An unmistakable icon of Nigeria’s banking sector, Mr. Ovia is the founder Zenith Bank, one of the largest commercial banks in Nigeria. Zenith bank is widely known as a leading bank today from Ovia’s astute leadership. He headed the bank for 20 years until he resigned in July 2010. Four years later, he was brought out of retirement to be reappointed as chairman in 2014.
Due to owning 11.29% of the direct shareholding in Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, will earn over N9 billion in dividends this year from the financial year of 2020. This is made possible by the number of shares Ovia holds in the lender, as the single majority shareholder of the bank. This makes him one of the highest-paid company chairman in 2020.
Jim Ovia was born on the 4th of November, 1951 to the large family of Obi Olihe of Agbor-Obi, in Agbor, Delta State. He narrated in his memoir how his father died in his mid fifties, when Jim was just four years old. His mother, left to fend for herself and her family, “called upon her intuitive entrepreneurial skills to set up her own small trading business.” He attended Ika Grammar School, Bojiboji-Owa for his secondary education, before going to Lagos to join his elder brother.
While in Lagos, he started his banking career in 1973 as a clerk at Union Bank, (formerly Barclays Bank) working at the branch at Oba Akran way, Ikeja.
He worked for 3 years as a bank clerk before moving to USA, where he became widely read. He got a degree in Business Administration from Southern University, Louisiana, USA, in 1977, then a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Louisiana. He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School.
Ovia founded Visafone, which was later acquired by MTN Nigeria. In 2015, he was profiled by Forbes to worth at least $550 million. His major drive in establishing his foundation is, in his words “to equip the future of our nation Nigeria, with the necessities for leadership and foster an ICT literate society that innovates and protects the future.”
The Jim Ovia Foundation Scholarship was founded and funded by Mr. Jim Ovia in 2004, to provide financial aid to outstanding Nigeria youths. The scholarship gave rise to the MUSTE scholarship in 2007, where awardees are given funding for undergraduate study for the duration of their undergraduate program. The award includes tuition and maintenance allowance. The scheme offers an average of 100 opportunities every year. The Financial records show that as at October 2010, Mr. Ovia has invested 100 Million Naira in the program on 1,500 beneficiaries. The businessman also owns Jim Ovia Scholarship, Jim Ovia ICT Entrepreneurs Program and most recently, the Jim Ovia Foundation Leaders Scholarship (JOFLS) Fund (in partnership with Africa America Institute (AAI).