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Nigerian Business Icon: Jim Ovia

by Valentine Ogbamebor

Background and Personal Life

Jim Ovia is a Nigerian businessman, writer and motivational speaker. As a versatile businessman, Jim Ovia is not only making waves in the banking industry, but also in the IT sector in Nigeria. He his most famous as the pioneer CEO and Chairman of Zenith Bank PLC.

Jim Ovia was born on November 4, 1957 to the large family of Obi Olihe of Agbor-Obi, in Agbor, Delta State. He was the second born, and his father was a highly respected chief in the Agbor Kingdom, Delta State.

For his secondary education, Jim attended Ika Grammar School, Bojiboji-Owa. He then traveled abroad to study Business Administration at the Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.A and graduated with a B.Sc degree in 1977. He proceeded to the University of Louisiana, Monroe, Louisiana, USA where he obtained a Master’s degree in Business Administration in 1979. He is also an alumnus of the Harvard Business School.

Jim Ovia is married to Kay Ovia, who is the CEO of Quantum Markets Limited and the pioneer of Star Rising Talent Hunt. The couple have 2 children together.

Career and Business Life

As a young boy, Jim Ovia was encouraged by his uncle to take a career path in Business Administration. It is safe to conclude that this admonition is what shaped Ovia’s career life up till this very moment.

Shortly after Jim Ovia completed his secondary education, he began his career as a clerk at Union Bank, which was then called Barclays Bank, in 1973. After working for three years as a bank clerk, he moved to the United States of America where he got his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

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Jim Ovia developed a flair for computer science and information technology along the line. He got a job at the defunct Baton Rouge Bank and Trust Company, as a part-time computer operator. After his graduation, Jim Ovia began to climb up the corporate ladder steadily. He worked in Lion Bank where he rose to the position of branch manager in Lagos.

Later, he joined International Merchant Bank (IMB) in 1980 and his hard work earned him promotion to the post of bank manger from financial analyst. Thereafter, he went to Merchant Bank of Africa where he established a successful corporate division.

After the deregulation of the banking industry towards the end of 1980s by Babangida’s administration, Jim Ovia took the opportunity to start Zenith Bank, alongside some investors, in 1990. For two decades, Jim Ovia was at the bank’s helm of affairs until he resigned in July 2010. Four years later, he was reappointed as the Chairman, board of directors of Zenith Bank in 2014.

Under Ovia’s leadership, Zenith Bank has grown enormously and has risen to become the number one provider of financial service in Nigeria and even Anglophone West Africa. With more than 500 branches and offices all over Nigeria, the bank provides a plethora of corporate investment, personal banking solutions, and business banking products.

On April 27, 2007 Zenith Bank PLC emerged as the first Nigerian bank in 25 years to be licensed by the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA), which led to the birth of Zenith Bank UK Limited. Today, the bank has subsidiaries in several countries including China, South Africa, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana.

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Apart from his business venture in the banking industry, Jim Ovia also established Cyberspace Network Limited in 1995. The company was one of the pioneering agents of internet services in the country. The company is involved in the provision of software services and network services including METRONET, CYBEY MAX, 4G LTE.

In 2007, Jim Ovia created Visafone Communications Limited. The company was a provider of wireless network, with over 3 million subscribers. In 2015, the company was sold off to MTN, one of Africa’s largest telecommunications companies.

Net Worth, Wealth and Assets

As of 2015, Forbes reported Jim Ovia’s net worth to be an estimate of $550 million. He was ranked #37 on the Forbes 2015 list of Africa’s 50 Richest. Back in December 2011, he ranked higher on Forbes Africa’s 40 Richest with a reported net worth of $775 million. Currently, Wikipedia reports his net worth to be $980 million.

Conclusion

Jim Ovia has not only contributed to the growth of Nigeria’s economy, but has also impacted the lives of many Nigerians. Since 2002, his foundation – Jim Ovia Foundation, has provided more than 1,500 students with university scholarships and empowered over 3,500 youths. As a result of his keen interest in technology, his Jim Ovia ICT Entrepreneurs and Empower Youth Program (an arm of Jim Ovia Foundation) has empowered over 500 entrepreneurs with ICT skills.

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