Fola Adeola and Tayo (standing) at the start of GTBank. 1990
I HAD moved to Ikoyi in 1986, having joined the wonderful team of young men and women that made up Continental Merchant Bank. My teenage friend, Tayo Aderinokun, was one of them.
One of the challenges posed by living in Ikoyi in 1986 was that there were no barbers anywhere near-by! One, therefore, had to go to the Mainland for a simple haircut any time one was required. I was on one of these barber trips one Sunday when I saw a ghastly accident on Eko Bridge.
The only thing that came to my mind was whether the victim of that accident was also on his way to the barbers! I decided we would put barbers in Ikoyi. The only person I knew that would entertain such a fanciful thought was Tayo Aderinokun. We both dipped into our pockets, and thus Finishing Touches Barbing Salon was born. The salon has remained in business up till now, even though we no longer owned it.
In 1990, after we had obtained a banking licence, Tayo suggested to me that we sold the company. As far as he was concerned, we should no longer be barbers having become bankers. As an aside, one of the terms of the sale was that Tayo, myself, and all our male children, would cut our hair for free, forever! As if he knew!
Tayo was an entrepreneur at heart. Someone who could take risks and pursue what others may consider an off-the-wall idea. In that way we were often kindred spirits. Tayo ran the Kano Branch of Continental. He had observed that that there was no public gym in Kano.
During one of my trips to Kano to visit with him, he had discussed the idea of our establishing a members-only gym in that city. I’d agreed. He set about the project by renting a property we would re-model for our purpose. After about two weeks of taking the hammer to this building, including removing the roof, the landlord could not recognize his property anymore!
This landlord was a big Kano Alhaji. Instantly, he reached out to Col. Sani Bello, the bank’s chairman, who, in turn, reached out to Dr. Ayagi, the bank’s managing director. All hell broke loose. Tayo and I had to look for money to restore the building to its original state.
That was not all; the stage had been prepared for Tayo’s return to Lagos, and the chain of events that would culminate in him joining me to establish Guaranty Trust Bank.
For me, the idea of a commercial bank never died. I revisited it with Tayo, and told him I was now prepared to go ahead, as I felt the window of opportunity for a licence was narrowing. This was in January 1989. Fortunately, he agreed, and the rest is now history.
That extra-ordinary organization that Tayo would serve diligently for 21 out of his 56 years on earth, was born. It is important to mention three friends of mine, who believed in my ability to run a bank and encouraged me greatly; Akin Akintoye, Gbolade Osibodu, and Moses Ochu. I will always reserve for myself the credit for partnering with Tayo.
In 1990, specifically August 2, I had the privilege to collect, from the Federal Ministry of Finance, banking licence No. 58, dated August 1, 1990, and signed by the Federal Minister for Finance, Chief Olu Falae, for Guaranty Trust Bank Limited. Tayo was by my side. And so the journey had begun. Suffice it to say that in my entire experience, I know of no other person, who could execute as efficiently as Tayo!
I slept with my eyes closed all through the 12 years he was my deputy. Like me, he was not a perfect man; but, for the work that we did, I knew of none better! My greatest memory of Tayo, regarding Guaranty Trust Bank, was always that of the extra-ordinary outcome that only sincerity of purpose, discipline, and hard-work could produce.
Work ethic and discipline
I had great respect for Tayo’s work ethic and discipline, but what endeared him to me the most was his thoughtfulness and reliability, especially during one of the most painful personal experiences of my life – the loss of my mother.
My mother had died in far-away Abidjan on April 28, 1989. It was a Friday, and as Muslims, we were determined to bury her in Lagos the following day. Tayo had arrived at my home, not too far from his, on foot around 8:30am on Saturday to condole me and ask how he could help.
As it was a weekend, and banks were closed, he had thought to bring with him N8000 to assist me. I thanked him, and confirmed that I would indeed need the money, except that he would be the one to spend it. I asked him to go to Atan Cemetery, and prepare a befitting grave for my mother. By the time my mother’s remains had arrived, there was little time to conclude all ceremonies preparatory to interment.
It was not until we were headed for the cemetery that any of my siblings, who had also just flown in from Abidjan, asked what the arrangement for the grave was! We got there, and found Tayo in the same clothes he was wearing earlier in the day when he had visited.
He was waiting to lead us to the grave he had procured and prepared. None of us had seen the plot before then. As a matter of fact, some of my siblings may just be learning of this for the first time! That was the level of confidence that Tayo engendered, and the level of commitment he displayed. Once he accepted the task, you could take it as done.
Surely, I will miss my friend! The fact that Tayo was always there, is remarkable. You could pick up your phone and be sure there was someone you wanted to talk to, someone you’ve always talked to, someone you did things with, at the other end. “When are you free?”, he would ask. And whatever time was agreed, the answer was always, “see you then.”
Courage to challenge him
An aspect of his life that I found somewhat intriguing was the fact that he did whatever he wanted to do, once he set his mind to it. This was both good and bad, depending on what it was he set his mind to! Somehow, Tayo’s family indulged him; so did his friends! I wonder whether we did not fail Tayo as friends with regards to his illness, in particular, when he came with the news that he no longer had the cancer he had earlier been diagnosed with.
Some of us were not sure, and were worried; but somehow, either because we lacked the courage to challenge him, or he made it difficult for us to do so, we allowed him to have his way, once again! This time, for the last time.
As we grew up, Tayo always shared his life’s desires with me. Two very important objectives he always emphasized. One was to be very rich, and he would add, “very, very rich”; the other was to be managing director of a bank. He accomplished both. I would ask him, often, what would you do with such wealth? And he would laugh, and reply, “wait until I get it.”
Tayo, Day Waterman College is an outstanding example of what you did with the money! So many people have also praised your uncommon generosity.
As to becoming the managing director of Guaranty Trust Bank, I commend you for sustaining the vision, and taking the bank so much higher to a realm I know I could never have taken it to. In your hands, the bank simply grew in leaps and bounds.
I am still amazed at the way you successfully resolved all the major issues that came up after my departure! Your handling of the Soludo consolidation phase, with so many options to choose from, and the clean bill Lamido Sanusi gave our bank after the meltdown clearly brought you out to the world as an outstanding professional.
I pray that your successor will also build on what you had done, and take the bank to even greater heights. You had discussed your exit plan with me; I was thinking of the bank. Little did I realize that you were getting ready to exit this world. I had eagerly looked forward to our being neighbours again, as we were in Surulere, when we were young, only this time, on the Presidential Hilltop in Abeokuta, where you were planning to relocate. It was not to be!
It is now clear to me, Tayo, that those of us who are your friends took you for granted. We did not know how big you were in the eyes of the world. How else can we explain the outpouring of emotion from people of all walks of life, competing for space to honour you? The Yoruba must be right when they say, “iku ni’yi”. (In death, honour). Undoubtedly, Tayo, iku ye e. That is true for you, and those of us you have left behind must reflect on what we need to do with the rest of our days for death to so honour us. Indeed, Tayo, o mu ‘ku wun’ni.
Sun’re o, Olutayo, Lukosi Aje Owu, omo Olowu Oduru, omo Ajibosin, omo aseseru ewe ako t’on morijade.