Janine Diagou rises to number 2 in family company

janine diagou

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As head of banking of NSIA Group, Janine Diagou prepares to introduce company shares on the regional stock exchange.

When Janine Bénédicte Diagou joined the family insurance and banking business in 1999, it wasn’t guaranteed that she would be running it one day.

But 17 years later, she is group managing director and head of the banking division at NSIA Group, a leading insurer in French-speaking Africa based in the Ivory Coast, and the number two to her father, Jean Kacou Diagou, who founded NSIA Group in 1995 and serves as its president.

These are busy times for the Diagous as their company, which has pursued an aggressive growth strategy, prepares to take their bank public and introduce shares on the regional stock exchange for eight West African countries, including Ivory Coast.

For Janine Diagou, that has meant months of travel to meet with boards of subsidiaries in the region to smooth the way for the initial public offering, which will enable the bank to raise capital.

Diagou studied business in England, France

Janine Diagou studied business and finance in Paris and in London, obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration in France and a Master of Science degree in finance in England.

After she finished her studies in 1995, she joined Citibank in Abidjan, and then moved to Mobil Group ACOE as an internal auditor.

She said she took what was essentially a demotion to join her father’s company at his request in 1999, trading an executive role at Mobil Group for the more modest role of auditor at NSIA.

Her father was forming a new auditing group and asked her to join as a simple auditor.

“He asked me to cut my salary in half. I was not very excited at first, especially since I did not know the insurance industry. So we had to work hard to prove that I deserved my place,” she said.

Skepticism, then success

She said she faced skepticism and took pains to avoid being perceived as having the job because she was the daughter of the boss, including addressing him as “mister president.”

She rose to become financial director of the group and then took charge of strategic development. She assumed her current position in 2011.

She said she and her father never had a game plan for her advancement.

“He never promised me anything and, believe me, he did not ease the task either. I think in my job, I won his trust,” she said.

Progress for women in business

She believes her success is a victory for women in business.

“Convincing men in industry of your competence is not simple in Africa,” she said. “The main challenge was to prove again and again that I was capable of doing the job at least at the same level as men — and even better.”

She said she and her father have not reached a stage of discussing succession. Instead she is focused in gaining investor confidence that the company is sustainable.

Family, private investors having holdings

NSIA currently owns nearly 80 percent of the bank, with the family holding 60 percent and the remaining 20 percent in the hands of private investors. National Bank of Canada bought a 20.9 percent share in the bank for approximately $94 million in 2015.

NSIA Bank, formerly known as BIAO-CI is part of the financial group NSIA, which is a leading insurance provider in 12 countries across West and Central Africa. NSIA also owns a bank in Guinea. The company reported revenue of $3.3 million in 2014 and Jean Diagou forecast revenue would increase by 10 percent in 2015.

Few details of the initial public offering have been made public and no date for the stock sale has been announced.

Ivorian law requires companies to offer at least 10 percent of their shares to be listed on the exchange.

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