From being described as an ‘ugly monkey’ that no one wanted, to becoming the leading financial group in Jamaica, NCB Financial Group is now accelerating its strategy towards becoming world class, according to President and NCB Financial Group Chief Executive Officer Patrick Hylton.
He outlined the strategy and history of NCB in a letter to shareholders and directly to them at the company’s annual general meeting on Friday at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.
But the group had already outperformed its NCB 2.0 strategy, having achieved two significant milestones early, and was now moving towards the next phase of its strategic journey named NCB Accelerate.
Those two milestones were generating net profit after tax of US$200 million, achieved in 2018 — two years ahead of schedule — and later acquiring a majority share of Guardian Holdings, cementing the group’s position as a leading Caribbean financial conglomerate with a presence in more than 20 territories.
But the story was radically different in March 1998 when Hylton was appointed managing director of FINSAC and had the responsibility to urgently turn around the NCB Group, which he said appeared to be facing permanent damage, with broader implications for Jamaica.That plan, involving the investment of billions of dollars, allowed NCB to retroactively declare a small profit of just over $50 million in April 1998.
But when Hylton then set about divesting the Government’s 75 per cent stake in the institution in 2000, he found that what he thought would be a simple task would be anything but..it was going to be difficult.
“I received a rude awakening,” Hylton said in his letter and to the AGM,” as initially, I could not find a single investment bank willing to accept the assignment .”
“One told me that if he owned shares in a bank that bought the Government’s shares in NCB, he would immediately sell his shares in that bank because he would view that bank’s management as incompetent. Another told me he would not sully the reputation of his organisation by being associated with the sale of the shares in NCB,” Hylton said.
Hyton, despite the hurdles, ploughed ahead by directly contacting CEOs and senior executives at several banks operating in the region. Their responses were similar, but one in particular, stuck out.
“One CEO told me that what I was trying to sell was not a bank; he said it was an ugly monkey”, Hylton said.
Meanwhile, another said, “they would only consider purchasing if the government as part of the deal guaranteed them a minimum return on the capital they invested and protection from currency depreciation,” he said.
Eventually, Hylton found an investment bank willing to take the deal of selling NCB shares. But their efforts proved futile.
“One day, having heard about AIC and Michael Lee-Chin, the Jamaican-Canadian billionaire, I told them to enquire if he might be interested. They sent him a teaser memorandum, and we engaged in negotiations that lasted over a year,” Hylton said.
Lee-Chin, listening to Hylton while sitting at the head table at the AGM, demonstrated how the memorandum worked as bait by using a finger to symbolise a hook pulling him by the cheek.
Despite Lee-Chin’s interest, after a year had passed, the investment bank refused to pursue the deal any further, especially as they knew Lee-Chin had received professional advice to stay away from NCB. They refused to give it one more shot, causing Hylton to try on his own.
“So, in early 2002 I travelled to Canada alone to meet with Michael Lee-Chin in Burlington. On arriving at Michael’s office and being ushered into his meeting room, I saw him accompanied by two of his advisors.”
Hylton, knowing that the advisors had a negative view, asked to speak with Lee-Chin alone, to which he agreed. Hylton then gave him his pitch.
“Michael, I’m not here to sell you a bank. I am here to sell you a vision of a bank. I am not here to sell you what the bank is today. I am here to sell you what it could become,” Hylton told Lee-Chin.
By the end of the meeting, Lee-Chin was on-board, and they agreed a price and shook hands on the deal.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” Hylton said.
At this point Lee-Chin spoke up and said, “Patrick, I thought you said your weren’t a salesman”.
“I’m not,” replied Hylton. “I am speaking from the heart.”
Back to his address, Hylton said, “During my tenure with NCB, we have moved from being a bank that no one thought could be sold, and a bank that was referred to as an ‘ugly monkey’ to becoming the top financial institution in Jamaica.”
“From that position as the leading financial institution domiciled in Jamaica, we have gone on to become a leading financial conglomerate in the Caribbean represented in over 20 territories as a result of our acquisition of a majority stake in regional powerhouse Guardian Group,” he said.
LESSONS FROM THE PAST FOR THE JOURNEY AHEAD
Hylton said there are four primary principles that contributed to the group’s success over the years, and which will ensure its continued success. He then listed those principles.
1. Dream Big — NCB has set “bold aspirations” and then sought to achieve well beyond those aspirations.
2. The Power of the Mind — “NCB’s success as an institution started with our belief in spite of all the naysayers that our dream was possible. We are writing our own story,” Hylton said.
3. The Value of Persistence in the Face of Challenges — “Anything of great value is cloaked in layers of challenges, and you must persist in reaping the rewards,” Hylton said.
4. Challenges are Opportunities in Disguise — “It is important to embrace challenges and seek to convert them into real opportunities,” Hylton said. “If Michael Lee-Chin had walked away from this challenging bank, the opportunity to transform this organisation and realise its value would have been missed”, Hylton said.
Under the new strategy, dubbed NCB Accelerate, the group is setting out to become a world-class Caribbean financial ecosystem by 2024.
The four main pillars of that aspiration, according to Hylton, are:
Strong financial performance
Digital to the core.
“We are on our journey from good to great and from great to amazing,” Hylton told shareholders.
“My fellow shareholders, I ask you also to believe and to continue on this journey with us as we accelerate to a new frontier in 2024,” Hylton ended.