The rising stars of African finance

Kanika Saigal
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Africans are reclaiming their future and flocking back to a continent that many left in search of a better life. Home is where the heart is, but now it’s also where the opportunity is. Euromoney’s rising stars are grabbing the opportunities Africa has to offer and setting the standards for others to follow.

The diaspora is returning to sub-Saharan Africa. "Even until the late 1990s, Africans who had left to study or work abroad were not coming back to the continent. Political, social and economic concerns riddled Africa to various degrees in many places. The continent was in crisis and there was nothing there for those who had left," says Acha Leke, director at McKinsey & Company, Lagos.

"At first, we all had this idea that we would return when things got better. But whose responsibility is it to make things better? It is ours – the Africans who have been privileged enough to get the best education and the best experience that the world has to offer. We have an obligation to come back to our continent, reclaim it, make a difference and convince others to do the same."

Leke is one of Euromoney’s rising stars, part of a growing generation of financial and economic experts in Africa that have taken it upon themselves to ensure that sub-Saharan Africa continues to develop according to global best practices while leveraging on the region’s idiosyncrasies. These are a group of people shaping ideas to solve African problems.

Leke has made the list not only because of his achievements of expanding McKinsey’s business throughout the continent, but because of his dedication to mentoring young Africans whom he believes to be the continent’s future leaders through his private endeavours. Leke is determined to have a say in how Africa should be led.

"Even from a commercial point of view, it’s essential that as Africans we come up with the innovative solutions that our continent needs," says Ladi Balogun, CEO of First City Monument Bank in Nigeria. "This way we can reinvest the profit derived from meeting the needs of the continent to continue on our path of economic development rather than rely solely on international investors who will seek to repatriate profits or reallocate resources when priorities change from Africa. Only we can champion our cause and ensure the continent prospers."

Balogun is nominated for his dedication towards inclusive growth through microlending and microfinance initiatives through the development of the retail sector of his bank. While giving the unbanked access to funding, Balogun is setting an example for others in Nigeria to do the same while growing the profits of his own business.

Our rising stars come from a range of backgrounds. Most have studied and lived abroad. Some work for international investment banks, some in government and others at investment funds. The youngest of our stars is 27, the oldest are in their late 40s. Although many of them come from the more developed economy of Nigeria, we also have individuals from Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Rwanda, offering a cross-section of some of the most exceptional individuals the continent has to offer. Only two of our rising stars come from South Africa – evidence of just how far the rest of the region has come.

 Jo-Ann Pohl
Jo-Ann Pohl, Standard Chartered 
"South Africa used to see itself as a class apart from the rest of sub-Saharan Africa," says Jo-Ann Pohl, CFO of Standard Chartered in Africa. "Now the country is a little less arrogant about its position, following the positive economic strides regional economies have achieved over the last decade. For South African businesses to continue to grow and progress, it is important for them to start looking north before they fall behind." In her position at Standard Chartered, based in South Africa, Pohl has made it her mission to deepen the connections between her base in Johannesburg and the rest of the region.

What all of Euromoney’s rising stars have in common is a formidable sense of empowerment that they strive to pass on by setting examples, an attitude that is reinforced by a changing and vibrant economic and political climate.

The presence of local-content laws that countries including Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda have started to adopt are central to the idea of empowerment, as these laws provide locals with much more control over the country’s natural resources. "In Nigeria, for example, concerns arose as foreign oil companies made huge profits in the oil and gas sector whilst, it was argued, local Nigerians experienced very little benefit from the country’s oil wealth which they believe to be rightfully theirs," says Joshua Siaw, lawyer and director of Africa practice at White & Case. "But since the enactment of local-content laws in 2010, Nigerians are given first consideration in the award of oil and gas-related contracts, employment and training. Now it is in the interest of foreign companies to partner with local Nigerians when bidding for oil-related contracts – this, in turn, will help to develop the skills and capacity of Nigerian oil companies."

Siaw’s nomination comes from his ability to bridge the gap between global and local players. For example, in 2012, his firm advised Standard Bank of South Africa in connection with a $765 million financing to Shoreline Natural Resources Limited (SNRL) for the company’s acquisition of an interest in an onshore oil-producing block in Nigeria. SNRL is a joint venture between UK-listed Heritage Oil and its Nigerian local partner, Shoreline Power Company.