Herbert Wigwe… ‘The Special One’
From Lagos to Ogun, the northern part of Nigeria to the east and everywhere in between, Access Bank, under the leadership of Herbert Wigwe, has not swayed or shirked in its avowed commitment to continually strive to deliver sustainable economic growth that is profitable, environmentally responsible and socially relevant, helping customers and humanity to access more and achieve their dreams. At the core of the bank operation for the past couple of years, is an apostolic devotion to corporate social responsibility activities, an accretion of which has made it a primus inter pares in the banking industry and by extension, Corporate Nigeria.
These CSR activities span SMEs support, women empowerment, sports, tourism, education, information and communications technology and creative arts and entertainment.
On Wigwe’s watch, Access bank has recorded remarkable leaps in operations and revenue from cutting-edge and futuristic banking culture.
In the cutthroat terrain of Nigerian banking, Herbert rides the tides of industry thus dictating the pace of change and influencing the thought of his time. There is no gainsaying therefore, that he would command the epochs that follow and impress his name on eternity, by his dazzling strides.
Herbert is cut of that proverbial rare stock that effortlessly attracts the patronage of leaders of men. However, like the very few great men and leaders of industry, Herbert did not attain his current height by sudden flight. While most of his rivals and peers slept, he toiled upwards, day and night.
As head honcho of Access Bank, Herbert understands the need to abide by the company’s corporate philosophy which is to become the world’s most respected African bank thus his conscious quest to leave an indelible imprint in the sands of industry and time by shunning corruption and various unethical practices characteristic of contemporary cutthroat banking.
Herbert would never engage in any act or association that would be inimical to the progress and good image of his organisation.
Indeed, genius is of no country. But it is surely of a descent of men who reach such an acute unlimited excellence in their prime, that every sterling exploit afterward, savours of unprecedented brilliance. Few men are wrought of such transcendent capacity for genius as Herbert Wigwe.
The top banker pulsates exceptional intellect and that singular forthrightness that imbues philosophy with logic and sound theory.
THROUGH ADVERSITY AND GRACE
Only a handful of youths in their prime could summon the courage to desert the comfort they know for the uncertainty of elusive luxuries but Herbert was remarkably different. While many of his contemporaries fixated on making money from the confusion characteristic of the business zone, he held on to the bright rally-flags of industry and hope. A real man does not passionately believe in the perfection of humankind, yet he must remain dedicated to the pursuit of perfection with intent to achieve near-perfection.
The innate fear of failure, he understood, has been the result of a cowardly recline from knowledge and the manipulation of certain dangerous factors in the physical world. For a man who challenged resolve with steely grit and exploited the arduous planes of ambition and toil till he encountered grandeur at the crossroads where wild contemplation and hard work morph into triumph, Wigwe, despite being feted and idolised across the world, will not be deified by anyone simply because he turns excellence and humaneness into an art form. Unlike the proverbial lazy bone who lived to see the sun rise before his eyes were closed while the chorus of dawn becomes his lullaby, Herbert worked through dusk and dawn to actualize his heartfelt dreams of grandeur.
He knew quite early in life that his average family background should inspire him to success rather than become a burden and impediment to his spirited strides to success. He understood that to learn even the quarter of a breeze, he must hold up a wet finger.
According to him when he was talking about how it all started in an interview, “I think one of the greatest opportunities we had and another thing that happened to us was to be blessed with great leaders. We had very strong ethical leaders and mentors and they were Mr. Fola Adeola and Mr. Tayo Aderinokun. As young as we were in our early 20s, they gave us a plain piece of paper to run a bank and it was unheard of.
“They empowered us and just let us do what we wanted to do. It created the foundation for everything that we have done. You are always a function of the people you meet, the values you see and all of that. They instilled in us most of the values we have had as adults in terms of running a bank and how we see our vision for whatever institution we had.
“Those 12 years in GTBank were great years under the leadership of two outstanding professionals and they truly helped us. They gave us also at different points in time truly the mantle of leadership to run the bank in fairness and these where clear delegations where they did not call from oversees to question our actions. So, in a way it was a great thing. But of course, the downside is the fact that you are creating monsters who now know how to do it and that was what happened.
