Nigerian Report on Team Oxford

Well, the major newspaper in Lagos - ThisDay - published an article on the Oxford students that worked there all summer. Below is the article that was published. Oxford University/Access Bank Partnership: Courting the Knowledge edge... 09.03.2006
Glitt Personality They are four MBA students from the prestigious Oxford University. A Chinese lady, Lijun Jiang; Michael J Mcfadden and Jayne Thorpe, both from the US; and from the home turf, Timothy Ojo. And what is the quartet's mission to Nigeria? They are on an eight-week Oxford/Access Scheme with particular focus on leveraging the strategy and service delivery content of retail banking. While imparting ideas on brand strategy, service delivery standards and knowledge retail banking to Access Bank Plc., they are expected to take back home something of the work ethic, business philosophy, culture, socio-economic milieu and even political peculiarities of both Access Bank Plc and Nigeria. The scenario is expected to enrich the cross-Atlantic knowledge bank. Incidentally, this is the first such project between Access and Oxford. Actually, the first with any bank in Nigeria. Beyond this, it is also the first such project from the MBA class in Oxford to come to Nigeria. Obviously this scenario surely transcends retail banking. But then in knowledge acquisition projects, apparently setting too stringent boundaries may defeat the fundamental attraction of the quest. Shaka Momodu encountered the four knowlegde 'explorers' to glean something of their quest within the larger context of Access Bank's courting of the sector's knowledge edge to move them to the next level... Lijun Jiang We open with the the Chinese lady Lijun Jiang, bowing to the old English tradition of 'ladies first'. What the ancient Chinese culture, which predates the English, has to say on this is a matter for another expose. She comes across as a very focused personality. She speaks politely but with the alluring unmistakeable lilt of her Chinese tongue. Who is Lijun Jiang? "My name is Lijun Jiang. I come from China and I have worked with China commercial bank for more than 16 years. I graduated from Beijing University, which is one of the best Universities in China. I studied English Literature and Language for my undergraduate degree. I have spent 12 years working in the Foreign Exchange section of the bank and four years as a branch manager, I was also in charge of Marketing and Operations. I also worked as the General Manager of Commercial and Financial Department." Why is Jiang on this Oxford/Access scheme? She smiled, looking somewhat amused "We are very fortunate that Access Bank could offer us this precious opportunity to be part of this wonderful project in Africa. And one of the reasons that I am also interested in it is the fact it has afforded me opportunity to come Africa. Another reason is that I think that I can contribute to the Retail Business in Access Bank." Has Jiang learnt anything in the past seven weeks she's been in Nigeria, especially concerning Access Bank? She took a deep breath, then paused. "This bank is young but very forward thinking especially its top management. They are set to lift this bank to the world class commercial - retail bank. The technology level is quit high, they have made a lot of investments in the technology which is one of the most advanced in the world, to increase their competencies. "This is quite impressive, but in terms of Retail banking I think it is not just only Access Bank, all the other Nigerian banks are at the starting point, compared to China. We would help them develop strategies to their brands, especially retail brand, we also tried to develop a blueprint for Retail banking which I think it is one of the most important issues that the bank has to confront." Jiang seems to place a lot of emphases on retail banking. Is that her area of specialization in China? "That is what we are going to contribute, they asked us to do that Access Bank used to be very strong in proper banking and commercial banking, they have strong potentials to grow and they are quite passionate the future of the bank. And am impressed. Nigerian people we decent, they love new things, they people want to do business with the bank. I see great potentials here." The passion was clearly unmistakable, and the temptation to probe her further was irresistable. "I can come back in the future to develop matual business between Access bank and China bank, for now, I have to go back to my bank because I was sponsored by them, it is quite interesting because China bank is also undergoing very rapid growth and we must exchange ideas and experience. I would encourage my bank to her into a relationship with Access bank." Impressed by her sharp understanding it was naturally interesting to find out what she learnt about the bank, the people and culture. "We visited some cultural sites and we watched some events. We have made a lot of contacts with the Nigerian people and some are good in persons, such as the bank's staff here. They are quite dedicated to their work, they have the strong ambition to make their bank the leading bank here but generally the living condition here especially the infrastructure, are quite backward compare even with China. They still have a long way to improve the whole country, investments environment and the peoples living standards. They must try to solve the problems of poverty and the health issues because a member of our team is down with a very serious high malaria." Michael J. Mcfadden He flaunts the usual American confidence. And with good reason. He has the professional track record and wherewithal to back it up. Who