Jim Ovia, founder of one of Africa’s largest and most respected banking institutions, Zenith Bank, has finally released his much-awaited memoir, Africa Rise and Shine, a personal account of the author’s journey from his days as a modest but wide-eyed youngster to founder of one of Nigeria’s most successful and revered name in banking and finance.
Ovia’s secret potion is the straight-forward simplicity of his message. The 250-page narrative grows on the reader as the wisdom of the tale seeps in. Follow your gut, work hard, keep your eyes open, learn from your obstacles, believe in your people, praise good work, and remember to give with generosity if you hope to maintain a sustainable business—these are the guideposts to Jim Ovia’s own rise and shine story.
A self-made man, Ovia’s journey shadows the history of his nation. “Never allow the perceptions of others to play a substantial part in your own vision of yourself and your future,” he writes. “It is imperative to rely on one’s own instincts in taking stock of one’s own capabilities, and in evaluating a new business opportunity.” Some have called Ovia the world’s most humble billionaire. He listens. He trusts. He invests in ideas and people. He insists on quality, and he lives and works in the sweet spot of opportunity, never behind the curve, nor recklessly out in front. Ambition is important to Ovia but it’s never about ego.
In essence, Jim Ovia and his Zenith Bank are precisely what both Nigeria and African economies need to build and re-brand their own identity. Jim Ovia stands for the best of Nigeria, and a continent that has risen and is increasingly improvising its shine.
Published first in the US by Forbes Books in South Carolina, the memoir is expected to come out in multiple languages in 2019, starting with French, then Portugeuse, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese. There is talk of the book being translated too into African languages, Swahili, Yoruba, Amharic, Hausa, Zulu… “I want my story to be accessible to Africans,” he stated in an interview in his iconic office in Lagos. “I’m proud of what Zenith Bank has become, but mostly I want young Africans everywhere, to know that the only obstacle between them and the world they dream of is their courage to have the audacity to build it.
Dreams are about building things, not illusions,” he says. “We start as kids in the sand, and we build, and we have fun doing it. You can build an app or a company or a product or service. I happened to build a bank.” He writes in bold in Africa Rise and Shine, “if you build it they will come.”
The memoir is forthcoming as an ebook and audiobook as well, narrated in part by the author in his own voice, a rarity for African business leaders. “Nigerians spend a lot of time in their cars,” he said. “Now at least my words will be able to spend some quality with the public as they listen to Africa Rise and Shine.” Inspired by the moving prose of Barack Obama’s 1995 audiobook ‘Dreams from my Father’, Ovia admits that “the audiobook market in Africa is still in its nascent stage but the market is growing as more and more commuters in the urban sprawl of Africa’s megacities acquire tastes for in-vehicle entertainment including books. “Let’s learn things instead of wasting time in traffic. With less and less time for reading, our next best thing is listening,” he stated.
African Rise and Shine took the banker over three years to write, as he secretly had to find slots in his 18 hour days to compose chapters from his life. One early recollection is worth noting because it shapes our understanding of Ovia’s instincts as an entrepreneur. Driving around Lagos as a young man in a broken down car and unable to afford a new one, he hired a local mechanic to get his back into shape. The mechanic was so skillful that Ovia got the idea to buy up junkers, pay his mechanic to fix them, and then sell them to others like himself who needed transportation but couldn’t pay for a new car.
Find a need, he tells his readers, and solve it. Entrepreneurship is about being awake and starting small, he claims. That was Ovia’s secret for bringing high-speed internet to Nigeria, launching his own telecommunications company, opening up an arsenal of local, service-oriented branches of his new bank, and crafting a smart partnership with an international insurance company to help insure a growing population of un-protected Nigerians. Even the way he came up with the bank’s name and its iconic logo and bright red Z is worth discovering.
Rare is it to find within a business magnate both limitless ambition and inspiring humility.
Ethics too is a recurring theme in Africa Rise and Shine. Those interested in short-term profits and flashy lifestyles will not be aroused by the Ovia formula. His is about hard work, rewarding loyalty, and giving back. The Jim Ovia Foundation was set up to help young Nigerians who possessed talent and the will to excel to get themselves educated. The Foundation even built a new school on the site that young Jim had attended primary school back in home state. Today, the Foundation in collaboration with the African America Institute in New York fosters higher education for hundreds of African students. Africa Rise and Shine belongs on the bookshelves of Africa’s next generation of leaders, and should be read by this generation’s too!