As Deputy General Manager of ProCredit, one of the largest non-bank financial institutions in the country, Philip Mensah plays in a league that is dominated by people more advanced in years than he is. But what he lacks in age he makes up with a wealth of experience and a steely determination to excel.
As a university student, Philip Mensah took the first steps to a career in the corporate world by working as a junior consultant helping small firms access financing. He recalls that this experience was very helpful in more ways than one. Not only did it arouse an interest in the financial services sector, it also prepared him to excel in it.
“When I started working at Procredit, it was something of a continuation, only this time I was working on the side of the financial institution – taking application from clients, supporting them to get a loan and manage the business so they are able to repay. In my previous role, I was trying to find ways to convince financial institutions to give out loans to the clients on whose behalf I was working. So that was very helpful. Also as a junior consultant I was virtually on my own. I had to do everything myself – type out proposals, do the communication and everything myself.”
This experience must have shown through and not only did he join the team at Procredit, then in its infancy, but he was tasked to set up and run a branch from scratch, the first for a local boy in the firm. Indeed, the first black person to do so in the entire Procredit operation.
He got the job done to terrific effect. Within four years, he had risen from his beginnings as a loan officer to join the management board, a rise that is meteoric by all standards.
So how has he achieved so much at such a young age?
Apart from hard work and rigorous self-application, Mr Mensah credits his success to a rather profound mantra – “knowing the right thing and doing it.” He explains that “a lot of us know what the right thing is but we are unable to do it. Taking that knowledge and putting it into action becomes a difficulty.”
You can sense that this means more to Mr Mensah than a simply punchy motivational line. As the first Ghanaian to join the management board of a major financial institution and at such a young age, he has faced a lot of pressure.
Philip Mensah admits this but says he was ready. “I had to assert myself more. There were times that I had to be even more stern than was necessary but it was important to send the message that I was here to do the right thing and nothing less. Gradually, people got the message and now it’s not so difficult.
While this mantra may give you the impression that he is not exactly a “people person”,the impression is immediately dispelled when he explains that selling “the vision” to his team is a big part of his style and the source of his success. “You need to bring people along”, he explains. “I only do about 2% of the work that you see.
The greatest part of my day is spent talking to my team, guiding and inspiring them to do the work that is yielding the results for us. In that sense, I’d say that leadership is a critical requirement for the success of any enterprise. I believe that selling an idea and getting people to do it well is a very important part of management.”
There is little evidence to challenge his view. On the contrary, the evidence from his application is overwhelmingly positive. As the first black person to be on a management board within the group and one of only two so far in the Ghanaian operation, Mr Mensah has every reason to be proud.
Having braved the high expectations that came with the job, he believes that he has paved the way for other local people in the group.
“Now, apart from the two of us on the management board, there are some five Ghanaians on the second tier of management. All the branches are now run by local people.”
And that is also one of the contributions that Mr Mensah believes Procredit should be credited with – building the human resource in the financial service sector. “When I look at some of the banks, I see a lot of the people that we have trained in very important positions. While we are sad to have lost them, we are also proud to have played a part in their training. Through that, we believe we are influencing the whole financial service industry in the country.”
That is one of the many ways that Procredit’s footprints are seen on the broad tapestry of the industry. “We believe in transparency. We see that a lot of companies get into trouble when they take a loan and realize that there was more to it than they thought. We make sure that there are no hidden costs to our loans. We have also developed some innovative products that other companies are replicating and that is in a way, good for the industry and the economy as a whole.”
Naturally, the most direct benefit is to the core audience – the small and medium scale industries. Here, Mr Mensah says Procredit has done quite a lot. “We have helped many companies grow from small to medium scale and beyond. We are happy that due to quality of service we provide, many of them – about 80% stay with us. Of course, as they grow the competition becomes more intense. And we strive to keep up; we don’t just ask clients to stay because we started with them, we must continue to meet their needs in order to retain them.”
To Philip Mensah, Procredit has the potential to do even more. And it is that belief that spurs him on, a determination to see the company reach the fullest potential, including the procurement of a universal banking license sometime in the next three years.
Will that be work done?
“Of course not. Once you get to the top you must stay there. You will find new challenges and you must meet those. You must ensure that you keep improving and evolving.
This year though, the firm will be seeking to double its loan portfolio, expand banking services for its clients and complete its six-storey headquarters currently under construction at Tesano.
Sometime in the future though, all the experience and knowledge that has been accrued will be available to the industry in Philip Mensah’s next incarnation.
“I want to continue to serve the financial service sector. As you go along, there are some trends that you see and I’m learning from them. Every year, the challenge of loan recovery becomes more of a challenge, for example. I’d like to help the industry in this area, for example. Training the human resource in terms of decision making, loan recovery, managing loan portfolios – those are some of the areas I see myself helping out with as a consultant.
Should that happen and should that be the final incarnation, it will provide a poetic, if deceptively cryptic symmetry to an illustrious career – beginning as a junior consultant and evolving into senior consultant.