Ashish Thakkar to Leave African Banking Group He Co-Founded

By Margot Patrick Features Dow Jones Newswires

Atlas Mara Ltd. co-founder Ashish Thakkar is leaving the group, and other officials are also departing, to make way for directors being installed by new shareholder Fairfax Africa Holdings Corp.

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The African banking group founded by Mr. Thakkar and former Barclays PLC Chief Executive Bob Diamond got a $200 million infusion from Fairfax Africa in August, which Atlas Mara is using to increase its stake in Nigeria's Union Bank. Atlas Mara has said it would focus on the Nigerian bank as a launchpad for growth after a rocky four years trying to calm bad loans and get scale at its other main investment, BancABC, a retail and commercial bank in five countries.

Atlas Mara on Tuesday said Chief Financial Officer Arina McDonald will leave immediately to relocate back to South Africa and pursue other interests. Her temporary replacement is Kenroy Dowers, group managing director of strategy and investments. Tonye Cole, an independent director, is also stepping down from the board but will "remain engaged in our Nigerian operations," the company said.

The four new directors are Michael Wilkerson, CEO of Fairfax Africa; Richie Boucher, a former CEO of Bank of Ireland; Hisham Ezz Al-Arab, chairman of Commercial International Bank of Egypt; and Quinn McLean, who works at Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel, part of the broader Fairfax group.

Mr. Thakkar was a budding entrepreneur and enthusiast for Africa's promise when he met Mr. Diamond at a development conference in 2013. Within months, they formed Atlas Mara and raised $625 million in two share offers to buy stakes in African banks.

Along with Mr. Diamond, Mr. Thakkar was the face of the company, liaising with investors and introducing company officials to politicians and regulators in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Mr. Diamond has been chairman since Arnold Ekpe's three-year term ended in December. Chief Executive John Vitalo left abruptly in February, and the company is now run by three managing directors.

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"Ashish played an important role supporting the team in our fintech business line and government and stakeholder relations, and will remain available to support us in these areas," Mr. Diamond said. Mr. Thakkar said in a statement he was proud of what they had accomplished together.

Atlas Mara stumbled after its initial launch when a chill in commodity markets hit African economies. Its shares fell out of favor with investors and traded at $2.70 on Tuesday, down from $10 when shares first listed. Large investors in the company including Guggenheim Partners LLC and Wellington Management Co. supported the long-term vision of consolidating and modernizing commercial and retail banking in sub-Saharan Africa, but other shareholders drifted away as the financial payoff from the strategy looked to be years away.

In June, Atlas Mara said Fairfax Africa would buy new shares and a convertible bond. The infusion gives it the cash to raise its take in Union Bank of Nigeria PLC to 44.5% from 31%. At the time, it said Fairfax would appoint four directors.

Write to Margot Patrick at margot.patrick@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 03, 2017 06:16 ET (10:16 GMT)