Ishmael Nwokocha, who heads corporate treasury for MTN in Nigeria, makes the list of rising stars in Africa for his commitment to governance in a country that has a bad reputation in that regard.
For him, it’s a question of common sense. “Because we are heavily dependent on equipment and services from Europe, the Americas and Asia, we have to make sure our contracting terms are 100% compliant to Nigeria’s exchange control manual and to ensure that all obligations that arise in forex are settled as and when to avoid unnecessary currency exposure,” he says.
“Once you don't have a strong governance culture, documented and robust business processes, it means you can’t run a business in an efficient manner. What ordinarily would take three to four days to go through, you instead find yourself running around after for two weeks."
He adds: “It helps to give the business a sound reputation out there in the market place: people want to engage with you, give you favorable terms and conditions, to help to expand the business.”
Nwokocha joined MTN in 2002 as a cash-management accountant and has risen through the ranks, handling corporate finance, operational risk management, banking services and treasury for Nigeria.
The treasury function he manages has won plaudits for its financing transactions, including a $1.8 billion financing in 2010 and $3 billion in 2013. On the bigger and more recent of those deals, his treasury team served as internal arranger and adviser on a complex deal that raised funds in four continents; it is estimated this saved the business as much as $60 million in fees.This is important not only for MTN itself, but the knock-on effects in Nigeria. Nwokocha talks of “the role of telecommunications in the next couple of years as an enabler of economic transactions: how we make payments, how we provide efficient business solutions”.
MTN is closely involved in the success of the country’s oil and gas industry, providing links to oil rigs and allowing the power sector to collect money through smart metering systems. And at the grassroots level, the development of mobile telephony in Nigeria has been extraordinary: involving 120 million mobile phones.
“Telecoms is one of the most-admired dividends of democracy and has reduced geographical boundaries of doing business in Nigeria through borderless integration of communications infrastructure," says Nwokocha.
"The appetite for economic activities is limitless and MTN is here to make the life of its customers a whole lot brighter. We are changing the landscape from good to better.”
Nigeria faces an uncertain year with an election, though Nwokocha says he feels positive. “There is a need to sustain the processes and policy that will take us from a country of 170 million people that is dependent on imports of everything, to a country that can sustain itself,” he says. “We’re still a young country: [those aged] 25 to 29 is the main part of the population.”
MTN can help that evolution. Nwokocha concludes: “I don’t think like a telco, but rather like an enabler of economic activity.”