“But we remain ever so grateful and privileged to have worked with them. So the instincts were there in terms of the desire to run an institution, but the confidence-building process truly happened there (GTbank) and having been given the opportunity to do it, it was clear to us that we could truly run a bank even as young as we were”, he said.
IMMORTAL BOND BETWEEN AIG IMOUKHUEDE AND HERBERT WIGWE
Like a lightning shaft from Eden, Wigwe proved bookmakers wrong as he painstakingly forged Access Bank’s path to its esteemed height as one of the country’s top three banks today. When Aig quit the saddle as manager of the bank, it was believed that his successor, Herbert, would act according to stereotype and commence a vicious plot to reduce and make irrelevant, his friend and predecessor but Herbert didn’t do so.
This is because the bond between the two exceeds the common affiliation of colleagues and random business partners. Herbert remained loyal to Aig Imoukhuede and together, they worked to improve the fortunes of their brainchild, Access Bank. And great thanks to the loyalty and vision of Herbert, the bank has grown remarkable leaps from the great height he inherited its saddle from Imoukhuede.
Unlike other bank chiefs who do not have a mind of their own, Herbert is remarkably different. He is formidable in intellect, wisdom, experience and he is truly independent. Thus he stands tall.
Little wonder the management and staff of the bank sing his praises to high heavens. Aig on his part has never grown jealous of Herbert’s success in the saddle. Rather he does his bit to encourage and assist him in running Access Bank and lifting it to greater heights.
You could be forgiven for thinking the threads of their friendship was woven in the colourful fabric of ‘till death do us part.’ But unlike most mortal friends, Aig Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe neither rip apart nor plow through the great, deep, tightly woven fabric of loyalty that defines their friendship.
Aig and Herbert are truly friends like brothers. They have come a long way as buddies and business partners. It would be recalled that when they started Access Bank years ago, pundits in the banking sector believed the bank would not thrive and survive the gruesome years, but the smart, focused men weathered the storms of contemporary banking and today, they occupy enviable positions in the league of Nigeria’s most gifted and seasoned financial Czars.
Beyond the walls of commerce, Aig and Herbert maintain very robust relations. Aig and Herbert’s friendship is undoubtedly wrought with great benefits; however, they cut a different portrait from the sordid and oft reviled imagery of contemporary ‘friends with benefits.’
They have certainly come a long way since that fateful day in 2002 when they saw a unique opportunity and grabbed it, acquiring what was then a small commercial bank, Access Bank. At the time, Access Bank was the 65th largest of 89 banks in the country. It is one of the top three now.
STEPPING DOWN BEFORE HIS TIME
According to Herbert Wigwe in an interview, “I think for us, sustainability is a very important part of our business. Issues that have to do with people, planet and profits – very, very important. So we – together with the Central Bank of Nigeria, several years ago – launched the Nigerian Sustainability Banking Principles. And I think for several years we have been at the lead of it.
“Things that have to do with gender balance; we started supporting female entrepreneurs, we introduced things like the maternal healthcare scheme – things which are not very normal, in the context of the continent.
“But apart from that, I think the most recent aspect – which gives us a lot of pride – is the fact that we launched a green bond. And that green bond is Climate Bond Initiative certified – it’s the first in the continent.
“And the more we do these things, the more we think other corporates will take a lead – and therefore lift up the continent as far as sustainability is concerned. And I think if you keep us side-by-side, most institutions in the continent and world over, I think we’re exactly where we want to be”.
It is also worthy to note that Wigwe decided to step down as the CEO of the bank two years ahead of the expiration of his tenure a rarity in this clime. Analysts pointed out that the move is the hallmark of a leader with eyes on the goal.
Indeed, Herbert is a miracle-working banker. Unlike the middling marabou, his miracles aren’t deceptive in nature rather each one is an event that creates faith in his abilities as fiscal guru and bank chief.
The Access Bank chief is not just administrative Managing Director (MD) but a seasoned leader.
Administrators are always cheap and easy to find, and even cheaper to keep but leaders are worth their weight in gold. Leaders are risk takers and they are often in very short supply; ones with enduring vision however, like Herbert, are pure gold. This is why he is continually revered and celebrated, among his clan and league of extraordinary men in the world.
