A big man for a big job

George Guvamatanga is a big man. Literally. And he loves a big job.

His boozers’ team – sorry, social soccer side – which is made up of ex-Barclays Bank employees knows this hulking figure is their go-to guy for goals on weekends.

The job he has now, after years of success in the financial services sector, is bigger than leading an amateur football team to victory.

But Zimbabwe’s new Secretary for Finance and Economic Development is undaunted, taking everything in his huge stride and still finding time to unwind on the football pitch.

“If I am around, I play soccer every Sunday without fail. There is a team of Barclays former employees and I am a striker.

“In soccer, when I describe myself, I say: I am not a brilliant scorer, but I am a scorer of brilliant goals. If you ask me the number of goals I have scored since I started playing social soccer, they are not many but they are brilliant goals,” he beams unabashed.

Since being appointed Secretary for Finance on September 19, 2018, Zimbabweans will want to see him score brilliant goals on the economic front.

Growing up in Kambuzuma, Harare, Guvamatanga had both an aptitude and passion for figures, but never imagined that he would some day be the bearer of the national purse.

Donning a navy blue slim-fit suit and with his cutomary clean-shave, the 47-year-old last week opened up on the story of his life.

“I started working at a very young age at Olivine on an apprenticeship programme as a lab technician in 1989,” he says.

“During that period, Government, in a bid to enhance science subjects, introduced Extended Science and only a few selected students sat for examinations for that subject, and I was one of them.

“I was good at the subject and came up with very good grades; thus, I was chosen for the apprenticeship although my passion was in accounting. I loved accounting, I was good with figures and wanted to be a banker. Moreover, one of my sisters, who is late now, was working at a bank, so the motivation was already there.”

Fate would have its way, and after six months with Olivine, he was invited for an interview at Barclays Bank.

“Although I was already working, I realised I could not turn down the offer,” he says as he reminisces of the day.

“On the day of the interview, I just had enough money to take me part of the journey. However, that did not stop me.

“I remember it was a very hot day in September and I had to walk across town as the (bank) branch was not in the city centre.

“I was wearing one of my white school shirts; and when I got there I was sweaty, the lining on my collar now had a dirty line round it. Mr Chapoteka, the supervisor, took notice of this and enquired. I told him my predicament.

“I kept pestering them about the job and finally they gave in three weeks before my 18th birthday. My father had to sign my contract as my guardian. This was the beginning of a very long and successful banking career,” he says.

Born in 1972, Guvamatanga went to Kurai Primary School and Kambuzuma High School in Harare.

In 1995, he earned a diploma from the Institute of Bankers of Zimbabwe, and 13 years later, he was on an Executive Development Programme with the University of Chicago. In 2010, he attained a Master of Business Administration from the University of London.

His stint at the bank’s treasury department was the first step to the national Treasury.

“Treasury is not only part of me; it is in my blood,” he said.

“I ran one of the most successful treasuries – very profitable, efficient and effective and if you check with people who were part of that bank at that time, they will tell you that we ran a very tight and strong treasury unit.

“For the 29 years which I have been in the banking industry, 13 of them were spent in the treasury department.”

In 2008, Guvamatanga took over as CEO of Barclays Bank, a position he held until 2017 when First Merchant Bank of Malawi took over the institution.

Although Barclays had become his second home, his departure was somewhat acrimonious. But he has no hard feelings.

“I think for any institution or business, it is always logical to have an opportunity to decide on the leadership that they want.

“However, it is also common knowledge that together with my colleagues we had put in a bid to buy the bank, a corporate bid, but at the end of the day the choice is with the seller.

“It was very logical for me that when the new owners came, I decided to go out and start doing other things, setting up a family enterprise.”

The opportunity to join the Finance Ministry came in the most unexpected of ways.

“The offer for the job actually came four hours before appointment. Prior to that day, I did not know anything,” he chuckled.

“The responsible authorities called me for a conversation, which at first did not look like a job offer. It started off as a casual conversation about the economic outlook, the relationship between banks and Ministry of Finance.

“I thought they wanted some advice and at the end of the conversation that is when I was offered the job.

“When I checked my phone four hours later, there were 352 WhatsApp messages, 97 Twitter messages and notifications, there was a list circulating on Twitter, and my name was second on the list.”

The staunch Arsenal Football Club enjoys family time, doing all he can in his busy schedule to relax with his wife and six children.

The football junkie believes things are looking up for his team ever since the appointment of the new coach, Unai Emery – but he misses Arsene Wenger.

“I also love soccer. I am an Arsenal supporter. It is quite better now without Arsene Wenger, although I liked him,” he says in a relaxed tone.

It is not all work and football. Somehow he finds time to boxing and reading business and leadership books.

On his desk right now is “The First 90 Days: Proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter” by Michael D Watkins.

One online synopsis of the book says it deals with conquering the challenges of transitions. An appripriate read for the big man with a big job.

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