• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Herbert Wigwe: The things yet unsaid!

Wigwe’s PA recounts how luggage stopped him from joining ill-fated chopper

Clean-shaven, suave, upwardly mobile, and incurably optimistic, Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (HOW) was one of the most recognisable figures in the banking space and corporate Nigeria. His official biography could only be written by him. But I hope his example can inspire and influence us. Accurately describing Herbert in one word can be compared to explaining the mystery of centuries in a few words or a wild goose chase. It is a nuanced and complex process.

He was an extraordinary businessman who died alongside his wife and son in the United States of America under exceptional circumstances. His tragic and sudden departure reverberated beyond our shores. But who was Herbert Wigwe? I can only answer this question through the narrow prism of my friendship and many encounters with him.

He was unapologetically capitalist, in the proper sense of it, and he lived his life using capital to solve many societies’ needs.

Herbert and I were members of the same local church assembly, and I witnessed his dedication to spirituality, good works, and commitment to church growth. It is easy to explain because of his solid Christian foundation. Herbert’s father, Elder Shyngle Wigwe, is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Herbert was a man of prayer, which he complemented with a ruthless work ethic. He attributed all his successes to God’s blessings.

Both of us are from Rivers State, and we had many sessions on how best to fix the politics of Rivers and, by extension, improve the state’s development trajectory. Herbert was utterly detached from politics but had deep insight into political manoeuvrings. We debated the affairs of Rivers State and the country, and he baffled me with the precision with which he predicted the outcome of political contests. He would quickly tell you that his political party is Nigeria and no other.

His passion for Nigeria was simply unwavering. Only a few people can match his faith in Nigeria. He firmly believed that he would impart knowledge to society by using businesses to provide solutions to society’s needs and create wealth that would touch the lives of many. He was unapologetically capitalist, in the proper sense of it, and he lived his life using capital to solve many societies’ needs.

Herbert was a man of bold dreams and obsessed with excellence while making room for unavoidable mistakes. Herbert never gave up on any bold dream, no matter the odds. He rode the waves of challenges and was filled with the spirit of hard work, dedication, and strokes of ingenuity. He had bold dreams in all ramifications, and this was self-evident.

First, as a young banker, he teamed up with his friend and partner to acquire “a distressed bank,” rated number 89 then, and turn it around in two decades to become one of the top five banks, with an asset base of over N20.9 trillion, which is phenomenal. Herbert, as CEO, set out to build an Access Bank with the vision of becoming the gateway to Africa and the world’s most respected African bank.

With a presence in more than 13 African countries plus a footprint on other continents, Access Bank was working towards realising this vision. Second, Wigwe University, which Herbert personally referred to as the “future Harvard University of Africa,” was another extraordinary, bold dream. He set out to build the best university in Africa, investing $500 million in the initial set-up. You do not need further testament that he was a man of bold dreams.

An entrepreneur extraordinaire, his mystique was his ability to sniff out opportunities where others see none, multiplied by the fact that he was one of the most persistent persons I know when going after opportunities. He mentored many budding entrepreneurs, top managers, and top academics in entrepreneurship. Apart from his well-known flagship, Access Bank, he was active in other financial services, construction, oil and gas, aviation, film, and music, and, most recently, the education sector. He became a star of success in all his multiple business pursuits.

Herbert’s strength was his ability to connect with people of all classes and cadres, simplify complex things, and master Rivers’ version of Pidgin English. He was known as the “original old Port Harcourt boy” and was known for his courage, daring, patient, and persistent nature. His relentless ambition to accomplish exceptional things attracted both friends and foes, making him a successful figure.

The Herbert Wigwe Foundation, founded in 2016, focuses on youth empowerment, health, arts, and education. The foundation’s mentorship emphasises the importance of youth in Nigeria and Africa’s development. The founder was an art enthusiast and contributed to the country’s art development. He also supported healthcare projects for the underprivileged. His charity work was unique due to his dislike of publicity.

Herbert’s enduring legacy is the power of vision, bold dreams, courage, and determination to pursue it and rally people to accomplish the objective. This is what we need to improve in our public space. History has shown that bold dreams have the power to transform societies.

Listening to Herbert talk about his vision was to find yourself in the oasis of inspiration. He genuinely believed that there was nothing you fixed your mind on that you could not accomplish.

Herbert’s life was a testament to passion, dedication, resilience, and boldness in achieving personal and societal goals. He set ambitious goals and pursued them relentlessly, proving that an unexamined life is not worth living. To achieve greatness and make a significant impact, one must be purposeful, bold, and patient. Herbert lived his future to the fullest, embodying Peter Drucker’s advice of creating the future.

Herbert Smith left a significant legacy for budding entrepreneurs, proving the axiomatic expression that “Entrepreneurship is living a few years like most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” He made sacrifices and built capital, making him a formidable figure among his contemporaries. Steve Jobs emphasised that great work fills a large part of one’s life, and Herbert’s outstanding work exemplified this. Success is not just luck; it’s a product of hard work, knowledge, skills, and integrity.

As a business and community leader, Herbert understood that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.

My friend and brother Herbert lived like a candle in the wind. His star burned so brightly but ended so shortly. Greatness in life is not measured in how long one lives but in the impact of one’s life on society. Herbert lived, and he conquered. Adieu, my great visioner!