ABA Banking Journal - July 2013 - (Page 44)
Journey of a lifetime
Banker’s journey takes him from Africa to the top post at an Iowa bank
“The ride has been fantastic,” says Suku Radia,
whose journey has led him to the position of
president and CEO of Bankers Trust in Des
Moines, Iowa. But for Radia, this top post
is just one stop on a path that started on the
other side of the world, in Uganda.
Radia’s ancestors came from India in 1889
to build the railroad in British East Africa.
When it was completed, they stayed, opened
a business, and amassed a fortune. Radia was
the fourth generation of his family to live in the
capital city of Kampala.
Uganda became independent in 1962, but
the British influence still weighed heavily, and
wealthier children went to college in the United
Kingdom. Radia, however, had other plans. “I
really wanted to come to the States,” he says.
Getting accepted to a U.S. college—Berke-
Community ties define bank CEO Suku Radia, who has worked with United
Way for 35 years. Here he presents a check at an Iowa State football game.
ley—was the easy part; convincing his parents to let him go there was a lot
harder. They traveled to the United States to view the school, and after seeing
the Berkeley scene of the 1960s, refused to let Radia go. It wasn’t until an older
friend who served in the U.S. Agency for International Development talked
with Radia’s parents that they warmed to the idea. “My friend told them, ‘How
about if you let your son go to a place in the U.S., which is in the middle of
nowhere, the weather is really lousy, and he can’t get into trouble there even if
he wants to, and the people are the salt of the Earth,’” says Radia.
His friend was describing Ames, Iowa, and Radia’s parents finally agreed to
let him enroll at Iowa State University.
A year later, however, chaos erupted in Uganda as president Idi Amin came
to power. Amin seized the businesses and assets of all the Indians living in
Uganda and expelled them from the country. Radia’s parents and relatives lost
everything but their lives and fled to the United Kingdom, where they received
Stranded in the United States, Radia continued to work through his studies
to finish college early and at the top of his class, with a degree in economics.
When he graduated, he only had $4.87. “My father had always taught me,
‘Make sure you get a really good education because that is something nobody
can take away from you,’” he says.
The education paid off as he secured a position at KPMG, working in merg-
ers and acquisitions. From there, Radia worked his way up to managing partner
at KPMG. Offered a transfer to the Silicon Valley, Radia declined. He had fallen
in love with Iowa and put down roots. Within a day of his decision to stay, he
was offered the CFO position at Meredith, an Iowa-based media company.
Eight years into the Meredith position, an old client from KPMG, Bankers
44 | ABA BANKING JOURNAL | JULY 2013
Trust—the largest privately owned
bank in Iowa—came to Radia about
an opening for CEO. He helped the
bank find one in the ’90s while at
KPMG, and offered to help, but it
wanted him. “I said, ‘Are you kidding
me? I’ve never worked in a bank.’”
Radia eventually accepted the
position, and his work ethic, business
plan, and strong community ties
have brought the bank from $1.8 billion
to $3.4 billion in assets. “I won’t
deny the fact that I work some crazy
hours,” he says. “But my philosophy
has always been very simple: You hire
really good people, you pay them well,
and then you stay out of their way.”
Radia hopes his journey will one
day take him and his family back to
Uganda and see that country for the
first time since he left it for the United
States. “Hemingway wrote, ‘You
may leave Africa, but Africa will never
leave you,’” he says. “Deep down,
that’s about how I feel.”
––Ashley Bray, contributing editor
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ABA Banking Journal - July 2013
ABA Banking Journal - July 2013
Pass the Aspirin
Cover Story: Pay Choices
State Association Roundtable
ABA At Your Service
ABA Banking Journal - July 2013