He understands the rudiments of the business landscape enough to tame the odds and he has done just that. He also understands that to be a man of honour and substance requires indeterminate exploits at dawn through dusk in honest industry. Wigwe knows that honour and longevity, like celery, flourishes in the dark shade – far from the blaze of disconcerting neon lights.
As the new chief executive of Access Holdings Plc, particularly one dealing with intense pressures, Wigwe relies on many things, perspective and context; and strategic counsel and courage of conviction. However, chief among them is loyalty. And in a word, that strengthens Wigwe’s relationship with peer and his underlings.
A strong and dedicated leader, he brings clarity of thought and purpose to his work. He is a good listener who comes to the table not with some preset notion of distrust but rather an open mind; he asks tough questions and tries to find solutions.
In today’s climate, where people spend capital avoiding blame instead of finding common ground, the qualities Wigwe brings to his job are rare. That only makes leadership like his more valuable.
Despite the tempestuous tides of the global business world, Wigwe continues to navigate the storms with a sturdy and solemn resolve to remain atop and afloat.
An Alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme (Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America), Wigwe has a degree in Accountancy from the University of Nigeria (Nsukka, Enugu state), an MA in Banking and Finance from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor), and an M.Sc in Financial Economics from the University of London (the United Kingdom).
Access-Diamond Bank Merger: Greatest Merger Ever
When the Board of Access Bank Plc announced it had signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with Diamond Bank Plc (“Diamond”) regarding a potential merger of the two banks that would create Nigeria and Africa’s largest retail bank by customers, not a few must have expressed doubts about the likelihood of its success. In fact, the announcement was trailed with panic withdrawals from both banks as many did not get the message being passed.
The confidence of many was won over when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) gave approval, having expressed satisfaction with the books of the banks and their operations devoid of any underhand dealings; and shareholders approvals and other regulatory approvals had been obtained. By the time the merger was officially perfected on April 1, 2019, every doubting Thomas who thought it was some sort of April fool prank embraced the new reality. Access Bank Plc is the largest bank in on the African continent!
Also, Access Bank Nigeria now owns all its banking subsidiaries (15 in total) and all its three representative offices in India, China and Lebanon. Since the biggest and most seamless merger saw the light of day, it has been good news galore for the bank, as its leadership under Herbert Wigwe has been more than sterling in performance and results. That he has earned the sobriquet of an icon in Nigerian banking industry should not be a matter of any intense debate, for he has earned his stripes in the country’s financial sector for pulling such a feat in the history of merger and acquisition.
Wigwe has continued to show from time to time that his rise to the pinnacle of his banking career is not by accident or a stroke of luck. His embrace of creative leadership strategy has not only earned the bank a strong performance in the first half of the financial year despite the slow and untenable macro environment; the first post-merger results show a sustainable business model coupled with effective execution as the group make solid gains towards of the achievement of its strategic goals.
The seamless merger formed a leading Tier 1 Nigerian bank and the largest bank in Africa by number of customers, spanning three continents, 12 countries and over 31 million customers, including more than 13 million mobile customers.
THE FLIPSIDE OF HERBERT WIGWE…HOW HE BECAME AN IDOL TO HIS WIFE
Yes, Herbert Wigwe was made for Chizoba. To Chizoba, it probably feels like she had him ordered and delivered to her, to be worshipped and revered. On this note, it may be said that Herbert is Chizoba’s idol.
And this is where it gets interesting; Herbert also considers Chizoba a boon from God. He treasures her like a priceless heirloom – this explains his predilection to flaunt her like a sapphire-studded wristwatch or button hole bouquet to the world.
Herbert adorns the cloak of fatherhood with unprecedented pride hence he never shies from performing his fatherly roles to his wards.
Herbert effortlessly proves that affluence and child-rearing often go hand in hand, under the watchful and compassionate guardianship of a model father. He creates quality time to be with his children.
The top bank MD has successfully raised his children to be his source of joy and abiding peace. And to guarantee their evolution into full-fledged adults, he creates time to celebrate every aspect of his children’s lives; he is part of their progress every step of the way thus he spends vacations with them in exotic locations across the world, and he is there to celebrate their graduations, birthdays and other success stories.
