Zenith Bank’s 20-Year Jump: From $4 Million to $4 Billion

Zenith Bank’s 20-Year Jump: From $4 Million to $4 Billion

I received a very interesting short summary on a recent Jim Ovia’s interview on CNN. A Lagos-based company, Quadrant MSLGroup, summarized it and distributed via a newsletter. Mr Ovia is the founder of Zenith Bank Plc, a Lagos-based banking institution.

On CNN’s ‘Marketplace Africa’, host Zain Asher sits down with the founder of Zenith Bank to discuss the secrets of his success and the impact Nigeria’s recession had on business.

Founder of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia describes the bank’s successes over the last 27 years: “I started Zenith Bank in 1990 and 20 years later the Zenith Bank shareholder value was four billion US dollars. From four million dollars to four billion dollars… You can do the math. It’s some thousands of percentages of return.”

Ovia determines that this level of success is unique to Nigeria: “These kinds of numbers and this kind of return doesn’t happen everywhere. You don’t even get it in America, Europe or Russia. You can get it in Nigeria.”

When asked about the challenges he faced in this time, Ovia explains to CNN that poor infrastructure was one of the largest obstacles: “Issues like inadequacies of infrastructural availability were solved when we began building our own roads to our branches. Our customers need to be able to reach us… I call it BYOI – Build Your Own Infrastructure.”


Looking at the summary, you can see three things

  • Jim noted that within about 20 years, Zenith Bank created a value that moved from $4 million to $4 billion. That is very impressive indeed. That means he even did better than Donald Trump, who has turned his inheritance of at least $20 million into $3.5 billion depending on which number you agree with. Donald had claimed he was worth $10 billion. But I will use Forbes’ numbers. It even took Trump longer, stretching more than 30 years.
  • Jim also noted the infrastructural challenges in the same interview. Of course things have gotten better with airports and roads since 20 years ago. But the reality is that he did not wait for the infrastructures to be perfect before he got into action. This is a lesson: we cannot have everything perfect before we can begin any entrepreneurial journey.
  • Jim saw his success as uniquely Nigerian. I do agree. Except in the technology space, it is very hard to get that kind of returns easily. Interesting, we still have such opportunities across our industrial sectors, from agriculture to energy.

The lesson here is simple: you do not have to wait for a perfect Nigeria before you can launch your business. If Jim had waited for the infrastructures to be built, there may not be Zenith Bank today. Yes, one day we will get a country with mature infrastructure. But do not think the level of competition will be the same. When we get there, big players like Warren Buffett may be interested in Nigeria. Some of those big players like to invest in places with clear and structured order. They are not in the nation today which means you can have an opportunity as a very small player. I do believe that starting a business does not require that all the environmental conditions must be perfect. In the midst of the chaos, someone with vision can find value. Jim Ovia demonstrated that and Zenith Bank is still growing.



1. Advance your career with Tekedia Mini-MBA (Sept 13 – Dec 6, 2021): 140 global faculty, online, self-paced, $140 (or N50,000 naira). Click and register here.

2. Click to join Tekedia Capital Syndicate and own a piece of Africa’s finest startups with a minimum of $10,000 investment.

3. Register and join me every Saturday at Business Growth Playbooks w/ Ndubuisi Ekekwe (Sept 4 – Oct 23, 2021), Zoom, 4pm WAT; costs N20,000 or $60.

Share this post

3 thoughts on “Zenith Bank’s 20-Year Jump: From $4 Million to $4 Billion

  1. I will doff my hat for Jim Ovia.He has done well in driving Zenith bank brand to the level it is to day.From $4 million to $4billion shareholders value to date is not an easy task.I am a small shareholder in Zenith bank Plc and an account holder too.Zenith bank has been very consistent in its performance from its inception in 1990.I could remember meeting Jim Ovia at Ministry of Finance Ikoyi in 1990 when he came to collect Zenith bank licence.


Post Comment