Today’s Challenges Are Tomorrow’s Opportunities

By Jim Ovia

They say, don’t judge a book by its cover. The same could have been said of Africa’s business environment at one time. I whole-heartedly believe today’s challenges are always tomorrow’s opportunities. Nowhere was that more evident than in Nigeria’s information and communications-technology sector, which continued to serve as a catalyst for development. Though significantly underinvested in the past, there were now huge investment streams pouring into the telecommunication sector, resulting in a 25 percent increase in tele-density in Nigeria. This is a tremendous rate of improvement for Nigeria, and one that had to continue if the rate was to meet the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union recom­mended level.

Our country’s past failure to embrace technology was not necessarily an encumbrance going forward. In 2001, the number of fixed tele­phone-line subscribers in Nigeria remained the same, at approximately 240,000 lines. When mobile technology was introduced in 2002, the rate of subscribers increased sub­stantially for each of the next four years. During that time, the number of fixed-line subscribers did not increase. This is what I refer to as the leapfrogging of technologies, with increasing internet penetration passing over the old, fixed-line technology systems entirely. This leapfrogging renders the lack of fixed-line subscribers an economic redundancy.

When I started Zenith Bank, Nigeria was under military government. Banking and telecommunication industries were solely under government ownership, and people were not confident about the economy. Our very first Zenith Bank building in Lagos—a simple one-story apartment building—was unimpressive at best. Looking at our set-up, one would assume we didn’t have much likelihood of surviving. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would have barely rated our business’ chance of survival at a 2.

We were not the only ones trying to stay afloat. Out of more than 120 banks, over 70 percent had only received their banking licenses within the previous three years. There were no ATMs, no cell phones, or computers. Despite this, customers were lining up to do business with Zenith. It was clear to us that we could make a difference. Eventually that one-story apartment branch would transform into an institution with a ten-story building all our own—and so much more.

What may seem like an insurmountable challenge is merely an invitation or opportunity to provide a solution that hasn’t been realized yet. Take a look around you to see what kind of opportunities you could create. Are you ready to take your business to the next level? Take my assessment, Discover Your Greatness, and find out.

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