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 the tremendous achievements it underwent when Jim Ovia steered its rudders.
Born November 4, 1951 at Agbor, Delta State, Jim Ovia attended Southern University Louisiana, where he obtained a B.Sc in Business Administration in 1977 and North East Louisiana University, where he obtained a Masters Degree in Business Administration in 1979, both in United States of America. He is also an Alumnus of Harvard Business School (Executive Management Program). Needless to say, Jim Ovia co-founded Zenith Bank Plc in 1990 from which he retired as pioneer Group Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer in 2010 after two decades of laudable leadership which positioned the bank as one of the largest and most profitable banks in Africa. 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.
Zenith Bank, spurred by Jim Ovia’s knowledge of Computer Technology became the first bank in Nigeria to introduce the online-real time system, which enabled the entire grid of branch offices to be networked through IT technology. He also ensured that through their Corporate Social Responsibility team, they made an impact in the lives of the communities in which they existed.
His climb to the zenith started as a banking Clerk at Barclays Bank, DCO, now Union Bank in 1973. In 1980 he joined the International Merchant Bank (IMB) under the technical agreement of First National Bank of Chicago as a Financial Analyst and rose to Senior Manager position in 1987. Jim Ovia headed the Corporate Finance Department of Merchant Bank of Africa, under the technical management of Bank of America from 1987 to 1990. He had previously gained experience in the use of computers in 1977 when he worked as a part-time computer operator at Baton Rouge Bank and Trust Company, Louisiana hence his interest in IT [I think]. Jim Ovia founded the ICT Foundation for Youth Empowerment, which focuses on improving the socio-economic welfare of Nigerian Youths by inspiring and motivating them to embrace Information and Communication Technology. He is the Chairman of the Nigerian Software Development Initiative (NSDI) and also Chairman, 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 was also the pioneer President of the Nigeria Internet Group. Jim Ovia is also the Proprietor of the University of Information and Communication Technology, Delta State. So now you see what I mean about his interest in IT. Oh! I almost forgot! Jim Ovia is the Promoter and Founder of Visafone Communications Limited, a mobile telecoms Company.
A renowned motivational Speaker, Jim Ovia has been conferred with a National Honour by a Nigerian President, and a Zik Award for Professional Leadership. He bagged the Business Day’s Award for the top 10 bankers in Nigeria and was among Vanguard’s 20 most outstanding CEO’s in corporate Nigeria in 2002.
In pursuit of his philanthropic metiers, he founded the ‘Mankind United to Support Total Education (MUSTE)’, a humanitarian Organization dedicated to funding the indigent with educational grants. He who washes his hands will dine with kings indeed. Jim Ovia has washed in the pool of excellence, innovation and integrity and has been invited to dine with the high and mighty. A member of the Governing Council, Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC), member of the Governing Council of Lagos State University and also a member of the Board of Trustees, Redeemer’s University for Nations, Lagos. He serves as a Director of Africa Finance Corporation and has headed various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) at various times. He was also appointed Chairman of the Committee on “Nigeria Polio-Immunisation Action Group”. The committee in collaboration with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seeks to eradicate the scourge of the dreaded polio disease in Nigeria.
An author, Jim Ovia is not resting on his oars but has invested in other interests including chairing Quantum Luxury Properties Ltd which recently signed a multi-billion naira deal with the global hotel group, Marriott. The development will see the establishment of a 150- room five star hotel on the Ozumba Mbadiwe Waterfront, which is currently home to Radisson Blu and Oriental Hotel. Jim Ovia said at the signing ceremony, “We identified a gap in the marketplace within the hospitality industry, to support the burgeoning sectors. Nigeria is well known for its hospitality, and Lagos as a mega-city deserves world class facility to complement its status.” The Lagos Marriott Hotel is to launch in 2014 and will boast all the facilities and luxury associated with an international market leader like Marriott.
So there we have it; Jim Ovia is on top of his game! When one door closes, look down the corridor-several others might be swinging wide open!