By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
VENTURES AFRICA — When an octogenarian tells you he has no retirement plans yet because he still wants to conquer his continent and set up a continental financial hub (that is, Casablanca Financial City), you simply have no choice but to take him serious.
When he tells you that these are two “ambitious but feasible projects” that will gulp another “ten years-long of hard work” in his life, you will not only take him serious, you will accord him a brand of respect only immortal beings deserve. And there are certain qualities you will immediately ascribe to his person, without proof: diligence, focus, relentlessness, workaholism, determination, ambition, and so on.
Or you might even question the veracity of those courageous words, and brand them the product of a sensational writer’s desperate creations. That is if you have yet to read the story of Moroccan Othman Benjellon, who, at 81, is still the chairman of globally acclaimed BMCE (Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieu) Bank International.
Expectedly, for all the hard work that Pa Benjallon has put into his eight-decade life, he has been rewarded with enormous success, financial especially, as he is currently Africa’s 11th richest man, with a net worth of $2.3 billion, as at March 2012.
Aside serving as chairman of the board of BMCE as well as its chief executive officer and managing director since 1995, Benjelloun is also an advisor to the Centre for Strategic International Studies in Washington D.C. He is the chairman of the Moroccan Bankers’ Association, and chairman of the Moroccan-American Trade and Investment Board. Still, he is a director of Espirito Santo Financial Group SA — a post he has held for the past decade — while also serving as a director of Banque Marocaine Du Comm Exter.
Benjallon’s trait of greatness is the kind that runs in the family. His father had been a large shareholder in a Moroccan Insurance company. Assuming its reigns in 1988, Benjalloun built it into prominence, into RMA Watanya, which then assumed the status of a “leading” insurance company in the Northern African country.
This success he brought to bear on his banking, his publicly traded BMCE Bank (courtesy of an acquisition of bank of Africa) having physical presence in 20 African countries in West, Central and East Africa: Senegal, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mali, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Togo, Djibouti, Comoros, Burundi, Niger, and so on. In Morocco alone, the bank has 500 branches; and as well operates offices in France, Madrid, London, China, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Holland.
While there is a temptation to hastily confer an inordinate undertone on Benjelloun’s obviously tall ambitions, he has clearly proven his passion for the lowly and for public goods, having established, in 1995, the Foundation BMCE, which has its principal aims, the advancement of literacy in rural areas and the protection of the environment.
In nearly all of Benjelloun’s official comments, two things are obvious: an important point is his regard for collectivity, for example, in his expression of interest in the “huge collective work” that the regional financial Hub of Casablanca will perform; and an even more important attribute is his hard work.
“I have come to a determination of making a significant contribution by means of the mobilisation of the capabilities of our group and my own mobilization. I will devote, from now on, my regular ventures to trips abroad related to this purpose through international investors and domestic and foreign public authorities,” he said recently on one of his many lofty projects.
Truly, if there was ever anyone who deserved to be a billionaire, it is the great, ageing but tireless octogenarian, Othman Benjelloun!