In the last five years, Philips Oduoza has gone from being a retired bank CEO of one of the tier-one banks to founder and chairman of a new merchant bank. The interesting thing is that the man who has spent over three decades in the banking industry, refused to study banking in his first degree because he wanted a career that would keep him actively out on the fields.
It turns out that Oduoza later found the active and exciting life he sought in the banking sector.
Birth and education
Born into a large family in Owerri, Imo state Nigeria, Phillips was the fourth of his parents 10 children. He recalled in an interview that his parents were no-nonsense people who raised their children with discipline. Being the smallest in most of his classes, Philips found himself at the mercy of bullies at a young age, but as he grew older, he became quite stubborn.
“As a child, I was a little bit rascally and stubborn; I constantly got into trouble with bigger people,” he recounted.
Notwithstanding, he was intelligent and excelled in his studies, despite his exuberances. He attended St. Kelvins Primary School, Owerri, and Government College, Owerri before moving down to Lagos state for his university education. He bagged a Civil Engineering degree (with First class honours) from the University of Lagos.
According to Oduoza, he never considered banking or accounting in his first degree because he did not want a sedentary career. Instead, he wanted a career in civil engineering where he felt he would be more actively engaged.
“As a student, I was very proficient in science subjects,” he recalled, “and I could have studied Medicine or any other such course. However, I wanted a profession that is involved in physical activities, as against research. That was why I chose to study engineering because it has physical applications. As a civil engineer, you are involved in building roads, bridges, houses and so many diverse things.”
Being a restless teenager, he did not see a need to study a course that would tie him down to endless research and theories, but wanted something that would take him out and about. However, in the course of his engineering study, he took a couple of courses that were business-related and his interest was piqued.
After school, he considered several career options before eventually settling for banking, and this became the epicentre of his entire career. He went back to UNILAG and obtained an MBA in finance to guide his new career path. Since then, he has attended numerous banking, management and leadership courses including the Advanced Management Programme of the Harvard Business School. He is an honorary fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers.
Oduoza likes to say that the first real place he worked was at Citibank between 1988 and 1991. However, he had a brief stint with International Merchant Bank (IMB) as a Credit Officer in 1987
Within the three years at Citibank, he was equipped with knowledge of banking operations, relationship management, credit/marketing, efficient implementation of technology, risk management and lean banking methods. He moved from Citibank to Diamond bank in 1991, as one of the pioneer staff who built the bank to become a strong and notable brand in the industry. Oduoza rose through the ranks to become an Executive Director, serving as ED, Operations and Technology (1999-2002) the period where most banks had to do the IT transformation to meet up with global standards and practices. He was also Executive Director, Commercial/Retail Banking from 2002 to 2004.
His next stop was at the Reliance Bank Limited where he had a blinking stint as Deputy Managing Director for 4 months before moving on to join the Management and Board of Standard Trust Bank PLC in December 2004. He was with STB at the time of the merger with UBA and became a key player in the new UBA, rising through the ranks to serve two terms as MD/CEO before his retirement in 2016. He was succeeded by Kennedy Uzoka.
Tony O. Elumelu, Chairman, United Bank for Africa (UBA), described Philips as ‘diligent, loyal and astute,’ accolades that caused some to suggest that Elumelu might be his ‘godfather’ in the banking industry. Indeed Oduoza put in a lot at UBA, winning several awards with the bank, and becoming one of the most popular bankers in the continent of Africa at the time.
In 2013 and in 2015, he emerged as the Africa investor (Ai) Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) 30 CEO of the year, in a shortlist that had other heavyweights like Nassef Sawiris, CEO, Orascom Construction Company; Sifiso Dabengwa, CEO, MTN Group, SA; Guillaume Roux, CEO, Lafarge Africa; Segun Agbaje, CEO, GT Bank; Graham Clark, GMD, Dangote Sugar; and Ben Kruger/Sim Tshabalala, Co-CEOs, Standard Bank.
Oduoza’s NOVA Merchant
There is always a hanging question about what retired bank CEOs do. For Oduoza, there was no such thing as retirement. After resting a couple of months, he immediately launched his next project which was the creation of a Merchant bank.
According to Oduoza, this was inspired by the obvious death of investment banking institutions in Nigeria.
“I took a vacation for about three months. During the vacation, I started thinking of what to do. Initially, my original plan was just to retire and rest. However, it occurred to me that there are still a lot of things that I have to contribute to the banking industry in Nigeria. I considered the changes going on in the industry globally, especially in the area of finance technology and I felt that Nigeria should not be left behind. I also started thinking of how I was going to use technology to drive activities in the financial services industry,” he said.
When he returned from the vacation, he appointed a consultant and set the NOVA Merchant Bank wheels in motion. They structured the business model and started the process to acquire a license in the first quarter of 2017. He also got a legal officer on board who came in as the company secretary to put all of the legal work in place.
In April 2017, NOVA Merchant Bank got the provisional licence, and by December 2017, they got the final licence to begin banking activities. The formal opening of Nova Bank came in February 2018, and it was done by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote.
The bank has also issued a N10 billion seven-year Subordinated Unsecured Bond (SUB) which was oversubscribed by 300 percent, earning NOVA bank an ‘A’ rating.
Oduoza’s three decades of experience did pay off here, as the bank was able to break even in its first full year of operations (2018). In April 2019, NOVA Merchant Bank received an investment-grade rating from both Agusto & Co (Bbb) and Global Credit Ratings (BBB-).
The reasons given for the bank’s rating include the strength of the board and management team, robust capitalisation, prudent risk profile, good asset quality and strong liquidity; and it came on the heels of the bank’s publication of its financial results where it declared a profit after tax of N1.15 billion for the year ended 31st of December 2018, an increase from N510.6 million in 2017.
Other interests and positions
Oduoza admitted that being accustomed to handling the day-to-day running of a bank, he finds himself a bit constrained only playing oversight roles as a Chairman and board member, but he is adjusting fast. In this regard, he also pursues other interests. He currently serves on the boards of Veritas University Abuja, Lagos State Security Trust Fund, and the Development Bank of Nigeria.
Oduoza has also served on several boards including Interswitch Plc (representing UBA), Valuecard Plc (Unified Payment Services Plc), Nigeria Interbank Settlement System, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Financial Markets, and Dealers Quotations (FMDQ).