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Men You Should Know – Jim Ovia

Jim James Ovia was born on November 4, 1951, at Agbor, Delta State. A Nigerian businessman, motivational speaker and writer. He founded Zenith Bank in 1990. He was the Chairman and pioneer CEO of Zenith Bank PLC, Nigeria’s largest and Africa’s 6th largest bank by Shareholders’ Funds. He is a versatile businessman who is not just making waves in one sector of the economy. His impact has been felt in the IT sector in Nigeria.

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Early life and Career

Jim Ovia holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Louisiana, Monroe, Louisiana, USA in 1979 and a B.Sc. degree in Business Administration from Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA (1977). He is also an Alumnus of Harvard Business School (OPM). He is the founder of Zenith Bank Plc, Nigeria’s tier-1 bank and one of the most profitable financial institutions in Nigeria until 2010 when he moved into the chairman role. During two decades of leadership, he helped position the bank as one of the largest and most profitable in Africa.

For many years, Jim Ovia was a name that was synonymous with Zenith Bank, a truly cutting edge 21st-century bank.  In 2005, under his leadership, Zenith Bank was awarded the Most Respected Bank in Nigeria by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Bank of the Year by The Banker Magazine. It was also named the most security-friendly and conscious bank in Nigeria for 2005 and ranked the fourth biggest bank in Nigeria, by the ranking of the Central Bank of Nigeria. In 2007, the feat was tripled when the bank bagged the African Bank of the Year awarded by African Investor Magazine; Quoted Company of the Year awarded by Nigerian Stock Exchange, and Socially Responsible Bank of the Year awarded by African Banker Magazine. Under Jim Ovia for the third year running, the bank clinched the Web-Jurist award conducted by the website rating arm of Phillips Consulting. I am not here to hype Zenith Bank, [they would have to pay for that,] but to relay its tremendous achievements under when Jim Ovia steered its rudders.

As an accomplished banker with over three decades of experience, he introduced a great deal of innovations into the Nigerian banking industry. CEO Jim Ovia built the bank from the ground up, gaining widespread recognition from colleagues and competitors alike. He oversaw its expansion in Nigeria and beyond, setting up branches in Sierra Leona, Ghana, South Africa, the Gambia and the United Kingdom. In July 2004, Jim Ovia successfully orchestrated the initial public offering of Zenith Bank Plc. on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. The same year, Zenith Bank Plc. earned a strong, long-term credit score of AA– from Fitch Ratings.

Other Investments and Philanthropy

Ovia is the founder of Visafone Communications Limited and the chairman of both the Nigerian Software Development Initiative (NSDI) and the National Information Technology Advisory Council (NITAC). He is a member of the Honorary International Investor Council as well as the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI). He is the Chairman of Cyberspace Network Limited. He was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in the 50th convocation ceremony of the University of Lagos.

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He is a member of the Governing Council of Lagos State University, Lagos and a member of the Board of Trustees, Redeemer’s University for Nations, Lagos. He was a member of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (1999 – 2007) and served on the board of American International School, Lagos (2001 -2003).

Ovia headed numerous Non-Governmental Organisations [NGO] at various times including serving as the first President of the Nigeria Internet Group (2001-2003). He is the founder and Chairman of Mankind United to Support Total Education (MUSTE), a philanthropic organization focused on providing scholarships for the less privileged. He is the founder of the Youth Empowerment / ICT Foundation, which focuses on improving the socio-economic welfare of Nigerian youths by inspiring and motivating them to embrace Information and communication technology.



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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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