Afare Apeadu Donkor: Staying ahead of the game

BY: Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia
Mr Afare Apeadu Donkor

At the 2015 edition of the Ghana Banking Awards, the Lifetime Achievement Award was conferred on a man whose contribution to the Ghanaian banking industry is unmatched.

Looking resplendent (as he always does) in his designer tuxedo and bow tie, Afare Apeadu Donkor accepted the long-overdue honour by saying, “I was never an ‘A’ student throughout my years in school and to the University. I have always done enough to warrant successful progression; being vigilant and alert at all times to understand the times in which I live and to take advantage of the myriads of opportunities that exist. The popular Latin phrase — Carpe Diem — rings true in my entire life. Always endeavour to seize the moment. Only postpone that which you prefer to remain undone when you are dead,” he told an attentive audience.

And seizing the moment is what Afare has always done.

One afternoon in 1985, Afare Donkor returned from his lunch break to see a memo on his desk at Merchant Bank, where he was then Head of Credit and Marketing. The memo from his superior, the Managing Director, was an order to transfer all his duties to a colleague at the bank.

His initial reaction was that of shock, as he had met and spoken to his boss earlier in the morning of that same day, without any mention of transfer of duties.

Of the turn of events that day, he recounts “I am a man, who, when faced with adversity, displays an uncanny ability to bounce back. This is exactly what I did. Whatever prompted my boss to act in the manner he did was, to me, of no consequence. The most important thing was survival, hence I moved with agility to turn the negative energy into something worthwhile.”

Discount houses

At an earlier meeting of the Ghana Association of Bankers, Afare had proposed a Discount House to help rescue the industry from a liquidity squeeze that had plagued the country since the 1970s. He had seen it work for Zimbabwe on a brief sojourn there, and proffered it as a solution for Ghana.

His boss had asked Afare to hand over to a colleague, ostensibly, to free him from his several duties, so he could focus entirely on completing a report for the setting up of the first discount house in Ghana.

Afare finished the report, submitted it and got the backing of the association to asset up a discount house. He struck an agreement with eight banks and six insurance companies, and established the first discount house in Ghana, Consolidated Discount House (CDH). It was an instant success, and drew a lot of attention both within Ghana and abroad.

The International Finance Company (IFC), impressed by the feat, contacted him for advice in setting up similar discount houses in other parts of the continent. This culminated in the founding of a second discount house, Securities Discount House (SDH), two years later.

But Afare would not rest on his laurels. He proceeded to lend support to the establishment of the Ghana Leasing Company, and the Ghana Stock Exchange. He was slowly changing the face of finance in Ghana and inspired many others to do same.

On a trip to New York, for example, a speech at a cocktail party would affect a young Ken Ofori-Atta to move back home to start the investment firm, Databank Financial Services Limited.

The maiden private indigenous bank

By the beginning of 1990, Afare had hatched a plan to set up the first privately owned indigenous bank in Ghana. Armed with an impressive feasibility report, he persuaded IFC and four other institutional investors to invest in Continental Acceptances Limited (CAL) Bank.

Afare had settled on the name ‘Continental’ because he had a long-term plan of expanding the venture across Africa.

As founder and Managing Director (MD), his first hire was a young Frank Adu Jnr, a freshly minted University of Ghana MBA holder. It would prove to be an important hire for the bank, as Frank Adu Jnr excelled and eventually became the Managing Director (MD) of the bank, still running it today.

In scenes not dissimilar to the ousting of Steve Jobs from Apple, the firm he founded, Afare was forced out of CAL Bank in 1996 in controversial and perhaps unfair circumstances. Unlike Steve Jobs, though, Afare was never able to return to the company he founded and has not set foot in the compound of CAL Bank since 1996.

His unsuccessful attempts to gain back his seat on the board and to replace Frank Adu with Yofi Grant captured the entire nation’s attention. The airwaves and pages of the news media would be filled with the saga for an unprecedented length of time and the nation would get a crash course on corporate governance through this.

Ebenezer Amankwah, then a journalist at Citi FM and covering the events, was so captured by the drama that he vowed to write a book to document the saga. Inspired by Toni Morrison’s words: “If there's a book you want to read but it hasn't been written yet then you write it." He felt Afare’s journey deserved a book of its own.

That book, “AHEAD OF THE GAME: Afare Donkor and Ghana’s Renaissance,” was launched at a packed auditorium at Accra’s British Council on November 12, by Ken Ofori-Atta, an event chaired by the veteran journalist, Elizabeth Ohene.

Attended by the great and good of Ghanaian society, including the flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party, a representative of the Asantehene and several C-suite business and not-for-profit leaders, the launch was another recognition that the living legend, Afare Apeadu Donkor, has always been ahead of the game.