Jim Ovia, dubbed the “Godfather of Banking” by Forbes Africa, earned this title by building Nigeria’s largest bank. Ranked 325th in the world (The Banker, Top 1000 World Banks, 2016), Zenith Bank has over $16bn in assets today across over 300 branches in Nigeria, with a strategic international presence in the UK, Dubai, China, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. He had always instilled a high level of corporate governance across the Bank; enabling it to achieve a $850m GDR listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2013. In 2017, the Bank issued a $500m Eurobond that was four times oversubscribed and priced better than the equivalent home country sovereign bond.
As the Chairman of Prudential Zenith Life Assurance Limited, he oversaw the landmark partnership of Prudential UK; one of the world’s largest life assurance companies and Zenith Life – Nigeria’s fastest growing life assurance company. He is currently the Chairman and majority shareholder of Zenith General Insurance Limited; Nigeria’s most profitable general insurance company. An avid fan of iconic architecture, he developed the Civic Centre and Aquamarine Boat Club to exploit Nigeria’s burgeoning hospitality sector. Adjacent to this, he built the Civic Towers, a 15 story office block that colloquially is referred to as Nigeria’s “Empire State Building”. 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.
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.
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). He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School (OPM), University of Louisiana (MBA) and Southern University, Louisiana (B.Sc).