First off, I have to expressly make a disclaimer that I did not know Herbert Wigwe personally or ever meet him but I know a lot of people who knew him well and whose lives he touched and impacted profoundly. A stunned nation learnt of the breaking news of his tragic demise a week ago along with his wife Doreen Wigwe, his son Chizi Wigwe and his good friend another business icon Baamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, a lawyer and former Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange. Messages were flying all over various business groups, whatsapp chats with members from countries all over Africa sharing testimonials and stories of his friendship or chance encounters. Many people were left, speechless, broken and still trying to come to terms with such a sad ending. Though I am still trying to unravel from it, I was inspired to dedicate this week’s piece to him as a tribute.

It is sadly true and perhaps a little morbid that when an iconic person passes they suddenly attain an air of mystery and become a major source of attraction. It is not surprising that we become drawn to them even more in death. We want to learn about him posthumously, where did he go to school, where did he grow up and how did he achieve so much by the age of 57? How was he able to attain the dizzying heights of entrepreneurship and emerge as a Pan African leader. I have summarised a few takeaways from the powerhouse that was Herbert Wigwe.

Become a Visionary

He was a visionary who dared to take unconventional paths, evident in his efforts to reshape the landscape of banking and beyond. Under his leadership with his long term friend and business partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhede , Access Bank Plc became the largest bank in Nigeria by assets after several mergers – first with Intercontinental Bank in 2014, and then with Diamond Bank in 2019, with ambitions to become the biggest bank in Africa. When Herbert and Aigboje took over ownership of the then ailing Access Bank, he was just 35 years old, whilst Aigboje was 36 years old. They were very young and ambitious by all standards in banking business. Despite being allegedly dissuaded by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) about being “too young to own a bank”, armed with a can do attitude, solid banking experience amassed from working at GTB as Executive Directors and being an established professionals, Herbert – a Chartered Accountant whilst Aig is a lawyer and Access Bank, they went off to chart a new path in Access which was then the 65th largest of 89 banks in Nigeria. It eventually became the biggest bank in Nigeria by assets by 2021.

Remembering Dr. Herbert Wigwe, CFR - The Legacy Builder

Be Passionate about Causes

Wigwe was not just a consummate professional being a successful award winning Banker, Chartered Accountant and Businessman he also championed causes in sports, arts, and education, recognising their power to shape and influence millions of lives.

His contributions to education are numerous, just to mention a few; The Phoenix Project https://phoenixprojectng.com/about (of which I am proudly a member of the online faculty). It is a collaboration between Accelerate and the School of Media of the Pan African Business School which was set up to train and empower the youth with skills for the creative sector. His ultimate legacy project, the recent commissioning of Wigwe University, whose slogan is “WE THE FEARLESS” underscored his long lasting commitment to knowledge dissemination and empowering the next generation through a world class tertiary educational institution in Nigeria.

Remembering Dr. Herbert Wigwe, CFR - The Legacy Builder

As a professional myself with major sports interests, I couldn’t help but pay attention to his foray into sports, the establishment of major sporting events such as the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon and Access Bank Polo Day, which has held events in South Africa and also in the United Kingdom. These events reflect his diverse sports interests have not only broadened the competitive sporting landscape for Africans but have also left a lasting positive social impact on various communities. The truth is great leaders understand the transformational power of sports and culture.

Last but certainly not the least was his notable commitment to the arts, and over the years he inspired a renaissance of artistic creativity through collaboration, funding and publicity. He was an ardent supporter of Art X, and he was also very vocal about his love of African Art and boasted one of the largest private art collections in the country, his state of the art headquarters showcased an impressive art collection further demonstrating his dedication to the arts.

Interesting fact is that he was the purchaser of a painting from the series of Tutu, the famous set of renditions of Ife Princess Adetutu Ademiluyi by the late Ben Enwonwu OBE which was sold by auction at Bonhams in 2018 in the UK to an undisclosed buyer for over a million pounds.

Remembering Dr. Herbert Wigwe, CFR - The Legacy Builder

Become a Master of Systems and Scaling Up

Insights on Herbert Wigwe I gathered from an interview with Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa reveals Wigwe’s secret to success is through the creation of sustainable institutions that can outlast the founders and leaders themselves. As a trained compliance professional myself, I also hold dearly to this concept that businesses that wish to play the long term game must focus on building solid institutional structures with good governance that do not depend solely on the founder for its survival. Another interesting fact about Wigwe is that he was a major advocate of banking compliance in its early days which aided the set up one of one of the largest banking compliance departments in the country. The former Chief Compliance Officer of Access Bank Plc at the time, Mr Pattison Boleigha with the support of Access Bank went on to birth the creation of the Compliance Institute. Which today has become the foremost training organisation for compliance officers in capital markets in Nigeria.

Masiyiwa also noted that it was Wigwe’s mastery of scale, that turned Access Bank into a global player through the application of core business principles including effective business management and scaling and distribution.

Bold and Fearless Leadership

Wigwe’s leadership was characterised by thinking big and acting boldly. His commitment to gender diversity and inclusion by empowering women within Access Bank with the W community was notable. Remarkably his leadership style echoes even posthumously as seen in the appointment of a female acting Group CEO, Bolaji Agbede following his untimely demise.

His “Future Forward Leadership,” style encapsulated thinking big, acting fast, and challenging the status quo. Live fearlessly was a philosophy Wigwe embodied. His transformative leadership left an indelible mark on Access Bank, the banking industry in Nigeria, Africa and the wider business society at large.

Remembering Dr. Herbert Wigwe, CFR - The Legacy Builder

Become a Philanthropist

Through his philanthropic efforts, Wigwe founded The HOW Foundation and initiated events like the Access Bank/UNICEF Charity Shield Polo tournament, leaving a legacy of compassion and generosity. His advocacy at global forums showcased his commitment to finding innovative solutions to pressing societal challenges.

As we bid adieu to Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe, we acknowledge not only the loss of a banking titan but also the brilliance of his uncharted path and we can only imagine what other achievements he would have accumulated. His legacy of compassion, innovation, and resolve will forever inspire his loved ones , his colleagues and friends to continue to forge a path for a brighter tomorrow.

May the soul of Herbert Wigwe, his beloved wife and cherished son and Baamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo rest in perfect peace. My heartfelt condolences go out to their children left behind, spouse, siblings, family and friends.

Thank you for reading this weeks edition. If you enjoyed it please like, share or comment. Until next time.