The definition of leadership in a corporate setting, Tis not one of titles and hierarchies anymore. It has become a lifestyle, ingrained into the consciousness of every aspiring entrepreneur or professional.
A present-day business leader has to ascertain the growth of the organization as well as his team members – especially in times like these, where a global pandemic has drastically changed the way the world functions.
Leaders who have managed to achieve this certainty and sustain the competency of their businesses, are definitely made of a different mettle. Through our edition, The 10 Most Creative CEO’s to Watch in 2020, we set out to seek such significant and inspiring business leaders, and one prominent name among them is Septimus ‘Bob’ Blake, the CEO of National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited.
Let us delve into Septimus’ story – one of inspiration, passion, and commitment to success.
Septimus started out with humble origins on a small farm in rural Jamaica. Despite not having all the material comforts of life, his parents invested early in ensuring that he had the right mindset.
“Though intangible, this mindset is the foundation of my life’s progress, and I will always be grateful to my parents for that,” says Septimus.
His parents urged him to focus on beating the odds and excelling, in spite of the circumstances. They also instilled in him an appreciation for speed and understanding the value of being a decent and respectful human being.
“They taught me to look at every job as an opportunity to learn, earn and to grow. To this day, these principles have remained the soundtrack of my personal and professional experiences,” he adds.
Septimus joined National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited in March 2002 as a fixed income trader – a role which involved identifying investment opportunities to increase fees, spread income, pricing, purchase and sale of financial instruments, and to analyze and forecast market conditions and trends in order to manage trading relationships.
A year later, he was promoted to bank treasurer with increased responsibility. This included the management and direction of the bank’s asset and liability, liquidity management, investment portfolio management and foreign exchange trading functions. Along with that portfolio, he assumed responsibility for the management of local financial institutions and correspondent banking relationships.
His role expanded again in 2013, as he was asked to manage the bank’s card issuing and acquiring business, along with the digital channels. He was recognized for doing transformative work in all those areas, leading to which in 2016, he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the bank.
This meant that he was now responsible for providing strategic oversight to the Treasury and Correspondent Banking; Payment Services – (card issuing and acquiring division); Corporate banking; Retail banking and all digital channels. Three years later, he was promoted to the Chief Executive Officer of the bank, responsible for providing strategic leadership to all divisions.
His key responsibilities currently include the strategic development of the organization so that our customer experience, employee experience, financial and risk management goals are appropriately set and achieved.
Septimus believes that throughout his life, he has been lucky to have had parents and mentors who constantly challenged him to be great by exposing his gaps and pushing him to close them. “They not only give answers, but also encouraged me to seek them out myself, which allowed me to learn, improve and grow,” he adds.
Septimus cultivated a voracious appetite for reading that has never left him to this day. Two books that have influenced his professional life are the oft-referred “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu and “Only the Paranoid Survive” by Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel.
His current favorite is “Hit Refresh”, by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “His story is one of being purpose driven, innovative and empathetic. This is reflected in his leadership of Microsoft and resonates well with me,” says Septimus.
Three leadership lessons from Andy Grove’s book that have guided Septimus’ decisions throughout his career, are encapsulated in the following quotes.
“You are always in danger, you are in danger of competitors, you are in danger of new ways of doing things, but most importantly you have a danger that the way you have conducted your business is going to lose relevance”
“You can be the subject of a strategic inflection point, but you can also be the cause of one” and “In technology, whatever can be done will be done”.
Sharing his opinions on what traits an ideal business leader must possess, Septimus says, “Leaders should be audacious. They are called to invent the future. However, the vision that guides them must be bold, solution-oriented and based on a deep obsession with consumer needs. Despite their grand aspirations though, today’s great leaders have to make decisions underpinned by data and execute with accuracy and speed.”
When asked on how he sustains his leadership acumen in this changing technological era, Septimus says that the rapid pace of technological change is a reward for the curious and restless mind. “Remaining in a state of continuous learning allows you to connect more dots that can lead you to your goal. However, no matter the level of one’s intellect, a strong team is critical to success,” he explains.
“Not only do you need people who are willing to learn from you, you also need people who are also focused on excellence in areas in which you may be deficient from whom you can learn. Once you have built that dream team you have to invest in creating an environment that allows them to flourish. Without that you’ll have a great team that won’t be able to achieve great results,” he adds.
Towards new horizons
In his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders, Septimus says, “Know your customers. The customer is the businesses. Be bold and decisive. Don’t be afraid to be the first mover. As the maxim says, ‘if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ In other words, don’t be afraid of collaborating.”
Talking about his foresight for NCB, Septimus says, “The great thing about the future is that it’s ours to invent, so there are no boundaries.”
“On the horizon though is a world class, digital bank with exceptional customer experience, and delivering value in exciting new ways. We are doubling down on our efforts to develop a culture of speed, innovation, execution, and resilience that is built around our customers’ needs. This will be done with a focus on embracing emerging technologies that give us the flexibility to adapt, evolve and empower our people,” he adds.
As for his own future endeavors, Septimus says he will be focused on learning, growing, and improving his effectiveness as a leader, and providing strategic clarity to the business.