Herbert Wigwe, Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, died in a fatal helicopter accident near the border of California and Nevada in the United States on February 10, 2024.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that the Eurocopter EC130 helicopter crashed at around 10 pm local time near Nipton, Calif., an unincorporated community about 60 miles south of Las Vegas in eastern San Bernardino County,” New York Times reported.

The American National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) said possible weather conditions were likely responsible for the helicopter crash that killed the Access Holdings CEO, his wife, son and four others including the two pilots on board.

Providing additional information about the crash, NTSB said Orbic Air LLC operated the accident flight as a part 135 charter flight with a pilot in command and a safety pilot and was heading to Las Vegas.

Life and Time of Herbert

Herbert Wigwe was a philanthropist, and visionary leader who transformed Access Bank from a small commercial bank into a global financial institution. He was born on August 15, 1966, (57) to parents who are from Omueke Isiokpo in Rivers State.

He attended St. Gregory’s College in Lagos for his secondary education and then proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he obtained a degree in accountancy in 1987. He further obtained a master’s degree in Banking and Finance from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor University) in 1989 and another master’s degree in Financial Economics from the University of London in 1990. He also attended the Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme in 2006.

Wigwe was a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), a Fellow of the Institute of Credit Administration, an Honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, and a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON).

He started his career with Coopers & Lybrand Associates, an international firm of chartered accountants, where he worked as a management consultant and later qualified as a chartered accountant. He then joined Capital Bank as a senior manager in charge of treasury and financial services.

In 1992, he moved to Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) where he spent over ten years working in various capacities such as corporate banking, institutional banking, and treasury. He became the Executive Director in charge of institutional banking and was instrumental in developiGTBank’s public sector business.

He exited GTBank with his business partner and friend, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and acquired a stake in Access Bank Plc, at the time when it was still a struggling small commercial bank ranked 65th out of 89 banks in Nigeria.

They transformed the bank and it grew from a regional bank with less than 10 branches to a global bank with over 600 branches across Nigeria, Africa, and the UK.

Under their leadership, Access Bank became one of the most profitable banks in Nigeria and Africa, with a strong focus on innovation, customer service, corporate governance, and social responsibility. They also led several landmark transactions such as the acquisition of Intercontinental Bank in 2012, which made Access Bank the fourth-largest bank in Nigeria; the merger with Diamond Bank in 2019, which created the largest retail bank in Africa; and the listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2019, which enhanced Access Bank’s international profile and access to capital.

Herbert Wigwe succeeded Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede as the Group Managing Director/CEO of Access Bank Plc in January 2014 and continued to steer the bank to greater heights until April 2022 when he stepped down to become the CEO of Access Holdings Plc, a new entity that was created to oversee the non-banking businesses of Access Bank such as insurance, asset management, payments, and digital banking. He remained a non-executive director of Access Bank Plc until his death.

He founded the Herbert Wigwe Foundation in 2018 to provide scholarships, mentorship, and empowerment to young Nigerians.

One of the most remarkable achievements of Wigwe was the creation of Wigwe University, a groundbreaking institution of higher learning in Nigeria and West Africa. With a $500 million investment, the university set out to transform the landscape of education in the region, offering cutting-edge programs in management, science, engineering, and the arts.

The university, located in Isiokpo, Port Harcourt, received its accreditation from the National Universities Commission in June 2023. Its courses were tailored to meet the needs of vital sectors in the country.

Access Holdings said his legacy of excellence and compassion would continue to inspire them as they bid him farewell.

Wigwe’s passing was a tragic death that sent shock waves through the country. His impact would remain forever. May his soul rest in peace.

Author: Kangmwa Gofwen

Lagos Bureau Chief, Nigeria