A big man for a big job

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FEATURE - De­bra Matabvu

GE­ORGE Gu­va­matanga is a big man. Lit­er­ally. And he loves a big job. His booz­ers’ team - sorry, so­cial soc­cer side which is made up of ex-Bar­clays Bank em­ploy­ees knows this hulk­ing fig­ure is their go-to guy for goals on week­ends.

The job he has now, af­ter years of suc­cess in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor, is big­ger than lead­ing an am­a­teur foot­ball team to vic­tory.

But Zim­babwe’s new Sec­re­tary for Fi­nance and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment is un­daunted, tak­ing every­thing in his huge stride and still find­ing time to un­wind on the foot­ball pitch.

“If I am around, I play soc­cer ev­ery Sun­day with­out fail. There is a team of Bar­clays former em­ploy­ees and I am a striker.

“In soc­cer, when I de­scribe my­self, I say: I am not a bril­liant scorer, but I am a scorer of bril­liant goals. If you ask me the num­ber of goals I have scored since I started play­ing so­cial soc­cer, they are not many but they are bril­liant goals,” he beams un­abashed.

Since be­ing ap­pointed Sec­re­tary for Fi­nance on Septem­ber 19, 2018, Zim­bab­weans will want to see him score bril­liant goals on the eco­nomic front.

Grow­ing up in Kam­buzuma, Harare, Gu­va­matanga had both an ap­ti­tude and pas­sion for fig­ures, but never imag­ined that he would some day be the bearer of the na­tional purse.

Don­ning a navy blue slim-fit suit and with his cu­tomary clean-shave, the 47-year-old last week opened up on the story of his life.

“I started work­ing at a very young age at Olivine on an ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gramme as a lab tech­ni­cian in 1989,” he says.

“Dur­ing that pe­riod, Govern­ment, in a bid to en­hance sci­ence sub­jects, in­tro­duced Ex­tended Sci­ence and only a few se­lected stu­dents sat for ex­am­i­na­tions for that sub­ject, and I was one of them.

“I was good at the sub­ject and came up with very good grades; thus, I was cho­sen for the ap­pren­tice­ship although my pas­sion was in ac­count­ing. I loved ac­count­ing, I was good with fig­ures and wanted to be a banker. More­over, one of my sis­ters, who is late now, was work­ing at a bank, so the mo­ti­va­tion was al­ready there.”

Fate would have its way, and af­ter six months with Olivine, he was in­vited for an in­ter­view at Bar­clays Bank.

“Although I was al­ready work­ing, I re­alised I could not turn down the of­fer,” he says as he rem­i­nisces of the day.

“On the day of the in­ter­view, I just had enough money to take me part of the jour­ney. How­ever, that did not stop me.

“I re­mem­ber it was a very hot day in Septem­ber and I had to walk across town as the (bank) branch was not in the city cen­tre.

“I was wear­ing one of my white school shirts; and when I got there I was sweaty, the lin­ing on my col­lar now had a dirty line round it. Mr Chapoteka, the su­per­vi­sor, took no­tice of this and en­quired. I told him my predica­ment.

“I kept pes­ter­ing them about the job and fi­nally they gave in three weeks be­fore my 18th birth­day. My fa­ther had to sign my con­tract as my guardian. This was the be­gin­ning of a very long and suc­cess­ful bank­ing ca­reer,” he says.

Born in 1972, Gu­va­matanga went to Ku­rai Pri­mary School and Kam­buzuma High School in Harare.

In 1995, he earned a di­ploma from the In­sti­tute of Bankers of Zim­babwe, and 13 years later, he was on an Ex­ec­u­tive De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme with the Univer­sity of Chicago. In 2010, he at­tained a Mas­ter of Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Univer­sity of Lon­don.

His stint at the bank’s trea­sury de­part­ment was the first step to the na­tional Trea­sury.

“Trea­sury is not only part of me; it is in my blood,” he said.

“I ran one of the most suc­cess­ful trea­suries - very prof­itable, ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive and if you check with peo­ple who were part of that bank at that time, they will tell you that we ran a very tight and strong trea­sury unit.

“For the 29 years which I have been in the bank­ing in­dus­try, 13 of them were spent in the trea­sury de­part­ment.”

In 2008, Gu­va­matanga took over as CEO of Bar­clays Bank, a po­si­tion he held un­til 2017 when First Mer­chant Bank of Malawi took over the in­sti­tu­tion.

Although Bar­clays had be­come his sec­ond home, his de­par­ture was some­what ac­ri­mo­nious. But he has no hard feel­ings.

“I think for any in­sti­tu­tion or busi­ness, it is al­ways log­i­cal to have an op­por­tu­nity to de­cide on the lead­er­ship that they want.

“How­ever, it is also com­mon knowl­edge that to­gether with my col­leagues we had put in a bid to buy the bank, a cor­po­rate bid, but at the end of the day the choice is with the seller.

“It was very log­i­cal for me that when the new own­ers came, I de­cided to go out and start do­ing other things, set­ting up a fam­ily en­ter­prise.”

The op­por­tu­nity to join the Fi­nance Min­istry came in the most un­ex­pected of ways.

“The of­fer for the job ac­tu­ally came four hours be­fore ap­point­ment. Prior to that day, I did not know any­thing,” he chuck­led.

“The re­spon­si­ble au­thor­i­ties called me for a con­ver­sa­tion, which at first did not look like a job of­fer. It started off as a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion about the eco­nomic out­look, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween banks and Min­istry of Fi­nance.

“I thought they wanted some ad­vice and at the end of the con­ver­sa­tion that is when I was of­fered the job.

“When I checked my phone four hours later, there were 352 What­sApp mes­sages, 97 Twit­ter mes­sages and no­ti­fi­ca­tions, there was a list cir­cu­lat­ing on Twit­ter, and my name was sec­ond on the list.”

The staunch Arse­nal Foot­ball Club en­joys fam­ily time, do­ing all he can in his busy sched­ule to re­lax with his wife and six chil­dren.

The foot­ball junkie be­lieves things are look­ing up for his team ever since the ap­point­ment of the new coach, Unai Emery - but he misses Arsene Wenger.

“I also love soc­cer. I am an Arse­nal sup­porter. It is quite bet­ter now with­out Arsene Wenger, although I liked him,” he says in a re­laxed tone.

It is not all work and foot­ball. Some­how he finds time to box­ing and read­ing busi­ness and lead­er­ship books.

On his desk right now is “The First 90 Days: Proven strate­gies for get­ting up to speed faster and smarter” by Michael D Watkins.

One on­line syn­op­sis of the book says it deals with con­quer­ing the chal­lenges of tran­si­tions. An ap­pripri­ate read for the big man with a big job.

Mr Gu­va­matanga

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