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2. A Matter of Ethics

Dressed in a pinstriped dark blue three-piece suit, starched white shirt and a silk parsley patterned tie, he disembarked the bus along Gresham Street, and emerged into the chilly October London morning. Always organised, he quickly donned his black lamb wool coat and headed towards Wood Street. It was apparent that he knew his way around the City. 100 Wood Street, the head office of Hill Samuels, the merchant bankers, was his destination just a five-minute walk ahead. Beneath his dapper gentleman exterior, anxiety dominated his insides. A co-chief executive of the premier merchant bank in Nigeria, his invitation to meet with the chairman was as sudden as it was surprising. This was compounded by the vagueness of the purpose of the meeting.

It was no surprise that he was to be found, half an hour later, pensively retracing his steps back to the bus stop. The chairman, twice private secretary to the legendary Sir Winston Churchill, had gone straight to the point of the meeting. Out of the blue, he had been promoted to a sole Chief Executive position and the Chairmanship of the board added to his responsibilities. Furthermore, the board had offered him a 12% equity stake in the bank and unbelievably, also offered him a loan to assist him in acquiring the aforesaid stake. This would make him the largest individual shareholder in Nigeria’s premier merchant bank. The chairman wanted an immediate response.

Thanking the chairman for the confidence the board had in him, he gratefully accepted the new responsibilities and carefully explained why he had to decline the loan offer and seek other funding options, stating that he would have to give up the offered stake if he failed to raise the required financing. A look of disbelief was etched on the chairman’s face as they parted company. The reasons for his less than bouncy steps on the return journey could be traced to the twin but conflicting emotions of elation at his elevation, and despair at the bleak prospects of raising the needed funds.

Fortunately, he was able to obtain a loan but then quickly decided to restrict his own holding to 10% while passing the balance to a professional colleague who was well-known to the disbelieving chairman.

“It was purely a matter of ethics bolstered with prudence”, he later confided in a friend.

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