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Cameroon’s Georges Wega has managed to break through Société Générale’s ‘other’ glass ceiling

By Omer Mbadi
Posted on Wednesday, 18 August 2021 18:58

Georges Wega has entered the banking holy of holies. On 30 June 2021, Société Générale (SG) officially appointed Wega to the newly created position of deputy director of international banking networks for the Africa, Mediterranean Basin and Overseas region (Afmo).

The promotion also opened the doors for Wega to join the management committee, making him the first sub-Saharan banker to join the decision-making body, which is made up of 60 main managers of the French banking group’s businesses and services. SG, which is headed by Frédéric Oudéa, made €22.1bn in net banking income in 2020.

“I will be involved in discussions, exchanges and seminars that contribute to building the group’s strategy and implementing it. I welcome this appointment with great enthusiasm and humility,” said Wega, who worked for General Electric in Brussels and Amsterdam, and then Barclays in London.

“It will help increase my influence as a representative of the group with African employees, but also externally, with stakeholders on the continent. It reinforces my role as an ambassador for Africa and our business on the continent, within the executive committee,” he said.

Tony Elumelu’s former protégé

In addition to Wega, the Afmo zone is now represented on the management committee by Laurent Goutard – the head of this business unit – and Philippe Amestoy, who has also been promoted to deputy director. This implies that a geographical division of labour will take place between the latter and the 51-year-old Cameroonian, who was born in Yaoundé but is originally from the west region.

Amestoy will be responsible for supervising the North African (Tunisia and Algeria) and overseas (Reunion Island and Mayotte, New Caledonia and French Polynesia) subsidiaries, as well as the markets divisions (corporate, retail and payments).

Wega’s horizons are expanding. As regional director, he had been charged with overseeing the seven subsidiaries in West Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Conakry, Mauritania, Ghana) and the Togolese branch, which had been under his control since June 2018. In the new role, he will also be responsible for the six subsidiaries in the Central and East Africa region (Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Madagascar, Mozambique).

He also retains control of cross-functional projects in the Afmo zone. In 2020, retail banking revenues increased by 3% in sub-Saharan Africa compared to 2019, according to SG’s latest annual report.

The company’s policy of promoting executives from the continent to positions of responsibility began under Alexandre Maymat who, as head of SG’s Cameroon subsidiary at the beginning of the last decade, spotted Wega. The latter had just returned from Nigeria to take over the local subsidiary of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) group. He was flourishing there and was one of the protégés of billionaire Tony Elumelu, chairman of the Nigerian bank.

Participative but firm management

Above all, this promotion is the culmination of a rapid ascent within the French bank, which has taken place over barely seven years. Two years after he was poached from the Nigerian group in 2014, he took over at the helm of the Société Générale des Banques du Sénégal (SGBS), which was coming out of the vortex, and consolidated its growth. In July 2018, the banker left Dakar to take over the group’s West Africa regional management in Abidjan.

“He very quickly understood the role he had to play. Namely, to allow the CEOs of the subsidiaries that he supervises to express themselves, accompany them in solving problems on the ground and, at the same time, be an efficient, precise and trusted interlocutor for Paris so that the group’s Grow with Africa strategic plan could be implemented,” says Harold Coffi.

Georges has the qualities and agility to do it. His passion for Africa, his team spirit and his ability to work hard are important assets…

Recruited at the same time as Wega, the current head of Société Générale Burkina Faso highlights the strengths of the industrial engineer, a graduate of the University of Quebec. “Georges is always available and listens to others. His management style is very result-oriented and participative, while remaining firm. This allows him to get to the heart of the matter very quickly. This is how he has managed to achieve great results in Cameroon, Dakar and now Abidjan,” he says.

As a teenager, Wega was already demonstrating a great knack for management. In fact, his classmates at the Lycée Général-Leclerc in Yaoundé had nicknamed him ‘Bernard Tapie’ because he was always able to recruit the best talent to form football teams and participate in youth competitions. “He didn’t play, but he was the club’s president because he had very good grades. His father, who was a civil servant, let him pursue his passion,” says a former classmate.

Controlling costs and risks

Under his supervision, revenues for the SG unit in West Africa – that has about 4,000 employees, nearly 1 million clients and more than €6bn on its balance sheet – have increased by 28% over the past three years. Outstanding deposits grew by 35% over the same period and loans by 24%.

“This growth is the result of our good control of costs and risks. Progress in other African regions is also very positive and is reflected in an increase in the group’s revenues and earnings on the continent,” the Cameroonian banker says, without – however – giving figures. In 2018, Africa accounted for barely 1% of SG’s assets and 5% of its net banking income.

Wega emphasises the effectiveness of the structured finance platform, which was set up four years ago in Abidjan and supports the continent’s economic activities as arranger, lender and facilitator. This recently enabled SG to play a major role in a medium-term loan of CFAF 82.8bn (€149m) that was paid to Senegal’s Office National de l’Assainissement (Onas), which will be used to rehabilitate Dakar’s sanitation and water treatment infrastructure.

The platform also provided 74bn Ariary (€16.2m) in green financing to construct Madagascar’s largest solar power plant (20 MW) in Ambatolampy.

Now that he is in power, the Cameroonian wants to finish implementing the ‘Grow with Africa’ plan by increasing the continent’s share of SG’s net banking income, which has become a growth driver. He says Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are his role models for this long-term mission.

“These two great men inspire me with their peaceful struggle for a more just society, their resilience and their visionary character, which enabled them to overcome hardships to better serve the interests of the greatest number of people,” he says. Unsurprisingly, Coffi is betting on his success. “Georges has the qualities and agility to do it. His passion for Africa, his team spirit and his ability to work hard are important assets that will help us overcome the challenges that we face,” he says.

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