Thursday, April 9, 2020

Larger than life

With a figure that would fill a size 40 pair of trousers and towering a few inches shy of two meters, Leina Gabaraane is by any account very imposing. His larger than life frame is a fitting metaphor for his achievements: He is a big boy.

At 35, this high flyer, who has just taken a giant leap up the ladder at Stanbic Bank to become Deputy Managing Director, is, with no doubt, among the youngest high ranking executives in the country’s banking sector.

Gabaraane’s rise and rise in the banking sector has been meteoric; spectacular enough to feel his colleagues with envy.
For the first time he discloses that over the last two years he has been holding back on taking the position as he felt there was much to achieve on the asset management front.

“I felt very strongly that before taking this job I had to leave behind asset management with a strong sense of achievement,” he says confidently.
Stanbic is the fourth biggest bank in Botswana, and he says the current ranking is no source of pride for him.
He wants to take the bank higher.

His colleagues at the bank’s asset management wing, where he spent four years as Managing Director say the young man’s soft demeanor belies a hardnosed and aggressive management style.
Colleagues speak of him as self driven wont to setting himself hard targets.
They also say he is given to bouts of restlessness when those targets are not met.

When we meet for an interview at Stanbic head office boardroom he starts by making a confession that he is not among the most experienced in the industry.

He quickly adds that he will rely on his boundless volumes of energy, passion and enthusiasm to compensate for his comparative inexperience in banking.
Although things seem to have turned up rather too well for Gabaraane, he volunteers that internal discussion about his possible promotion has been going on for two years.

Stanbic has been at pains to point out that Gabaraane’s promotion is not a result of political pressure.

Members of Parliament have lately asked pointed questions about the banks’ reluctance to give senior management positions to Batswana.

A doer and not a talker, Gabaraane concedes that it pains him that announcement of his promotion somehow coincided with a heavy flow of shrill headlines in the local press about lack of localization in Botswana’s banking industry.

He brushes aside the popular talk that Stanbic’s shareholders, Standard Bank of South Africa, are using him as a pawn in a bigger game of political maneuvering and grandstanding.

“We have been discussing this appointment for over two years. I would never have accepted the position if it was a result of press reports,” he says as a matter of fact.

He feels very strongly that his appointment as Stanbic Deputy Managing Director is a result of his achievements at SIMS.

Time obviously will tell whether or not this turns out to be correct, but Gabaraane says his ambition is to use his appointment to drive Stanbic Botswana from the fourth biggest bank in Botswana to a higher position of extreme influence and power.

He says he derives no pleasure from Stanbic being constantly referred to as the fourth largest bank in Botswana.
“I hope one day to call you and tell you things have changed and we have moved up the ladder.”

He does not want to talk much about listing on the Botswana Stock Exchange, which he says is a sensitive undertaking that will come in due course.

The fact that Stanbic has not listed with BSE, despite phenomenal growth over the past few years, has brought palpable discomfort over the last four years.
“Naturally, the market has been impatient. But an announcement will be made in due course,” is all he can say when goaded on the subject.

Instructively, Gabaraane was present at a Stanbic press conference a few years ago when the Johannesburg-based Regional Director, Sim Tshabalala, tried with little success to parry off questions and allay concerns about Stanbic’s failure to list on the local bourse.
Like every executive in the industry, he is abnormally cautious of what a hot political potato citizen empowerment has become.

The last few years have seen the banking industry facing charges of tokenism with headquarters in either London or Johannesburg appointing a Botswana citizen only to retain executive powers at head office.

“Appointment for the sake of it will not take us anywhere. If shareholders are sure of the appointment they will never take away the executive powers. Tokenism is a result of appointing a citizen just for the sake of it. If the shareholders feel they have been coerced into localizing the top position prematurely they naturally resort to withholding executive powers.”

Gabaraane’s career in banking was purely coincidental.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Botswana in 1995, Gabaraane joined the government owned investment arm, Botswana Development Corporation where he learnt the ropes as a projects officer.
He still speaks kindly of BDC.

Not only did the parastatal imbue him with real life management skills, it has also produced some of the country’s big name highfliers; Martinus Seboni, Victor Senye, Thuli Johnson and Kumbu Munamathi among others.

It was after his eight year spell at BDC that Gabaraane was asked by Stanbic to set up the bank’s asset management wing, SIMS (Stanbic Asset Management Investment Services.)

“I established SIMS in 2003 with just a desk and a chair. SIMS is today the fourth largest asset manager in Botswana, and was recently named as part of the select few that emerged with a share of the P30 billion Public Officers Pension Fund,” he says with a profound sense of achievement.

Assets under management have grown from zero to over P4 billion, not to speak of being a leader in unit trusts management.

He is particularly elated that SIMS is now part of a pool of asset managers manning the Public Officers Pension Fund.

“Getting a share of the Public Officers Pension Fund was particularly important to us because Botswana is a government based economy.”

It has not always been plain sailing for Gabaraane.

He remembers spending sleepless nights as he faced difficulties in attaining the “targets and milestones” he had set himself at SIMS.

Thoroughly amiable and unassuming, he says with differences in inter-bank products becoming increasingly blurred, it is good service and knowledge of the customers that will become a battleground.

“The future lies in service, service and more service.”

But what makes the youthful Gabaraane the ideal man for a job of such heavy responsibilities?

“My energy and passion in what I am doing,” is the answer that he gives out effortlessly.

He is adamant that there are opportunities in Botswana’s banking industry.

“That is why we still get new players coming in. The important thing is to create niches. The important thing is to keep raising the bars of competitiveness. Of course there are challenges.”

These, he says, are particularly important in the Botswana market which he observes boasts of clients that have become more demanding, more complex, more discerning and overly sensitive.
“Of course the other challenge is that we find ourselves in a market of excess liquidity,” he adds.

As a parting shot, he pays homage to current Managing Director, Dennis Kennedy, who he says has grown the bank from humble beginnings, when Stanbic was a small corporate inclined entity.
“Today the staff compliment has almost doubled.”