Do not despise small beginnings because according to Tiny Buddha ‘‘from small beginnings come great things’’. This is the case of Jim Ovia, and Tony Elumelu, both of whom are renowned and successful entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
What were their small beginnings?
Jim Ovia – A Clerk at Union Bank
Jim Ovia took up his first job immediately after completing secondary school. He worked as a clerk at Union Bank, formerly Barclays Bank DCO (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas). While working in the bank, Ovia was also dealing in used cars, popularly called “Tokunbo” in Nigeria.
After working for 3 years as a clerk, he proceeded to the United State of America where he had his first degree in Business Administration from Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA (1977). He bagged a master’s degree at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, USA, in 1979, still in Business Administration. Along the line, he developed an interest in computer science and information technology, and incorporated them into his academic programme. Thereafter, he picked up a part-time computer job at Baton Rouge Bank and Trust Company, in Louisiana, USA. Jim Ovia also studied in one of the top business schools in the world, Harvard Business School.
He returned to Nigeria and went back to Union Bank for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. Experience is truly the best teacher as learning is best when put into practice. For this reason, Jim Ovia worked in the banking sector in Nigeria and America for many years. He has worked in both Lion Bank and First National Bank of Chicago before returning to the country. He joined International Merchant Bank (IMB), Lagos in 1980. At that time IMB was known for its expertise in international trade, which made them specialists in dealing with multinational corporations. Jim Ovia was a top-notch player at IMB, having trained as a financial analyst. Later on, he proceeded to the Merchant Bank of Africa. He rose to the top management, acquiring valuable experiences and all the nitty-gritty needed to build any banking institution from the scratch.
With a deep knowledge of the banking sector, Jim Ovia and some of his friends decided to go for the opportunity that came when the then government of Ibrahim Babangida decided to give out banking licenses to indigenous private individuals in Nigeria in May 1990. The initiative was designed to promote home-grown entrepreneurship. In the same year in July, Jim Ovia and few others started Zenith Bank that has now grown to become one of the most profitable financial institutions, not just in Nigeria, but in the whole of Africa.
Today, that junior clerical officer and a middle management trainee has a net worth that is over $825 million. After about two decades, he stepped down from being the CEO of Zenith Bank to become the Chairman. Since he had a passion for telecommunications, Jim Ovia decided to establish a mobile phone company, Visafone, which was later sold to MTN a few years back.
He is the chairman of the Nigerian Software Development Initiative (NSDI), the National Information Technology Advisory Council (NITAC), and Cyberspace Network Limited.
Ovia is also into real estate. His company established the famous Lagos Civic Center, as well as the Lagos Marriott Hotel.
As a way of giving back to society, the self-made businessman is one of the country’s biggest philanthropists. He established James Hope College, a free school in Delta State, which is just one out of his numerous acts of philanthropy.
Tony Elumelu – Management Trainee at Union Bank
Tony Elumelu is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Nigeria. He attended Ambrose Alli University and later proceeded to the University of Lagos, where he obtained a master’s degree. He also attended the prestigious Harvard Business School.
Tony Elumelu served at Union Bank during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in 1985. This was where he started his career as a Management trainee. Just 12 years of his entry into the banking sector, he acquired Standard Trust Bank (STB). On 1 August, 2005, an opportunity came for The United Bank for Africa (UBA), a bank established in 1949 to merge with STB. Through his deft negotiation skills, that merger was consummated, and Elumelu became the CEO of the new UBA.
Retiring from the Management of United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc in 2010, he became the Chairman of the bank that is now operating in 20 Africa Countries, including the United Kingdom, France and the United State.
In the same year, Tony Elumelu founded Heirs Holdings, a company that invests in financial services, hospitality, power, energy, technology and healthcare. In the year 2010, he also established a charity organisation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), to promote good corporate citizenship.
Today, he is not just the Founder and Chairman of Heirs Holding, he also Chairs the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc, (Trancorp), a leading diversified conglomerate founded on 16 November, 2004. Elumelu also extended his hands to the oil sector by establishing the Trans-Niger Oil & Gas Limited (TNOG), an upstream oil and gas company where he is Chairman.
The former trainee in Union bank has a net worth of over $900m and is ranked the 31st richest man in Africa in 2015 according to Forbes. Some other places he has made his mark is USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa (PCGA) Partners Forum where he is an advisor. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria (NCCN).
”Africa’s private sector and most importantly entrepreneurs are the catalyst for the social and economic development of the continent”, says Elumelu. These two entrepreneurs have promoted social and economic development and have a lot in common. They are both from Delta State, Nigeria. They both started their career in Union Bank, and studied at the Harvard Business School. They are also among Nigeria’s biggest philanthropists. However, three things that are not only common with Elumelu and Ovia but also among other successful entrepreneurs are the 3Ds- Determination, Discipline and Diligence.
That spirit of determination and action can even be identified in this words of wisdom from Jim Ovia that, ”It wasn’t so much what you studied, but what you did with the knowledge that mattered”.
Faith Omo Ohioze