Believing in your ideas and taking the bold step to bring it to reality is one thing, bringing it to life in spite of a toxic environment is another thing. How do you run a 24/7 business in a country without constant power supply, and how do you get the human resources needed to venture into an unexplored area in the landscape? Vital questions and our Techpreneur of the Week, goes to a man who stands as living proof that it is possible to survive and thrive in any environment.
Once upon a time in Nigeria, people had to go to the bank, join long queues and wait for hours just so they could have money in hand or use bank services. This concept, while still alive seems a lot abstract in our world today where you can instantly make payments and transactions with your phone or at an ATM.
Born last in his family, Mitchell Elegbe was raised by his Uncle. His father had died while his mother was pregnant and a turn of events ended up with him living with relatives. He graduated from the University of Benin with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He is also an alumni of the CEIBS-Wharton-IESE Business School Global CEO Programme.
After his NYSC, he joined Telnet in 1997 as a Business Developer. He was then recruited by Schlumberger Wire line and Testing, Scotland as a Field Engineer. After an encounter with an ATM that seized his card in Scotland, he developed an idea to create an infrastructure that would enable electronic payments.
A year later on his return to Nigeria, he worked for Telnet as head Group Marketing and Business Solutions where he conceived the idea of building a nationwide switching company. He was involved in a project to implement SWIFT, a network for global interbank financial telecommunication. In the course of executing the project, he successfully pitched his ‘electronic payment idea’ to his boss but the process did not work out as planned.
After he left, Elegbe and his team were able to get assistance from Accenture, the global management consulting firm, in establishing a company. He knew that electronic payment would be appealing to banks as well as the Nigerian people because transactions are a significant source of banking revenues. Difficulty in getting a CEO that would accept the salary they could afford left the team with no other option than for Elegbe to become the CEO, four years after his youth service.
In the early years of Interswitch, he started off as an employee with no shareholding. Driven by passion of the vision, Elegbe’s priority was to ensure that his ideas became reality. In no time, his fantastic leadership skills earned him stakes in the enterprise. Foregoing the ownership of the company at inception contributed to the steady growth of the company in its early days.
In 2004, two years after the start of business, Interswitch won a gold medal for Innovation at the Computerworld Honors— an international program that recognizes organizations who use information technology to promote and advance the society. The company had seven local banks on its network. Shortly after that, 13 more banks, Globacom, an ATM consortium and other non-bank companies joined its network. Presently, the company builds and manages payment infrastructure as well as delivers innovative payment products and transactional services for banks, telcos and big companies around the country.
Mitchell’s leadership abilities have earned him several awards including the CNBC/Forbes All African Business Leader (AABLA) for West Africa, Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Harvard Business School Association (Nigeria) Leadership Award in the General Management Category. He is a Desmond Tutu fellow of the African Leadership Institute.
In 2010, a decision was made by the shareholders to tweak the ownership model of the company now valued over $170 million. A private equity deal was structured and two-third of the company was sold to a consortium. This singular act paved way for the acquisition of Bankom, Uganda’s leading transaction switching company. As a result, Interswitch gained more traction across the continent.
Interswitch formed a joint venture with the Central Bank of The Gambia and some other banks to replicate a national payment infrastructure, acting as management contractors. This is just an example of its move towards integrating the financial systems of countries in sub-Saharan Africa despite the challenges faced by payment switches in markets that lack the measures required to achieve profitability within a short time.
Elegbe is the current Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Interswitch Group which he started in 2002— at a time when such a system was said to be impossible given the infrastructural challenges in Nigeria.
He is married to Mrs. Mercy Elegbe and is a father to 3 children.
More on TechGist Africa:
- Call for Submission: CCHub’s 2019 GovLab Idea Pitch
- SA’s Fintech Startup, Invoiceworx Rebrands to Zande Africa
- Nihilent Opens Africa’s First User Experience Lab
- Linum Labs, ETHGLOBAL AFRICA Calls for Submission
- Volkswagen Rwanda Introduces Electric Cars in Ride Hailing App
Get real time update about this post categories directly on your device, subscribe now.