Africa Rise And Shine is the story of how Jim Ovia built Zenith Bank from a nascent business with $4 million in shareholders’ funds to an internationally recognized brand and institution with more than $16 billion in assets despite a decaying infrastructure and periods of economic instability. Ovia wrote the book determined to redefine the gloom narrative about Africa and illustrate the real Africa behind the headlines. We are a some total of our lives experiences and it is always exciting to read, learn and discover what makes highly successful people like Jim Ovia thick. Success they say leaves clues and Jim Ovia’s story leaves lots of very relatable clues.
Never do business with someone you both don’t know and don’t trust.
The African Dream
The Africa of my birth and of my life experience is a continent of abundant human and natural resources, immense and diverse investment opportunities, and an economy that is primed for leapfrog strategies. Africa’s challenges may appear daunting to most, but to those with the right entrepreneurial vision, challenges always provide opportunities. Poor infrastructure? The entrepreneur sees that as a chance to leverage structural improvements as a core component of a burgeoning brand identity. Inadequate supply of electricity? The entrepreneur identifies such a deficiency as a blank slate on which a new electricity supply can be built.
For anyone who has the intuitive entrepreneurial capacity to envision obstacles as entry points to brand building, and the vision to translate “not yet” into “finally now,” the climate in Africa can provide a richly fertile bed in which to seed new business.
In the course of Zenith Bank’s own journey to “rise and shine,” the business began as a single branch in Lagos on the ground floor of an improvised residential duplex that we shared with a private tenant and his wife. At the time, there were no high-rise office structures in the area, and we were not able to afford a stand-alone building of our own, so we created an impromptu commercial space where we could carry out the banking business. We put up our signage and logo, but truly it did not resemble an office or a bank at all. That unassuming duplex was the starting point for a business that became a London Stock Exchange-listed company with operations in the UK, China, UAE, Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, with more than 400 branches and business offices in Nigeria. What lessons can the next generation of entrepreneurs learn from the meteoric rise of Zenith Bank?
It is not necessary to be born rich or in influential circles to achieve success.
Jim Ovia’s Basic Business Ingredients for Success
Follow Your Instincts.
If your gut tells you something is right, listen to it. An entrepreneur never takes what he or she is told for granted. (Even The Economist gets it wrong sometimes.)
I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics. —Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
Surprising : ₦1 to $1.18 in 1980.
In the last quarter of 1980, immediately after my NYSC program, I joined International Merchant Bank (IMB), a subsidiary of First National Bank of Chicago as a financial analyst. My salary was ₦7,500 naira per annum which was equivalent to $8,800 (at the exchange rate of ₦1 to $1.18).
“You need to live in intuition and gut feeling: mechanized decision-making squeezes out entrepreneurial spirit.”
When instinct is successfully followed, confidence and self-esteem grow exponentially. The effect is as dramatic as a booster on an Apollo rocket. The rocket can get itself beyond the earth’s atmosphere, but to travel any farther, it needs the booster to send it places once thought impossible to reach. Confidence and self-esteem—they act as that booster.
Build bridges in negotiation, don’t burn them!
Negotiation cannot be learned from a script—it is different every time. The quality of authentic belief in what you are selling (or buying) in a negotiation is very important, but in and of itself is not enough. You must also make the other party understand that you are actively listening and considering his or her own welfare.
The course of a good negotiation, whether it is for a single car or the sale of a business, should always be fluid and adaptive.
Find the Asset in Adversity.
Any adversity, be it economic or personal, brings change—and change always brings opportunity. It is demonstrable that, whether nations or individuals, those who have the least also have the most to gain, leading to fortitude and an unshakable work ethic.
Take time from the get-go to think through every aspect of your brand. With enough foresight and strategic planning, a powerful brand concept can be the single deciding factor for the success or otherwise of your business.
A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. —Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
So, it is important to take time at the very beginning to get your branding right. It is both your creation and an extension of you. Its name and its very look and feel must be authentic to the world, as well as a source of personal pride.
