From Nigeria to the United States and the world, the international business community is mourning the loss of the Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings.
At the age of 57, Dr Herbert Wigwe, Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings, met his untimely demise in a helicopter crash near the California-Nevada border, along with his wife Chizoba, son Chizi, and former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group), Abimbola Ogunbanjo.
Wigwe’s journey in the finance world began at the age of 21 as a Management Consultant for Coopers & Lybrand before qualifying as a Chartered Accountant at 23, setting the stage for a 36-year career marked by entrepreneurial strides and social responsibility. As Access Holdings, parent of Access Bank, one of Africa’s largest banking groups, mourned his passing, they remarked, “Herbert’s visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to social impact initiatives have left an indelible mark on Access Holdings and the communities we serve. His legacy will never be forgotten.”
Wigwe graduated from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Accountancy in 1987 followed by a Master’s degree in Banking and Finance from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor) in 1991. He bagged a Master of Science degree in Financial Economics from the University of London in 1996 and is an Alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, a Fellow of the Institute of Credit Administration, and an Honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria.
Having bought Access Bank alongside Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede in 2002, Wigwe became Deputy Managing Director and later Group Managing Director/CEO in 2014, a position he held until May 2022. He was subsequently appointed a Non-Executive Director of the Bank effective May 2022. His tenure was characterized by strategic growth and impactful initiatives, including transitioning into a holding company structure to diversify and explore beyond banking opportunities in 2022.
Before Access Bank, Wigwe was the Executive Director at Guaranty Trust Bank where he spent over 10 years beginning as the Deputy Manager of the Corporate Bank arm.
Speaking on the merger with Diamond Bank in 2019, he shared insights in an exclusive interview with CNBC Africa, stating, “Access Bank has, over the years, built a very strong corporate banking business and commercial banking business, very strong on treasury and very strong on risk management. We have also built and pursued a value chain management strategy to deepen our retail incursion. Diamond Bank brings a very strong and phenomenal retail base. They have invested significantly in digital and they have been extremely successful as far as reaching out to customers with 17 million customers and a very significant retail base.”
Reflecting on his journey, Wigwe’s longtime business partner, Aig-Imoukhuede, emphasized their shared entrepreneurial spirit and mutual respect. Recounting their early days, he shared in an exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA in 2016: “He was my closest friend in the bank and the professional colleague I most respected and I believe vice versa. So in terms of selecting a partner, he was the best person I could choose. I told Herbert, ‘listen we are doing this and we are doing everything we need to run a bank and the only way we can get that reward is if we are risking our own capital. So let’s get out and buy a bank, let’s do it together’. So Herbert’s entrepreneurial juices started running. We didn’t resign immediately, we were still giving GTB 100%, and nobody knew and we were talking to owners of banks.”
Beyond his banking endeavors, Wigwe’s influence extended to various sectors as Chairman of Access Bank (Ghana), Access Investment & Securities Limited, and Central Securities and Clearing System (CSCS), Access Bank (UK) Limited and Unified Payments Services Limited. He was also a Board Member of Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company and actively engaged in advisory roles, including the advisory Board for Friends Africa.
Wigwe committed to social change through the establishment of the Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (HOW) Foundation in 2016, dedicated to youth empowerment and health initiatives, particularly addressing malaria and prostate cancer. His vision for education led to the development of Wigwe University, a $500 million project set to commence academic session in September in his hometown of Isiokpo, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, Southern Nigeria.
The outpouring of grief and tributes from world leaders, colleagues, and friends indicate the profound impact he had on lives.
French President Emmanuel Macron taking to Facebook expressed his condolences, highlighting Wigwe’s role in strengthening Franco-Nigerian relations. “France has lost a friend,” Macron lamented, acknowledging Wigwe’s efforts as President of the French Nigeria Business Council.
Ajuri Ngelale, Special Adviser to Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, conveyed Tinubu’s shock and distress at the loss of Wigwe and others. “Their passing is an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension,” Ngelale quoted Tinubu.
Femi Otedola, Chairman of Geregu Power PLC, shared fond memories of Wigwe and his family in a post on X (formerly Twitter), describing him as a “banking genius” and emphasizing the lasting legacy he leaves behind.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) mourned Wigwe’s passing, recognizing his role as an investor in NBA Africa. The NBA’s condolences echo the sentiment shared by many who admired Wigwe’s contributions beyond the business world.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), expressed deep sympathies to the families affected by the tragic helicopter crash. She emphasized Wigwe’s significant contributions to Access Bank Group and extended condolences to his partner, Aig-Imoukhuede.
Festus Keyamo, Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, recalled his last encounter with Wigwe and lamented the loss of a close friend and neighbor. He reflected on plans they had discussed for the aviation sector, highlighting Wigwe’s passion for innovation and collaboration.
Kashifu Abdullahi, Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), remembered Wigwe as a visionary leader dedicated to nurturing young talent and promoting educational opportunities. Abdullahi emphasized that Wigwe’s impact will continue to inspire generations to come.