During the past weekend, I had the opportunity of performing a deep review of the annual financial reports of some of the leading Nigerian banks. This was a part of an investment decision that I was evaluating on behalf of a group. During my review of those reports, I came across some interesting findings in the annual report of UBA Group for the year ended 31 December 2019.
The first interesting thing was that the shareholder with the highest investments in UBA is not Tony Elumelu (considering both his direct investments and those held through Heirs Holdings) as I had previously assumed. Stanbic Nominees has about 10% of UBA’s shareholding while Tony’s shareholding currently sits at about 6%.
On shareholding, 53 investors out of the entire 272,452 shareholders controls 64% of the entire shareholding. Let me make it clearer – 272,399 minority shareholders jointly control 36% of the shareholding. The 53 major shareholders are the ones that Tony Elumelu must constantly keep happy. For the others, you have one annual opportunity to say whatever you like at the annual general meeting – that is if the Chairman “sees” your indication to comment or ask a question at the event.
The other interesting finding is that despite the fact that 46% of its 13,237 employees were females, none of the 9 executive directors is a female. They tried to compensate for this by having 4 females out of the 10 independent directors. In total, the board has 4 females out of the 19-member board. Although I have used this UBA case merely as an example to illustrate a situation that is actually common in many companies in Nigeria, it is an issue that probably happens “innocently” without any bias. For example, I am aware of several female executives from UBA occupying several important and key positions within the Group. However, having no female executive director out of nine positions tends to signal something about the bank’s culture and focus.
Since UBA is not a United Bank for Males, all talents should matter – male or female. The above should be one of the important issues that the Board and the institutional investors in UBA might be interested in looking at. Of course, I do not support having a quota system whereby you promote people into positions because someone must fill an allotted quota. If necessary, there could be a “conscious bias” to groom every major demographic to be able to get such roles based on merit.
While we all condemn the racial profiling and the systemic racism against people of colour in some foreign economies, we also need to start evaluating our own corporate culture and signalling as business leaders, especially on gender issues, creating a work environment that is free of discrimination.