Defying all odds — The rise and rise of Patience Akyianu

BY: Maxwell Adombila Akalaare
Patience Akyianu

At a tender age when the Managing Director of Barclays Bank Ghana Limited, Mrs. Patience Akyianu was forced to take responsibility for caring for her siblings after her mother’s death, she was completely oblivious of the fact that she was being prepared for a bigger role later in life.

Her father entrusted that responsibility to her for their upkeep and held her accountable because she was the eldest of his three children. Those experiences, she said, imbibed in her the principle of ownership and laid the foundation for her leadership rise in the corporate world. 

"He made me practically accountable for everything; if any of my sisters went wrong, I had to answer for it and if someone was not doing well, I had to explain," she recollected on the Leaders' Digest of the Springboard Virtual University on Joy FM hosted by Rev. Albert Ocran. 

She was the 11th guest on the inspiring series aimed at unearthing the principles and values of distinguished corporate leaders in the country. 

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 Her role as Managing Director requires her to provide leadership to the bank's over 1,000 employees nationwide. However, Patience believes that a whole range of experiences starting from childhood served to prepare her for the role.

Journey Into to Banking 

Patience began her banking career with the Standard Chartered Bank, where she rose from a Financial Controller in the bank's Ghana unit to the position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in its South African office, which oversees the group's African Regional operations. 

Her commitment to change, resilience to challenges and passion for excellence  were virtues  she picked up early in her professional life. 

She joined Barclays Bank as the Finance Director of the bank's Ghana operation before rising to become Managing Director, a position which she has occupied since last year.  

Although she said her entry into banking was not a premeditated one, she said she has not regretted the experience and was now looking at using her depth of knowledge in the sector to help businesses and individuals to improve. 

On a typical working day, the Barclays Bank MD interacts with a wide variety of people, ranging from employees to customers, who she said help shape her thinking and actions in the future. She believes that feeling committed to an idea or a company enhances the prospects of success. 

That idea, she said has caused her to look out for "a sense of ownership" in prospective employees. "By ownership, I mean being fully responsible and accountable to everything entrusted to me. I believe that once you owned something, you can be passionate about it and drive it till it succeeds," she explained. 

"When you are talking about something you said you have done, I look out for whether you were keen on getting success, whether you were passionate to ensure that what you started was completed and the passion you convey tells me whether or not you have a sense of ownership," she explained.

Need for career counsellors in secondary schools

Mrs. Akyianu is product of the Wesley Girls Senior High School in Cape Coast, a school she insists played an integral part in her development. However, she observed that the lack of counsellors in most senior high high schools made it difficult for her to make proper career choices.

"I think that what will help is if we get experts and physiologists into these schools so that apart from the teachers, they could look into certain qualities of the students and guide them on what to do," she said.

After successfully passing her A-Levels, she proceeded to the School of Administration at the University of Ghana, where she studied Accounting.  She was one of only five girls in her class undertaking what was deemed at the time to be a highly prestigious and difficult course. "Accounting made me feel right and that was why I ended up there," she said, laughing.

Mrs. Akyianu also undertook further studies in Finance and Business, which prepared her for higher career responsibilities in the banking industry. 

Core principles 

On the core attributes that she treasures, the Barclays Bank MD identified differentiation, determination and people.

In a competitive corporate world where people jostle for attention, Mrs. Akyianu said differentiating one’s self from the crowd plays a key role in ensuring success.

As a result, she said she had always upheld integrity, competence and reliability, which had set her apart in all the places she had worked in. 

"Everywhere I work, I try to demonstrate my competence and I am known for that. I also try to be reliable and dependable," she explained.

On determination, she explained that her experiences over the years had shown that good things do not come on a silver platter. 

"Many people will tell you cannot do it, you do not have the skills and temperament, you are an accountant and you cannot become an MD but you need to persevere," she said, noting that she has fought her way through since her university days. 

The third principle, she said was having the right people in your corner. Quoting from Deuteronomy 33:6 in the bible to support her point, Patience Akyianu, who is unapologetic about her faith, suggested that the difference between life and death could be having the right people in your network.  

On affirmative action said: "Being a woman, I want my fellow women to know that they are capable of becoming all that they were made to be regardless of the fact that they may have schooled all their lives in Ghana or the fact that they are women. We don't need affirmative action to achieve gender balance. I believe in finding competent people, motivating, inspiring and empowering them to succeed," she advised.