Aristotle is famous, among other things, for saying that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This holds true most of the time, albeit to different degrees. However, ever so often, a person comes along who personifies this saying perfectly, that they are held up as the poster child for balance and equality.
On such person is the current Managing Director of the Republic Bank, Ghana, who has grown from a wide-eyed and green teenager, who was intent on quitting the job on the first day to becoming the hoary-haired sage who has served the bank across two continents and in various capacities for two score and two years and counting.
Below, we take a deep dive into how a multi-faceted personal and professional background has shaped one of Trinidad’s best exports. From the Caribbean Island known as the Rainbow Nation, to the nation at the centre of the world, even the Black and Shining Star of Africa, we get to know the banker, the seasoned professional, the ‘apostle of principle’, Farid Antar.
Background and early life
Farid was born, one of seven children, in Barataria, a small suburb east of Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad & Tobago, to a father, who was an immigrant from Lebanon and a mother fifth-generation Trinidadian of French descent some fifty-odd years ago.
Describing his heritage, he says, “I’m a mix of many things; Lebanese, French, Scottish and some indigenous Caribbean, that’s my mix but it’s not unique in Trinidad, where we call it a ‘callaloo’ – a mixture of everything.” With its extremely mixed ethnic heritage, the dual-island Caribbean nation has been described by many, including Pope John Paul II and Bishop Desmond Tutu as ‘The Rainbow Nation of the World’.
Aged four, he moved, along with his mother and siblings to the capital city, following the passing away of his maternal grandparents. Describing his upbringing as “communal,” he credits it for instilling in him, open-mindedness, which has served him all his life.
Little Farid was an active child, who excelled in the national sports of his homeland, particularly cricket but says he was “hopeless at football due to his two left feet.”
Despite losing his mother at a relatively young age and consequently being thrust into a role of significant responsibility before he was barely out of his teens, he credits his mother’s commitment to service and integrity as the foundation for his success in his personal and professional life.
Education and career journey
Mr. Antar began his educational journey at a prestigious, private elementary school. He later proceeded to the Woodbrook Government Secondary School, and despite the seeming gulf in class, he describes the latter as “some of the best five years of my life,” because he made friends from different backgrounds – ethnic, religious, social. Here, he completed his GCE ‘O’ levels with the intention of proceeding to the university to study towards a degree in accounting.
During his gap year, in 1979, he joined the then-Barclays Bank (it became Republic Bank in 1982), during which time he was accepted into a university in Canada. He was, however, unable to go to the university owing to a number of factors, and his manager at the time was happy for him to stay at the bank and take the bankers’ exams.
Beginning in 1983, he began studying for his bankers’ badges and had a stint in England, and qualified as an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, UK, in 1987 with an emphasis in Banking, Corporate Finance, and Securities Law. He credits his manager as being very instrumental in the process, making him fall in love with banking, a far cry from his initial sentiments.
Recalling his first day on the job, he said: “I lived a few blocks away from the bank and I went home for lunch and I said, ‘Not me. I don’t like this job’, and I took off my clothes and said I am not going back. My elder brother asked what I was doing and literally ran me around the house and forced me to get back into my clothes and that is one of the best things anyone has done to me. I’ve never looked back since.”
Fully focused on his new career path and following a conversation with another mentor in the bank Mr. Antar began self-studying to become an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators, a feat he achieved in 1995.
“You had to be referred, she referred me and I took it, all self-study but it truly is one of the best programmes I’ve ever done in my life. It gave a broad understanding of business from Human Resources (HR) to costing, to company secretarial law, amongst others.” Based on his accomplishments, submitted justifications and was awarded Fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries in 2015.
Despite not having a conventional first degree, all qualifications he has attained have been post-graduate-grade. “I have been unable to take the one for the Fellowship of Bankers but I met the local president and he joked that we will see about that before I leave Ghana,’ he recounted with a grin.
