By Steve Umidha
Mitchell Elegbe honed his entrepreneurial skills at an early age and all signs pointed towards him making it big in the future. He cut his teeth in business way back during his schooling days while pursuing an electrical engineering course at the University of Benin.
His entrepreneurship abilities first came to limelight as a student when he loaned money from a friend to begin a cassette recording business – where he’d buy high quality audio tapes and then go back to record on them at a recording studio and sell in school. This experience he concedes was an eye opener – one that would awaken other hidden concepts in him.
“It was one of my nascent ideas towards entrepreneurship voyage and with that stride I realized that the many ideas in me would also be actualized,” opens up Mitchell Elegbe who is the current Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Interswitch during a visit at his Nairobi office, Kenya, who goes on to explain that ideas are time bound.
“If I was to start something a fresh, Interswitch would be too small of an idea today. This company is not just a place I go to overnight; it is a series of idea which developed over time.
He is the brain behind the world class integrated payment and transaction processing company, INTERSWITCH, headquartered in Nigeria – but for him the company remains a flagship enterprise through which all its employees are entitled to own shares in the firm, and in which many have come to appreciate his entrepreneurial spirit and the uniqueness the corporation operates under.
“This business is not a one-man show, it’s a collective effort from every individual who work with us,” he says.
Interswitch is an Africa-focused integrated digital payments and commerce company that facilitates the electronic circulation of money as well as the exchange of value between individuals and organizations on a timely and consistent basis, is the emblem that first grins a reader’s face when they log-into the company’s website.
But how did it all start? Not so much is known of how the company started, at least in the local setting.
The firm began operations in 2002 as a transaction switching and electronic payments processing company that builds and manages payment infrastructure as well as deliver innovative payment products and transactional services throughout the African continent.
Him together with a group of friends applied for scheme equity of about 200million (Naira) from the Central Bank of Nigeria and their personal savings to begin operations.
Prior to that, Elegbe who was motivated to practically solve problems, rather than just make money and having a can do attitude are some of the virtues he says helped him set up Interswitch as a fledgling company, barely 5 years after NYSC who reveals he started his career with CSA (Computer Systems Associates in Lagos following his successful graduation from NYS camp, as part of a team that implemented software solutions that now sees Nigerian banks connected to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).
Months later, he joined TELNET in the late nineties and was appointed to head Business Development, Corporate Sales, Solution selling, Customer and Supplier Relationship Management as well as the conceptualization and implementation of new products – a position he says exposed him to begin innovative ways to grow his department who would a year later head the company’s Group Marketing and Business Solutions.
It was at Telnet that he says; the idea of building a nationwide switching company of a world class was conceived. Having with Accenture and nine leading banks in Nigeria, Mitchell managed the project from design, providing the concept to the eventual set up of the company.
According to Mitchell, who believes in service-profit result, Interswitch was the idea at the time that made sense.
“10 years ago, I felt that the way transactions were being done, could be made better and also didn’t understand why people had to go to the bank to get money while they could do so conveniently without visiting the bank hall. You work so hard to get money, save it and when you want it you queue for it –I came to conclusion that this can be changed,” he says.
“My idea at the beginning of this journey was to come up with a solution that would ease most of the transactional hustles most people go through, Interswitch to a larger extent has helped resolve that problem, but we are not about to stop, we are innovating everyday and plans to be a head of our competitors, we believe we are the best in this business,” says a man who generates his motivation from reading books.
Today, the company is valued at un-disclosed billions of shillings having started with just 200Million Naira in 2002 and 8 years later (in 2013) the company is estimated to have grown by 26billion naira and now has operations and office branches in several African countries, what’s more Elegbe says, him together with his team are not stopping just yet.
Back home the company made headline news last month after acquiring a majority stake in Paynet Kenya which owns the Pesa Point network of ATMs across the country, with the acquisition meaning that Paynet’s shareholders will now be allocated some seats on the Interswitch Group Board under the agreement while Bernard Mathewman, current CEO of Paynet will stay on as CEO in charge of the East African region.
The deal is expected to widen Interswitch footprint in Kenya and provide it with 70 financial institutions and over 2,000 companies that Paynet was serving before the acquisition.
The deal is however subject to regulatory approvals and will see Kenyan firm change its brand to that of the Nigerian headquartered company.
The company said at the time that it will now target the public cashless payment solutions that the Kenyan government intends to rollout as a possible source of revenue growth for the company.
“More is yet to come, our consumers should expect more from us,” he concludes and urges young budding entrepreneurs to first be sensible to their driving force while starting out in life, for a man whose belief in life and entrepreneurship is success is not an overtime experience but it involves hard work and sweat and complete determination.
-Interswitch Financial Inclusion Services Limited is positioned to serve as the interconnect point and infrastructure for integrating and delivering electronic payment services to the unbanked, under-banked and banked.
-The company works with financial service providers, merchants, billers, and other organizations that aim to increase their efficiency and outreach through its network of human service interfaces for secure financial transactions nationwide.
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