As Wigwe’s Phenomenon Spreads Beyond Banking

As Wigwe’s Phenomenon Spreads Beyond Banking

Having conquered the finance sector, where his Access Holdings Plc has continued to set standards of performance, Herbert Wigwe’s entry into the education sector, which he said was driven by his desire to create a crop of fearless but well-prepared leaders promises to serve as catalysts for transformative change in Africa, writes Festus Akanbi

Throughout human history, certain individuals are usually propped up as men of ideas who are driven by an innate impulse to innovate and find solutions. Men of ideas are those who thrive amidst challenges, leveraging their creative intellect to navigate complexities and overcome obstacles. Rather than succumbing to despair, these individuals perceive challenges as opportunities to exercise their ingenuity and problem-solving abilities.

At every epoch of Nigerian economic history, certain individuals are usually positioned to envision possibilities, explore uncharted territories, and craft solutions that redefine conventional thinking.

Certainly, one of these history-making men is the Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, who has continued to bestride the Nigerian financial sector like a colossus.

Wigwe, without any doubt, ticked all the boxes as a remarkable leader, builder, dreamer, philanthropist, and financial services executive.

That might be because he has a rare mix of charisma and intelligence. But it’s mostly because he has earned the right to be listened to, having made Access Holding not just one of the most successful and powerful banks in Africa but also one of the most successful Nigerian companies.

Although Access was among the leading banks as of 2014 when Wigwe took over as the Group Managing Director of the bank, he has succeeded in taking the bank to a fantastic level, as it emerged as the number one bank in terms of assets in Nigeria.

Under Wigwe, Access Holdings is not just about size, it is also about quality. The story of the success of the holding company captures the fullness of a man whose mind for business and appetite for adventure was matched only by his heart for giving and a sense of responsibility to others. And with his venture into the education sector, there is no doubt that his impact will continue to be felt, and now the inspiring lessons from his life will reach an even wider audience.

Wigwe University: Eyes on Fearless Leaders

Herbert Wigwe’s story has been told many times, and many of the statistics that back up the tale are well-known, but here is the account of the dizzying innovation he is bringing into Nigeria’s educational sector.

Having conquered the financial services sector, and given his very rich experience in terms of human resources, Wigwe beamed his searchlight into Nigeria and Africa’s job market and concluded that the only way to build effective human resources for business and economy in Nigeria and Africa is to change the narrative and build a university that will produce fearless and adaptive students.

Currently, Wigwe, the problem solver, is building a $500 million eponymous university, to produce a set of fearless leaders, in his hometown, Isiokpo, Rivers State Nigeria.

This focus was effectively captured in the university’s mission statement which is to set a standard of educational distinction for our continent, students, and educators, nurturing the next generation of African leaders to become guiding lights for positive impact in a rapidly changing world.

Outlining some of the challenges of quality education, Wigwe listed issues like low-quality standards, lack of qualified manpower, mentorship and pastoral care, infrastructural deficits, poor funding, and outdated curriculum and systems.

According to findings made by the university promoter, the consequences of the challenges are poor employability capacity as fresh graduates are often deemed unemployable, even where the jobs exist, due to a lack of skills for the current human resources requisition and the fourth industrial revolution.

These findings, it was gathered, made Wigwe University innovate a curriculum within NUC-approved ambits, to create an exciting cocktail of cross and multi-disciplinary degrees and courses, which would prepare students for the current skills requisitions of the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), future of work, leadership capacity and entrepreneurial pursuits and fill their aspirations.

Writing about his resolve to create a fearless generation of Africans, Wigwe explained that the university is the culmination of his lifelong ambition to build an exceptional, world-class, innovative, yet uniquely African institution to grow Nigeria’s next generation of leaders who will change the face of our continent.

“Through my foundation – The HOW Foundation, my mission is to shape the course of Nigeria’s future by grooming a fearless generation of Africans, who would be future leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs, who would propel Nigeria and Africa forward in leadership, socio-economic growth and inspiration. Wigwe University will develop world-class faculties, innovative curricula, and modern learning methods to rival, if not exceed, the globe’s most respected Ivy-League universities,” he stated.

Explaining further, Wigwe said “With state-of-the-art facilities, collaborative spaces, innovative programmes and partnerships, mentorship, pastoral care, and a vibrant campus culture, we will foster an environment that unleashes the potential of future fearless African generations.

“The truth is that the end to the good we can achieve is nowhere in sight. There’s so much more to conquer. There are more lives to impact and generations to uplift to achieve their full potential. History will favour the brave, those who knew their limitations only because they had to defy them. History will favour the fearless.”

With 1,400 students expected to be enrolled next year, Wigwe is betting that by leveraging technology, the institution will offer the same quality of education as universities in the US and UK—where he plans to recruit 30% of teaching staff. Wigwe disclosed that the university has built a power plant to supply electricity to the university and will use holograms and artificial intelligence to ensure a student hybrid system.

He said, “We embody Nigeria’s resilience, fearless culture, values, her entrepreneurial spirit. We are the African spirit of strength in numbers, teamwork, and collaboration. We symbolise and express the irrepressible human spirit of design thinking. We strive for sustainability and a shared prosperous future for all.

“The world needs the problem solvers, torch bearers, and game changers that will form part of our community of learning. They will create sustainable solutions for our planet and people. They will have the most conducive environment to do this and attain their highest potential.

“I cannot change the world overnight. But if I can empower even one youth today, or tomorrow, they could join me in empowering others. With time, we could change the world.”

The Man Wigwe

Born on August 15, 1966, Wigwe has a degree in accountancy from the University of Nigeria, an MA in Banking and Finance from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor), an MSc in Financial Economics from the University of London, and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Program.

Wigwe started his career at Coopers & Lybrand, Lagos as a management consultant, later qualifying as a chartered accountant. After a stint at Capital Bank, he joined GTBank where he spent over a decade working in corporate and institutional banking, rising to become the executive director in charge of institutional banking.

In 2002, Wigwe and his business partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede bought into what was then a small commercial bank, Access Bank – at the time, the 65th largest of the 89 banks in the country.

Over the past 30 years, Access Corporation has evolved from an obscure Nigerian Bank into a world-class African financial institution. Today, the Corporation is one the largest in Nigeria in terms of assets, loans, deposits, and branch network; a feat which has been achieved through a robust long-term approach to client solutions – providing committed and innovative services from Banking, Payments, Lending, to Insurance and Pension Assets.

Access Bank is now one of the top five banks in Nigeria and ranked among the top 500 global banks according to a 2015 report by The Banker magazine and is aiming to be Africa’s top bank.

As one of Nigeria’s foremost corporate bankers, he has helped develop some of Africa’s biggest companies in the construction, telecommunications, energy, and oil and gas sectors through a unique model, which involves understanding and providing financial support and expertise. His career in financial services spans more than 25 years including over a decade as Deputy Managing Director.

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