Having always made things work from behind the scenes since he entered Ghana’s burgeoning insurance industry a little over 13 years ago, there is not the slightest hint of inhibition in the tone of this self-made business manager, as he speaks of his new role as CEO of Prudential Life Insurance Ghana – after the small insurance company, Express Life, which he transformed in a whirlwind fashion, was bought out 100% by international financial services group Prudential Plc. which has significant operations in Asia, the US and the UK.
With modesty, he says he doesn’t subscribe to the conventional notion of an academic certificate being a good indicator of one’s ability to perform in a high position. So, he always started humbly at the very bottom of every new work opportunity that came his way, but quickly catapulted himself up the organizational ladder by smartly solving problems.
Welcome to the world of, the always meticulous and uncompromising, Emmanuel Mokobi Aryee.
At his Tesano office, Mokobi, as he prefers to be called, recounts how he in just a little under two years, accepted the challenge to transform the little known Express Life Insurance Company after LeapFrog Investments, a venture capitalist acquired almost 78% stakes in the life insurance company, in May 2012. Mr. Douglas Lacey, a partner of LeapFrog Investments, under whom he had worked at Enterprise Life Insurance (ELAC) invited him to lead in the transformation of the company.
Ever the scrupulous operator, Mokobi recounts; “so I came on board bringing my team. It was one of the terms that I laid down, one of the conditions for accepting the offer, that I want to come in with my own team, who know what it takes to grow a business and the free hand to do so. And thank God, I was given that opportunity.”
“I have been extremely successful on this project,” he says.
With his team, they took over a company that was virtually unknown, which had only 29 sales representatives and four sales managers across the nation.
“As we speak now, we have about 325 sales representatives and have also increased the number of sales managers from four to 28.
“The company had only one office where they operated from. We currently have five branches scattered around the country and two sales offices, meaning we have seven footprints now, in terms of where our offices can be located,” Aryee disclosed
To put it into perspective, by number of agents, they rank number four in the country’s industry.
“That shows how far we’ve come. We have been able to introduce two new products from the individual side and three new ones from the group line of business. These are products that never used to be in existence; we conceptualized them, designed and got approval and the mandate to sell them. We’re doing very well,” Aryee gloats subtly.
The company didn’t have an administration platform to administer their policy but currently they have been able to put in an interim platform that they are presently running, beyond which also they have gone onto the world market to source for a permanent administration platform that ha s been tested and is working in other places outside Ghana. It is an implementation that is ongoing at the moment and the plan is that; “once that is done we will shift over from the interim one to this permanent one,” Mokobi explains.
He believes that the dramatic restructuring of the last 18 months was a major allure such that when Prudential Plc, one of the world’s leading financial services groups with operations on all continents except Africa, decided to come into Africa, and Ghana was selected as the entry route to Africa, Express Life was the company they couldn’t avoid.
That may well be true, but Mokobi also knows that there were other strong pull factors.
Prudential, originally a UK based company, moved into Asia in the last 15 years or so where they’ve been extremely successful. They presently are trying to move into Africa as most big global companies are now doing.
Ghana is their first footprint into Africa.
Mokobi opines that, basically, a reason why they decided on Ghana is the fact that the economic indicators have been very positive within the last 15 years. Another reason is that a profile of the population of Ghana points to a younger population mostly engaged in active work, as compared to the older and dependent population in society – this he says is indeed one of Prudential’s strongest reasons for coming to Ghana.
Yet another big reason why they decided on Ghana is the fact that the country’s insurance penetration is very low, compared to GDP it’s only about 1%, pointing to a huge opportunity for growth as far as life insurance practice in Ghana is concerned.
So that helped Prudential in settling on Express Life, in which they saw a budding company with a solid management team that has achieved so much within a short space of time.
If Express Life offered Mokobi the platform to prove his mettle in the industry, he sees his new role in the forefront of Prudential Life Ghana as an opportunity to do big things, like changing society for the better, and he sounds like he’s very much on the way
“Obviously, we need to appreciate that insurance offers big benefits to the society and the people who will buy insurance are providing themselves with financial security and a plan for a prosperous future for their children.
