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‘Not Necessary To Be Born Rich’

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One of West Africa’s richest men and a formidable force in banking, Jim Ovia conveys some key lessons for Africa’s entrepreneurs in his first book.

In Africa’s business and banking world, a man like Jim Ovia is a textbook case study.

As the founder and chairman of Zenith Bank, and with a net worth of $825 million according to FORBES, Ovia’s prolific banking career spans almost three decades.

His book, Africa Rise and Shine: How a Nigerian Entrepreneur From Humble Beginnings Grew A Business To $16 Billion, launched in August, which marked his debut as an author, details this trajectory, building the bank from the ground up, brick-by-brick. Ovia started with a single branch in Lagos on the ground floor of an impoverished residential duplex that he shared with a private tenant.

“At the time, there were no high-rise office structures in the area and we were not able to afford any standalone structures,” says Ovia to FORBES AFRICA when we meet him at the iconic Civic Centre building located on Ozumba Mbadiwe in Victoria Island, Lagos.

The sprawling high-rise office structure we occupy on this rainy Saturday morning is a far cry from the early years.

Ovia recalls erecting a signage and the company logo in the impromptu commercial space where they could carry out the banking business.

Photo by: Kelechi Amadi-Obi

He worked at Barclays Bank in Lagos from the age of 18 for three years as a clerical officer before enrolling to study business administration at Southern University, Louisiana, in the United States, and subsequently proceeding to the University of Louisiana, Monroe, where he completed his MBA.

After graduating, he joined Union Bank to complete his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Ovia subsequently joined the Merchant Bank of Africa, which was then owned by Bank of America, and worked for over three years before applying for a banking license. And with that, came the birth of Zenith Bank.

“We knew it was going to be a bank that was well run. We knew it will be a bank that will be very efficient and we knew it will be a bank that will offer good and excellent service because that is one of the reasons we set up the bank in the first place,” recalls Ovia.

From those days, he had decided Zenith was going to be run differently from any other bank.

“When you go to many Zenith Bank offices, you will still not see any crowds in the banking hall, yet we are still providing the best quality service,” says Ovia.

The banking major is a London Stock Exchange-listed company with operations in the UK, China, the UAE, Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and with more than 400 branches and business offices in Nigeria.

The institution has become a byword for credibility in the Nigerian banking industry.

Many of his peers and competitors call the Zenith Bank success story one of hard work, grit and focus.

But what distinguishes Ovia from them is an abiding belief in his entrepreneurial instincts, one that has been validated many times over.

But that is not the reason he has a spring in his step these days. In Ovia’s new chapter as an author, he chronicles the key lessons entrepreneurs can learn from the meteoric rise of Zenith Bank.

“Among the most important of those lessons may be my experience that it is not necessary to be born rich or in influential circles in order to achieve success,” says Ovia.

It augurs well for a man who for 30 years has constantly adapted to changing environments and opportunities, whether it was being an early investor in the internet space, through his company Cyberspace in 1995, or setting up his telecommunications company Visafone and his expansive real estate portfolio. Ovia’s intuitive timing is something a lot of Nigerian entrepreneurs who look up to him as a mentor have been reading about in his book.

Says Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, in a blurb on the back of the book: “Jim Ovia’s entrepreneurial flair demystifies Africa. Africa Rise and Shine shows his meteoric rise from humble beginnings to building a formidable bank. This is a wonderful African success story,”

Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, founder and president, Dangote Group, also echoes those sentiments.

“Jim Ovia has been my friend and a trusted banker over the last twenty-five years. Africa Rise and Shine lays bare the secrets to Zenith Bank’s success from one of Nigeria’s most respected businessmen. Jim’s inspirational tale of success against all the odds is an important lesson of how adversity can always be surmounted. His principles of doing business can be applied globally as demonstrated by Zenith Bank’s London Stock Exchange listing. This book is an essential read for anyone that wants to do business in Africa.”

