James Esomonu Obi
James Esomonu Obi, also known as "Uncle Jim," was described "by the Class Magazine as 'The Third World's best salesman' ... Mr. James Esomonu Obi, fondly known as Jim Obi, made his mark and fortune in the insurance industry. Mr. Obi fled Nigeria in December 1966 following the second military coup, as the Igbo were hunted. Upon arrival in the U.S., he was driven to do better than just survive the pogrom. Through self-study and perseverance, he built and managed one of the largest insurance agencies in the U.S. during a thirty year period. He has been featured in such other periodicals as The Enterprise Magazine, US News & World Report, Black Enterprise Magazine, Ebony Magazine, and USA Today newspaper. Now retired, Mr. Obi owns the Obi Group, an investment firm with particular interest in profitable business ventures in Africa.
"Obi was born in Lagos to the late Mr. John Obichukwuwa and the late Adannaya Obi from Ibele Umuaka, in Orlu senatorial zone of Imo State on September 2, 1942. James was the third son of the eight children of his father from his mother, Adannaya. His father had over 16 children. On his mother's side, he had three brothers and four sisters. He was only ten years old when his father, a civil servant with the Nigerian Railway Corporation, died in 1952. 'After his death, I came to know poverty, because I grew up in it,' he recalls. Raised by his mother, Jim Obi and his siblings struggled to stay in school in Lagos and often could not for lack of funds.
"James Obi decided early to become a businessman, and got involved in the export and import business, particularly in textiles. 'I helped break the monopoly, which Lebanese in Nigeria held in the textile industry. We began to import directly from abroad with our own labels,' he said. In the midst of the orgy of killing of the Igbo, which followed the second military coup in July of 1966, Obi says he had to leave Lagos for the U.S. after two attempts were made on his life. 'I was in the U.S. when the war began. I did not believe that we were capable of killing each other in the Nigeria of that time; many of us thought it would not be long and we would all go back home. I lost all of my brothers in that war. I am the only surviving son of my father, and that was because I left,' Obi reveals.
"In December of 1966, Obi arrived in the U.S. A Yoruba friend helped him with a passport because passports were not being issued to the Igbo at the time. He was able to get to the airport under an assumed name. Upon arrival he stayed at a YMCA in Manhattan, until another Yoruba friend, Sije Awosika, who was then at the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations, took him to share his apartment with him. 'I came with only one suit, and it was cold in December. And I said to myself, here is a place one could accomplish anything.'
"Thirty six years later, he says America is a tough and demanding place. 'It is a nation of opportunities, and it rewards you if you put in the effort. If you want to be good, you can be very good at what you do here, but if you want to fail, the nation can help you fail with flying colors,' he says. Among Obi's favorite Americans is Mr. Reginald Lewis, whom he refers to as a brilliant entrepreneur. He also admires the entertainer Bill Cosby.
"The Ghanaian Joe Mensa got Obi interested in the insurance business. He considered himself then a seasoned salesman and figured that the insurance industry would provide him the challenge and opportunity he needed. 'I did not know then why I was being turned down for employment by the insurance companies. I did not know that Blacks were just not welcome there, so I kept going to interviews.' In 1967, he was able to convince a manager at the Equitable Life Assurance Society to take a chance with him as a Sales Representative and not pay him if he did not produce within three months. Ten months later or there about, he was made a District Sales Manager. Three years later, he was appointed as Agency Manager in New York, with the responsibility of building and developing his own agency organization.
"By 1982, Obi's agency was number one in the U.S., and Equitable rewarded him with three President's Gold Trophies, and membership in the company's Order of Excalibur. Soon Obi became well known and highly respected in the insurance industry. He is a member of the Million Dollar Round Table, and belongs to the General Agents and Managers Conference. He has been awarded the National Management Award six times and the Master Agency Award twice. But his interests have gone beyond the insurance industry. He sits on the boards of several companies, including TLC Beatrice International Foods Inc., The Glaucoma Trust Foundation, The Forum for World Affairs, and the Nigerian-American Alliance. He chairs the Board of Crescent Investment Group, Inc. He is a chartered financial consultant, as well as a chartered life underwriter.
"Obi met his wife, Cecillia Olubosede Obi (nee Oluwole) in 1962 in Lagos, and they got married in 1964. Their first three children, Funke, Femi, and Sije, were born in Nigeria, while the fourth, Uche, was born in the US. All three sons and one daughter are adults now; they have made Obi a grandfather thrice and counting. Obi and his wife, Bose reside in Stamford, Connecticut.
"This information about Jim Obi is derived from the Tall Drums: Portraits of Nigerians who are changing America by Ugorji O. Ugorji, 1998."