It’s a sunny Tuesday morning when I arrive at Eden Haus, a beautiful gourmet restaurant on the edge of the quiet Kabulonga suburb. I am scheduled to meet with Lishala Situmbeko, CEO of Access Bank Zambia. Lishala is no stranger to the finance world. With an illustrious career spanning over 25 years, he has lent his expertise to various financial institutions across the continent. Still, his vision to serve the Zambian people and make an enduring impact has remained intact everywhere he has served.
Lishala, an economist, speaker, coach and thought leader, is on the cusp of assuming the reins of a successful merger between Access Bank Zambia and Atlas Mara Zambia, an acquisition that requires vision and the ability to acclimate to a rapidly changing environment. Despite his numerous milestones and achievements, sitting with Lishala was something akin to sitting with an old friend; his presence was warm and inviting throughout our chat, next to a picturesque window overlooking the lush garden.
At age 50, Lishala is as vibrant as ever, with a real zest for life and a warm curiosity for others, which took me by surprise when he asked me how I came to be in my current line of work as a writer and filmmaker, an interest he hopes to pursue after retirement. He later confessed that his most likely path after retirement would be to become a business writer, sitting on a hill somewhere and spending his days hammering away on a keyboard with the breeze rustling in the trees overhead.
During our chat, Lishala opened up about his duo upbringing in the city of Lusaka and his maternal village near Pemba in the Southern Province. He credits his adaptability to this rich experience. It became apparent the more we spoke that his upbringing gave him an expanded worldview, allowing him to relate with people from different backgrounds seamlessly, a trait indispensable to a leader interacting with people from all walks of life daily.
Raised in a single-parent household, Lishala suffered the tragic loss of his father at the tender age of eight. His mother assumed the primary caregiver role, but his grandfather in the village filled the gap left by his father. According to Lishala, the most crucial lesson his mother taught him is the importance of humility, a trait she modelled through her words and calm demeanour. Humility is an essential quality that Lishala still tries to emulate in his life, even in leadership, which he sees as a team sport rather than a one-person show. Lishala’s philosophy on leadership is simple: leadership is influence. He explains that when faced with a challenge as a leader, one must be discerning and exert the correct type of influence, whether it is a pull type of influence – in the forefront, leading by example, or by taking a step back and supporting others. “I perceive every leader as an individual who benefits from the foundation laid by those who came before and contributes to the path for those who will follow in their footsteps. My adaptive leadership style is guided by the goal rather than the title or the position. It is cardinal to define your goal clearly and apply an approach that you believe will guarantee the best possible outcomes.”
Looking at Lishala’s accolades and achievements in the finance sector, both locally and abroad, it is challenging to picture him as an aspiring architect rejected by the Department of Architecture at Copperbelt University. Lishala recalls a life-altering lecture that completely changed the trajectory of his life,
Even if I bought the fastest car, it still wouldn’t be enough. Economics is about balancing unlimited wants against limited means. At that moment, all the yearning I had to pursue architecture died, and I decided that, although entering CBU was my dream, my path was to become an economist. I was completely inspired and decided to make my impact in business and finance; that is precisely what I have done.”
Before his tenure as CEO of Access Bank Zambia, Lishala was engaged as General Manager of Access Bank Nigeria, at the heart of where it all started. Access Bank originated in Nigeria and is a global bank with an African heritage.
“My biggest takeaway from the Nigerian market is understanding that this sector is always about people. We are all tied by a common thread, and if you have global aspirations, you can only achieve them by applying global standards,”– Lishala C. Situmbeko, Access Bank Zambia CEO.
Under Lishala’s leadership, Access Bank Zambia is committed to working with Zambians to develop Zambia while making a global impact and achieving excellence beyond continental boundaries. “We serve at a global standard that seeks to deliver in all the communities we operate in and serve all the people we can reach,” he states confidently. The imminent merger with Atlas Mara Bank is expected to improve services and increase job opportunities. The combined strengths of the two banks will increase its ability to serve with a combined force of over 65 branches and 160 ATMS nationwide. With over 20 years of experience in mergers and acquisitions, Access Bank Group has the expertise to ensure a smooth integration process with minimal disruption, prioritising the well-being of all stakeholders involved, especially customers and staff.
Outside his love for finance, Lishala enjoys surrounding himself with people of all ages, a practice he notes shapes his lens on life. Each generation, he believes, has the profound ability to teach him something new every day. When he does not spend quality time with his grandson, children, and wife, whom he congenially describes as his biggest cheerleader and support system, he is nose-deep in classic literature, from Egyptian to Greek to Roman mythology and the Bible. The Bible, he cites, is the best place to learn about leadership as it is filled with many great leaders to draw inspiration from.
At the end of his tenure as Access Bank Zambia CEO, Lishala hopes to ensure that Access Bank becomes the most significant player in enabling the growth of Zambian businesses and inspiring more Zambians to have the confidence to take up spaces that foster production. “Whatever we do must sustainably influence job creation and contribute revenue to the Zambian economy. When my time as CEO comes to an end, and I ponder if Access Bank managed to grow the value chains and build the connections in the institutions that didn’t exist, I trust that the answer will be a resounding yes.”
“I remember my first economics lecture at UNZA by the late Prof. Venkatesh Seshamani; he taught us that in life, unlimited wants compete against limited means.– Lishala C. Situmbeko, Access Bank Zambia CEO.
A Creative At Heart
Lishala’s retirement plans include dabbling in vlogging or becoming a YouTuber, an interest fuelled by his youngest son’s interest. He has recently taken an interest in photography and videography.
A Knowledge Seeker
Since graduating from UNZA with a BA in Economics, Lishala has studied at the University of Nairobi, where he obtained his MA in Economics and is a 2004 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at Boston University in the USA. He has since enjoyed an illustrious career at the Ministry of Finance, Bank of Zambia, Barclays Bank, ZANACO and Access Bank Nigeria. He completed his education at Jacaranda Primary School and Kabulonga School for Boys.
Even with over 20 years of merger experience under the company’s belt, Lishala still believes that “mergers and acquisitions are all about people, be it your staff or customers”. He extends this belief to his leadership philosophy, stating that leadership is a team sport.
It Takes a Village
Lishala was born at Monze Mission Hospital. Despite losing his father at an early age, Lishala reconnected with his roots in Luampa, Western Province. Growing up, Lishala split his time between the city with his mother and the village with his grandparents. His grandfather became the father figure in his life, with every milestone and lesson celebrated or reinforced twofold.
About the Restaurant:
Eden Haus, located along Middleway, Kabulonga, offers a sophisticated dining experience combining international standards with a serene ambience. It caters to various tastes with indoor and outdoor seating, including a poolside garden area. The restaurant features a curated menu of expertly crafted cocktails, mocktails, and well-prepared gourmet food, making it a versatile destination for choice for any food lover.
Images by Teddy Mweemba