Career Profile

An Interview with Richard Byarugaba, Managing Director of National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Uganda

While studying Statistics & Economics at Makerere University, Richard Byarugaba secured his first job at Standard chartered Bank where he counted cash. After graduating, he rejoined the bank as a teller. Here, he developed a stellar work ethic which has proved to be invaluable in his entire career. He gradually climbed the ladder, going to work on an international secondment programme in England in charge of the Africa region and later moving back home to take on different positions across the banking industry.

Today, we feature Richard on Accelerate Your Ambition to share with us his career progression through the years. He also gives insight into how he drives change in the modern workplace, and how  young people can position themselves to take advantage of any opportunities to advance their careers.

 

What was your first job out of university and how did you land that position? What was the greatest lesson you learned?

During my time at Makerere University, there was a change in semester sessions. This meant that our vacations were going to take longer so I needed something to keep me occupied. Standard Chartered Bank was looking for extra staff to count cash. There were no counting machines at the time and tellers were overwhelmed with the volume of work involved. I was hired to count cash. After this short stint, I went back to the university for my final year.

After University, I reapplied for a position at the same bank and since they were already aware of my work ethic and diligence, I was offered a job as a Teller. There was no automation those days so I learnt what exactly goes on in the back ground, that is, the basics of banking and how the accounting work was done. It was hard work because everything was manual. You wouldn’t leave without balancing your books and this helped me develop a strong work ethic. A lot of young people want to start off their career in high profile jobs but they need to understand that for banking careers, being a teller is a great starting point. On top of the knowledge that I acquired, I also developed the ability to look forward to and work for promotions. I don’t have a problem dealing with other people’s money. Being a teller gave me a strong background because I learnt how to be honest.

Can you give us an overview of your career path?

After working as a Teller, I was promoted to a Supervisor of ledger keepers who were responsible for reconciling customer accounts. I then became a Branch Accountant for a branch outside of Kampala. I was promoted and moved back to Kampala as a Financial Reports Officer. At that stage, it became clear to me that with my mathematical background I wanted to be an accountant. In this position, I helped set up the Finance Department of the bank and I later became the Finance Director.

I was then posted to England where I worked as the Regional Manager for Finance responsible for Africa. Here, I was curating all financial reporting information from all the African subsidiaries of Standard Chartered Bank. One of the major projects that I worked on included implementation of an accounting software to automate the finance processes. Because I had been working with finances, budgeting and strategy, the bank felt that I needed to run at least one of the businesses. I came back to Uganda to run the consumer banking arm where I undertook an acquisition of Cooperative Bank.

Thereafter, I was headhunted to work as a General Manager for a new bank, Nile Bank Limited where I later became Managing Director. Nile was later acquired by Barclays Bank and I worked as a Chief Operating Officer at Barclays. From there, I joined Global Trust bank as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). I then moved on to become the Managing Director/CEO at National Social Security Fund (NSSF). 

How did the secondment to England shape your career? What advice can you give to anyone considering secondment opportunities or working abroad?

Secondment teaches you a different kind of work ethic. I was independent. I got my first exposure to an open plan office. There was no one to look after me or develop a schedule for me. I developed my analytical skills and strategic decision making skills as I was running retail operations in Africa. It opened doors to other opportunities. I highly recommend international secondments. 

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You also made a transition from Finance Director to CEO. What advice can you give to anyone who wants to make a similar move?

As Finance Director, you are a technical numbers person who reports the news. But a CEO is a leader who needs to understand and manage different stakeholders. Consequently, a CEO needs a diverse skills set as s/he leads and manages other non-financial resources like people, shareholders, and any other resources that the business needs to succeed. I think that a Finance Director position provides the best foundation but a CEO’s role is much wider so you need to move on from just managing financial resources to managing new situations that are outside of your comfort zone.

Clearly, leadership skills are among your strengths. How can readers improve their leadership and management skills?

I believe a good leader should be inquisitive. Ask lots of questions about how and why things are the way they are. A leader needs to be a forward thinker and I think the best way to do that is by being immensely curious about everything around you. As a leader, you not only need technical knowledge but also passion. Get a good understanding of your business. Leadership is about influencing people and you have to be up for the challenge.  You also need to build your marketing and branding chops. Get involved in building your personal brand. Otherwise, someone will drive your agenda.

Climbing the ladder involves knowing how to deal with politics. How do you handle office politics?

Politics exists everywhere. Be aware that it will always be in all companies and not just public institutions. People will always want to play in their favour. I know that politics can cause division.  So, no matter what we do, we are trying to drive the company to success with everyone’s input. Having a good performance management system is a good practice so that hard workers are rewarded and no one tries to rig the system through politics.

What do you look out for in recruits?

I look for passion because with it, you will be able to overcome any difficulties that come along with building a career. Passion is what helps you do something with a smile. That is why I don’t have time for people who approach me about wanting “any” job. It is just not impressive. For senior roles, I look for someone who is well rounded and who has the technical abilities to do their work.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in their career?

Never give up. If you are looking for a job, how many applications have you sent out today? Does your CV stand out? I receive so many applications every day so appearance matters. The internet has provided young people with opportunities. Make use of them.  If you focus, you will be good at what you do. Once you start doing clerical work, do a professional course. To become a supervisor, take up some training in management. You need to know how to transition to the next role. Be proactive about your professional development.  In my own career, I undertake training every 10 years. It is important to upgrade your knowledge and catch up with the modern way of working.

 

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