Neither cord nor cable can so forcibly draw, or hold so fast, as love has done in the family of, the MD of Access Bank. To the stylish banker, love and marriage so gladly combine, like Siamese twins born in the same clime. Herbert is head over heels in love with Chizoba years after his heart skipped to the sweet, soft drift of her smile.
The portrait they present is arresting and regularly breathtaking: the pomp and circumstance, pageantry and elegance so clearly defined and characteristic of solemnities perpetuated by historic monarchies, but with a contemporary difference that’s hip and humanizing.
Their story reads like a fable, a rousing tale of a charming prince and princess caught in irreducible splendor of love hewed in honesty and a royal palace. It was the stuff of which fairy tales are made. It is, even now, hence the stirring manifestations of the bond and passion sustaining the miracle-working banker and his queen, Chizoba. If theirs was a false love or the pedestrian passion characteristic of lust aping love, like all parties caught in the deceptive throes of such love, they would be separated by now. But the love that unites them defies the strains and bounds of common love; it is what it is, peerless.
According to an insider, the couple attributed their marital success to an enduring love and friendship and the ability to look every issue in the eye and tackle it with tact and an overwhelming bid to resolve it. Perhaps many more celebrity couples will look to the Wigwes for tips on how to be in a marriage.
They are blessed with two boys and two girls.
WIGWE’S SECRET FETISH
Were the Daode Jing written in contemporary times, the medieval Taoist would understand that the five colours do not necessarily make a man’s eyes blind, sometimes, it awakens the soul and opens the eyes to life’s little beauties; like the beauty in a painter’s strokes and the poetry in his flurry.
There is no gainsaying Nigeria parades such men; many of them are connoisseurs of high art and ardent patrons of the most gifted talents. Their love for contemporary art is only equaled by their lust for life. Little wonder they spend great fortune on artworks and craft.
These exclusive band of art enthusiasts invest heavily in modern art knowing artworks appreciate over time; they know that a painting valued at N6million today could appreciate and command a price tag of N600 million in a few years. Yes, Herbert Wigwe is one of the biggest collectors of most enthralling and pricey artworks in Nigeria nay Africa. The best works of foremost artists including Negritude, Enwonwu, Mufu Onifade, Bruce Onabrapkeya to mention a few, excite his fancies.
THE GOOD DEEDS OF ‘HOW’
The Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe Foundation (HOW) is an Nigerian non-profit organization founded in 2016 by Wigwe and headquartered in Lagos. It focuses on youth empowerment through leadership and mentorship and on health, specifically malaria and prostate cancer.
Thus philanthropy flowers in his heart indescribable peace. It is like a very personal culture of meditation peculiar to him, a process by which he to puts his primal impulses to rest and let conscious thought, compassion and morality guide his being through consummate humaneness and balancing acts. He turns to philanthropy in times of great joy and in times of strife, to celebrate a good day, to dull the severe blow of disappointments, social failures and other minor tragedies.
In a conscious and deliberate quest to institutionalise that culture of philanthropy that spurs him to do good deeds, he would rather spend his fortune on improving the lives of the needy around him rather than squander it on guilty pleasures that defies reason and morality more often than not.
Herbert believes that, for philanthropy to be meaningful, it has to come totally without strings or expectations. Having grown through a tradition of giving and service in his family; he believes that when one has been blessed with so much, as he has, in great health, intelligence and fortune, much is expected of such person in terms of helping the less fortunate and giving back to the society in general.
HIS CATALOGUES OF AWARDS
Unlike the proverbial prophet who has no honour among his kith and kin, Herbert Wigwe has emerged a serial awards winner as he is constantly honoured by home-grown and international media organisations.
Very few bankers in their prime could command such attention from the public and mainstream media. But he is remarkably different. As it is often said that comments are free but facts are sacred, every newsbyte about him commands the flurry of attention and the enduring tribute of interminable cheers. The awards exemplify the tone and tenor of appreciation accorded him by local and international media. Without much ado, the preeminent banker has personified the famous quote of Vince Lombardi that “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit.”