is Mcfadden? "My name is Michael J Mcfadden, a student at the University of Oxford, studying business for MBA. I am originally from the United States, from California, working for the food manufacturer, Head of New Products and Marketing. I came over to Oxford for my MBA to round off my marketing experience in finance and entrepreneural skills. I chose Access bank to come and work in Lagos, Nigeria for a few reasons. One of those reasons I wanted to come and work with Access bank is that it is a growing company that has ernomous potentials operating in a highly competitive banking industry. The opportunity to come in and make impact over the weeks and to work with such a vibrant team are irresistible." Did he chose Access Bank on his own? And before now did he know about Access bank? "We chose Access on our own. Basically there are 50 projects which students go and work in different countries of the world. Some go for IBM in New Zealand, in India, working for government areas. Our perception and views on Access bank to become a world class bank. "Throughout the year before I came here I have been aware of Access Bank. I came from the United States I was performing entrepreneur tasks at Oxford, England, getting to know more about the industry. We have six Nigerians on the project, so I was able to learn quite a bit about Nigeria and I got to come over here. So, I am here to learn and I am in the middle of the seventh week, I am spending eight weeks." According McFadden, choosing Nigeria was influenced by couple of reasons. "One, I guess there is a lot of options to coming into West Africa. Why did I decide to come to Nigeria? A country that has so much potentials and is moving in a very clear and delicate situation. Over the next five years it is going to be ten times greater, so to be here in the midst of that and to be a part and hopefully contributing to that moving forward was quite an honour." In his perception, what exactly does this programme aim to achieve? He wasted no time articulating the objectives of their mission. "We had a couple of objectives in coming down here, one is to help establish the Retails brand of Access bank so as Access is strong in commercial and corporate bank but it can also position itself in the marketplace as a retail bank. We are doing that to help bring marketing and consumer skills into the banking and into the group. They have a strong team there to help bring certain knowledge and we have certain experiences. "The second aspect of our objective was to bring in some service delivery standard not only in the retail but in the bank as a whole. We have been doing that with several other sectors within Nigeria. You see what Virgin Nigeria has accomplished within their short stay here. One of the members of our team Lijan is from China and has spent 16 years working for a bank there. So, there is a lot of experience to kind of transfer down here." What is his assessment of the bank so far? Listen to him. "On a personal standpoint, I have being very impressed with the professionalism, the attention to details, and the vision of the team of managers for the bank. We didn't actually appreciate what we were stepping into and so as we have spent 7 weeks and we have seen the DNA of the company. It has been fascinating to see the diligence, the hardworking culture, which is a culture thing within Access bank. There is hardwork and determination among the workers, we have been quite impressed at all levels. I am impressed with the Aig, the Managing Director, am impressed with all levels within the number of branches." What has he seen so far that is different from what he is learning in Oxford and where he comes from? "In the UK, their service is poor in retail banking. So, to come here and know that there is a striving for improved standard, striving to be world class is an thing amazement to me. There are still a number of parts that need to move and work together but I would that say that of the banking industry as a whole, especially, the consolidation of the past year which is still young. But it has made a huge start that would eventually lead it to a world-class company, comparable to any other in the world." How would what he has learnt here benefit the Business School in Oxford ? "I will tell you one thing that I will be taking away is seeing how running a business within a country whose political situation is where it is, coming up in an election year it is fragile. It has made a huge step forward but now we are coming into another part to see how a strong bank like Access is moving in a certain direction. On top of that, in such a competitive industry you can read case studies, you can look at the way businesses function in the UK, in Europe, in the US but to be in the middle of a Ground Zero is fascinating." What is he taking away from Access Bank? "One thing that I would take away for sure is the work ethics, there were days that I left the office at 11.00pm and I was not the last person to leave. Every day, I would get up at 6.00 a.m and you find people already working in the office. The workers there work extremely hard, I would take that away for sure. "The other thing that I would take away is the youthful spirit, the energy, the excitement are the other things that I would take away from Access Bank. Then the pride in an healthy way, the people at Access Bank are proud to be there, you don't necessary see that in every business across the world." If Access Bank offers him the opportunity to work with them, would he accept? "I would consider it, I brought my wife here for the first four weeks that I was here. She back home now in California, I would give it a big