Mitchell Elegbe is a Nigerian entrepreneur, engineer, and philanthropist born on November 14, 1973. He is a graduate of Electrical Engineering from the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Edo state. He is also an alumnus of the Global CEO Program organized by IESE Business School, The Wharton School, and China Europe International Business School (CEISBS) for senior executives of organizations. Elegbe is the founder, managing director, and Chief Executive Officer of Interswitch, an integrated payment and transaction company in Nigeria.
Mitchell Elegbe started his career journey during the mandatory one-year service to Nigeria with Computer Systems Associates (CSA), a software implementation company connecting banks to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT). At the end of his service year, he joined Telnet, an ICT engineering and consulting company as a business developer before he later moved to Schlumberger Wireline & Testing in Scotland as a field engineer. In Scotland, he had an embarrassing experience as a first-time user of the automated teller machine (ATM) where the machine swallowed his card. At this time, there were no ATMs in Nigeria and this inspired him to bring an automated teller machine to Nigeria. He hashed a plan to build a payment system that would make electronic payment a reality in the country. On his return to Nigeria, he was reemployed by Telnet telecommunications where he told his boss about his electronic payment idea. He was authorized to carry it out but the idea didn’t quite work. Instead, he started selling the software idea for switching but most individuals were not interested. This inspired him to create Interswitch to meet his targets.
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In the early 2000s, Mitchell Elegbe was pitching the switch software to several players in the financial industry, who did not find it interesting or worthy of investment. The software was the solution to the inconveniences in the financial system in Nigeria. These challenges range from long and stressful journeys to the banks, waiting in long queues, missing transaction deadlines, and increased loss of cash to criminals. He first raised the Switch idea as software that would serve as a solution to the problems he had identified. The issue with his idea was that most traditional players in the financial industry did not find it interesting, and were unwilling to buy. He then decided to set it up as a company of its own, and with his team, he was able to raise funds with support from Accenture. His goal was simple, to ease the burden involved in money transfers and all financial transactions. When it was time to get the business running, he had hoped to get someone to lead Interswitch as CEO but could not get anyone to step up to the task. Most of the capable hands available then were expatriates “who expected to earn more than the company’s capital.” He was encouraged by colleagues and his team to take up the position himself, and he eventually resigned from his job at Telnet to lead Interswitch as CEO. At the outset, he had no shares but the impressive results which the company showed under his leadership earned him and his team some equity in the coming years. Roughly a decade later, he led Interswitch’s growth to over $170 million in worth. Describing him as the switch behind Interswitch would be most reasonable because he brought Interswitch from an idea on paper to Africa’s second unicorn. Within eight years, Interswitch had grown in value to about N26 billion (over $170 million), giving early private equity holders some massive returns. The company’s network grew steadily from 7 banks to 13 with an ATM consortium and Globacom, a mobile telecommunications provider. The company has almost all Nigerian banks and 11,000 ATMs on its network. Some of its products include the Verve card (the largest domestic card scheme in Africa with 100% payment acceptance in Nigeria and acceptance in over 185 countries globally), Quickteller (for online payments), and Retailpay (for mobile business handling), and Smartgov. He sits as Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer and a member of the board of directors at Interswitch.
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Mitchell Elegbe has received so many recognitions such as the Bishop Desmond Tutu fellowship of the African Leadership Institute, the CNBC/Forbes All African Business Leader (AABLA) for West Africa in 2012, the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Award, the International Finance Corporation’s Inclusive Business Leader Award and recognition
For business excellence and social impact during the 2013 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship (AAE). In 2019, The African Banker named Mitchell Elegbe the 2019 African Banker Icon. He equally has the Harvard Business School Association (Nigeria) Leadership Award in the General Management category.Featured Image Source: Nairametrics
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