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Chike Isiuwe: Here is my key mission at UBA

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United Bank of Africa Kenya CEO Chike Isiuwe at the lender's offices on February 1, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Be warned, when you visit the office of Chike Isiuwe, the new boss of UBA Kenya, he will try and get you to fill out the account opening form for the bank. He sees no reason why an interaction of that nature shouldn’t be translated into a customer.

Lore has it that he never goes anywhere without those forms. At UBA they are all about customer service, so much so that his business card reads Chike Isiuwe, Customer Service [in bold red] before it reads CEO in normal grey font, more like an afterthought. “Here, all of us are in customer service,” he told Jackson Biko recently in their offices at Imperial Bank House in Nairobi.

Chike hails from Nigeria and has held the office for the past eight months. Prior he served as deputy general manager — Corporate Banking Directorate at UBA Group in Nigeria.

Before joining United Bank for Africa Plc, he worked at Zenith Bank Plc for 17 years starting as a bank teller and progressing to Relationship Management in Corporate and Commercial Banking and in various capacities in branch operations. He exited Zenith Bank as the regional head and assistant general manager to join in 2013. He missed going back home for Christmas and for the New Year. He is also homesick. But wears it stoically.

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How has home [Nigeria] changed your family dynamics like the relationship with your wife and children?

It is tough. Every day comes with its own dynamics and challenges. Before this posting, I’d not been away from home for more than two weeks without my family. I’ve been in Kenya for about seven months, this is my eighth month.

It’s been tough because it’s a new phase of my life and I’m learning the new pressures that come with it. Initially, I was hoping to travel for Christmas but I couldn’t. I had to change the plans, even though my wife was expecting me to be around for Christmas. I was to travel in the New Year but I couldn’t because we had to commence the audit process. I tried to explain but whichever way you want to explain it seems like I keep choosing work over family. But I’m not! I want to be home but I can’t. [Chuckles]. But I think things will find their place eventually.

How long have you been married?

It’s been 19 years.

Which stage of the marriage has been the most difficult for you?

The early stages of marriage are always very turbulent, at least for me. This and the later phase because I’m here and my wife is all the way over there. However, there is the convenience of technology now, like WhatsApp video calls, that makes it easier to navigate. But there is still some strain knowing that that can’t be enough and my physical presence is sometimes required.

But besides that, I have a family or a marriage that I’m very comfortable with.

What's been your secret to getting here to this position in the bank?

Hard work, commitment and then enjoying what I do. I have been in the industry for 25 years now. If you don’t love what you do then you won’t be able to sustain yourself in the industry.

The second is the fact that for a major part of these 25 years I’ve been relating with the customers because the customers bring totally new dynamics to the business every day. I think putting the customer first in everything is a big ingredient.

What do you think you want now in your life as a man?

First, I’m 51. Success for me right now is being able to turn around UBA Kenya— because that’s the primary assignment. That includes creating an environment where there is team cohesion and a bonding spirit between me and my colleagues. Creating an environment where people are happy to come to work every day and leave feeling fulfilled.

Second, my family is very important to me and so it’s important that one is able to maintain that communication with the family, create a figure that the children are able to look up to, relate with, and I’m equally able to motivate my children to achieve much more than where one has gotten to.

If you look back at your life, what parts would you do differently?

There have been some ventures, some life projects that you start and you’re not able to finish. Sometimes I reflect and I ask myself really? Why didn’t I complete this? Yes, there must have been one obstacle or the other, but the truth is with every obstacle, if you push harder, it is really surmountable.

For instance, I was running a programme with Lagos Business School and along the line my wife got ill, I had to take her for treatment and had so many complications. So I missed a big chunk of the course by the time she recovered. I didn’t do the course, but I think I should have pushed on to do it.

Have you found your purpose yet?

Well, my purpose is to be able to create an environment that supports the people around me.

Because you look at the situation we have today, for instance, back home, and I think to a large extent in Kenya, we have a lot of unemployed people, a lot of dependence, a lot of people who call you very often for help but unfortunately one is not able to meet all of their requests.

So my purpose is actually to be able to see how much of this support system one can give to enable people to still be able to live their daily lives without that feeling of not having anything at all.