18 February 2020 / Article

"I take risks when it comes to hiring my team"

Since the end of 2018, Paul-Harry Aithnard, 45, has headed the Ivorian subsidiary of Ecobank Group, which operates in 36 African countries and had a combined balance sheet of €8.4bn in 2018. Also a regional director of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), the Togolese national has worked for Ecobank since 2008. He gives us a sneak peek into his busy daily routine as a CEO.

 

On dividing his time between Abidjan and overseas trips each week

My schedule is divided into two parts. The first part covers my work in Abidjan, which takes up three days per week, and the second part involves my trips to the eight countries for which I’m responsible as a regional director of the UEMOA zone. When I’m in Abidjan, my days start pretty early. I wake up at 6 am, then I go to the gym for an hour and 15 minutes. I arrive at the office around 8:30 am or 7:30 am if I don’t go to the gym. Monday is usually very busy since on that day I have meetings with my assistant and the various management and executive committees. I spend the rest of my week having discussions with clients and teams (60%) and working on technical and professional matters (40%). The second part of my schedule fills up the end of the week and involves trips to Paris, London, Dakar and Bamako. These days are also really busy since I have to visit public and private sector clients with the local teams. Generally speaking, my work day lasts between 10 and 12 hours. When I’m in Abidjan, I usually end my day around 8 pm by having dinner with my family. I don’t go to bed before 10 or 11 pm.

 

What’s key: one-hour meetings 

What’s key is planning your time wisely. If you look at my agenda, you’ll say that it’s military style! From 9 to 9:30 am, I have a commitment, and from 9:30 to 10 am, another one. Everything happens on the dot. In the same vein, if a meeting has been scheduled to last an hour, it will last exactly an hour and not a second more. If a meeting goes on longer than it should, then I see it as an extended discussion that’s not about actually solving a problem. It’s extremely important that each meeting has a clear goal. What I mean by that is when there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, you lay out the options that are on the table and, at the end, you take a decision. I try to avoid meetings that are strictly administrative.

 

His profile: a manager who consults extensively

I’ve changed a lot since I took up the position as CEO of Ecobank in Côte d’Ivoire at the end of 2018. I’ve gone from having an individual management style to a collective, inclusive management style where I delegate much more than in the past. Problems don’t get solved by one person, but by a host of people together in a room. When you look at my day-to-day agenda, every matter is taken up with either my management committee or the two or three people concerned. This means that I make a lot of calls to consult with people and I don’t hesitate to promote talent. I take a lot of risks when it comes to hiring my team. I’m not afraid to put my trust in a young person who has demonstrated a good work ethic.

 

Work-life balance: separate the two 

In my first year, I took a gamble on sacrificing a large portion of my personal life so that I could dedicate myself to my job. I took over from a manager, Charles Daboiko, who did an amazing job for 12 years, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think I’ll continue like this for another year and then things will settle down. I’ve tried to set aside separate blocks of time for work and my personal life. For example, when I come home, I don’t work. I finish what has to be done at the office. If I come home at 8 or 9 pm, I try to spend one to two hours with my family. On the weekend, I try not to work at home. If I have work to do, I go to the office and spend a couple hours there. During busy periods, I force myself to follow this regimen. During the weekend, I relax and play sports, which gives me a chance to spend time with my friends.

 

Change diagnosis: delegate and train 

During the first year, I spent a lot of time handling operational issues to get a solid understanding of how things work. In the future, I’d like to be able to take a step back and focus on technology issues, which means that my team would be tasked with managing operational issues. I’m also really interested in human resource management and I’d love to be able to dedicate time to young people who show potential so that I can help them with their professional development.

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