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Nti: Diversity, inclusion are factors needed for transformation

May 20 2018 07:07
Financial Planning Institute of SA chief executive

Financial Planning Institute of SA chief executive Godfrey Nti. (Photo: Rosetta Msimango

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Outspoken. A gentleman. Excellent.

These are just some of the words industry peers of Financial Planning Institute (FPI) of SA CEO Godfrey Nti use to describe him.

Nti has come a long way from being an ambitious little boy in the small Cameroonian town of Buea who wanted to be a pilot to being the head of the professional organisation.

Nti was one of seven siblings, raised by his mother after his teacher father died when he was very young.

He was fortunate to have attended a good school, which helped him on his journey to the top.

“I grew up wanting to be a pilot. I abandoned the dream but, looking back, I have no regrets.” He said that although he did not know a pilot or anyone who worked in that space, he was first exposed to flying when he read about it in a magazine a friend brought to school.

Then, in high school, his ambitions changed. His new dream job was to work in a stock exchange.

“At the time we did not even have a stock exchange in the country and, because of a lack of knowledge, I thought if I studied accounting I would be able to work in a stock exchange. So I studied accounting and finance,” he said.

Nti pointed out that in his country it is the norm to have career aspirations – especially for working in a foreign country.

“There’s that sense of if I go as far away as possible then it means I am successful.

“That’s how we have always grown up,” he said of the social trends in his home country.

After completing his General Certificate of Education (matric), he had to undergo a two-year advanced education programme – the norm in Cameroon – before enrolling at the local University of Buea where he studied for a bachelor degree in economics and finance.

“From a very young age, with my mother being a receptionist, I had to generate income on the side to help out the family,” he said, adding that at some point he was a photographer and barber.

“I was fortunate that she was very firm about schooling and she would send us to the best schools she could afford,” he said.

Post-varsity, Nti bagged a three-month internship in Douala, the country’s economic capital, with Barclays’ bank in Cameroon, the National Investments and Savings Bank. He was offered a permanent job after only a month.

Coming from the English-speaking region in the French-dominated country, Nti found himself having to polish his corporate French very quickly to adapt.

“I was able to speak French, but French in the corporate world is very different,” he said.

Although the country has more than 250 languages – including Nti’s mother tongue of Mungaka – English and French are the official languages.

Four years after joining the bank as a clerk and moving up the ladder to become group financial accountant, he packed his bags and headed down south to further his studies in the city of gold.

“I was pleased with my professional career but I was worried my academic career was stagnating because for four years I did not do any studying,” he said.

Because he was from a small town and the only person his community knew in a big city, he found himself coming home from work to a two-bedroom house filled with 17 people.

“I was in this big city that everyone wanted to come to, not to visit but to stay, so the house became very crammed with relatives and friends,” he said.

But however uncomfortable the arrangement was, Nti understood perfectly.

“I was raised by the community.

“It didn’t bother me because I am a product of that environment and that’s what made me,” said the father of two, who still pays the education fees of 13 kids back home who approached his mother for help.

Arriving in South Africa to enrol with De Montfort University’s Sandton campus, he was offered a job as financial director barely one year into his studies.

“That is where he stayed until FPI came knocking in 2006.

Eighteen months after joining FPI as a financial manager, he was appointed head of operations and 18 months later the chief executive, the first black person to hold the position.

Going through the recruitment process was an interesting journey.

His predecessor had experienced encroachment in his duties by the board of directors, a matter he knew about and was able to highlight when interviewed.

“I felt I had to put it out there and I felt the board was encroaching by taking certain decisions and, when they didn’t work out, the CEO would be blamed. I told them this because I was not expecting to get the job,” said Nti.

Talking about transformation in the financial services sector, Nti said he believed strongly that although most companies had diversity, what was lacking was inclusion in their organograms.

“There is transformation but it is minimal,” he said, adding that to achieve transformation there needed to be diversity and inclusion.

“Diversity is like being invited to a party and inclusion is being asked to dance,” Nti said to illustrate his point.

Nti’s face glowed when he talked about how the FPI’s work was important in helping South Africa shed its culture of not saving.

Apart from being a shrewd businessman, greatly admired by his peers, when he takes time off to relax he is a keen tennis player and cyclist – and a happy family man.

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