Ovia believes it is imperative to rely on one’s own instincts in taking stock of one’s capabilities, and in evaluating new business opportunities.

READ MORE: The Nigerian Who Runs His Business On Luck

The book seeks to encourage entrepreneurs to seize the opportunity to invest in Africa by abiding by guidelines such as prudence, due diligence and being able to respond quickly by cultivating the capacity to react effectively.

“I think the readers of this book will gain the spirit of commitment, empowerment, focus, hard work and discipline. They will learn that if you are disciplined and work hard, definitely you will do well. The book is about passing on these principles and documenting how it is to do business in Africa, particularly Nigeria,” says Ovia.

He hopes his book, which is more like an entrepreneurs’ manual than an autobiography, will guide the next generation of industrialists and game-changers to change the narrative of Africa from a hopeless continent to a rising continent.

From boardroom deal-making to creating an impact in the lives of Nigerians, Ovia is a business icon who continues to evolve.

His book is a call to tomorrow’s titans to follow their gut instincts, so hopefully one day, they too can reach their zenith.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Entertainment

Highest-Paid Country Acts 2019: Lil Nas X Debuts; Luke Bryan Tops List

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The Country Music Awards are billed as Nashville’s biggest night, but this year’s event buried the genre’s most significant breakthrough of the past 12 months, offering up just one nomination for 20-year-old musician Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” spent a record 19 weeks atop the singles charts.

That run helped Lil Nas X notch a different honor, debuting on the Forbes list of top-earning country acts this year with an estimated pretax income of $14 million. The Atlanta native claims the No. 18 spot thanks to the fiendishly catchy country-rap track he released through indie music service Amuse in December 2018. The song clocked 1.8 billion spins by summer despite being booted from the Billboard country charts. The snub—and a bevy of remixes—helped “Old Town Road” broaden the genre’s audience more than any track in recent memory. 

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself,” says Amuse cofounder Diego Farias. “Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Lil Nas X isn’t the only high earner to come up short at the awards ceremony: Luke Bryan claims the top spot on our list for the second consecutive year with $42.5 million but didn’t receive a single nomination. That’s mostly because the Georgia native, who favors baseball caps over cowboy hats, hasn’t put out a new studio album since 2017. Instead, he spent his time grossing more than $1 million per tour stop and serving as a judge on American Idol.

The genre-bending Zac Brown Band ranks second, pulling in $38.5 million on the strength of 50 live performances and a new album, The Owl, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts. Other crossover acts on the list include Canadian songstress Shania Twain (No. 7 with $29 million) and hip-hop-tinged duo Florida Georgia Line (No. 8 with $26 million).

“Country’s more of a lifestyle,” the group’s cofounder Brian Kelley told Forbes in 2015. “The music’s always going to evolve.”

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself. Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Plenty of the CMAs’ stars did make our list, including performers Eric Church (No. 6, $30 million) and Miranda Lambert (No. 20, $13 million), as well as two of the hosts—Dolly Parton (No. 15, $17 million) and Carrie Underwood (No. 14, $16 million). A third host, Reba McEntire, narrowly missed the cut.

Overall, the top ten acts in country earned $311.5 million, up 2% from last year’s $304.5 million. Our list of the genre’s top earners measures estimated pretax earnings from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Figures are generated with the help of numbers from Nielsen Music, PollstarPro and interviews with industry insiders.

Although our rankings typically reflect country’s woeful lack of diversity at the top, this year’s list offers at least a glimmer of hope that things are changing. There are 6 women in the top 20—the least lopsided ratio in the seven years Forbes has published the list—and Lil Nas X is both the first openly gay act and the first person of color to make it.

Though he declined to comment for this story through a representative, Lil Nas X is clearly taking his role as a trailblazer seriously, regardless of how much CMA hardware he takes home. As he told the BBC earlier this year: “I feel like [I’m] opening doors for more people.”

