Abubakar Suleiman has worked for over 20 years in the banking industry. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Sterling Bank Plc. His top priority in this position is to optimize the impact of financial intermediation in critical sectors such as Health, Education, Agriculture, Renewable Energy and Transportation – the H.E.A.R.T of Sterling.
He firmly believes Sterling’s H.E.A.R.T can catalyze growth and create a future of shared prosperity for all Nigerians. Abu, as he is fondly addressed by colleagues and friends, has previously worked in tax advisory at Arthur Andersen, management training at MBC International Bank (now part of First Bank) and financial markets with Citibank Nigeria. He waxes lyrical on the role of efficient markets, emerging technologies and small businesses in unlocking productivity, improving national competitiveness and driving inclusive economic growth.
Abubakar Suleiman currently serves on the Board of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the Advisory Boards of Lagos Business School (LBS) and Enterprise Development Center (EDC). Something of an intellectual at the helm of banking, when he is not on the job, which is rare, he enjoys poetry, driving and music.
I studied Economics at the University of Abuja. At the time, it was a small and intimate school. I was part of the second set of graduates from the school. I really wanted to study Literature because I imagined myself as a poet, but I quickly realized that I could not make a living on poetry at the time. This was after attending secondary school at Government Secondary School, Otukpo in the now-Benue State.
The biggest lesson from University.
I realized that there was a time for everything. I learned to prioritize my studies and tried to find a balance with social life.
Tell us about the people that influenced you.
Though my dad passed when I was 11, he was able to teach me about the greater good before he departed. He set examples about doing things not just for yourself but for the greater ecosystem. He ran a few businesses, including construction. He also worked for the Federal Government for a while and was also into journalism. My mum taught me resilience. She was a mother of 7 children but she also did some petty business. She was very tough. It was inevitable that she would influence me in so many ways.
What about teachers?
Professor Akpan Ekpo at the University of Abuja was a teacher that inspired me. He was successful outside the classroom and that gave him economic independence. I found that several other teachers were not able to live like that. We had some great discussions. There was also a Maths teacher, Dr. Makanjuola, who I loved for the way he inspired his students. Then there was a Mr. Olaniyi that taught me the uses of “inertia” in life. He taught me to take a step back to always reflect on why I am doing anything.
Your first job?
For NYSC, I was posted to a Mortgage Bank. However, the Chairman of the bank met me in the bank one day and encouraged me to come and work for his company, Prime Customer Support Services. I worked there for about 2 months before transiting to Arthur Andersen (now part of KPMG Professional Services) to complete my NYSC. I went on into banking and worked for a French-affiliated bank called MBC International Bank. I moved on briefly to a Bank called Comet Bank before taking an opportunity I could not refuse at Nigerian International Bank (now Citi Bank). It was an amazing training opportunity. I eventually joined Trust Bank which later morphed into today’s Sterling Bank via a merger with several institutions.
Your best boss ever?
I will give that honour to Yemi Adeola. I worked under him for a long time. He was a boss that proved to me that, in all of the madness, you can remain sane. He demonstrated grace and humility. He is an incredible human being.
What type of music do you like?
In terms of music, I am a bit eclectic. I listen to all sorts. Bob Marley, Fela, Jimmy Hendrix classical music, etc. However, I think my typical playlist is full of artists that most people do not know. There’s a jazz song titled Draber by Bremer/McCoy that I have been enjoying recently. Another jazzy tune that I have enjoyed recently is Blue Nights Lights by Itama Borochov. Growing up, I enjoyed Snoop Dog, Tupac and pop music artists like Michael Jackson.
Who are your favourite authors?
I enjoy poetry. I recently got a book titled The Gift that is a collection of Hafiz’s poems and I am reading that now.
Most expensive fashion accessory you have spent on?
I once bought some really expensive Zegna suits as a gift for someone in Paris.
Favourite car brand?
Gadget for music?
What’s your take on wealth?
Wealth is freedom. It is also a tool you use to advance your interests after achieving that freedom. Wealth allows your voice to be heard.
In terms of your ideology, are you more to the left, right or simply pragmatic?
I think that the concepts of “left” and “right” have become muddied. I will say that the way to create wealth is via market forces. I believe in a system that encourages that.
What’s your favourite place to go in Nigeria and abroad?
In Nigeria, it will be my house because it is an escape from all the attention I have to give my work. However, I must mention my love for the Lekki Conservation Centre. It used to be less busy than it is now. It is a great place to enjoy nature. Abroad, it will be the Atlas Mountains in Marrakech, Morocco. There’s a pure air that you can only find on high ground.
Best use of money ever for you.
Giving, and I look for those moments.
Leeds United is a team I like but they haven’t enjoyed much success in years.
What are your indulgences?
I love to travel and I love to drive. I also like music and I like my coffee.
Tea or coffee?
What would be your biggest policy ask from President Buhari?
Trust the markets.
Where do you see Nigeria in 10 years?
I think we are on the last legs of the misapplication of policies. I see a bright future for the country. I see 6 to 8% growth in that future and a lot of our people returning from Canada and elsewhere.
The Lunch Hour was over a cup of Death Wish Coffee compliments of Mr. Abubakar Suleiman.