Jim Ovia, one of the most successful businessmen in the Nigerian banking sector has given business lessons which you can learn from him as an entrepreneur. He is the founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, one of Nigeria’s largest and most profitable banks.
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. Today, he is one of the highest-paid company chairman in Nigeria.
Here are some business lessons from Jim.
1. Follow your instinct
In 1990, the year Jim applied for a banking licence, there were 2 categories available. One for merchant banks ($1.6m equity) and one for commercial banks ($4m equity). His gut told him to go for the more expensive, complicated route – the commercial banking licence, and this gave birth to Zenith Bank. If he didn’t apply for that commercial banking licence, Zenith bank as we know it, wouldn’t exist today.
2. Learn the art of negotiation
When Jim applied for a banking licence from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 1990, the standing rule was that applicants must have 20 years of banking experience to qualify for a licence. Jim had only 10 years of banking experience at that time.
He was, however, able to convince the CBN team to grant the licence by informing them that his 10 years of experience were in top-rated banks (subsidiaries of American banks), known for their high-quality training and structure and that he was eminently qualified to run a bank. He made a compelling argument and negotiated well. He was granted the licence.
3. Seek out new ways of doing things
Jim knew the importance of branding and saw to it that each branch of Zenith bank looked the same, making them easily recognizable. At that time, it was a completely new concept in the sector, which several banks started doing a couple of years later.
4. To succeed in business, you must cultivate a deep hunger to do well
In the early days of Zenith Bank, Jim would go home with a report of all the day’s transactions and working past midnight, he would go over all the customers’ names so he could call and thank them the next day. This earned the bank a lot of incremental business leading to its success.
5. Empower those who work for you
Jim empowered his staff by mentoring them, attending their social gatherings, empathizing with them over their family matters. He also sent them for various trainings and conferences (locally and internationally), making them better and more productive employees.
6. Home is a source of support outside the office
According to Jim, one must derive authentic pleasure both in the workplace and at home, but should not create barriers between both of them.