20. Miranda Lambert, $13 million (tie)

20. Lady Antebellum, $13 million (tie)

19. Rascal Flatts, $13.5 million

18. Lil Nas X, $14 million

17. Faith Hill, $15 million

16. Carrie Underwood, $16 million

15. Dolly Parton, $17 million

14. George Strait, $17.5 million

13. Tim McGraw, $18 million

12. Dierks Bentley, $20 million

11. Toby Keith, $21 million

10. Jason Aldean, $23.5 million

9. Garth Brooks, $24 million

8. Florida Georgia Line, $26 million

7. Shania Twain, $29 million

6. Eric Church, $30 million

5. Kenny Chesney, $31 million

4. Blake Shelton, $32 million

3. Keith Urban, $35 million

2. Zac Brown Band, $38.5 million

1. Luke Bryan, $42.5 million

– Zack O’Malley Greenburg

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Entrepreneurs

Analysis: The Values That Make A CEO

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As part of FORBES AFRICA’s ongoing eighth anniversary celebrations, we present a CEO Rhetorical Analysis by Anahita Negarandeh, a Harvard University Extension School student, on FORBES AFRICA’s founder and publisher, Rakesh Wahi. The CEO Rhetorical Analysis researches and analyzes the rhetoric — the effective messaging or speech — of a CEO and global business leader. The values chosen to explore in the CEO’s rhetoric are a key part of this article.

This rhetorical analysis examines the messaging of Rakesh Wahi, Founder of CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA. By consulting with approximately 10 executives from Wahi’s global team, this rhetoric examines four of his leadership values such as courage and determination, collaboration, passion for education, and equality.

Courage and determination

Wahi is a well-respected global businessman based in Dubai and South Africa who has been involved with approximately 20 corporate development projects. He continues to grow his establishments in more than 25 offices around the world. As a leader in media, IT, telecoms, and education, Wahi has built companies in 22 countries, employing over 1,000 employees. Prior to moving to the UAE, Wahi served in the Indian Armed Forces for approximately nine years and was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India in 1985 for distinguished services to the country in peacetime. During his army service, at age 23, he was part of India’s second base establishment in Antarctica where a near-death experience changed his life.

“But I realized at that age that life is not something you take for granted, therefore, whatever you want in this world, you have to set out to achieve it. At the end of the day, you are either there or not there; if you are not there, and if there are unfulfilled dreams, they will always be unfulfilled.” (Wahi)

READ MORE: 5 Minutes With Rakesh Wahi

Wahi’s executive team members, who have known him for approximately 20-30 years, believe this statement. Based on four personal interviews conducted for the purpose of this analysis with Wahi’s global leadership team, Wahi “lives this statement in his everyday life” (Martin). Many acknowledged that he is continuously determined to fulfil his dreams. Lars Jeppesen, Wahi’s Co-Founder of Tech One Global, states that “Wahi dreams and then puts all efforts to pursue the dreams… he is still building universities, creating new businesses, and pursues his dreams” (Jeppesen). Wahi is known to thrive on challenges and never gives up on achieving his goals even when faced with obstacles and challenges.

A leader’s personal life experiences and adversities play a major role in one’s values and ethics. In Wahi’s case, facing death at a young age motivated him to pursue his dreams to become realities. This is an admirable value for entrepreneurs, especially the younger generation. As a role model, Wahi teaches them to never give up despite challenges.

Collaboration & Importance of People

Wahi has learned valuable business lessons from his experience in the army, most importantly, the core lesson taught in the military about the importance of people and looking after them. His 2016 autobiography, Be a Lion, dedicated a section to The Importance of People. Books have had a great impact on Wahi, specifically the philosophy of reason from Ayn Rand while he was fighting for his life from the military life-threatening incident. As an advocate in the influence of others, he reiterates in his book, “That it is difficult to achieve anything without the involvement, commitment, loyalty, and assistance of others. When you come across a person with whom you can see a future, you must grasp the opportunity and mutually make the most of it.” (Wahi Ch. 1, location 173, par. 4)

Wahi executes his philosophy in numerous examples throughout his career, especially one with Daniel Adkins who is now CEO of Wahi’s Transnational Academic Group Middle East. When asked to describe a situation reflecting Wahi’s collaboration with and valuing people, this quality has directly been experienced, Adkins states, “I am probably the best possible example of this philosophy.” (Adkins). He describes his hiring experience entering the organization in late 2009 and rise from the most entry level position at one of Wahi’s Dubai-based universities, Murdoch University, to now CEO for the Middle East operations.

