- Charles Mudiwa, CEO of Stanbic Bank, is courting in a small conference room at a country club that asked not to be mentioned in this article.
- Skilled executives carrying studious cups, files and laptops enter and leave this room to have a meeting with him.
- Mr. Mudiwa, a Zimbabwean, started his executive career in 2002 at Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe managing retail banking operations before becoming Director of Standard Bank in South Africa, CEO of Standard Bank Malawi and then of Stanbic Bank Zambia.
Charles Mudiwa, CEO of Stanbic Bank, is courting in a small conference room at a country club that asked not to be mentioned in this article. Skilled executives carrying studious mugs, files and laptops come in and out of this room to have a meeting with him.
Mr. Mudiwa, a Zimbabwean, started his executive career in 2002 at Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe managing retail banking operations before becoming Director of Standard Bank in South Africa, CEO of Standard Bank Malawi and then of Stanbic Bank Zambia. He took on his current role in Kenya in 2018.
After nearly three decades in financial services, the blood of banking runs through its vein and this is reflected in its disposition.
An avid reader and a man drawn to deeper existential questions about purpose and legacy, he spoke with JACKSON BIKO a biting morning.
How many children do you have?
Is this the first question? [Loud laughter]
This is not a trick question.
[Laughing] I have five biological children, two stepchildren and three grandchildren.
What do you remember the day your first child was born?
Oh yes! I even have a visual image of it. I was in Harare. It was morning and we were at my father’s house. I remember that my father gave him the name of Tawanda, which in Shona means “we are now many”. I still remember where we were sitting in the living room and my dad was giving me a talk about being a dad. I was 20 years old.
You are in your late 50s, what decade of your life do you fondly remember and why?
My early thirties. This is when I moved on to executive level leadership, the C suite. But it was also when I started to be clear about what I wanted to be, where I was going and where I was going. wanted to be. I look at life in four phases. The first is what I call the knowledge phase; education and so on.
The second is the first phase of accumulation; you leave your mother’s house, you buy a stove, a refrigerator, etc. Each shilling then counts. Then the third is the status phase or the hierarchy phase. Here you are wondering; who am I? I’ve seen people quit their jobs because they were told you were going to be a director. Even though this job is small, but they will have a card that says manager, they will move out. They are more concerned with a certain title.
The last phase is where you refresh yourself. I call this the fulfillment phase. And at this point it’s not about accumulation, hierarchy and title anymore, it’s what you can give. Suddenly you don’t worry about these things anymore. What am I donating to? How do I give back and what can I do differently?
I am at this point, people may differ but I think so. [Chuckles].
Of all of these steps, which one got the most activity and produced the most heat for you?
The second and third stages because I was trying to settle down and find myself. It is a time of great activity and effort.
When do you think you entered yourself as a man?
Around the age of 35.
You mentioned the shilling that matters most in the second stage of life. Guess the shilling doesn’t mean too much to you right now, does it?
[Pause] I don’t think it’s the amount of money you have, but the needs you have and how you meet them. You know most of us tend to think that a lot of money makes a big difference. It’s about how you use what little you have. So even if you have a small amount of money, if you use it well, it can still give you the same level of happiness as someone who has 20 times more than you.
Your definition of success must have changed over time, I’m curious how you defined success at 43.
I don’t define success at all. I define the meaning. Because success means you’ve been measured by a standard that says you’ve got four cars, three houses, which are material things. Importance means you are measured by the impact you make. Success depends on what you accumulate, which is a relative measure. But the meaning is more important than the success because the meaning is about the impact. There is a book I love to read called “Have a Little Faith” by Mitch Albom. He talks about the first and the second death. He says some people die, are buried and forgotten. Then others are immortalized. Think of William Shakespeare who died hundreds of years ago but is still “alive”. We still read his books. We quote it. This is the meaning.
What are you fighting with now as a man in his fifties?
Now the spirit wills but the flesh is not. [Laughs] I’m generally healthy and fit, but I’m not 20 anymore. It’s funny because I feel internally I’m still the same. I feel like my soul has not aged, I have the same soul I had as a child. But all around you the world reminds you of your age.
In Zimbabwe, I have noticed how the young boys who help you park in the city have spoken to me over the years. At first they called me “my big brother”, then mukoma (my older brother), then “my father”, then me seguru (my uncle) and now baba. [Laughs] It’s interesting to see me transition all of these phases of life through their eyes.
When were you most afraid?
I don’t remember a time when I was scared. I am an optimistic person so I always have a positive outlook on life. People say I am an encouragement. Like this week, I told everyone, and anyone, that the question they should be asking themselves is “what can Covid-19 do for me?” You can become a victim of Covid, stay paralyzed, and wait. Or we can say, okay, what opportunities are opening up thanks to Covid? What can I do differently?
If you met someone for dinner, dead or alive, who would it be and what might you ask?
[Pause] I would like to meet God. I would ask him what his purpose is for the world. But if he’s a human being, I think Nelson Mandela would be a great person to have a conversation with. Tenacity, focus, determination is something that many of us don’t have. I read a lot of his books, it would be nice to understand what kept him going. How did he do it?
What do you think is the difference between having children and having grandchildren?
When you have grandchildren, you have fun without the cost and responsibility. [Laughter] I am not responsible for this. And sometimes you can see them frustrating their kids like they did to you. There is joy in that. [Chuckles]
On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you now?
These are always delicate questions. But roughly, I would say 8 more. The reality is that you are doing your time and you can decide if you want it to be a cloudy day or a sunny day. You largely drive your weather, no matter what. My advice to everyone is to use your time and decide how you want it.