Jim Ovia: God Father Of Nigerian Banking


Jim James Ovia (born November 4, 1951) is a Nigerian businessman and philanthropist, a native of Agbor in Delta State. He founded Zenith Bank in June 1990 and was its pioneer Managing Director/Chief Executive for 20 years, until he retired in July 2010. Under Jim’s leadership, what started with $4 million in shareholders’ funds, grew into one of Africa’s largest banks, an internationally recognized institution with more than $16 billion in assets. Zenith Bank ranks Nigeria’s Number One Bank

Jim Ovia is the Founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, one of Africa’s largest banks with over $17.6 billion in assets as of 31 December 2019. As the Chairman of Prudential Zenith Life Assurance Limited, he oversaw the landmark partnership of Prudential Plc – 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. He is also the chairman of Quantum Capital Partners a private equity firm focused on investing in or acquiring privately owned companies in the fields of Financial Services, Technology, Real Estate, Philanthropy, and Other Sectors, with significant business presence or operations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

He is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School (OPM), University of Louisiana (MBA), and Southern University, Louisiana, (B.Sc. Business Administration).

In his 2018 memoir, Africa Rise And Shine: How a Nigerian Entrepreneur from Humble Beginnings Grew a Business to $16 Billion, Former CEO and Chairman of Zenith Bank chronicles his humble beginning, starting in business, the ups and downs of doing business in Nigeria and the untapped opportunities in Africa.

An avid fan of iconic architecture, he developed the Civic Centre and Aquamarine Boat Club to exploit Nigeria’s burgeoning hospitality sector. Juxtaposed to this, he built the Civic Towers, a 116-metre office block that is often referred to as Lagos

Lost his dad at four years

Jim Ovia’s father suffered a massive heart attack when he was four years old, and died several weeks later due to inadequate medical facilities. Left to fend for herself and her family, his newly widowed mother called upon her intuitive entrepreneurial skills to set up her own small trading business.

Eldest Brother Influence

His eldest brother, who was almost twenty years his senior and working in Lagos, sent part of his wages home each month to help pay his school expenses. For this reason, he was able to stay in school.

This was the emotional inspiration that would ultimately result in his building of James Hope College and offering scholarships to 50 percent of its students. Jim’s brother’s financial generosity and wisdom in knowing how crucial it was that he remain in school are the reasons he placed so much importance on education, and on creating programs and scholarships that will help young Nigerians go to school and graduate.

Philanthropy: Jim Ovia Foundation

December 2004: Established the Jim Ovia Foundation, a not-for-profit initiative to unlock the potential of Nigerian young people.

Jim Ovia Scholarship was founded in 1998, to provide financial aid to outstanding Nigerian students, by way of funding the full duration of an undergraduate program.

The Jim Ovia ICT Entrepreneurs Program seeks to empower budding entrepreneurs to tap into the emerging ICT market in Africa. The initiative seeks to nurture young entrepreneurs to their full potential over twelve months.

James Hope College is a co-educational boarding school in Agbor, Delta State, Nigeria. About fifty percent of the students of James Hope College are beneficiaries of the scholarship program of the Jim Ovia Foundation. The Foundation has to date sponsored over 1,000 people who are now graduates in various disciplines.

Awards and Accolades

In recognition of his contributions to the Nigerian economy, Jim Ovia was conferred with one of the highest national awards of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2011.


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