By: Chukwudi Iwuchukwu
Every year, Herbert Wigwe had this culture that he did not miss.
He was a big fan of the Super Bowl, the biggest sports ritual in America, and so he cleared his table to travel to California to watch a sport that helps him relax and rejuvenate and which he considers one of his guilty pleasures.
He left Nigeria on Wednesday and sadly, he would not be coming back again.
Let me digress.
In 2002, the late Herbert and his partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, had a dream.
To own a bank of their own
At that time, they were working for Guaranty Trust Bank as executive directors.
However, the boardroom politics of GTB were so intense and toxic that they knew they had to exit and do their own thing.
So they incubated and hatched a dream to buy a bank of their own.
Even when they did not have the resources to buy a bank, they were not discouraged; rather, they started looking for investors who could invest in their dream.
One of the investors they met who eventually bought into their dream was Cosmas Maduka of Coschsris Motors.
With enough money in the bank, backed by solid dye in the wood investors, the Access Bank project was launched by these two ambiguous young men who were in their 30’s.
AIG was 36.
Herbert was 35, but his young age did not stop him from dreaming big and dreaming what was possible.
Their age at that time eventually became an albatross, an Achilles hill, as the CBN staff told them to their faces that they were too young to own a bank, and rightly so.
But they were unwavering and never allowed the pessimism of the CBN staff to discourage them.
Access Bank—at the time, the 65th largest of the 89 banks in the country—was a small bank before AIG and Herbert took over in 2002.
A midsized, small bank.
AIG was the CEO of the bank when they started before handing it over to Herbert in 2013, who took over from where he stopped and then turned Access Bank into the monstrous beast that it is today.
Access Bank was not this big when Herbert took over.
That a small bank in 2002 is today the biggest bank in Nigeria by assets is a testament to Herbert’s drive and the kind of business leader he was.
Not only that Access bank grew to be the biggest bank in Nigeria by asset under his watch, three years ago, he put it on course to become a top 10 Pan-African financial institution with vast interest and subsidiary in banking, insurance, pension and payments.
A transformational business leader in every aspect
He dared to dream and showed the world through his story and examples that nothing is too daring or too big to attempt if you believe in yourself.
But beyond this, he was an impactful leader who pushed everyone around him to be a better version of themselves.
Bold, daring, and full of courage.
He believes everything is possible, and he has pushed himself to be an example of that possibility.
And he empowered a lot of young people.
Both those who worked directly with him as subordinates and strangers who did not know.
Editi Effiong, the CEO of Anakle, a digital marketing agency in Lagos, once shared a story of how Herbert gave him his biggest break in business.
Herbert saw a viral app on Twitter, the Bride Price app, built by Editi and team.
Herbert was impressed by the vision and innovation that went into the development of the Bride Price app, invited Editi and her team, and then handed over Access Bank’s social media accounts for Editi and his team to manage with a hefty monthly retainer.
He went beyond the management of Access Bank’s
Most of the Access Bank TV ads shown on CNN were done by Editi and his team because Herbert believed he could do it.
This genorisidy and belief changed Editi’s life into the big man he is today.
And that is Herbert for you.
Who he was
A man who took a bet on himself and other people to scale, evolve, and do big things.
A man whose imagination changed his life.
He loved his wife Chizoba so much, and it is quite ironic that they died together, entwined in each other’s arms.
I thought briefly when the news of his passing broke what went through his mind during his last moment, when it dawned on him that this was the final moment on earth.
Was it a painful transition for him?
So sad that what he enjoyed doing most, his guilty pleasure, took his life on his way to watch tomorrow’s Super Bowl, but we are consoled that Herbert is in a better place, and the businesses he built, which include Access Bank and Wigwe University, will speak eloquently of his legacies in years to come.
For Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe CON, his watch has sadly come to an end.
May his soul rest in peace.