Empowering Entrepreneurs Worldwide to Cultivate Courage and Dare to Try for Their Dreams

Jim Ovia Headshot

About Jim

Jim Ovia has been called the Godfather of Banking by Forbes Africa. And this should be no surprise. In a time of tension between military and civilian regimes, periods of incredible economic instability, and a decaying infrastructure, Jim founded Zenith Bank in Nigeria. Under Jim’s leadership, what started with $4 million in shareholders’ funds, grew into one of Africa’s largest banks, an internationally recognized institution with more than $16 billion in assets.

Today, Zenith Bank is ranked 325th in the world (The Banker, Top 1000 World Banks, 2016), with over 300 branches in Nigeria and a strategic international presence in the UK, Dubai, China, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. Jim has always instilled a high level of corporate governance across the Bank; enabling it to achieve a $850 million GDR listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2013. In 2017, the Bank issued a $500 million Eurobond that was four times oversubscribed and priced better than the equivalent home country sovereign bond.

As the Chairman of Prudential Zenith Life Assurance Limited, Jim oversaw the landmark partnership of Prudential UK, one of the world’s largest life assurance companies, and Zenith Life, Nigeria’s fastest growing life assurance company. He is currently the Chairman and majority shareholder of Zenith General Insurance Limited, Nigeria’s most profitable general insurance company. An avid fan of iconic architecture, he developed the Civic Centre and Aquamarine Boat Club to exploit Nigeria’s burgeoning hospitality sector. Adjacent to this, he built the Civic Towers, a 15-story office block that colloquially is referred to as Nigeria’s “Empire State Building.” Driven by the role that technology could play in Nigeria, he established Cyberspace Limited to provide internet services and Visafone Communications Limited to provide telecom services. The latter was sold to MTN, Africa’s largest telco, for an undisclosed sum in 2015.

When Jim Ovia first took interest in computers and technology in college, he never thought it would lead him to be the founder of Zenith, the largest bank in Nigeria. Realizing the importance that education played in his success, he established the Jim Ovia Foundation. To date over 1,500 students have been provided with university scholarships. Recognizing the gap in high quality secondary education, the Jim Ovia Foundation established James Hope College in his hometown of Agbor, Delta State, a co-educational boarding school that provides scholarships for over 50% of its pupils.

Jim Ovia’s contribution to the Nigerian economy has been recognized by successive governments; he was conferred with the national awards of Member Federal Republic (MFR, 2000) and Commander of the Order of Niger (CON, 2011). He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School (OPM), University of Louisiana (MBA) and Southern University, Louisiana (B.Sc).

Aspiring Entrepreneurs and Investors

“If I can do it, you can do it.”

When people around the globe think of Africa, they visualize conflicts and war, famine, poverty, and desolation. But Jim is redefining that narrative and illustrating the Real Africa behind the headlines. It is his goal to help transform our vision of Africa from “the Hopeless Continent” to a collection of “Rising Nations.”

With a fast-growing middle class, Africa is ripe for new business ventures, both from local entrepreneurs and international investors. And as the man who took Zenith Bank from a $4 million investment to a $16 billion global banking institution, Jim is living proof of exactly this. Through his speaking, writing, leadership, and philanthropy, he is reminding entrepreneurs around the world of this valuable lesson: You must never allow the perceptions of others impact your own vision of what is possible for the future.

Jim offers his story as a living testament that success is the result of acting with courage and daring to try. His journey with Zenith Bank demonstrates the power of integrity, hard work, perseverance, and dedication to duty. He is driven by his mission to inspire entrepreneurs and investors worldwide cultivate their passion, follow their instincts, and act with courage as they pursue business ventures that reach beyond their wildest dreams.

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Forbes Africa Magazine Cover - Jim Ovia

Awards and Achievements

Around the globe, Jim Ovia is known as a man of integrity, courage, determination, and action. This list of his accomplishments and achievements is testament to precisely that character.

  • In 2007, Jim Ovia was honored as the Banker of the Year by ThisDay Newspaper. In 2002, he received The Business Day Newspaper award for the top 10 bankers in Nigeria and also Vanguard Newspaper’s award for 20 most outstanding CEO’s in corporate Nigeria. In recognition of his leadership role in Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia was awarded the Zik Award for professional leadership in April 1999.
  • Jim Ovia was conferred with the AAI 2017 Business Leadership Award by The Africa-America Institute, New York. He was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in December 2017. He was earlier awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Finance by the Lagos State University in October 2005.
  • An outstanding philanthropist, Jim Ovia is also the Founder and Chairman, Board of Trustees of James Hope College, a co-educational boarding school in Agbor, Delta State, Nigeria.
  • He founded Zenith Bank in June 1990 and was its pioneer Managing Director/Chief Executive for 20 years, until he retired in July 2010. Jim Ovia is currently the Group Chairman of the Bank.
  • Jim Ovia is a member of a number of global organizations including the World Economic Forum (since 2007), the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA)—a key voice for U.S.-Africa business relations—among others.
  • At present, about fifty percent of the students of James Hope College are beneficiaries of the scholarship program of the Jim Ovia Foundation. The Foundation has to date sponsored over 1,000 people who are now graduates in various disciplines.
  • In recognition of his contributions to the Nigerian economy, Jim Ovia was conferred with one of the highest national awards of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2011.
  • Jim Ovia holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Louisiana, USA (1979) and a B.Sc. degree in Business Administration from Southern University, Louisiana, USA (1977). He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School (OPM)- 2004.
  • Jim Ovia runs an ICT Entrepreneurship Program, through which he supports and encourages numerous young people to explore the opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies.
  • Jim Ovia is a writer and motivational speaker. He has been interviewed by the following global networks: CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and ARISE TV.
  • Jim is the founder and chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Nigeria’s largest and one of Africa’s largest banks by shareholders’ funds.

Book Jim To Speak At Your Next Event

Jim Ovia’s story is proof that no matter how humble your origins, you can accomplish great things with the right frame of mind. With his inspirational and instructive tone, he is the mentor today’s aspiring entrepreneurs need.

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