Herbert Wigwe: The Corporate Meastro

He is one half of the two adventurous duo who took Access Bank Plc from its humble beginnings as a ‘small’ bank less than 15 years ago and built it into an African giant that the Bank is today, as an evidence of his contributions to the phenomenal growth that has characterized Nigeria’s banking industry in in the last two decades or so.
This is the story of a maestro in corporate Nigeria. Powered by a sturdy academic foundation, which molded the character that has become an emerging powerhouse in Africa’s banking climate, he holds a BSc Degree in Accountancy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a Master’s Degree in Banking and International Finance from the University College of North Wales.
He is also an Alumnus of Harvard Business School and backed with a Master’s Degree in Financial Economics from the University of London as well as a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). Guess who? He is Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe, Group Managing Director, Access Bank Plc.
Hails from Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Herbert Wigwe is from a middle class family. His parents were civil servants who worked to the very top of their careers. His father, Engr. Shyngle Wigwe was a staff of the Nigerian Television Authority and he rose to the pinnacle; the Director General of NTA, then Africa’s largest television network. Hailing from an itinerant family that was always on the move at the demand of civil service regimented assignment, the family lived in Benin, Ibadan and finally, Lagos, thereby gaining an advantage in terms of exposure and understanding of Nigeria’s diverse culture and people ahead of his peers.
He had his secondary education at Federal Government College, Sokoto and later in Warri thereby enabling him to cultivate friendship that cuts across religion and cultural divide. He grew up imbibing the best of a value system from his parents who were civil servants and the civil service of those days had the best people, well disciplined, hardworking and upright in character and these are qualities that help nurtured the man that he is today and in no small measure aided his contributions to Integrity, Fairness and Excellence; values the Access Bank Group as an institution holds as its creed.
An accountant by training, Herbert Wigwe began his career at Coopers & Lybrand, thereafter, he became a Chartered Accountant and did a bit of management consulting. Then the opportunity, to actualize his childhood dream of a career in Nigeria’s banking sector came in the early 90s when the Babangida regime began the process of liberalizing the banking sector.
According to him, “I had friends who were investment bankers and I found banking interesting, than accounting as it allowed me express myself a lot more. I also have a very strong entrepreneurial streak and as I saw banks spring up, I felt it was a good time to forge a great partnership and try this new venture.”
He left his job as an Executive Director responsible for Corporate Banking in Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, to join Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede in transforming Access Bank Plc as its Group Deputy Managing Director. In January 2013, after co-steering the affairs of the bank for 13 years, the mantle of leadership fell on him. He was 46. Energetic and very experienced to move the Access train forward and faster on the “the transformation journey, touted as one of Africa’s most successful corporate transformation stories.
He is a business leaders whose brilliance has engineered the growth of Access Bank with immense contribution to the development of the banking industry in Africa, even in his days as Group Deputy Managing Director, he moves behind the scene, runs from media attention and despite an impressive pedigree, maintains a very humble lifestyle yet his deft and ingenuity are well-known, as he continuously piloted “series of revolutionary business initiatives that enhanced the bank’s industry positioning and boosted its fortunes.
Over time, he has cultivated a people’s person and team player culture who likes leading from the front rather than a rear commander of his army; to win together and collectively share the grandeur.
Under his watch, in just two years, Access Bank has risen to become one of the “top five banks in Nigeria” and “ranked among the top 500 global banks in the world”, according to a 2015 The Banker Magazine report.
The bank now has over 6.5m individual and corporate account holders, with 350 branches, more than 1,500 ATMs scattered across major towns and cities in Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa and the UK.
Little wonder that in the first quarter of 2016, a profit rise of 42% was announced and Wigwe thanked the bank’s ‘ever-trusting shareholders, formidable board of directors and employees’, for the feat. Known for his willingness to inspire and lead by example, Wigwe’s brilliant mind is an abode of philosophical and inspirational talks that he ceaselessly shares with youths and his colleagues.
Access Bank Plc also emerged the best bank in Nigeria for the year 2016 at the Business Day Annual Banking Awards as a confirmation of its exceptional performance in 2015. So also, Herbert Wigwe, the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer was honoured as the Bank CEO of the Year 2016. Access Bank had earlier won Euromoney’s Best Bank Transformation Award in the Euromoney 2016 Awards for Excellence.
A couple of years back, the governing council of the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria could not ignore his exemplary leadership and pro-social behaviours, and consequently conferred upon Herbert Wigwe an honorary doctorate degree in Business Administration. The university reasoned that the best way to encourage a certain type of behaviour is to reward any individual or people behaving in that particular way.
He is possessed by an unwavering devotion to Access Bank’s aspiration of becoming Africa’s most respected bank. And his golden rule to success is, “Never give up on your dreams and do not break rule number one.”

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