‘Seeking non-vanilla solutions to complex challenges’

As the new chief executive officer of RMB Namibia, Philip Chapman is tapping into 17 years of banking experience gained in various countries. He shares his thoughts on change, challenges and opportunities.

17 February 2021 | Business

We are no longer competing with only local or regional players for investments.

B7: You were born and bred in Gobabis. As a child, did you ever dream of being the CEO of one of the leading investment banks? What shaped your dreams when you were young?

PC: I am an entrepreneur at heart! I always had a vision of owning my own business or to be part of a successful business. I certainly had a dream of playing a meaningful role in a business or organisation, while it was perhaps not as defined as being a CEO of a leading investment bank. RMB, as an organisation with a very entrepreneurial culture, is certainly a place where one can play a meaningful role and develop outside the realms of a traditional corporate or bank.

My dreams were shaped by understanding the “world is your oyster”. My parents always encouraged and supported us to embrace what might be possible without necessarily knowing how or if it can be achieved.

B7: You have been in the financial services sector for 17 years and worked in many countries in a variety of roles, including banking and private equity. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned?

PC: A career journey is to my mind very similar to a “growth path” one embarks in a lifetime of learning. This position learning life lessons as a continuous constant on this journey. Given the amount of learning or lessons we learn along this journey, there is certainly an unquantifiable amount of learning which happens. If I must share a few specific ones I would pause at the following:

Change is a constant.

One needs to become comfortable to adapt to change, be able to facilitate change, manage change and be excited about change. The speed at which change is taking place, both locally and globally, will inevitably result in significant challenges for individuals and organisations who are not comfortable and willing to embrace change. On the upside, being able to leverage the positive energy change can be a key differentiator to your personal or corporate brand.

Another key lesson learned was finding the correct balance between work, play, family, faith, health and fitness.

Certain stages of one’s life and career have different areas of priority. Try to work our fairly quickly what is needed in what quantum during each phase. Finding the correct balance is ultimately critical!

Pursue opportunities: there is a much higher possibility of success than you may want to believe. People are often scared of taking the next step, but go outside your zone of comfort and imagine what might be possible.

B7: What are the highlights of your career thus far?

PC: Having had the privilege to work abroad for a few years, as well as in regional teams across Africa are certainly highlights of my career. The positive of understanding how different economies, organisations and cultures operate is critical in growing one’s own frame of reference as to what is possible. Having recently being appointed CEO of RMB Namibia is certainly the biggest highlight of my career to date.

B7: How would you describe the investment banking environment in Namibia currently? What opportunities are available?

PC: The retail and commercial banking landscapes are definitely significantly bigger than the investment banking part. The investment banking part is however a very important part of the Namibian banking landscape. It provides non-vanilla solutions to complex challenges, as one often requires “out-of-the-box” thinking to land the right solution for your client. RMB focuses on delivering on this through it “solutionist thinking” approach.

The Namibian economy is in a difficult place at the moment. This certainly impacts on the landscape of opportunities which are available, but does not mean there are no opportunities available.

One of the key opportunity sets would be to align with the economic transformation we are seeing regionally and globally. There is a key drive towards “greener and cleaner” economies across the world. Namibia has already made great strides in the solar energy sector.

In addition to this, Namibia is certainly one of the countries in Africa which should be able to attract significant foreign investment, once an investor-friendly environment is created. This is a big opportunity to build on. Supporting our RMB clients with sophisticated solutions are definitely also top of mind as we navigate the complexity of the current economic circumstances.

B7: What are the major challenges and how can they be overcome?

PC: The biggest challenge we currently face is probably the weak economic performance we have in Namibia. This is impacting on a number of areas such as employment, revenue generation, taxes, asset prices etc.

There will have to be a collective focus and enhanced co-operation between private and public sector to address some of the key issues in this regard. It is not a challenge which can be solved with a one-dimensional approach, and certainly will call for policymakers, political role players and private sector to pull together to solve these challenges.

B7: Investment in Namibia has fallen significantly over the past years. Can Namibia realistically compete in a world plagued by the Covid-19 pandemic and economic challenges?

PC: Namibia has a few niche areas in which we can certainly play a significant role and compete on a global scale. The current circumstances and some of the policy regime do not necessarily speak to be able to do this effectively at the moment. However, with a few changes Namibia will certainly be able to regain its position as a preferred investment destination.

It is also important that we realise we are no longer competing with only local or regional players for investments, but that investors consider multiple global investment options before making investment decisions. Namibia and its people need to ensure we play our part to enable Namibia as an investment destination.

B7: On a personal note: I’m sure you could find a job anywhere in the world. Why did you come back to Namibia?

PC: Once Namibia is in your blood you just cannot get away from it.

It is great to obtain global experience, but Namibia offers a unique proposition as a country and is certainly great place to live and work. I find it a place where one can find balance. Namibia also offers unique opportunities one can pursue which you can only do here. We have a country with great infrastructure, strong rule-of-law focus and a vibrant private sector, to name a few. It is just a great place to enjoy life!

B7: What is your advice to young Namibians?

PC: Set great, big and audacious goals for yourselves.

It takes a certain level of determination to be successful. At times the journey will be difficult and you may struggle to find the right level of motivation, but don’t give up. Consider different options, look at different ways to achieve whatever goals it is you want to pursue. You will get there!

B7: Any closing thoughts?

PC: We are all in this together. Let’s work together as a nation, as business, as private and public sectors to pursue the recovery of the Namibian economy.

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