“Throughout this entire process, Wahi has provided both direct mentorship and mentorship by example and has made sure that I did the same for my entire team, which has produced fantastic organisational results including no turnover with regret for six years.” (Adkins)

READ MORE: The Most Defining Aspects Of Our Lives

As stated in Lancaster University Ghana’s Senior Management biography, Wahi’s “core focus is on long term corporate and leadership development through building strong management teams”. Adkins reiterates this statement in an interview: “Wahi absolutely lives this philosophy and demands it from his entire management team… the people are the business and there is nothing more important” (Adkins).

Wahi is known to have a special gift and skill to find loyal people and never hesitates to show appreciation to people’s loyalty. Wahi learned this quality from his role model parents, a father who was a military, corporate, and family hero and a mother who was not only Mother Teresa’s friend, but a genuine giver in life. In other words, Wahi is a “go back to your roots leader” (Al Abadilah). Wahi was brought up in a giving family and now gives back as a leader. Because of the people-oriented philosophies followed in his organizations, employee turnaround rates are phenomenally low. Everyone is treated like family and the principles presented in Ken Blanchard’s book, Gung-Ho!, are lived by management.

Wahi’s philosophy about collaboration and importance of people is truly refreshing in a CEO and business leader. In today’s individualistic world, leaders like Wahi who dedicate a major part of their leadership role to importance of people is a rare finding. Such values must be celebrated and promoted in all aspects of business worldwide.

Passion for education

As a sought-after speaker at educational institutions on leadership and entrepreneurship, Wahi received an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Science from the International University of Management by the Minister of Education of Namibia. He was also appointed as an IATF2018 Goodwill Ambassador by The Trade Finance for Africa. He personally learned and continuously teaches patience to other entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In an interview with CNBC Africa, The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi,about his book Be a Lion, Wahi shares he is “extremely passionate about education”. His vision is to set up educational centers of excellence across Africa incorporating new innovative industries such as online and hybrid aspects of education with traditional classroom environment. He has mentored many people in his leadership journey, but believes mentorship benefits both parties as he states in an interview with CNBC Africa: “Within a group, you always learn from each other. Mentorship is not a one-way journey, you learn every day from your peers, subordinates, seniors… If you are a student, you will remain a student all your life. You must be like a sponge, no matter your age.” (Wahi)

According to Adkins and Martin, executive partners at Wahi’s educational business sectors, Wahi lives his statement daily. Not only does he mentor his staff, he also learns from those on his team whether they are junior level or senior. Wahi has created a business culture amongst all sectors in a way that everyone learns from one another.

“There is no rank in the discussion. It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration and we have made company-altering decisions based on input received from junior team members when those ideas turned out to be the best… It is absolutely the culture.” (Adkins)

Jeppesen, now Co-Founder of a tech enterprise with Wahi, states in an interview, “Wahi has been my mentor since we met 17 years back… Later, when we co-founded Tech One Global, he was leading our board and mentored me personally as the CEO.” (Jeppesen).

The culture of learning and mentorship from one another has saved the business in an example of a termination deal of one of Dubai’s university partnerships with a junior member of the team’s approach. This is proof that critical decisions are made, as a group despite rank levels. An important aspect of Wahi’s work is helping the leadership team rise to the next level.

Equality

Wahi’s decision to launch FORBES WOMAN AFRICA was to provide a platform for women entrepreneurs’ stories and the overwhelming waitlist of these stories in FORBES AFRICA.

