INSEAD Participant Interview

Embracing Good Corporate Governance With INSEAD's International Directors Programme

Gbenga Oyebode

Chairman of Aluko & Oyebode, Access Bank and Okomu Oil Palm Plc
Member of the Board of MTN Nigeria

April 2015

Gbenga Oyebode, past participant of INSEAD's International Directors Programme, explains how his time on INSEAD's International Directors Programme helped him focus on what it means to be a Director on a Board.

Could you please introduce yourself?

I am Chairman of Aluko & Oyebode, the largest law firm in Nigeria, with around 80 attorneys and offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt.  We are a full-service law firm and we are involved in corporate work, litigation and arbitration. Our focus is on multinationals and major corporations based in Nigeria.

In addition to this role, I am Chairman of Access bank, one of Nigeria’s largest banks, and I have been in that position for over 12 years. I also serve as Chairman of Okomu Oil Palm Plc and I sit on the Board of MTN Nigeria, the country’s largest mobile phone operator with 50 million subscribers. 

The African continent is a fast growing one. How do you think the International Directors Programme can help those working in emerging markets keep up with the pace of development?

One of the key issues we face in emerging markets is how we go about creating rules around governance. We are playing catch-up and we often look to the Western world for best practices.

This is a good thing given that our markets have grown in leaps and bounds in a very short space of time, and will continue to do so. It is critical for those of us who sit on Boards to keep up to date with the latest developments around the world. Especially Boards that function across borders, are part of group companies and whose securities are distributed beyond the continent. There are many learnings we can take away from developed economies if we are to fully embrace good corporate governance.

Programmes like the International Directors Programme are important because we are no longer sitting on local Boards, serving local interests. We are sitting on Boards that need to keep in-line with changes around the world. This is why we recommend it to our Directors in Nigeria. The roles we play, the issues surrounding corporate governance, the size of our business and the growing international interest in our markets demand that we continue to build up our governance, Board and Director skills and remain aware of the current issues in these fields.

A number of Directors from Access Bank have attended the programme. What have been your reasons for regularly sending executives?

We continue to be impressed by the programme and what it delivers. It’s the practical nature and the take-aways you can apply immediately. My colleagues’ impressions chime with my own: they find it rewarding to be in a room with likeminded peers who serve on international Boards.

On a personal level, what impressed me was that some of the other participants had an emerging market perspective. Others had already invested in Africa.

How INSEAD is running the programme, how it is unique and the fact that our Directors highly recommend the programme year after year, all encourage us to continue to be involved.

Our Directors all have varied experience. They have sat on many Boards in a number of industries. Some are entrepreneurs. Yet, what they all have in common is that they have returned to Access Bank and said how much the programme resonates with their role. They all see how the programme makes them a better manager; a better Director.

The programme allows you to learn about yourself and how you react to Board issues. For all of these reasons, the International Directors Programme has almost become a required programme. We give our Directors a choice. We’ve not said they must attend. They continue to want to go because of the great reviews from past participants.

Access Bank aside, why is it important that Nigerian banks and financial institutions adopt a greater focus on corporate governance?

It’s important for several reasons. The Nigerian economy is growing at 6% on average per year, the GDP is biggest on continent and there is significant international interest in Nigeria and in the democracy and the institutions we are trying to build. More importantly there is a significant interest from international investors and PE funds in Nigerian banks given their size and the restructuring they have undertaken over the last 5 to 6 years.

This means that their corporate governance must be on par with the best institutions in the world. These are banks that are listed on the stock exchange and that have issued securities in London or New York. That translates into a need for the Boards to reflect the standards their investors are used to.

So, it is not a surprise that banks focus on a programme like IDP for their Directors, as a means to improve their skills level and as means for ensuring that corporate governance is at the forefront of how their institutions are managed.

On a more personal level; given your experience, what prompted you to apply to the International Directors Programme?

I’ve attended a lot of different executive education programmes at different schools around the world. When I looked at the International Directors Programme, it was clear that it is a very focused programme and that focus is on what it means to be a Director on a Board.

What was interesting is that before attending, it came across as a very wide-ranging programme, which gives you a global perspective and which covers the many sides to being a Director. It didn’t focus on one or two topics such as corporate governance, accounting and finance, human resources or strategy, for example.  In fact, the programme is an across the board review of what it is like to serve as Director on a Board and covers a wide variety of subject matter. I thought this was different and unique and it encouraged me to apply.

The fact that the programme is split into Modules also attracted me. This format allowed me to remain focused over a long period of time, with reflection in between each Module. You wouldn’t get this with a one, or two week programme.

Finally, a strong selling point of the programme, and an incentive to apply, was the fact that the participant group was not a homogenous one. It was a very internationally diverse group of individuals, many of whom sat on Boards of multinationals. This was a big draw. I felt I could really benefit from being surrounded by likeminded people.

Was the programme what you expected?

It was in many ways yes. From a participant level, it was quickly clear that these were indeed the kind of people I should be in a room with and that was the impression I had when looking at the brochure. The faculty also impressed me with their knowledge and their experience.

However, the one thing I wasn’t expecting was how practical the programme is and in my experience, there aren’t many programmes that can deliver this. The focus did not heavily favour research and theory. You weren’t inundated with case studies.

What you came away with instead was a feeling that you had dealt with matters from a practical perspective. We dealt with real-life examples. The topics discussed had a direct impact on decision-making and I was very quickly able to align the teachings with my own experience. It resonated and I could relate it to my Board experience.

So, it was a useful programme that enabled me to see how things I had done prior to coming to INSEAD could have been helped by these new learnings. That was the key deliverable of this programme. It allows you apply what you take away. You get the sense that this is not a programme that follows a text book. It is about taking real-life examples and issues and how you can apply these principles to your own situation. This was a key advantage over some of the other programmes I attended.

This practical nature is a real advantage then?

The practical nature of the programme means it has helped me a lot. Whereas a lot of programmes give you the impression you are doing a mini MBA, the International Directors Programme does not focus on the theory. It covers topics that you grapple with on a daily basis; conflict type issues.

It outlines the things that Directors who sit on Boards with a global perspective deal with and the kinds of issues they should engage in: compensation, financial accounting, strategy and negotiation skills, for example.

This is the programme’s real advantage. You leave with the ability to see how apply this very quickly when get back home; in your next Board meeting. It covers things that we have all encountered before, and that is a great selling point.

We have already spoken about the participant mix, but what does it add to the programme?

The mix is another great selling point. I came to Fontainebleau to do the programme and I was sitting with participants whose companies had an interest in emerging markets. The issues we were discussing were not alien to me. They were topics that were current in terms of Board behaviour. And we were taught by faculty who had sat on Boards themselves and who had been executives of multinationals that did business in emerging markets. These were learnings that resonated not from an abstract, theoretical point of view, but from a practical, I’ve been there, done that point of view. For me that was the sense I got. My colleagues also came away with the same feeling.

Want to know more about the International Directors Programme? Start by clicking here for more information and for an application form.

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