Growing up, my Saturday evening roles at home got the most attention. Aside routine polishing of my dark brown, Bata Cortina shoes (until my father gave a satisfactory nod), I was also made to iron my school uniforms, green checked shirt and brown khaki shorts. Ironing has never been my thing but I dare not give my mother any excuses. Discipline, they called it. So I had to mirror my older uncles, especially those who worked in the bank and at the time, lived with us.
They would iron for hours unending, their immaculately washed and starched shirts. It required an ironing technique and must not crease. In childlike innocence at the time, I had wondered if the profession imposed this ‘rigid dress culture’ or was it just their personal style? Now, I’m older and realise that players in the financial sector especially, or any other professional industry command a thrall with their appearance.
An older friend once said to me that “the best dressed men are in finance”. And it’s no joke.
This comes as a true testament, being an embodiment of style himself. Sonnie Ayere, CEO at Dunn Loren Merrifield Group carves an imitable trademark persona. His astute reputation at delivering specialist asset management, advisory solutions and equity financing while he worked for global finance corporations including the IFC (World Bank Group) and UBA Global all precede him. Sonnie’s fashion forward style brings onboard, a charismatic twist of unstoppable energy. There is something ethereal about this man (thinking aloud), as I joined him and a few of his friends for Sunday brunch.
Caught in my thought, I heard Sonnie reminiscing with his friend about their early days as young corporate finance executives in New York. “There was a constant pressure to look your best. Most Wall Street bankers engaged with their clients not just on the level of intelligence but of appearance as well”. The well packaged executive (judged by aesthetics) in most cases would secure an elevator-pitch meeting with the ‘big money bags’. Some people say the banking profession is the most snobbish with an exaggerated flex of attitude. But do you blame them? The pressure does not persist. The perception of any individual managing huge investments or in possession of financial trust for high-net worth individuals, come at a premium cost.
You must physically represent the product you are selling and more important, live the part as a fundamental rule.
So understand in a sense that, the jet life style of most top finance executive is not a façade. “The banking industry can be likened to the modeling industry” said another friend. She pointed out to me that “while banking deals with figures in money, modeling deals with figures in body”.
No surprise why money and body, go hand in hand. Come to think of it, bankers in particular constitute the premium clientele of most high end shops.
Being surrounded by a few top notch finance executives for ‘brunch’ got me thinking of how they got thus far, and aspirations behind their trademark style perception. As they say, the most inspirational stories are best told by self-made men. Here are a few rules I picked up.
Rule number one, Focus: you cannot give what you don’t have. The human mind is intricate.
It conceives an impression from how an image is presented. Presentation is vital, and it comes with an expectation. Expectancy theories studied by Neuropsychologists reveal that our lives are conditioned by what we see, feel and hear. A degree of expectation is therefore placed on the image of certain individuals especially those with a pedigree of leadership and social influence. Hence, there is a need to stand out from the crowd. What then is the trick? You need to focus on where you want to be and champion it.
“Back in the days”…, one of my newly found acquaintances heartily narrates, as we feasted on a well-seasoned chicken suya and wine, they would spend their entire bonus allowance for a top designer suit that cost about $1,800 from Barneys on Madison Avenue in Manhattan Upper East side. The store has been in existence since 1923 and revered a haven for discerning clothing connoisseurs. “It seemed like a lot of money for just one suit at that time, but in truth, you’re not spending more. It is the perception of getting more” he said. I nodded in approval. It all makes sense.
Like most smart and savvy financial sector ‘lords’, they keep focus on where they want to be, the very top and don’t wait to get there before inventing themselves. Jack Canfield’s book on ‘the success principles – how to get from where you are to where you want to be’, makes it clear that “your vision describes in detail what your destination looks and feels like”.
Rule number two: Define your league and where you want to play. Some senior executives that I know spend a fortune on specific accessories that bring a twist to their ensemble. It could be a handmade fountain pen by Caran d’Ache of Switzerland, made in 18carat gold, rhodium with coated silver precious materials or, a limited edition of Pineider Alligator briefcase.
It is crafted with exquisite detailing, handmade in gorgeous exotic leather skins. Such luxury items not only bring an influence of personal style to the boardroom but carve a prestige niche, a trademark that distinguishes. Speaking of cufflinks, one man I’m curious to meet is Deji Alli, of Asset & Resource Management Company. ‘Have you sat opposite Deji?’ as I was quizzed by some sector players. No I replied. I am then schooled about his penchant for possessing some distinct cufflinks. This unarguably makes him the man to spot for inspirations when purchasing luxury cufflinks. Alli already enjoys recognition in the financial sector, especially for an individual who is managing an asset of over 150 billion naira in a non-bank financial services institution. Seriously, when you get to this stage of accomplishment, only the best will suffice.
The pair of luxury cufflinks designed by Atelier Yozu is one of the most expensive in the world. A particular pair incorporates 18carat yellow gold, 60 rounds of diamond (weighing almost .01 carats each) and a mammoth ivory. It is a master piece. I am not insinuating that Alli bought this luxury cufflinks, but simply making a point that, at a particular level of success whether financial or otherwise, price no longer determines the quest for your want. Rather, attention is shifted to the ultimate satisfaction derived from quality and the personal value of distinct style.
However, attaining a level when you begin to wield an influence of personal style in a seemingly competitive industry is not over-night magic. It is an almost lifelong learning process. Sadly, everyone is in a hurry. The young ones more than ever are desperate, searching for short cuts to hit the ‘success story’. Some weeks ago, my aunt was painfully lamenting that ‘the get rich quick syndrome’ now prevalent among young people has outweighed spontaneity for hard work.
I couldn’t help but agree with her. So, who takes the blame?
No success has been achieved without some elements of ‘struggle’, irrespective of your definition. If you must know, not all top industry executives were draped in silver robes at birth. In fact, if you care to know, a majority of them were born with no spoon in sight. So let us not even imagine a silver spoon either. Instructively, hard work combined with the tenacity for excellence took these men through life’s journey of perseverance and patience. Believe it or not, patience is a virtue. Patience is the guiding force that keeps you grounded to your long term focus on a vision regardless of what league you play.
Rule number three: make your own rules. Most successful people rarely conform to popular opinions or styles. Rather, they create a trend. Better still, they influence a movement that conforms to their style. One man in my opinion, who broke dress protocols in the financial sector, was former Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. In his days, he commanded an understated opulence of less is more. Sanusi’s Chinese collared suits projected him as a conservative style dresser flavoured with modern twists. Unapologetic for his non-conformist fashion style, Sanusi evidenced that change is about standing your ground in what you believe and makes you comfortable.
Having observed with keen interest the fit between successes of these top executives and influence of their niche fashion styles, I can conclude on one thing. They had a beginning. They focused on a vision and they were not afraid to succeed. When you consistently follow your vision, success and other associated elements such as respect, influence and recognition will fall in line. A success trick is to find, and mirror any credible role model that you admire.
It’s now getting late, and my friend Sonnie comfortably pulls out something from the side pocket of his waistcoat to check the time. The reflection of his master-piece pocket watch got my attention. I smiled. What better way to remind me of his famed signatures? The waist coat and a classic Winston Churchill styled pocket watch. It is no longer just about the look but also, how you feel. I can tell you for free that there is no apology for enjoying success.