Other programmes he has undertaken include Bank Marketing and Management, from the School of Bank Management and Marketing, New York (1996); FIBA AMLCA Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism, Florida State University (2013); and an Executive Education – Advance Management Program, from the prestigious Columbia Business School (2018).
Beginning in the year 2000, he spent time abroad, albeit still in the Caribbean. By 2004, he was the Senior Manager responsible for Retail Delivery and Marketing at Republic Bank (Barbados) Limited (formerly Barbados National Bank Inc) and also led the implementation of a new core banking and associated systems for the Bank, in his role as Senior Manager for Business Transformation.
He returned to Trinidad in 2011, where he took up the position of General Manager, Corporate Operations & Process Improvement, a post he kept until 2017, he became the Chief Risk Officer of the Republic Financial Holdings Limited. In this capacity, he had oversight of the Bank’s subsidiaries, including the one in Ghana.
Move to Ghana
Following the early retirement of Robert Le Hunte, who was the Founding Managing Director when Republic Bank made its foray into the Ghana scene in 2015, and the retirement of Anthony Jordan after him, the search was in full force for a capable Managing Director to steer the affairs of the bank at a crucial time in its journey and the wider industry.
The task historically had proven difficult as not too many persons were enthused about leaving home for a faraway adventure, especially when family responsibilities were factored in. Mr. Antart, however, was interested in the prospects, challenges, and opportunities of an overseas assignment, and says he had hoped to take up such a position, ideally as MD, but was open to any position which best served the bank’s interest.
The opportunity, he says, came up late in 2018. Having visited the country briefly and with his experience overseeing the governance of subsidiaries, as Chief Risk Officer and being well acquainted with the issues with the bank in Ghana, he was able, together with his wife, to decide on the opportunity in less than 12 hours.
His background and experiences – personal and professional- set him up to be the Managing Director of the most diverse bank in Ghana – culturally and otherwise – at a time when it needs a firm yet humane leadership.
“We were met with open arms by the staff and the people and had a few colleagues join and some who were in Trinidad for extended periods. I think the experience that I’ve had across many areas of the bank has helped me help the team to improve. We have really made very good strides over the last 3 or 4 years, with the right foundation laid by my predecessors,” he said.
Awards and recognition
During his time in Barbados, he was recognised as the Employee of the Year following the implementation of a new bank-wide system. In 2017, he experienced, “one of his proudest moments in life,” when he was recognised by his peers with ‘The Spirit of Republic Award’ for exemplifying all five core values of the bank. He has gone on to introduce the award on his assumption of office in Ghana.
Farid Antar’s philosophy of life is captured in the following quotes.
- “You do not take anything with you other than your values and integrity.”
- “There is never the right time to do the wrong thing and also, there is never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
- “Just because others are not doing it doesn’t mean it is not right.”
- “Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it; autograph your work with excellence.”
He hopes to enjoy every minute of his retirement by traveling, philanthropy, and imparting knowledge when it comes in 2022; after almost 43 years of active service at Republic Bank.
In his own words
- On customer service
Customer service is very dear to me. It embodies all the values. We are a service organisation. Even in humanity, there is no greater calling than to serve your fellow man. It doesn’t mean that you are subservient or that you have to give in. We must respond, acknowledge and be empathetic.
- On dealing with adversity
We grow through adversity and for us at Republic Bank, it has shaped us into this resilient, relevant, and responsible organisation, and we are building upon that.
- On his aspirations for the bank
What I want to impart the most are the values of the organisation – Integrity, Professionalism, Customer Focus, Respect for the individual, Result orientation. I see bigger and better things for the bank, we have laid a firm foundation to learn and grow in sub-Saharan Africa, and Ghana was chosen as it was and remains ideal. There is still a lot more to be done but initiatives like AfCFTA make us optimistic.
- On Ghana
Ghana has all the ingredients for success but it doesn’t depend on material things only. It depends on the attitude of the people. Do people want to succeed? We need leaders to move us forward… Ghana is not just the Black Star of Africa but the Shining Star. I really want to see it live up to that potential.