RAKBANK CEO Peter England is ushering in a new age for the company. His secret? Making the most of his staff
What's the story behind your business?
RAKBANK was founded forty years ago, and it was very much a corporate bank for the Emirates of Ras Al-Kaimah. In early 2000, it set about to transform itself into a retail bank for the whole of the UAE. It was very successful, and from 2003 it grew tremendously.
It was always seen as a very niche retail bank, with punchy advertising, but about three or four years ago it started to run out of steam. Since then, we've moved it from being a more focused retail bank into a broader-based financial services company.
Is that the strategy for the next five years?
Yes, we want to be a much bigger and broader. We recently bought RAK Insurance, for example. And we'd like to explore other opportunities within the UAE, possibly even in non-banking financial services.
What's the biggest challenge facing that goal?
The global economic environment, and the uncertainty around that. It's just having an impact on everything we do, from the areas of credit risk to fraud; when times get difficult, people tend to do things that are not necessarily in the best interests of everyone, if you know what I mean.
How do you prepare for that uncertainty?
For us it's about becoming that broader-based financial services company. If you have all your eggs in one basket and something happens, then you could be in trouble. But if you're much broader, and target everyone from the lowest factory worker all the way up to the largest corporation, you've got more chance of riding out the storm.
How do you make decisions?
For me, the first thing is listening. I think it's very important for people, particularly CEOs, to listen to what's going on around you. Also, you've got to look around, and continually be searching for what banks are doing around the world – be it in the UK or the US.
Once you have a bigger picture of what's going on, then you can put all those factors together and make a decision. I think a lot of CEOs and leaders in general make the mistake of being very focussed on their own thoughts, and don't spend enough time looking at the broader picture.
How do you promote a company culture where ideas are shared?
For the past 15-years, RAKBANK has been a 'do what you're told' organisation. I come from a totally different environment, and I have always encouraged my people to bring up new ideas. If you see something and it doesn't make sense, ask.
So for me, it was a real process of continually educating people, talking to them, and asking them to share their opinions. Everyone has my email address, they can just drop me an email. I will handle the implementation, if I think it's a good idea. I think the key to maintaining this sort of open attitude in the organisation, is making sure people know that if their idea is valid you will do something about it.
How would you describe the culture at RAK Bank?
I think a lot of what people tell you about RAK Bank is the culture of the past. Today, we are a very different organization, we are much more open, we communicate, and we listen. I am not saying it always happens, as it's still a work in progress, but what we're going for is openness.
Let's say you have two equally qualified job candidates in front of you. How would you choose which one to hire?
It's all about chemistry, it's as simple as that. You meet someone, you talk to them, and you see if you get on with them. That's the number one thing for me. Even over qualifications, I don't mind there being gaps in certain areas but if they've got the right attitude and mind-set, and I get on with them, then they'll do great things.
If you were to explain your job very simply to an eight-year-old, what would you say?
You know, my eight-year-old recently asked me that. I told her that I run a large organisation with 5,000 people in it. That I create the direction for the company, and I employ the best people to make that vision a reality.
What inspires you? Why do you get out of bed each day?
For me, it's about being able to come in and create something amazing. I know that it's a worn-out term, but I'd like to create RAKBANK 2.0 as a much broader-based financial services company. It's fantastic looking back every now and again, to see where we used to be. That inspires me, being able to say that we turned it around.
If you could give an old boss one piece of advice, what would it be?
To the good ones, I would tell them to keep doing what they're doing. To the lousy ones, I'd tell them to go find something else to do. I've had my fair share of both, I just wish that some of them weren't so bogged down in pre-conceived ideas.
Do you have any advice for a first time leader?
My biggest advice would be to listen to your people and understand their needs and wants, rather than simply telling them what to do. And this doesn't just apply to leadership, this applies to everything you do. People need to be less concerned with the next opportunity, and more focussed on what they're doing now.
I've seen so many people, the minute they get a new job, they start thinking about how to get the next one. Just be the absolute best at what you're doing now and the future will look after itself.
Is there any advice you'd give to your eighteen-year-old self?
Everything that I have done, the good and the bad, has gotten me to this point. So I wouldn't do anything differently. All those experiences, the good and the bad, have gotten me to this place.
Did you always want to be in this business?
I had no idea. I know that some people know what they want to be when they're in school, but I had no clue. But, it's all worked out tremendously well in the end. There's nothing I prefer doing more than what I am doing now. It's a fantastic job, I've got great shareholders, a great board. And we're building a fantastic team.
How do you manage a large company, yet still make time for other important things like family?
For me it's pretty easy. My wife kind of forces me to leave work at the office. She's good at keeping me on track, and keeping the kids on track. When I walk through the door I tend to leave all my work behind, unless something goes wrong of course. But that rarely happens.
So you totally switch off when you come home?
I think I just learned to be disciplined. It doesn't mean that I won't look at an email, or if I get a phone call from someone then of course I attend to it. But I do switch off.
Now, having said that, if I do see something or a thought creeps into my mind it wouldn't stop me from sending an email at ten in the evening, but I've said to my people that if they get an email late at night then I don't expect a response.
What's one thing people don't know about you?
My great passion is motor racing. I love it. I'm not a particularly good racer, but I do race in the UAE Touring Car Championships.
What does a typical day look like for you?
In many ways there is no typical day. That's the great thing about my philosophy of employing good people. They can have their typical days, and I can be a lot more strategic – my day never looks the same.
Let's say you walk out of the office and find a lottery ticket that ends up winning a million dirhams. What would you do?
I probably would do the same thing I am doing now, to be honest. I don't think it matters whether you've got a million dollars or ten million dollars, you get satisfaction from doing the thing you enjoy doing. Money doesn't change that.
Finish this sentence, 'the world would be a better place if only…"
People stopped fighting each other, and were more concerned with understanding one another.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.