Motivational Personality of the Week – Jim Ovia


Jim Ovia is a writer, motivational speaker, philanthropist, and the founder and pioneer Group Managing Director /CEO of Zenith Bank Plc, Nigeria’s largest and Africa’s 6th largest bank by Shareholders’ Funds.

  1. Born in Agbor, Delta State on 4 November 1951, Jim Ovia had his early years education in Nigeria. Upon completion of secondary school, he got hired as a clerical officer at Barclays Bank (now known as Union Bank). He soon left for the USA to further his studies.
  2. Jim Ovia holds a B.Sc. degree in Business Administration from Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA (1977) and a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Louisiana, Monroe, Louisiana (1979). He is also an Alumnus of Harvard Business School (OPM).
  3. After he returned to Nigeria, he was hired to work in Lion Bank, where he soon became the manager of one of the bank’s branches in Lagos. Soon after that, he joined the International Merchant Bank and got promoted from the position of a financial analyst to manager. After the deregulation of the banking sector in the 1980s, Jim Ovia, in collaboration with some other partners applied for a banking license. In May 1990, 20 shareholders founded Zenith International bank and Jim Ovia started to move in a completely different direction.
  4. He was at the helm of affairs as Zenith Bank’s CEO, from inception, for 20 years until his resignation in July 2010. He was reappointed the Chairman of the bank in 2014. During the two decades of his leadership, he helped position the bank as one of the largest and most profitable in Africa.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. Ovia headed numerous Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) at various times including serving as the first President of the Nigeria Internet Group (2001-2003).
  8. He is also the Founder of several enterprises and philanthropic institutions including the Youth Empowerment & ICT Foundation, which focuses on improving the socio-economic welfare of Nigerian youths by empowering them to embrace Information and Communication Technology. The initiative holds annual Youth Empowerment seminars.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).


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