East or West, home is best for top banker

August 27, 2014
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Before joining NIC Bank, Gachora was the Managing Director - Head of Corporate and Investment Banking at Barclays Africa based in South Africa/CFM
Before joining NIC Bank, Gachora was the Managing Director – Head of Corporate and Investment Banking at Barclays Africa based in South Africa/CFM
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 27 – NIC Bank CEO John Gachora left the country in 1989 for studies in the United States, marking the start of an illustrious international career in the financial service sector.

He’s now back in Kenya and joined NIC Bank last year.

Since then, Gachora has tried to remain ‘behind the scenes’, but this is slowly becoming impossible. Several developments at NIC bank continue to put him in the limelight with the recent being a five year Sh8 billion bond program plan and a Sh2 billion Rights Issue expected to be launched in September.

Before joining NIC Bank, Gachora was the Managing Director – Head of Corporate and Investment Banking at Barclays Africa based in South Africa. He has also served as the CEO of Absa Africa, Head of Africa for Absa Capital, Managing Director and Group Head at Bank of America Investment Banking, in North Carolina -United States, among others.

I catch up with Gachora, 46, for a one-on-one interview when he pays a visit to the Capital FM studios. And despite his strong profile his humility is dominant.

You left the global scene to come and head NIC Bank. What motivated you to come back home after being away for over 20 years?

What was inviting about NIC besides the bank’s caliber of people and the board, was the fact that it was a Kenyan grown bank, with Kenyan heritage expanding into the rest of Africa. Nothing is more gratifying than when you have to come home, contribute and be that part of phenomenal growth. One thing I would point out is that as I toured across Africa and it is now very clear to me that Africa rests on four pillars. You’ve got South Africa as the Southern pillar, you have Nigeria as the Western pillar, Egypt as the Northern pillar and finally Kenya as the Eastern pillar. When you look at all these four pillars they are all marching towards a meeting point. South African banks have been marching upwards, Nigerian banks have been marching Eastwards, Northern Africa banks have been heading Southern but East African banks are matching a bit slower towards the centre. I think it was therefore compelling for me to come and be part of these movements towards, ‘let’s all meet in the middle’.

What would you attribute your growth to?

I think nothing replaces hard work. So I have certainly worked very hard and everybody who is successful in their carrier would tell you that indeed nothing replaces hard work. But besides that, there is the aspect of attitude. You know someone one time said that 99 percent of what we achieve is all about attitude; the one percent is perhaps your smartness and everything else. I have always carried this attitude that, there is nothing that I cannot do. You put me in the toughest position, I will do it. I make promises knowing that I will keep them. And I think that’s another key. I have always also believed in myself while being conscious of my limitations. Besides that I have focused on building relationships. So I have had very good support and sponsors along the way. And finally in banking, you have to put the customer first, which is what I have done every time; Doing everything that I do, knowing that I get paid when the customer get what they need.

Any challenges?

Working in many cultures has been a challenge. I have worked with the American culture; Asian, African cultures and each of those are challenges but very great learning points. When I worked on Wall Street for example I was a Kenyan and one with a heavy Kenyan accent. I may hate to say it but it was big challenge in a fast talking environment. But I had to work hard to make sure they understand what I say, I understand what they say and three, to make sure that they never question my work when I deliver. But obviously the financial sector has gone through its own challenges and the economic crisis was one of them and to say the least I was in the eye of the storm. This is because I was in the area of structured finance which was hard hit. But what was important for me is that I was diverse enough that I could do other things if need be, which I ended up doing by coming to Africa.

Did you ever dream of becoming a CEO?
What has propelled me is that I look at role models, people who have done it before me and I try to make sure that any barriers are removed quickly. For example barriers of education, other trainings that you need, barriers of how you treat people, barriers of how you relate with management and others.

When I was young, I never saw myself being a CEO but I also knew that there is nothing CEOs possessed that I didn’t have. I remember when I was in high school; my father who never went to school once asked me if I had joined the debating club. And I was like ‘what does this old man know about debating club.’ And he told me, ‘in you I see a leader and as a leader, one thing you need to do is debate every day. So I suppose if I were in your shoes, I would definitely join the debating club.’ This has always stuck in my mind to date, that a person who never went to school could see a leader in me and know what I needed.

What is your management or leadership style?

I would say that leadership is a changing display and you have to try different methods. When time calls for you to be autocratic you have to and when time calls for you to be consultative you have to. But at the end of the day, leadership today is changing towards consultative. You have to grow your people. The new generation is not going to work with you for life, they will move around.

The gratifying role of a leader is to know that you have developed others and the way you do this is to be inclusive, to discuss issues with them and to make sure that they feel part of decision making. Another thing is that I have to be culture sensitive. We are leading people of diverse cultures, so no one straight jacket fits them all.

How does family play a role in your carrier?

My family is very, very supporting. I mean, they put me in my place. When I go home I am just a dad. I got very young kids and they don’t even know what I do, they have no idea; they don’t even care. But again, my wife is very supportive. She is one of my greatest critics because she happens to be a customer of the bank. You can imagine how much criticism I get on what needs to be improved for the customers.

When we conclude the short interview, Gachora also finishes taking his cup of Kenyan tea. For him, East or West, home is best.

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