Jim Ovia: A Banking Colossus And Champion of Youth Development @71

Jim Ovia turns 71 today. His is a life that typifies triumph over challenges, audacity over fear, selflessness, and dedication to humanity. Importantly too, Ovia’s life exemplifies excellence and enviable accomplishments that are worthy of celebration. Besides his colossal feats in the Nigerian banking industry –for which Forbes Africa dubbed him “Godfather of Banking in Nigeria”–Ovia is a major contributor to youth and entrepreneurial development in the country.

Through the Jim Ovia Foundation, hundreds of youths have attained secondary and tertiary education.  James Hope College, an institution set up by Jim Ovia, provides scholarships to several indigent students. Equally too, the Jim Ovia Foundation’s ‘ICT Entrepreneurs Programme’ and ‘Empower Youth Programme’ continue to produce entrepreneurs and business owners.

Outside of his foundation, Jim Ovia has invested over N10 million in co-sponsoring the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) Essay Competition for secondary school students. The essay competition aims at boosting financial literacy, youth empowerment, and inculcating in its participants an investment culture. In 2021, Jim Ovia donated 3,500 tablets to the University of Lagos, in support of 1,000 indigent students. He has consistently supported the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) scholarship, since 2015. In 2020, Ovia donated N15.75million to the NCS scholarship.

In 2019, Zenith Bank Plc, which Jim Ovia is its chairman, launched its maiden ‘Tech Fair, themed ‘Future Forward’. The hackathon became a galaxy of techpreneurs, exhibitors, innovators, startups, and tech giants including Google, IBM, Microsoft, Huawei Technologies, and Oracle.

Opening the event, Jim Ovia encapsulated his vision for Nigeria’s future and its in his speech titled, “Catalysing Disruptive Innovation through Youth Empowerment”. The hackathon saw the bank splurging a whopping $77,000 in startup grants to 10 finalists at the Tech Fair. Ovia’s tenacity of purpose and strategic philanthropy has so far sustained the widely-acclaimed tech fair as another edition of it is scheduled to hold on November 22nd and 23rd.

Burning with patriotic fervor and unmistakable conviction about Nigeria’s greatness, Jim Ovia believes the youths hold the key to the country’s future greatness and sustained economic prosperity. This underscores his unrelenting investment in human capital development. From an interview he granted some years ago, it was clear that Jim Ovia believed in the correctness of his perspective and the strategy through which to achieve it.

He said, “In a country like Nigeria, there are tremendous opportunities to do well. The opportunities are there but some may not be as blessed as we are. Our businesses have done tremendously very well; the country has given us those opportunities to do extremely very well and we have decided that we must give back to society. The best way to give back to society is to empower the youths.”

Ovia has walked his talk in many ways.  There is no doubt that the act of selfless is ingrained in his DNA. Losing his father at age four, Jim Ovia tasted life adversity when he was unprepared for such.  Rather than being despondent, Ovia toughened his resolve to become successful I later life. This he achieved, including becoming the scaffold for several others to climb to their zenith. Despite his childhood challenge, Jim Ovia went on to acquire a degree in Business Administration from the Southern University, USA in 1977; Master’s degree from the University of Louisiana, USA in 1979 and, later, the Harvard Business School.

Like philanthropy, Ovia became soulmates with the banking industry early in his life trajectory.  He would later return to Union Bank, where he left in 1973 to pursue university degrees overseas. Subsequently, he joined the defunct International Merchant Bank (IMB) in 1980, and equally the Lion Bank.

Jim Ovia launched Zenith Bank in 1990 from an apartment in Lagos. The bank, which became a public limited company in June 17, 2004, now has over 500 branches across the world. Based on the dexterity, dedication and vision of its founder, Zenith Bank Plc soared and was first quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) in 2004. The bank has currently a shareholder base of more than half a million. Part of the bank’s success story would be its internationalization, which saw it list $850 million worth of its shares at $6.80 each on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) in 2013.

In Nigeria, Zenith Bank continues to dominate the banking firmament, with innovative technology-driven banking solutions and creating products that satisfy the banking needs of Nigerians. This underscores why the bank enjoys unrivalled reputation for consistently deploying Information and Communication Technology (ICT) banking solutions. The secret to Zenith Bank’s successes owe largely to its founder, Jim Ovia’s vision and hard work. It is therefore not surprising that the Zenith Bank Plc, as the market leader, continues to dominate the Nigerian banking industry.

Given the above, it is safe to say that Jim Ovia deserves the national hobour of the ‘Commander of the Federal Republic’ (CFR) recently bestowed on him. Salute to the Nigerian banking Commander and champion of youth development at 71.

By Folarin Ademosu

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