“The main reason was that as a startup magazine, FORBES AFRICA was overwhelmed with a waiting list of stories from 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa; by virtue of women having a late head start in the business world, the stories were largely dominated by men who had done great things to transform Africa.” (Wahi)

In a short period of time, the magazine has risen to be the material of choice for inspirational women stories, with fantastic content being produced. Equality is discussed in an article by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, Celebrating Five Years with The Founder and Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.

“We have discussed the trials and tribulations of women in the workplace and become a champion for equality. The word ‘equality’ is a living value for us at the ABN Group and I am so proud that we have been able to personify our values through affirmative action.” (Wahi)

READ MORE: Equality As A Living Value

According to a partner of over 35 years, Rajiv Podar, “Wahi has always respected and admired hard-working women and a firm believer of equality at workplace and home… Most of his senior colleagues are women too” (Podar). In an example from a former female executive at one of Wahi’s first ventures 20 years ago in Dubai, Maha Al Abadilah discusses the value of equality she experienced as a woman working with Wahi. “I have never experienced anything that distinguished a man and a woman, nothing but full respect and treating us with our pure qualifications and titles.” (Al Abadilah.14:19).

Wahi repeatedly demonstrates his firm belief in his statements amongst his team members. When a decision is to be made for an important matter, all team members discuss as equals. “It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration.” (Adkins). Evidently, not only the value of equality is present within his ABN Group amongst women in the workplace, but also amongst all employees. Gender and rank are clearly not considered in any team discussions and decisions.

Conclusion

Wahi’s leadership approach and personality embodies unique values such as a life-changing incident, the collaboration and importance of people, a passion for education, and equality. As he was personally approached for research purposes of this analysis, he promptly welcomed connections with over 10 executives and partners of his global team who were all eager to help. Research results and personal interviews with warm responses from his team members and partners portray all qualities examined in this analysis positively. Wahi lives his statements and is a true people-oriented leader.

Works cited:

Adkins, Daniel. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Africa, Forbes Woman. “Celebrating Five Years With The Founder & Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.” Forbes Africa, 27 Sept. 2018, www.forbesafrica.com/woman/2018/09/27/celebrating-five-years-with-the-founder-publisher-rakesh-wahi/.

Al Abadilah, Maha. “Phone Interview, Rakesh Wahi Analysis” Voice recorder. 18 Dec. 2018.

Bandyopadhyay, Somshankar. “Military Lessons in Entrepreneurship.” GulfNews, 15 Mar. 2017, https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/books/military-lessons-in-entrepreneurship-1.1994221.

Bishop, Chris. “Re: Chris Bishop CNBC Africa.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

CNBC Africa. “Rakesh Wahi Reflects on CNBC Africa’s Decade of Broadcasting.” CNBC Africa, CNBC Africa, 1 June 2017, www.cnbcafrica.com/videos/2017/06/01/rakesh-wahi-reflects-on-cnbc-africas-decade-of-broadcasting/.

CNBC Africa. “The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi.” CNBC Africa, 4 Nov. 2016, www.cnbcafrica.com/news/special-report/2016/11/04/be-a-lion/.

Jeppesen, Lars. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Lancaster University Ghana. “Rakesh Wahi Chairman.” Lancaster University Ghana, www.lancaster.edu.gh/our-faculty-details.php?id=45. Accessed 8 Dec. 2018.

Martin, Gary. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Naicker, Roberta. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Podar, Rajiv. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Vettath, Malavika. “Global Entrepreneur Rakesh Wahi: ‘I’ve Been a Very Bad Personal Investor’.” The National, The National, 25 May 2018, www.thenational.ae/business/money/global-entrepreneur-rakesh-wahi-i-ve-been-a-very-bad-personal-investor-1.733606.

Wahi, Rakesh. Be A Lion. Penguin Books, 2016. Kindle eBook file.

Wahi, Rakesh. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

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