If You Build It, They Will Come.
Never view a lack of resources or an inadequate infrastructure as an impediment. On the contrary, having the opportunity to instigate infrastructural change is a great boon, with the dual outcome of priming the business pump and ensuring a supportive and happy consumer base.
Location, Location, Location.
Start locally, but plan globally. Address the needs of the local consumer first, but make sure your business plan is structured for expansion.
Good timing is key. Don’t let impatience win the day by starting your business too early. Make sure you have strategized in advance, so that when opportunity unexpectedly arises, you are ready to seize it.
Innovate, Innovate, Innovate.
If you don’t make a friend of technology, it may become your enemy. The trend toward rapid tech development will continue indefinitely. Make the presumption that the tech of tomorrow is accommodated in the plans you make today.
Know When to Go It Alone.
Growth is not a universal good. There may come a time when mergers and acquisitions will work to your advantage, but more often they will not. Make the preservation of your corporate culture and your shareholder value a priority, and above all else, advocate for your consumer.
Network, Network, Network.
Place more value in who you know than in what you have. The entrepreneur sees a potential ally in everyone. Establish your network one person at a time by being reliable and patient. Pave the way instead of burning your bridges.
Always Remember “Caveat Emptor.”
Whether in your own community or in new territory, always use research to carry out proper and professional due diligence, and equally important, remember to Know Your Customer.
Passion Is Everything.
Cultivate a sense of passion in everything you do, from business to hobbies, and value that trait in others. Entrepreneurial passion is crucial for the success of any enterprise. A business that is conceived to be meaningful and engaging to the entrepreneur is far more likely to succeed than a business designed with the sole goal of making money.
Return the Kindness.
For an entrepreneur’s successes, there are always multiple debts of gratitude to the family, to the community, and to the businesspeople of yesterday who paved the way. There is no higher investment return than that derived from education. Being vested in a sustainable future for your own community is the activity that determines whether a venture is a flash in the pan or a foundation worthy of an empire.
Pay It Forward
The boy I once was—growing up without a father—might never have looked beyond the confines of that small town were it not for one crucial factor: education. I was able to remain in school due to the wisdom of my mother and older brother who recognized its importance and made sacrifices to jointly ensure that my tuition would continue to be paid, year after year.
This is the entire impetus behind the creation of the Jim Ovia Foundation—a personal imperative to help support the next generation of entrepreneurs and professionals as I myself was supported, by paying for the tuition of hopeful students in the foundation-created James Hope College, and by providing young people with access to training programs, grants, and scholarships, all to support a thriving African future.
Philantropy: Jim Ovia Foundation
2004: December established the Jim Ovia Foundation, a not-for-profit initiative with the goal of unlocking the potential of Nigerian young people.
Jim Ovia Scholarship 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 a period of twelve months.
Founder and Chairman, Board of Trustees of James Hope College, a co-educational boarding school in Agbor, Delta State, Nigeria.
In January 2012, I attended the ICT empowerment Programme organized by Jim Ovia foundation with the theme “Developing Nigeria’s Next Generation of ICT Entrepreneurs.” The program was held at the Civic Center, Victoria Island, Lagos. The program lasted for 4 days, with industry practitioners and professionals sharing their insights and outlook on opportunities in the Information and Communications Technology industry. Attending the program had a lasting impression on me as I got an epiphany of what I wanted to do with my life. Coupled with the Occupy Nigeria movement protest, a socio-political protest movement began in Nigeria on Monday, 2 January 2012, in response to the fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government of President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday, 1 January 2012.
I was inspired by the Jim Ovia Foundation ICT empowerment program and was dillusioned about the plight of my dear country Nigeria with the findings of the fuel subsidy committee. I had been thinking about the roller coaster called Nigeria, during my National Youth Service in Sokoto and after spending a year to study french and thinking of what I really wanted to do with my life. I took the plunge by relocating to Accra, Ghana in April 2012 and the rest they say is history.
“”Being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting” – Chinua Achebe
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.