16 October 2021, Jolof
What Tidjane Thiam was able to do is amazing. But, for the purpose of Africa’s future, we must not be blindsided with such success.
“Tidjane Thiam,” a well known name in the Financial Services industry, and pride for Africans. His name is associated with success. He successfully led two global European financial services companies, with outstanding results. In fact, “Tidjane Thiam made Credit Suisse profitable again” when the company was experience severe downfall. When he was at Prudential, “Prudential’s profits doubled and its stock price tripled, and a BBC host described Mr. Thiam as having 'soared through top-flight institutions with a heady cocktail of crystal-clear intellect, fizzing ambition, and a healthy dash of charm.'” (The New York Times)
These are great success stories despite everything we may encounter as Black men. And Tidjane Thiam was not an exception. In spite of his hard work, charisma, success… his skin color was still seen as an issue by some. He was seen as an outsider by the Swiss people despite saving Credit Suisse from collapsing. During his life in France, the French people never wanted him as chief executive officer (CEO) of anything, a behavior and attitude that all Africans know about France.
Being Black in Europe (and other places around the world) comes with a plethora of barriers. But by focusing on what he was able to control, Tidjane was able to put himself in places never reached by any other Black person in history. Becoming Chief Executive Officer of two major global financial services companies is an outstanding achievement. And as Black and Africans, we should all be proud of Tidjane Thiam for showcasing what we, Black people, are capable of.
To me, Tidjane Thiam is a role model from a professional life perspective. But, after carefully reflecting on its “racist” experience at Credit Suisse and in Switzerland, I believe that he is also part of the problems we Africans and Black people are currently facing. We are not respected because we have failed to build enough of what makes people respected: wealth.
Regardless what you may think about it, money talks and gives respect even to people “who do not deserve it.” Perception is “reality” even when it may be completely false. We are not respected as Africans today because of people’s perception of Africa: “a land full of resources, but with extreme poverty due to people’s laziness; a land that is unable to build strong companies and contribute enough in the world’s economy, etc.”
As African, I know that it is not true. Unfortunately, it is all about perception and the latter is hard to change in people’s mind. Words are not enough to change the narrative. We have to change it through actions, by building African wealth, by creating strong African owned companies not only for Africans and also companies that are ready to compete globally.
Tidjane is part of the problem because he is one of those successful African brains who have never thought about contributing in building wealth in Africa for Africans. As employees, they excel abroad in serving Western organizations by helping them make billions of dollars. They may possess some investments for themselves often time in Western financial markets and some properties in Africa such have a retirement house. Some of them even choose to retire outside of Africa and have no properties or investments in Africa.
Tidjane has turned around Credit Suisse by making it profitable again when the bank was losing billions. Thanks to Tidjane Thiam, the United Kingdom’s Prudential doubled its profits and tripled its stock price in a matter of few years.
But, aside from being part of the Cote d’Ivoire Government for a short period of time, what has Tidjane Thiam done for Africa, for Cote d’Ivoire or for Senegal? Has Tidjane Thiam built a company that can help Africans? Has Tidjane Thiam invested in young African companies to help them grow? Did he use his knowledge in wealth management to support African companies and professionals succeed, grow?
That is the problem with most African elites in the West. The “comfortable” lives they enjoy there are preventing them from taking a step back and think about what they can do for Africa. They face racism often; they encounter barriers in progressing in their career or keeping a leading job for a while. They are brainwashed to act as employees for life instead of business owners, African wealth creators. And that is the problem. Tidjane Thiam is part of that problem and should learn from Africans changing Africa like Aliko Dangoté, Yerim Sow, Youssou Ndour, Baba Diaw Itok, etc. because those Africans are creating jobs and building wealth in Africa for Africans.
Being an outstanding employee abroad is great as it showcases our abilities as Africans and Blacks, despite the racial barriers we encounter. What Tidjane Thiam was able to do is amazing. But, for the purpose of Africa’s future, we must not be blindsided with such success. Being an employee does not build wealth for Africa and Africans. And it is even worse if we only use our brain for the benefit of the West, forgetting that Africa needs to benefit from its people. We are millions of African people gaining knowledge abroad and still serving the West. The reality is that by staying employees, we are not helping in building wealth for Africa, creating companies for Africans. We are not using our knowledge and capital to help young African entrepreneurs grow their businesses. We are not even helping our governments optimizing the use of Africa’s natural resources. Instead, some of us choose to side with Western companies exploiting Africa’s natural resources to the detriment of the African population.
We, Africa’s elite employees abroad, are part of the problem. I am not saying that we should stop working abroad because that experience can also be valuable. What I am inviting each African to do is to dedicate a certain percentage (e.g.: 10%, 20%...) of his/her knowledge and capital for the benefits of Africans, but specifically, to help build African businesses, create African entrepreneurs, etc. Because that is the best way to build wealth, take control over our resources, grow Africa and earn the respect we deserve.
Photo: Credit Suisse
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