Life After the City: Julius Makoni


    “When I first got the call asking me to become a bishop in late 2009, I thought it was a joke. After all, I’d only been ordained a priest a fortnight earlier. I had gone back to university to study theology after deciding I wanted to take a break from banking.

    “I joined the corporate finance team at Morgan Grenfell after finishing my first, seven-year stint at university, and then moved to the World Bank in Washington DC. This was every young finance professional’s dream at the time. In 1991, I took a leave of absence and moved to work in merchant banking and derivatives at Bankers Trust.

    “I had been due to return to the World Bank but, after having spent time working in the City and on Wall Street, I knew how to raise funds and I had good contacts, so I set up my own firm, NMB Bank, which grew to be the sixth largest bank in Africa in four years. Growing it from scratch was quite a buzz. While I remain a founding shareholder and a board member, I have now stepped back to allow someone else to take the bank to that next step.

    “While working as a senior adviser at HSBC about four years ago, when it was setting up an emerging markets fund, I was able to take a bit of a break from banking and take a full-time theology degree at Cambridge University. While I hadn’t meant to become a priest, my residence, Westcott House, is also a renowned theological college. So when somebody suggested I might as well get ordained as I was doing all the proper training anyway, I initially did not take it too seriously. That said, my father is a priest and I grew up in and around the Anglican Church and so I’ve been comfortable with that world all my life. Eventually, I relented.

    “After a year as a deacon at St Mary the Virgin Parish in Hampton, I was ordained a priest in July last year by the Bishop of Kensington. A fortnight later came my appointment as a Bishop in Zimbabwe. This was something of a shock, not just to me, but to my family and friends. Many City folk I know were so surprised they are still e-mailing to see how I’m doing. My nickname in some circles, I’m told, is the ‘modern-day St Ambrose’, after the fourth-century Bishop of Milan who also assumed that role in unexpected and rapid fashion.

    “A year on, I am enjoying the challenge, which is my biggest yet. I think it’s good to reinvent oneself now and again. I’m used to being in at the deep end. Some of the managerial skills are similar. They involve dealing with and motivating people, except in the church one has to deal with a much wider spectrum of folk from royalty, professors and doctors to the beggar and the homeless person on the street. Nothing prepares you, at university or business school, for running a diocese.

    “It has not been easy running the diocese. It is now apparent that I was not the politicians’ choice for the role, even though they had no part to play in my appointment. Nobody imagined I’d go from banking to be a diocesan bishop. Some people have tried to explain this as my way of entering politics! After the mess created by my predecessor, who has since been excommunicated, the diocese is embroiled in court cases to try and regain control of its assets. I, therefore, am starting from scratch, in terms of funding to take care of operational costs including clergy stipends, rents, legal fees, etc.

    “One of the initiatives I’m working on is setting up a water-bottling plant to employ the youth in the diocese and provide income to meet expenses and to fund programmes to rehabilitate diocesan programmes and institutions. Spring water in eastern Zimbabwe provides an opportunity that would also provide employment for people in the diocese. I am looking for around £2m in outside investment. Some interest has been expressed from City contacts, but no commitments have been made yet.

    “Even though things have not always been easy, I have hope and faith, and feel confident that we will come through and win the battles and the war. The chance to become bishop is not one that comes along every day, or even every year. It is a truly humbling experience and an honour. I did a lot of soul-searching before accepting the role, and decided that turning it down would have been a kick in the teeth to those that asked me. I will give it my best shot and God will do the rest!”