the capital to start Diamond Bank. Soon, another opportunity presented itself to Pascal, this time in the telecoms industry. A South African company was looking to set up shop in Africa’s largest economy and Pascal saw in this an opportunity too good to pass up.
“So many companies were interested in the MTN project. The Nigerians didn’t know much about what it was about. All they knew was that there was this new way of communicating, which was by mobile telephones, and nobody knew what that was all about. It was one of the first few transparent projects the government ever conducted. The government practically vetted all the shareholders of the company,” says Pascal.
The South Africans wanted to pump millions into a 60% stake in MTN Nigeria, with Nigerians owning 40%. Pascal managed to raise a 20% stake in the new company. But before the deal could close, he says his name was published in the newspapers for unethical trading.
“The MTN people came to me to say ‘we do not want anything to do with you again’. Some mischievous people accused me of playing both sides and the main fact that I was double dipping would have cost us the project. So they wrote a letter to me and I didn’t reply. So they didn’t want to see me, I was more or less like an outcast. So I was not even there the last day of the bidding,” says Pascal.
“It was later on that the chairman of MTN was going back to South Africa and he met that company I was supposed to be involved in and they asked about me and the man said he didn’t know who I was. Then they realized that somebody was trying to be mischievous and they came back to me and apologized,” says Pascal, and the rest as they say is history. Today, the company is one of the most successful in Nigeria and Pascal maintains his position as chairman.
The apple did not fall far from the tree. Uzoma religiously preserves the organizational culture, using new technology to democratize the dissemination of financial services to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Pascal had always put employees in the saddle, empowering them to take decisions. That philosophy has worked well for the organization. Furthermore, his decision to realign the structure of the organization and create accessibility for tech-savvy millennials has helped the bank maintain its position as one of the leading financial services institutions in the country.
Uzoma has had varied roles within the organization, starting as an assistant manager and head of the bank’s oil and gas group, where he expanded the oil and gas businesses. One of the things Uzoma also pioneered was leveraging the power of mobile apps to make transactions easier for customers. “We used mobile apps to stop people from coming to the branches and put everything you wanted to do in the bank, apart from withdrawing cash at the bank, on the mobile app. Now, it’s a platform where it’s beyond banking and one of the new things we are doing is to provide a relationship officer and democratize banking so that even the guy at the bottom of the pyramid will get premium banking services and we can only do that through technology,” says Uzoma.
Next, the bank began automating the customer transaction experience by enabling customers to do self-service. Robots were introduced to reduce the workload and allow humans to concentrate on the things they are good at such as creativity and innovation.
“We have eight million people who use their mobile phones to do banking and we have a partnership with MTN. I see Diamond Bank as a platform to help people connect to market. When you talk to people we helped open a bank account into the market place, the first thing they will tell you is that ‘I can now save to take my children to school, I can now save to improve my business’. Diamond Bank is a platform for transformation by connecting people and their market,” says Uzoma.
The way the company has managed to achieve this is by leveraging technology and redefining the business model, which goes beyond banking and coming up with a sharing and collaborating approach as well.
“If I want to lend to a customer, I need to know much more than his financial record, I need to know about his non-financial records so it gives me a better understanding. We use other platforms to connect and engage with our audience like Diamond TV and we also get feedback from what our people want and what the trends are,” adds Uzoma.
Under his leadership, the bank has become one of the most-successful middle-market banks. According to Uzoma, this was as a result of understanding customer cash flows which made it easier to lend to them.
“I don’t know when was the last time I went into a banking hall to do a transaction. Young people have a good opportunity in the tech sector. I would like to see Nigerians developing software and looking at it from our own perspective and being original. One of the things I found in our financial system is the banking system is not technologically advanced like some of the banks we have in Europe,” says Pascal.
“We can use technology to solve a lot of problems in agriculture and a lot of problems in banking. Even deploying technology in a social and economic area. For example, our population, VAT registration, national identity and so many applications. People are working in various silos, why can’t we get all these systems to be coordinated? If you go to Dubai and you enter a taxi and you lose something, you can retrieve it. Once you enter a taxi, it is entered in a central location and everything is harmonized.”
They are a team that work well together. Uzoma is a tech visionary who believes in the power of technology to provide opportunities to leapfrog as a people, and he is relentless in pursuing that goal.
For Nigeria to harness that power, however, there has to be effective leadership to create impact and transformation. According to Uzoma: “We have everything we require in Nigeria to really leverage technology, but we haven’t been able to do that. We need the leadership to put the policy, regulation and legislation in place to help us achieve this. One of the things I am passionate about is educating investors to invest in Nigerian businesses. People are going outside to get investors from venture capital from the US and in 10 years’ time, we are going to find that we have a few Nigerian companies that are very successful globally but they will be owned by foreign companies because Nigerian investors who had the capacity did not understand what they are letting go,” says Uzoma.
Pascal echoes his sentiments. “You will not find any company owned by Nigerians being managed by the third generation or fourth generation as such but you will find that among Indians in Nigeria, and the Lebanese in Nigeria. But ours [Nigerians] have been short-term because the first generation sets up the business, then the next generation tries to develop it and the third generation squanders it.” These days, that has been Pascal’s real focus. He believes in order for Nigeria to effectively compete globally, there has to be a focus on succession-planning. At 79, he is full of life and bursting with ideas. His goal is to create an awareness of building generational wealth through family offices. This dynamic father-son duo is here to stay and set a sterling example for African business.
From modest beginnings – just £100 in his bank account in Lagos when he started – Pascal has built an empire his son is determined to take to Africa’s glorious future.