Citibank's Uganda CEO on How Millennials Taught Her to be a Better Manager



My daily learning ritual is making sure I deposit one thing in my ‘knowledge bank’ everyday.

CEO Night, Uganda Q2 2017

In the second quarter of every year, we run a series of ‘CEO Nights’ where the current CEOs/Chairs of the top 100 companies in each country spend time with the community of 'next-in-line CEOs' that make up The Africa List to unpack what the jump from C-suite to CEO really looks like, and how best to prepare for it. We only run 'CEO Night' once a year so to make the interactions with the CEOs in attendance as structured and useful as possible, this year we put some of our guest CEO/Chairs in the hot seat and groups of members took turns grilling them on their 'CEO Life Hacks' in productivity, leadership and management strategies and their personal journey. 

One of our guest CEOs for the evening was Sarah Arapta, CEO of Citibank Uganda. Prior to joining Citibank she was the Director of Corporate and Investment Banking at Barclays Uganda, and Head of Investment Banking and Head of Corporate Banking at Stanbic Uganda. She explained to the Uganda community of The Africa List how her leadership style has evolved to meet the needs of her millennial team, plus her #CEOLifeHacks on how she builds her network, the importance of planning your downtime, how she runs meetings and why she wants to encourage more women to lean in. 

How has your management style changed over time?

My management style has had to change with the changing demographics of the people that I manage. Over 50% of my team now are millennials and they expect a more collaborative team oriented leadership style as opposed to a top down ‘my way’ leadership style. That has influenced how my leadership style has changed over time, to encourage them to innovate and problem solve. 

How do you run your meetings?

Planning is important to me so my team know to always come well prepared to my meetings. I'm very collaborative though and make sure to take on ideas from different teams. I’m very particular about timings in meetings and sticking to the agenda. If a point of contention comes up in a meeting that needs a different forum, I park it and assign it to a different meeting instead of trying to process it with the current agenda.  Time is important to me because meetings have a way of eating into management time.

How do you create and sustain your network?

Relationship building has been fundamental to my success. It's important to build trust and a sense of reliability with whoever your stakeholders are, particularly clients and employees. I'm an authentic leader who promotes simplicity so my approach to sustaining networks is a down to earth and inclusive management style. 

What do you spend most of your time thinking about?

How I add value to my stakeholders. I have to constantly innovate to enhance our client experience as we achieve our shared goals, so that’s where I always pay my attention. 

How do you plan your downtime for work/life balance?

My downtime is highly structured and carefully planned. I start my day with exercise and meditation and structure my day so that my external meetings are in the first half of the day, and the afternoons I spend with my staff understanding what is going on within the organisation. After work I strictly spend time with my family, and then spend 30 minutes at the end of every day to reflect on the day and make sure I’ve thought about my priorities for tomorrow. I also start my day at 5.30am with meditation and self reflection to have some me time. 

If you could redo one of your career decisions what would it be?

I could have accelerated my career much earlier if I'd been more confident, which we all suffer from in the early stage of our career. But you need to be able to take up the mantle early on and be what you were destined to be. We sell ourselves short, especially as women. 

Who are you currently inspired by?

I resonated with a lot of what Sheryl Sandberg said in her book 'Lean In'. Often you think you’re going through something alone, so it was encouraging to know that women in other places are facing similar challenges. One of the things I want to do is to help women who aspire to be in the same role as I am to help build their confidence and overcome societal challenges. 

Find out more about Sarah Arapta on her LinkedIn profile here, and more about the Uganda community of The Africa List here.