Jim Ovia’s Africa Rise and Shine

When next someone tells you something cannot be done, remind them of Jim Ovia’s encouraging story. When next you face a seemingly insurmountable challenge, remind yourself that Ovia got a banking licence despite his limited years of banking experience.

Most importantly, when next they assert you can’t make it in Nigeria, show them the magnificent edifice on Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, where lies iconic Civic Towers.

In Africa Rise and Shine, the story is told of Jim Ovia’s rise from humble beginnings in the town of Agbor, where he spent his childhood, to building one of the most formidable banks in Africa (Zenith Bank). Africa Rise and Shine goes deep into the events leading to Ovia’s triumph in striving for success. It narrates his experience from school days to becoming the chairman of the bank he founded without relenting or quitting despite tough situations.

Jim Ovia uses mostly his personal experience, especially on how he created one of Africa’s largest banks to teach his readers the rudiments of attaining success in business. He hopes to inspire young Africans to create something great in spite of current situation on the continent. One of my favourite parts in reading the book is where he urges the readers to always listen to their guts and how his instincts helped him more than conscious deliberation did.

“Everyone has gut instinct or feelings,’’ Ovia says, “the difference is that while some take those feelings very seriously, others are fearful of relying on them…” He narrates his interest in how computers worked back then and the feeling that technology is the future of everything. He notes that when he was creating a model for his first business, he knew he had to incorporate technology.

Another example was when he wanted to get a banking licence, he states that his gut told him to go for commercial licence; a more expensive, more complicated process as against an easier route of obtaining a merchant banking licence. Listening to his gut, his decisions eventually paid off.

There are 12 major rules for building profitable businesses highlighted in the book. According to him, they are learnable skills and rules that anyone can adopt. Though the skills and rules are critical for African enterprises, they could equally be applied globally. He believes that whatever he achieved, anyone else could achieve as well.

Ovia notes that what is required is to have a vision and the willingness to see the vision through. He further says that challenges, especially dearth of infrastructure in Africa, should not stop one, but that should be turned into an opportunity to “instigate infrastructural change.’’ By establishing one of the first internet service companies (Cyberspace) in Nigeria, with no backbone infrastructure, Ovia set the pace for what has become the backbone of running several businesses in the country.

Finally, Ovia demonstrates how believing in oneself, aiming for excellence, building a team, and listening to one’s gut, codified into an unwavering ethical survey, formed the model for the next generation of great entrepreneurs everywhere. Ovia’s use of a participant narrative style is one of the powerful aspects of his book. He creatively narrates the story without detaching himself from the storyline. It is as though he is giving a handwritten lecture about himself and his bank without being too formal.

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