“But in this country, the insurance penetration is only 1% , therefore, this gives us an opportunity to do things differently. We are fortunate that our parent company has done very well, over the years, in Asia and in countries with similar demographics as Ghana. This puts us in a position where we can tap into those experiences and once we add our local expertise, we would be able to come up with very innovative products that would meet the needs and aspiration of hard working Ghanaian families,” Mokobi says.
He notes that their experience in Asia will enable them to distribute insurance to as many Ghanaian homes as possible, while also helping them in the area of setting up a back office that will be able to deal with the increasing volumes of business that will come from sale of the innovative products, thereby delivering the world class customer service that the Ghanaian industry has been lacking all this while.
He is motivated by the fact that; “we’ll also benefit from the set of skills that will be transferred to us and help build the national capacity; and given the fact that Prudential is listed in the UK, in Singapore and the Hong Kong stock exchanges, that in itself would require some high standards. We’ll have to comply with these standards helping drive capacity in insurance in the country.”
It’s a great challenge; “I’ve always enjoyed working behind the scenes and making things happen rather than being at the forefront of things and so if I take a profile of my work life this is the first time I’m being brought to the forefront because I happen to be the CEO,” he reveals.
But it is also a trait of Mokobi that he courts challenges with a positive mind, not despising humble beginnings but also not shying away from tackling huge problems head-on. This has been since the days he started earning his own income and decided; “to chase after my own dreams and so I started pursuing courses in the business world, despite a first degree in biochemistry.”
His story is interesting, the type about self-made champions that always makes enjoyable reading.
“To take you back 17 years, I studied science in school, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and that was strongly and heavily influenced by my late uncle.
“He was trained in Germany and I’m sure he was impacted strongly by the philosophy of working and impacting directly on people’s lives, not necessarily for the money. Incidentally that tied in perfectly with the motto of my secondary school, St Peter’s Secondary School, Nkwatia-Kwahu, “Dignitati Hominum” which means the Dignity of Mankind.
“I think, to a large extent that really influenced my first degree in biochemistry. I then did my National Service at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and stayed on for about a year and half as an assistant research officer.”
Mokobi enjoyed his work because, then, they were working on a project that impacted the lives of children; trying to find out what was causing diarrhea in the slums in Ghana and at the same time working on some active microbial substances that they hoped to convert into active antibodies that would help save the lives of those people. It was a good project.
But then he needed to move on.
“The thing is that, within me, I’ve always wanted to move into the business world but unfortunately the person paying my school fees wanted me to do science so I had to obey him. That’s my uncle. I lost my dad when I was two years old so I first lived with my grandmother, in Accra, for most of my primary school days and then I lost my grandmother too. I had to stay with an aunty in Takoradi, who also decided to go abroad so I then had to live with another aunty in Kwahu, in the Eastern Region and then finally with my uncle in Accra. I had to be juggled between them just to survive.
“But then, at Noguchi, I was making my own money so then I had an opportunity to pursue my own dreams. That’s when I started pursuing courses in the business world. I had my MBA from the Legon Business School, in Marketing and at from that point I found my way into the business world”, he indicated.
I realised the business world is large and so I was looking for areas that I fit and it came out in my readings that the service area is now the area that is moving nations therefore I decided to pitch in that area and that even influenced my thesis.
I completed my first degree in 1993 at KNUST, worked for a while and went back to Legon in 1999 and completed in 2001.
So pitching in the services industry, Aryee took up a brief appointment with Standard Chartered Bank Ghana, as a direct sales officer; “where at that point in time I had very steep opposition from some of my MBA mates that I completed university with who felt it was rather demeaning and that I was degrading the degree.”
For Mokobi, however, being the area that he wanted to work in and having academic qualification but no practical experience (which didn’t guarantee much success) the big question was; “wouldn’t it be wise to humble oneself and take an appointment in that area to help one gather the necessary experience that would prove useful when bigger opportunities come?”
So with that mindset Aryee roamed the streets of Accra, trying to canvas sales, or sell the products of Standard Chartered Bank as a part-time job.
