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On CNN’s ‘Marketplace Africa’, host Zain Asher sits down with the founder and CEO of Zenith Bank to discuss the secrets of his success and the impact Nigeria’s recession had on business.
Founder and CEO 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 is four billionUS 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 don’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.”
Asher asks what impact the Nigerian recession has had on Ovia’s business. Although business slowed in Nigeria, the impact was no different to anywhere else in the world experiencing a similar economic downturn. Ovia explains: “During the recession in Nigeria, just like in any other country or economy, opening [non-performing loans] will slow down. Not because those loans are terribly bad or because those loans will be completely written off as lost. Businesses did slow down and so repayment programs equally slowed down.”
Asher asks Ovia what a young entrepreneur would have to do in order to get a loan from Zenith Bank. Ovia explains: “{It would be} very easy. The individual must meet what we call ‘risk acceptance criteria’ and when he does meet these criteria, he’ll get a loan.”
Ovia gives some advice for young people who want to know how he made it in business. Ovia told the host: “Don’t give up… [Young people] should remain focused. They should remain determined.

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