L-R: Wife of the new President of African Insurance Organization (AIO), Dr. (Mrs) Tonia Smart,  standing by her husband Mr Tope Smart being decorated by Winner of the Africa Insurance Organization (AIO) hall of fame, Mr Elhassani Muhammed and Chancellor of Swearing in and representative of the outgoing AIO President and Group Managing Director/CEO, Africa Re, Dr Corneille Karekezi at the closing gala dinner of the 2021 AIO Conference and General Assembly in Lagos


By Julius Elusakin — The African Insurance Organization held her 47th Conference and Annual General Assembly this week (4th to 8th September 2021) in Lagos after the global pandemic denied one of the continental largest associations from holding the event in 2020. The Association which came into being in the year 1972 in Mauritius with the objectives of promoting a healthy insurance and reinsurance industry in Africa and inter-African co-operation in insurance currently has three hundred and fifty-four members from forty-eight African countries and sixteen associate members from ten non-African countries.

Nigeria did not only host the continent but one of the captains of insurance industry in Nigeria was elected as the president to lead the organisation.  Ms. Delphine Traore, Chief Operations Officer of Allianz Africa handed over the mantle of leadership to our own doyen of insurance industry, Mr Tope Smart, the Group Managing Director of NEM Insurance Plc. Mr Smart, an alumnus of Harvard Business School, and insurance graduate with many awards from prestigious University of Lagos is one of the very few Nigerian doyens like Sir Ogala Osaka to lead the continental organization.

There are different schools of thought about leadership. Some believe leaders are born. Some believe leaders are made. However, the thought postulated by Dr John Adair, a renowned leadership professor that “leaders emerge” is the best way of describing the true leaders indeed. Destiny and hard work play a key role in the emergence of true leaders. This can be said of Mr Tope Smart. “The reward of good work is more work”. Ever since I heard this statement, I have found it to be true. “If I performed well, more responsibilities and expectations would come my way” says Francesca Elisia. More works come with greater responsibility. This axiom illustrates the trajectory trend of Mr Tope Smart, the African Insurance Organization new president. Mr Smart, an unassuming personality in the insurance industry did not just leaped to the top. His doggedness and hard work which always comes with success is just the simple magic.

With over two decades experience as a chief executive, Mr Smart has successfully turned around two insurance companies from moribund state to a toast of the industry and choice of insuring public in Nigeria. Within five years of assuming leadership at the defunct Vigilant Insurance Limited, Mr Smart carried out a strategic restructuring which returned the company back to a profitable state. Mr Smart wedged the same wonder after successful merging of old NEM Insurance Company with Vigilant Insurance Company sequel to the 2007 recapitalization regime.

Under his watch, NEM Insurance Plc within a decade, recorded an assets growth rate of three hundred and forty-seven percent from six billion naira to thirty-one billion naira and gross premium growth rate of two hundred and forty-five percent from six billion naira to twenty-two billion naira between 2010 and 2020. The general reserve was moved from accumulated loss of thirteen million naira in 2006 to positive retained earnings of six billion naira in 2020. In April this year, NEM Insurance Plc was named most profitable company (insurance industry sub-sector) at the Nigeria Investor Value Award (NIVA 2021) which was jointly organised by Nigerian Stock Exchange and Businessday Media Limited.  On 3rd January 2019 The Businessday Newspaper named Mr Smart among the top ten CEOs that delivered most value to the shareholders in 2018. He is also a two-time winner of the Businessday Top 25 CEOs Award. Just to mention a few out of several awards credited to Mr Smart. According to the Nigerian Insurers Association’s Digest 2019, NEM Insurance Plc was rated number one in motor insurance for the last five years and also the leader in general accident and marine& aviation policies.

The good speed and success recorded by my Group Managing Director was possible through faith in God plus hard work and commitment to the stakeholders’ loyalty. He is well acceptable among peers, management, directors, staff, shareholders, and intermediaries – especially the insurance brokers. He has consistently demonstrated the attribute of level five leadership. If Jim Collins is to conduct another research on the companies that have moved from “good to great” -either for Nigeria or globally, the name of Mr Smart will surely be on the call with the leaders like Jack Welch of General Electric (GE) and Darwin Smith of Kimberly Clarke. These are silent leaders without “bravado suit” who have transformed their various organizations to great level. Mr Smart’s paradoxical blending of humility with “professional will” contributed immensely to his success.

Mr Smart played a vital role in the industry both at Nigerian Insurers Association (NIA) and as a member of The Council at Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN). In 2018, He was elected as the 23rd Chairman of Nigeria Insurers Association. His landmark achievements – which he christened “Insurance First Agenda” remains indelible. The impact of Nigerian Insurers Association under his leadership during the spark of pandemic in 2020 attracted Presidential commendation. In 2014, he was appointed by the Federal Government as Co-Chairman of Insurance Industry Transformation Committee. These good works have brought him more works, more successes, and more honours. And now the new role as the 47th President of the African Insurance Organization.    

It is my prayer that our good God will give my GMD a greater success as he moves the organization to the next level in Jesus name. Congratulations Sir.

Julius Elusakin is a staff of NEM Insurance Plc, wrote this from Lagos