Citigroup Sub-Sahara CEO Quits After 27 Years to Run Ecobank

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Ade Ayeyemi will step down as chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. in sub-Saharan Africa to become Togo-based Ecobank Transnational Inc.’s third CEO within two years.

Ayeyemi, 52, will take over in September from Albert Essien, who is retiring June 30, Ecobank said in a statement to the Nigerian Stock Exchange on Monday.

Ayeyemi, head of transaction services in Africa before assuming the regional CEO role at Citigroup, has been with the bank for about 27 years, most recently in Johannesburg. Ecobank has a presence in 36 African countries, more than any other lender.

“He’ll need to focus on consolidating all the different operations across sub-Saharan Africa,” Adesoji Solanke, a Lagos-based banking analyst at Renaissance Capital Ltd., said by phone. Ecobank’s non-interest business may get a boost after Ayeyemi’s appointment, attracting customers “just because he’s coming from Citi,” he said.

Its biggest shareholders are Nedbank Group Ltd., South Africa’s fourth-largest lender, and Qatar National Bank SAQ. Ayeyemi has also worked for New York-based Citigroup in Nigeria, the country of his birth and Ecobank’s biggest market.

“Nigeria needs capital -- that’s the first problem,” Solanke said. “After capital, it’s asset quality. Nigeria has a chequered history on the asset-quality front.”

Share Gain

Essien, a Ghanaian who was named Ecobank’s CEO in March 2014 after the company ousted former chief Thierry Tanoh, turned 60 last month, the bank’s mandatory retirement age.

Ecobank has gained 50 percent in Lagos trading since Essien was named CEO on March 12 last year. The bank advanced 0.4 percent to 21.78 naira by Monday’s close, valuing it at about $1.7 billion.

Essien, who has also worked for Ecobank for longer than 25 years, said in an interview in Cape Town last week that his last public appearance for Ecobank will be at its annual general meeting on June 19 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

“I have a sense of fulfillment, I have paid my dues,” Essien said in the interview. “I will do advice work and be based in Accra. I will work with other institutions and partner with world-class consulting companies. I’m going to join some boards. I’ll be choosy about who I work with, but it will be much more relaxing.”

Damages Award

Tanoh left Ecobank more than a year ago after regulators investigated allegations of fraud and poor governance while he was running the lender. He denied wrongdoing and took the bank to court for wrongful termination and defamation.

Ecobank may seek to reach a settlement agreement with Tanoh this year over damages exceeding $35 million awarded by West African courts against his former employer, Essien said last week.

“Although the court process will go on, we will ultimately settle amicably,” Essien said. “I cannot stop the court process till we have a settlement. Both options will for now be pursued.”

Ecobank looked throughout the continent for its new CEO, Chairman Emmanuel Ikazoboh said in the statement.

“We are delighted to have secured Ade as the person to lead Ecobank through the next phase of its development and beyond as a world-class pan-African bank,” Ikazoboh said.

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