Jim James Ovia is a Nigerian businessman, writer, and a motivational speaker. He is the pioneer Founder/CEO and the chairman of zenith bank PLC, Africa’s 6th largest bank by shareholders funds and biggest commercial Bank in Nigeria. He is a versatile businessman who is not only making waves in the economic sector of the Nigerian business scene. His impact can also be felt in the IT and real estate sector.
Jim Ovia is from Agbor, Delta State in Nigeria. He had his early education in Nigeria before he headed overseas for his tertiary education. He banged a B.Sc in Business Administration from Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the United States of America in 1979. He is also an alumnus of Harvard Business School. Growing up, Ovia pondered about what career path to choose. But was encouraged by his uncle to study business administration. What he is today remains associated with his ability to heed to his uncle’s advice and of course hard work.
Ovia started out in the economic sector as a clerk at Union Bank, previously known as Barclays Bank in 1973 immediately after his secondary education. He worked for three years as the bank clerk before he moved to USA where he obtained his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.
In the process, he developed an interest in computer science and information technology. He worked as part-time computer operator at the defunct Baton Rouge Bank and Trust Company.
Upon graduating and his return to Nigeria, Ovia joined Union Bank to complete his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). He worked in Lion Bank where he rose to the post of branch manager in Lagos. In 1980, Jim Ovia joined International Merchant Bank (IMB). Shortly after, he was promoted from the position of financial analyst to bank manager. From IMB, he moved to Merchant Bank of Africa where he set up a thriving corporate division. Talk about fiercely climbing the corporate ladder! Needless to say, that the sky became his starting point from then onward.
Jim took his first big step into the banking sector in the late 1980’s as a result of deregulation of the banking sector during Babangida’s administration. Jim Ovia alongside some investors started Zenith Bank in 1990. Jim Ovia was then at the helm of affairs of the bank for 20 years until his resignation in July 2010. He was however reappointed the chairman of the bank in 2014.
Under Jim’s leadership, Zenith bank grew immensely and is got recognised as the largest financial service provider in Nigeria and even some Anglophone West African countries. The bank offers a range of corporate investment, business and personal banking products and solutions. Zenith Bank became a Public Limited Company in 2001 and was listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) as well as the London Stock Exchange (LSE). On 27th of April 2007, Zenith Bank PLC became the first Nigerian bank in 25 years to be licensed by the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA), giving rise to Zenith Bank UK Limited. The bank also has subsidiaries in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, South Africa and China. Jim Ovia had transformed Zenith Bank, a small commercial bank into a financial service conglomerate. He has built an iconic corporate identity for the bank leveraging technology and reliable customer services.
Asides banking, Jim Ovia also has an interest in technology and real estate. This made him found Cyberspace Network Limited in 1995. Cyberspace Network Limited was one of the pioneers of internet services in Nigeria. The company provides software services and network services including 4G LTE, CYBER MAX, METRONET. He went further and founded Visafone Communications Limited, wireless network provider in 2007. The company was later acquired by MTN, a leading telecommunications company in Africa in 2015. Before the acquisition, Visafone had more than 3million subscribers.
Jim Ovia is also a great philanthropist. With the help of his foundation, Jim Ovia Foundation he has invested in the success of Nigerian youths understanding the key importance of education in the success of a person. He believes investing in the youths will enhance the standard of living of the society and improve the Nigerian economy.