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I contemplate in very few words, two words that in my humble opinion is the foundation for all nobility and virtue; Grit and Gravitas.

The science of Grit has gained popularity with Angela Duckworth, pioneering its study. It is argued that the essence of grit remains elusive although it correlates with a couple of other traits having its own nuances and anomalies.  Grit is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.”

Gravitas however, is derived from the Latin gravitas, meaning weight, and from gravis heavy, suggesting that people who display gravitas are grounded, possess sound judgment and are able to deal with “weighty” issues. Ancient Romans thus rated gravitas among the highest of the fifteen virtues needed to attain a reputable position in society.

I do not intend to discuss the theories of these traits but to tell the tales of a man who embodies them. This piece is written to celebrate him as he celebrates his 66th birthday tomorrow, 22nd February. It has been eight years since I have known him and I am convinced he is the best example of a leader nature ever gave Ghana. UT Bank had everyone wondering on 14th August what must have gone wrong, from that has proceeded varied opinions about him but I tell him as I know him:
  1. Confident and kind, without being arrogant: The first time I meet him in person was in a cafeteria at work sometime 2010. I was a young graduate who had gotten a job in his company. He had grown his small micro finance business to become a household name, he had acquired a bank as a local finance house. He was in the news and was pioneering an understanding of financing for the informal economy. He was loved and respected by all, yet he entered this cafeteria, joined the queue and literally brought sunshine into the room. He hugged and made jokes and waited till it was his turn before he got his food. I only looked on with no words but admiration. As interesting as nature will have it, he came to join my table, I was shy, nervous and sober. He asked my name of which I mentioned and although I do not recollect the exact conversation, he did proceed to make me feel at home and I always looked forward to sharing a table with him at lunch as the conversations were extremely insightful.
  2. Courage to trust against all odds: He had called the company Unique Trust for the obvious reason of solving the financial services problem in Ghana in an unconventional way but more importantly was his philosophical disposition of engendering trust for the sure reason of our common humanity. Ubuntu was our sure chant because of the belief that, ‘I am because you are’. You may debate how much of trust one ought to allow but we cannot deny one of the biggest problems of the black race is the lack of trust to collaborate to do anything indeed extraordinary. Great things will require the effort of more than one person, it will even require more than the fine task to bean-counting, it requires a commitment to summon persons of honesty and integrity. Do not speak to me about how he failed, tell me about what a broken state we live in, where the genuine trust of people who toil to rebuild the broken walls are betrayed. Without collective action, none of us will get to the top, and I guess his wrong was to trust our ability to work collectively. As we celebrate ‘Wakanda’ in the cinemas, let me suggest to you one who built one, T’chaka Prince Kofi Amoabeng.
  3. He keeps walking forever: These words are his firm assurance, keep walking. He has told stories of having failed at several businesses before he started UT Bank, he has openly shared some of the biggest challenges he faced that could drown the strongest of souls and yet he keeps his calm and amazing disposition, looking forward with a firm commitment to a step at a time. The history of financial services in Ghana will never be complete without his story because he walked against all the odds. I am so sure, there is more we will see of him soon. This is because he never lost his grit and gravitas. 
Layman Brothers was the fourth-largest investment bank in the United States (behind Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch) before declaring bankruptcy in 2008. Goldman was the biggest and yet was only saved because Warren Buffet invested $5Billion when it was in similar need. These are some of the biggest names and best brains in the field of financial services and yet, their stories are not different from UT Bank. I am a risk management expert and agree we ought to reform financial services and have need to do banking differently but I celebrate an amazing leader who created a Ghanaian enterprise that gave hope to all the thousands of savings and loans and microfinance companies we have. A good man who taught me what is possible with grit and gravitas. A man who against all the odd pioneered an understanding into the informal economy of Ghana. A man many of his critiques owe, a man who believed in Ghanaian businesses and gave everything for local businesses. Happy birthday Sir, my story will never be complete without telling yours. You are an eternal gift to Ghana.
Yaw Sompa

Author Yaw Sompa

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