Euromoney, May 2014
Ishmael Nwokocha, who heads corporate treasury for MTN in Nigeria, makes our list for his commitment to best practice and governance in a country that has a bad reputation for both.
For him, it’s a question of common sense. “Because we are heavily dependent on trade and equipment from Europe, America and Asia, we have to make sure our exchange controls are sound, making sure any obligation that arises is settled when due so there is no unnecessary exposure,” he says. “Once you don’t have sound controls and business processes, you end up not being able to run a business in an efficient manner. What ordinarily would take three to four days to go through, you instead finding yourself running around after for two weeks.
“It helps to give the business a sound reputation out there in the world: people want to engage with you, to give you a discount, to help to expand the business.” Nwokocha joined MTN in 2002 as a cash management accountant and has risen through the ranks since, handling corporate finance, risk management, banking services and treasury for Nigeria.
The treasury function he manages has won plaudits for its financing transactions, including a US$1.8 billion financing in 2010 and $3 billion in 2013. On the bigger and more recent of those deals, his treasury team served as internal arranger and adviser on a complex deal that raised funds in four continents; it is estimated this saved the business as much as $60 million in fees.
This is important not only for MTN itself, but the knock-on effects in Nigeria. He talks of “the role of telecommunications in the next couple of years as an enabler of economic transactions: how we make payments, how we drive solutions.” MTN is closely involved in the success of the country’s oil and gas industry, providing links on to oil rigs, and allowing the power sector to collect money through smart metering systems. And at the grass roots level, the development of mobile telephony in Nigeria has been extraordinary: 120 million cellphones. “Telecoms is one of the things that have opened the eyes of people to the positive aspects of technology. The appetite is there for good things.”
Nigeria itself faces an uncertain year with an election, though Nwokocha says he feels positive. “There is an ability for us to sustain the processes and policy that will take us from a country of 170 million people that is dependent on imports of everything, to a country that can sustain itself,” he says. “We’re still a young country: 25 to 29 is the main part of the population. “
MTN can help that evolution. “I don’t think like a telco, but rather like an enabler of economic activity.”