Building Skyscrapers

Uzoma Dozie
4 min readDec 20, 2023


I recently caught up with Fola Adeola; you’ll know him — the founder of Guaranty Trust Bank [GTB] and my first boss in banking [not, as you may have assumed, PGD]. Fola was the reason I ended up working and staying in banking. His career and vision continues to be a reference point for me, and he continues to be a mentor.

After my degrees and a couple of false starts in corporate jobs in the UK, I came back to Nigeria to do my youth service, and then had two options in terms of sectors to go into — oil or banking. I met with Fola Adeola — who owned a bank, at the age of 40, and a cool bank at that. GTB wasn’t a staid, traditional banking vibe — it was about lifestyle, and people, and even co-workers greeted each other on first name terms. Circa 1992, this was actually quite revolutionary. There was structure and governance, of course. But there was also room to gauge sentiment and the mood of the team; little things like sometimes you’d find something small in your account to keep things going — unexpected, sporadic bonuses that were tokens of appreciation, of understanding the current situation. Fola knew how to read the room, and act upon it.

Fola’s approach to workplace culture and accountability levels also inspired my own; he had an open door policy whereby even a small small boy like I was at the time, could go to the MD and highlight a complaint about someone else in the company. Fola would pick up the phone and ask the person to repeat what was said, but to him. No space for he said, she said, wahala. He nurtured transparency through this system — a challenge system that went all the way to leadership. Why did this work? Because leaders were forced to lead and be accountable; if you said something, or did something, with the challenge system in place, any junior could come and question you — and it was your role, your task to answer those questions. Good luck to any leader who turned around to say “who are you to question me?”. That would never have cut it at GTB.

GTB wasn’t about banking, it was about people; much like Diamond Bank. So when I moved over to Diamond Bank, the culture transition wasn’t extreme. People first. Fundamentally what both organisations were really good at was bringing great minds together, in an enabling environment, to help people. We just happened to be helping people with banking services.

Fola Adeola, and PGD, came into financial services to dismantle the notion of banking from the first generation banks. They were the first wave of what we would call fintechs today. Innovative, nimble, customer centric. This is how I’ve built Sparkle, and I’m trying to preserve this essence, this energy and approach and carry the torch for what kept me in banking. Not, I would add, as a banker, but as someone who wants to bring people together. So when I spoke with Fola recently, and we discussed life and then Sparkle, the conversation left me energised [and I realised how fortunate that 20 years on I am still able to be his mentee].

Giving him the extended elevator Sparkle pitch, he remarked on the integrity of the idea of Sparkle and that if you have an idea with high integrity [which is even truer in our Nigerian low-trust market] it will sell. This is music to any entrepreneur’s ears; behind the shiny product[s] we have built, he recognised the motivation behind it all.

His second point was that he saw how we are building — downwards first. The foundations of a building aren’t the sexy part — they don’t excite everyone; but as is the case when you’re building a skyscraper, the vast majority of interest comes at the unveiling. But in order to appreciate and enjoy a magnificent edifice, you have to build down. For a bungalow, the foundations can be relatively shallow. For a skyscraper, they need to be unfathomably deep. Sparkle is building for many, many floors — skyscraper levels. We are not building to be a one dimensional bungalow. So for the past two years, in reality, very few have seen the intensity or intricacy of the building phase. I have consistently used the term Nail it to scale it to demonstrate my approach, but my Oga Fola Adeola has captured the Sparkle approach in a far pithier analog. As is his way.

2022, 2023 were our foundational years. We built downwards. In place we have automated systems. We have market-tested products. We have licences. We have solid partners. We have customer service. We have tweaked and refined and challenged our own approaches during this foundation building process. My door has been open to everyone at Sparkle so that every member of the team can come and challenge me and tell me how they know something can be even better.

2024 — we will be layering on storey upon storey as we build our own magnificent edifice