When the roll call of those who have made a mark on Nigeria’s economic landscape in general and the banking sector, in particular, is made, one name that will certainly feature prominently is that of Otunba (Dr.) Michael Olasubomi Balogun (CON). Founder of the FCMB Group formerly known as First City Group.
Subomi Balogun has gone on to show that a can-do spirit and a desire to make an impact anywhere one finds himself are winning combinations any day.
Today, the FCMB Group, is a testament to the impact the lawyer-turned banking entrepreneur has had on the nation’s economy. The FCMB Group today has brands that are pioneers in their respective niches.
FCMB Group today is the holding company for First City Monument Bank Limited, Credit Direct Limited, FCMB (UK) Limited, FCMB Microfinance Bank Limited, FCMB Capital Markets Limited, CSL Stockbrokers Limited, FCMB Pensions Limited, FCMB Asset Management Limited, and FCMB Trustees Limited.
A formidable empire, the FCMB Group reported a gross revenue of N94.2 billion and a profit before tax (PBT) of N8.9 billion for the half-year ended June 30, 2021.
Through the dint of hard work, an eye for opportunity, honesty, doggedness, commitment, and a good portion of grace, Otunba Michael Subomi Balogun has edged his name into the sands of time.
Born Olasubomi Olaotan Olaonipekun Balogun, the octogenarian spent his early years in Ijebu-Oode, present day Ijebuland, before moving to Lagos, where he had his secondary education. He attended Igbobi College and went on to pass the Cambridge School Certificate in Grade One in 1952, and later the General Certificate Examination (GCE) Advanced Level.
He then went on to attend the London School of Economics (LSE) to read law and was called to the English Bar in December 1959.
He was later sponsored by the Western Regional Government to receive special training in legal drafting in Whitehall and the City of London, with a particular specialisation in financial legislation, instruments, and agreements.
Subomi Balogun’s early years of service
Between 1966 and 1975, Subomi Balogun served as Principal Counsel and Company Secretary to the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB).
He went on to receive training at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), also known as the World Bank, and its private sector affiliate, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
In 1973, he became the Director in Charge of Operations of Icon Securities Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of NIDB. He was also part of the team that handled the conversion of the company to a merchant bank.
He later headed Icon Stockbrokers Limited, a foremost stockbroking firm that he was instrumental in establishing. He was subsequently seconded to Icon Limited (Merchant Bankers), as an Executive Director and was there till 1977, when he left to set up his company.
After quitting his job, he set up City Securities as a stock-broking firm and gravitated towards capital issues. He was responsible for the sale of major companies such as UAC and Daily Times and the introduction of Coca Cola into the Nigerian market.
Also, following the indigenization decree of 1978, he was responsible for the nationalisation process of three major oil companies: Mobil, Texaco, and Total. All these he ascribes to being exceptionally favoured by God.
Getting a Banking Licence
If the trajectory of the life of Subomi Balogun is inspiring, the entire events leading to him getting a banking licence for First City Monument Bank are even more inspiring and an indication of a divine hand directing his steps while he was also a willing and ready vessel to be used.
A major requirement then was for anyone looking to set up a bank to have foreigners as technical partners, but in his case, this rule was displaced. He narrates the experience thus:
“What I did at that time was unheard of in this country, for one individual to say he single-handedly wanted to establish a bank, as against the statutory requirement for the bank promoter to have a foreign partner.”
“But I was inspired by my God through the mouth of a nine-year-old son of mine. We were praying, and the young boy went to his mother and said, ‘I just pity Daddy. Why can’t he go and start his own bank, instead of wanting to be the Chief Executive of somebody else’s bank?”
Those words would inspire him to launch out and strive to get his own banking license, even though this didn’t come easily. Despite the stumbling blocks that stood in his way, God, he says, used men whom he had also helped in the past to get the dream actualised:
“It was Alhaji Otiti and the former Vice President, now late Dr Alex Ekwueme, who were used directly by God to assist me in doing what many people thought was impossible. In the case of Otiti, he was a CBN deputy governor and someone in the central bank had just mentioned to me, ‘we cannot give you a licence because you don’t have a technical partner. Do you know my reply? I said, “God is my partner.”
Specifically, the then Vice President was the one who would eventually help actualise the desire, as, without him, the dream of owning a bank would have been a mere dream.
“Someone said you’ll either be a multi-billionaire or go to jail.” But he refused to listen to naysayers.
“I applied. I didn’t have any foreign partner. My God was my only partner. They didn’t give me a licence initially. I went to church. I saw Alex Ekwueme. I asked my wife to grab his wife’s garment. I asked him, ‘Mr Vice-President, what is happening to my licence?’ He said I should come and see him and assured me that the following Thursday, he will give me a licence. That was how I got it. And no Nigerian before then had single-handedly set up that type of bank.”
Otunba Subomi and Alex Ekwueme had been neighbours in the Apapa area, where they both built their first houses. Unfortunately, when the civil war broke out, Alex Ekwueme was forced back to his hometown, and during that period, his house was almost taken over by hoodlums.
It was Subomi who called in the police to clear the house, renovate it, and let it out. And as soon as the war was over, Chief Alex returned and was surprised when Otunba Subomi presented him with the entire cash proceeds of rent for the period he had been away.
This gesture apparently had a huge impression on Dr. Alex, who was most grateful, and when it was time, he handsomely repaid Chief Subomi back by engineering the approval of the licence.
Pioneering Group Structure
Otunba Subomi Balogun pioneered the concept of Group structure as we know it today. Indeed, from stockbroking to asset management, pensions and loans, the FCMB Group has it all.
Today, Otunba Subomi Balogun exemplifies the can-do entrepreneurial spirit, and the key lessons of paying it forward and giving every opportunity the best shot one can muster while acknowledging the place of God in one’s life.
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