By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
VENTURES AFRICA — Guarantee Trust Assurance Plc is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s most successful and profitable companies. Fact; not opinion!
According to an April 2012 rating by Great Places to Work Institute — a global research firm concerned with the identification and sustenance of great workplaces — GT Assurance is the 3rd best place to work in the country.
But who would have believed that this was the same GT that languished in stagnation, and in fact, retrogression, for nearly all of its first two decades? Facts, once more. At the end of 2003, some 14 years after it was incorporated as Heritage Assurance Company Limited, its market share ranked 97th out of 103 insurance companies operating in the country at the time.
Fast-forward another eight years and a former marginal industry player becomes an industry leader, with a market share bettered only by two other companies in the country. How did it happen?
Mr. Tosin Runsewe, CCO GT Assurance Plc, told the story during the just concluded LEAP Africa CEO’s Forum:
In January 2004, some senior management staff of GTBank were seconded to restructure the company and position it for growth. Vision: it was clear the company could not continue the way it was, and it was even clearer that the right people had to be brought in to drive a long-term RESTRUCTURING project.
By May 2004, the first Strategic Business Plan had been written in conjunction with 23 newly recruited senior officers and managers, and 22 entry level trainees who had just graduated from Learners & Trainers — GTBank’s independently-run entry level training school.
The vision was to build a world-class financial services group operating and dominant across sub-Saharan Africa, starting with Nigeria. This target was shared with every member of the team and reinforced every three years during the writing of its rolling three-year Strategic Plans. These plans were always co-written by consultants alongside members of staff such that they bought in ab initio. In these plans and in the company’s overall vision, many saw a future for themselves.
The result: over the next eight years, turnover grew at a CAGR of 109 per cent from N27 million in 2003 to N10b in 2011 — a turnover that puts it at joint 3rd position in terms of market share. Professional staff strength also rose to 181, in addition to over 350 auxiliary and core sales staff. Currently, GT Assurance is working to realise its third plan, after meeting more than 90 per cent of the objectives of its first two plans.
At GT, there are certain values and norms guiding the conduct of both employees and employers. Tosin Runsewe of Guarantee Trust Assurance plc says the norms — five of them — have been inestimably critical to the overnight-like success of the company.
The company thrives on open communication and information sharing, helping it build a group of informed and knowledgeable people who are ever-willing to give and receive feedback, thereby creating an enabling work environment. Company information is widely disseminated at appropriate levels and every officer is encouraged to participate in decision-making during the monthly business review sessions.
All activities in the company are opportunities for learning, thereby continuously creating value. There is a palpable company commitment to structured training and collective improvement. Runsewe’s words, “At GT Assurance, we are committed to training our people, at home and abroad. Wherever we can find the best training for them, we will go. Our senior managers are all alumni of the best business school in Nigeria and many have received training from renowned global institutions in addition. Training adds value to the staff, helps him excel at his duty, and builds confidence in the company in the eyes of your customers. Yes, some will leave but if they share your vision and enjoy their working environment, many will stay and build with you.”
There is equally a staff empowerment programme with emphasis on development opportunities and coaching. Staff are constantly given the right tools and necessary authority to execute their jobs. “Empowerment is entrenched at all levels of our operations, especially at the lowest levels. We have found this to be a powerful tool. People want to be responsible for something. Entrust important tasks into their hands after you have trained them and watch them blossom … In our company, well-trained junior officers carry out the sort of tasks typically handled by managers in other organisations,” Runsewe adds.
Staff feel a sense of ownership; a sense of responsibility, duty and passion about their work. They recognise their tasks as theirs to take to completion. Again, Runsewe says staff never make excuses about their assignments but simply carry them out to the end because there is a sense of ownership as they are all involved in decision-making. “Never remind them of who legally owns the business; they know already. Let them understand that you are all collectively responsible for the business and therefore, it belongs to you all. A sense of ownership by your staff will propel them to go beyond the call of duty to create and add value to your business on a long term basis,” he adds.
There is equally the norm of reward and recognition. GT Assure celebrates and rewards excellence and performance, recognising that it is the aggregation of individual and outstanding team performances that will move it closer to achieving its dream of not just being the best insurance company in the country but also a world-class financial services Group. “Money is a great motivator but not necessarily the best reward. Recognition and a public pat on the back will go a long way in motivating your staff to stay and build your business with you … Everyone can recognise high performance and your team will want to see you reward such. Make this a habit and your team will exceed your expectations. Ignore this and you will have doused any fires of creativity and innovation smouldering within their hearts.”
Long Term Benefits
An encompassing and enduring staff welfare scheme has been an important factor in GT’s attraction and retention of good staff. The company recognises needs and goals common to most of them, and does its best to meet them within the resources of the business.
Management’s genuine concern about the plight of employees has gone a long way in engendering loyalty. It has also arranged a number of schemes, especially in pension and life insurance cover, for its employees. Turning again to Runsewe for further light, the answer is this, “If you have the vision of growing beyond a small family business size, you may wish to consider giving the most senior members of your staff some share options, which could vest after a pre-specified number of years. This would help cement their sense of ownership of the business.”
The temptation is to brand the statement above as Runsewe’s model, from the GT Assurance point of view. But really, if you have the vision of growing your business beyond the family-size, subsistence level, wouldn’t you rather learn from the GT model? I doubt not.