Segun Agbaje: Promoting Enterprise
By Yemisi Suleiman
For two days, Lagos – the fashion hub of Africa – was boisterous with activities as the first edition of GTBank Fashion Weekend took centre stage. Organized by Guaranty Trust Bank plc, GTBank Fashion Weekend is the bank’s initiative to empower small businesses in key economic sectors with the fashion industry in perspective.
For Mr. Segun Agbaje, the Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank plc, they are thrilled to be the first in the Nigerian financial sector to pioneer an initiative that will assist in unlocking growth opportunities for businesses in the fashion industry. With over 35 years experience in the financial sector, Mr. Agbaje is committed to growing SMEs in a sustainable manner that is not driven by profits but focused on empowering customers and growing the country’s economy collectively. He gives more insight into the project and his life as a banker, amongst other issues…
What is the correlation between banking and fashion? Why are you doing this?
First of all, I’ll look at it differently. What we are trying to do is to build SME businesses. If you look at the rest of the world, at countries like Italy, SMEs really control the economy. If you look at Nigeria, truly the biggest businesses are SMEs. I’m sure if I were to ask all of you, your brothers, your spouse, your sister, wives, friends, those people have SMEs; so, we never have to decide we like SMEs, we have to tick that box.
However, SME is a very general thing so we’ve chosen to pick industries to support; which we think are very popular and have and have a lot of Nigerians in it. First of all, we identify with this group. There are lots of young Nigerians, lots of Nigerians, whether it’s agriculture, whether it’s food processing, whether it’s fast food. So, we decided to support that and we’ll try to continue to support it and support them to excel.
We would also support them with loans when we understand their cash flows. We’ll put them on the market hub but that’s the easy part. The difficult part is to create infrastructure, which is where we’re going. We would create infrastructure for them where they can share and enjoy the same economy of scale as big companies.
The second industry that we have picked and, hopefully, as you’ll see this weekend, that is very popular is fashion. I’ve learnt that they’re so many facets to fashion. They’re those who retail, those who make shoes, those outside who do aso-oke, adire and there is cosmetics which is huge! You saw Zaron.
What we are doing here is, we are giving them a platform, hopefully, as good as you can find anywhere else in the world and we are not charging for it. We’re giving them Master-classes so that they can build capacity and learn from people’s experiences. All these we are giving at no cost to the people. So this is all about building.
Please, don’t look at it as food or fashion. Look at it as building SMEs up. It’s just that we have chosen to concentrate on food and fashion. We have other things we could have concentrated on but the truth is, I have learnt in my life that if you try to do too many things, you’ll do nothing. So, we decided to pick these two to see how far we can go with them.
What is in it for you?
Well, I could tell you nothing but, ultimately, hopefully, these people will become my customers as we build these SME businesses for the future just to rebuild retail. But having said that, I promise you (that) there is an altruistic thing about this. I think we have a duty to build small businesses. We have been blessed. We have been very fortunate, as a bank, to be successful and I think when you’re in a country like ours, if you’re successful, you really should give something back. So, even if there was nothing in this for us, I promise you we will still do it.
I see a lot of brands that are known. How do you intend to reach out to those that are just starting up; those we don’t know but have small scale businesses?
You are right but not absolutely right. We put everybody on a website. We had a lot of applications. We reserved a certain portion for those who are on the website and we reserved a certain portion for people who are on our market hub, who are more established.
We’ll continue to mix it and grow. This is not a one-off for us. We will do this every year and, hopefully, every year we will reach more and more of the smaller ones. But you always have to start; as you can see, if you walk around, you will be able to find things that you can sell. So, it’s a mix. We have some established and some pretty small start-ups.
If you weren’t a banker, what would you have been?
A banker (laughs). My father was a banker and I’ve always wanted to be a banker all my life but I think my definition of ‘banker’ has changed. My definition is no longer narrow, having done this for 26 years.
I really think what Guaranty Trust is today and has become is a platform for enriching lives and that we have to give people a platform to excel; whatever you do, we will put the platform and we will give you the best and let you bring out what you have. Nigerians are so talented that if you give them the right platform, they will continue to do wonderful things. I really don’t see myself anymore as just a banker. I actually see myself as the CEO of a business enterprise and other people are competing with banks right now – Starbucks, Apple Bay or PayPal. So, we must start to see ourselves as more than the traditional banks and that is what we are migrating to.
What do you like about your job?
I love everything about my job. I love the fact that I am talking to you here. I love the fact that we are doing a food fair. I love the fact that we have 60-70 young millennials who are working so hard, who are so passionate, whose lives we are touching. I can’t think of any other thing I would rather be doing.
How fashionable are you?
I am not very fashionable; the bank is a boring sector when it comes to fashion. Rather, I have a wife who is an interior decorator and she is more fashionable than I am. I am not very fashionable and I am sure you would have noticed. I am not always out there a lot; I’m in my office most of the time and live a bit of a private life.
For this fashion initiative, between now and the next edition, which is next year, in what ways will GTBank further empower this target sector?
First of all, we’re going to put most of them on our market hub; as you know, our market hub is free, just like this is free. We do not charge them for being on it and we help them.
As for those who we understand their business, we are going to support them with loans and also pray and hoping we can create with them alliances with developmental agencies because in the world today, there are so many developed mental agencies that have products targeted at fashion and if we can help them access it, hopefully, we’ll do it.
Like I said to you, the ultimate goal is to create infrastructure that these guys could share; that is the most difficult part and our country is very challenging but, hopefully, we would get there.
Talking on joint infrastructure, what do you ultimately aim to achieve with the fashion initiative?
My dream is that, for example, you can build a factory that makes shirts, trousers and, almost like contract sharing, you just buy your own time, you do three (or) four hours, they do their own and you put your own label and go. Someone else comes, sews a skirt or shirt, they put their own label, because, guess what? That is what happens everywhere in the world. A person makes two different shirts and all they do is change the labels. It is the same factory. It allows economies of scale and allows you to operate bigger than you really are.
What has life taught you as a person?
Life has taught me to be very humble, to trust completely in God and to believe absolutely (that) nothing is impossible if you work hard, pray hard and you’re surrounded by the right people.