consideration." Did he make friends? Mcfadden answeres in the affirmative. Is this the first partnership work between Access Bank and Oxford University? "This is the first project between Access and Oxford and it is the first with any bank in Nigeria, this is the first project from the MBA class in Oxford to come to Nigeria. There have been few projects in South Africa, in Egypt, in Morocco, but this is the first project with any bank. We hope that the relationship continues, we have improved. We have learnt immensely." Lastly, would he consider settling in Nigeria and if not what would he take away from Nigeria as a whole? "I don't know if we would permanently stay over a long time because of our families, maybe when we have a direct flight to LA, but it would be wonderful for both countries if we could restore direct flights. I will be leaving on Friday, August 25. I would take away the laughter, the smiles in the country are quite inspiring, I would take those things away. And interestingly, you could shop in the traffic, just anything. It is amazing." Jayne Thorpe She is the second American in the Oxford quartet. A lively fellow in all the senses who brings some precision to her talks. Hear her: "My name is Jayne Thorpe and I am from North Carolina in the United States, I am from a family of five children where everyone else is a doctor but I am the Black sheep, I am an Accountant. I decided to go to Business School because I wanted to get more of finance. I decided on Oxford Business School because I wanted to do a one year programme and of course I wanted the international experience." Why did she choose to come to Nigeria? "I had this thing in my head that I want to go to Africa and so when the offer came I saw it as an opportunity that would be just perfect. What we here to do but wasn't my strength which is marketing but it involves Retail Banking. We had a very well rounded team." Why not South Africa and what has she learnt from this programme? "I wanted to spend the entire period in Africa so that I can get a grip of it, the other reason is that I came to introduce a project which has been very well received. I think that we came down here with a different perspective on what we are going to be able to achieve and what we have achieved. I think we have achieved a lot more than we thought we are going to achieve as far as helping to develop a retail banking is concerned. We helped develop new products including products that would hopefully be launched very soon and the ones that would be launched next year. "We also helped developed financing models by making sure that the products are profitable or what actually is the goal of a particular product. If your new product is customer acquisition then we are not going to think of making some profits. Another thing about the bank is it quality service management and we are excited about what we have been able to do here." What is his assessement of the bank itself? Right now I feel very, very good. Their marketing skill is phenomenonal and their energy is incredible with everyone working so late in the night yet they will be at their desks by 7.00am the next day. I feel very inspired, I see the people as the member resource that the bank has." Tell me, if the opportunity to work for Access Bank presents itself, would she accept it? She laughs: "May be in the future, near future. I intend to come back to Africa." What has she learnt about Nigeria within the short period of stay? "They are very business-minded and sociable. I visited an orphanage here in order to see the real Africa not just looking at it from inside of a bank. Corporate responsibility make institutions leaders in their sectors and there is much more to be done to uplift the society." Can she make a bit of comparison between working for a bank in Nigeria and the United States? "I have worked with a retail bank before doing some other work but they did not work this hard. Banking in Nigeria, keeps bankers on their toes 24 hours a day. In New York city people work so hard, Access Bank would be a fine comparison to that. I have worked in Chicago, generally, Americans are hardworking people. But I have learnt here that Nigerians are just as hardworking. I really appreciate that." What is she taking away from Access Bank? "What I learnt was the way to work at strategy. And it is great." Timothy Ojo The fourth member of the visiting Oxford MBA class is Mr. Timothy Ojo. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the Obafemi Awolowo University Ife, He has over 8 years professional banking experience in between Nigeria and the UK during which he has garnered relevant experience across key banking functions which includes business development, product development, relationship management and core banking operations. Prior to his MBA programme at the prestigious Oxford University, He worked with the Small Business division of the retail-banking arm of Barclays, where he was substantially involved in client relationship management. While at Barclays, Timothy was involved in the re-design of one of the banks leading business products and prior to that helped set-up the Wealth Management unit at Skabol Finance and Investment Management Ltd. He has worked with a couple of Nigerian Banks amongst which include EcoBank Nigeria, Fidelity Bank and Equitorial Trust Bank. He currently led a team of 4 Oxford University students to Access Bank Plc on a Strategic Consulting Project as part of the assessment for the MBA programme and building partnerships across international borders. Timothy is a recipient of the University of Oxford's SBS Scholarship Award.

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