Then came an opportunity to work with Enterprise Life Assurance Company (ELAC) as a Sales Manager. But there, also, came opposition from his course mates; their reason being that the advert for the job vacancy stated first degree holders, not MBA graduates.
Of course, the same motivation that it was an opportunity to gain some experience won the day for him; “because I had not had any experience apart from what I gained from the medical field, which was basically is a science experience. It also gave me the chance to prove a point that my output must be qualitatively better than that of my fellow work mates who were first degree holders.”
That mindset proved useful in that, over the period, he was able to show the difference between the output of a second degree holder and a first degree holder.
“I also saw it as a very fortunate circumstance, in the sense that it was a young company by then, and as with start-ups, you need to be doing so many different things within the setup.”
“If there was a project, usually the most challenging ones, it would be handed over to me and another gentleman with an MBA, who was doing research, so we were playing about five or six roles at the same time.”
Mokobi’s meticulousness in problem-solving – perhaps gained from his science background – won the attention of his directors.
“I recollect I applied the concept of decision tree, which was something we learnt back in the day at Legon, to resolve an issue, and after presenting to my boss Mr. C. C. Bruce jnr. and one of my international directors, Mr. Doug Lacey, I remember a staff member, whose office was close to the Chief Executive’s, came asking me what I did in there, in that he overhead Doug telling my Chief Executive to do whatever to keep me. And I believe it was because of the output and the application of the concept.”
Mokobi believes this singular experience catapulted his development in the business world. “From then on, after less than a year, I was promoted to the position of Branch Manager, and after a year I was promoted to the position of a Business Development Manager, currently what we call Head of Sales and Marketing. Then again, after another year, I was promoted to Senior Manager of Operations and the reason I was pushed there was because that position was having problems.
“Interestingly, all my life with ELAC, I was just moved around to fix issues; sales problems, I go to fix it; operations challenges, I go fix it; group operations, I go fix it. So that was how I got promoted rapidly to Senior Manager and to Assistant General Manager of Operations, the following year. I subsequently was promoted to Deputy General Manager, Group Operations, because we were having problems with Group Operations. I went there for two years and was brought back as General Manager of Operations.
So when Mr. Douglas Lacey, the former international director he presented to, decided to buy shares in Express Life, he invited Mokobi to come head the place as CEO and help him grow the business.
“For me, the learning point is that anytime you get the opportunity to do something, you better do it well, to the very best of your ability because you can never tell where that opportunity would land you.
“But the quick point in my days with ELAC is also the fact that what really drove me on (ELAC is where I got my big lift; I was and I still am the only junior manager that rose through all the ranks within the shortest possible time, I never jumped any, to become the second in command before I left) was the passion to beat my best coupled with a strong desire to impact positively the people I worked with; It’s a passion I believe I took from my late uncle and my school.
“So from ELAC I find myself here as the CEO and again the same passion has been driving me. An opportunity to lead an organisation that will deliver financial stability; that will deliver peace of mind to people, who may in one way or the other get affected by an unfortunate circumstance.
“The same passion of positively impacting on people’s careers is still driving me here. The passion of beating my best is still with me because this position is different from my previous one and it’s an opportunity again to achieve something with my life,” Mokobi says with that calm determination that you easily notice about him.
Mokobi may always want to see the smile on the faces of both satisfied clients and subordinates, but he resolutely and ruthlessly prohibits dishonest behavior.
“I’ve had a couple of that from my days in ELAC. There were times that some people very close to me, being colleagues or people I’ve recruited, were involved in financial misappropriation and I had to investigate and recommend their dismissal,” he discloses
He says it wasn’t really easy, but it had to be done, and it had to be done objectively. “It was tough but the good thing is that once you know you did that objectively, without any malice to any of those guys, that you’re doing your work and that’s the right thing to do, you move on.”
And with that steely but calm demeanor, Mokobi Aryee looks to move on to big things – certainly what Prudential Plc. aims to do in Africa. First lesson; solve problems smartly from the bottom and the only place to go will be the top.