Hooked on banking
He spent approximately 40 years of his life in the banking sector, giving selflessly of his time and effort, as he sought to make his mark in the development of Barbados and the region.
Having focused on customers for just about all of that time, it is no wonder that after leaving the commercial banking system, Horace Cobham found his way back into a service oriented field.
“It has been an interesting life. I enjoyed every bit of it because I absolutely enjoyed what I did,” Cobham, now the local franchise agent for the financial services company, Western Union, told
Cobham recalled his years as an avid banker, beginning even before there was a Barbados Stock Exchange (BSE).
After graduating from the St Leonard’s Boys School in 1972 with seven O’ Levels which he attained at one sitting – a remarkable feat – Cobham landed his first job at the then Citibank.
It was supposed to be a temporary position, lasting only for the summer with the plan to follow up with sixth form studies at Harrison College. However, Cobham ended up working until 1979 and attended the Barbados Community College (BCC) while doing so.
“I tell people the hardest thing I have done in my life is to work and study,” he said.
After graduating from the BCC, he attended the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, where he pursued a BSc. in Accounting.
By the end of 1979, he had become branch manager. But when it came time to decide whether he would continue his banking career or become a full-time student for two years, he walked away from the job.
“One of my colleagues told me that I was foolish – ‘that don’t make any sense, you doing good in your job. This is good upward mobility here for you’. But I said, ‘you know, I set myself on improving my education so I going’,” he recalled.
Then, fresh from completing his studies, Cobham sent out two applications.
“One to the Barbados Development Bank, because having done all this studying and learning about business I came out wanting to make a contribution to the world and to Barbados,” he said of his frame of mind when he re-entered the world of work.
The other job application was sent to the then CIBC Bank, where he eventually chose to work, because at the time the salary was “more than one and a half times” what he would have received at the development bank.
In 1981, Cobham joined CIBC, where he played a critical role in helping to improve the quality of the bank’s lending portfolio.
“From there on, I can tell people, I lived a charmed life. I can’t think of anything that knock me back at any point in time. It was always forward movement. In fact, a year after I joined CIBC I got transferred to become assistant branch manager of the bank in Antigua,” he admits.
Over the years, Cobham has held a number of senior positions in the banking industry, travelling and working in different countries and also helping staff develop their skills.
But it was not long before the education bug started to bite again, and Cobham responded. This time, he went to the American University of Beirut where he successfully completed an MBA in finance and investment studies.
When he was done, he was offered a contract at the New York firm where he had been doing part-time work while studying. But CIBC back in Barbados had big plans to complement government’s move to establish the BSE, and so Cobham returned home.
Not only did his fulfilling journey take him around world, but Cobham told Barbados TODAY he was instrumental in helping to craft various policies and securing needed funding for important projects, including raising a $23.5 million bond to help keep regional airline LIAT in the air.
“I walk throughout the Caribbean and many time people remind me of how I helped them and I am still struggling to remember the individual, but they remembered the transaction. With the hundreds of thousands of transactions you do, you don’t remember everybody, but because it is so important to them they remember it,” he said.
“But the thing about it is that I woke up every day and went to work without thinking about the previous day and how the difficulties affected me. I always had a very positive orientation to the next day because I enjoyed what I did and I enjoy helping people achieve their dreams. There have been some challenging situations that I have had to manage at the individual and corporate level. The corporations find a way to get by, but sometimes it is tough for individuals.”
Cobham also enjoyed some time working at the then Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT) in Barbados and in other parts of the region.
But as he got older, the father of three wanted to spend more time with his wife and children.
“I came to the personal conclusion about what is more important to me. Is it that I wanted to excel professionally and to hell with everything else? I came to the conclusion that family mattered to
me and I decided I wanted to be closer to my family, and particularly my son,” he related.
So, as he had done with previous opportunities, he turned down a regional position that was offered to him just over six years ago in order to spend more time with his son who was entering the
Cobham exited the banking system a few years ago, at age 55. He said many people believed he had retired “because I had been in the banking system for a long time”.
“I could have taken early retirement, but I just separated because there was a change that was going on and I made the decision I did not want to be a part of,” Cobham explained.
He took a six-month sabbatical, not because he wanted to but because it was an agreement reached with his previous employer. The break gave him time to think about what he really wanted to do.
“I thought about what I could do that did not draw me back fully into the business of banking, although I had been asked by a number of financial institutions both here
and overseas to come and work for them,” said Cobham.
And after convincing himself that he still had a lot left to give to the sector, he decided on the Western Union move.
“I got it set up and I am a director of the business. We started with three locations and now we have eight locations in total where we handle the inbound and outbound business,” explained Cobham.
The St James Parish Church member does not believe the cliché “the customer is always right”, but he is adamant that “the customer is always important”. “Whether the customer is right or not, you will treat with that customer in a respectful way because you want that customer to be your customer.”
Cobham sees himself as being customer centric, and hoped that people would think of him as “very people oriented”.
“I like people and seeing people succeed. So I would spend time with people, particularly those I have a responsibility for. In other words, people who report to me. I try to understand who they are and what are their objectives,” he said.
As a result, Cobham has helped dozens of young people along a career path in the banking sector and they have “done very well for themselves”, he said.
His advice is to enjoy whatever work you do, because that helps to make you productive and successful.