The name, Coscharis Group has become synonymous with success and excellence in the car business across the country. A company that has become the highest supplier of brand new vehicles to customers, Coscharis began 38 years ago with just N200. The man behind it, Cosmas Maduka, was a teenage apprentice who with a will as strong as iron took the world by storm.
In a recent lecture delivered in Enugu at the first Igbo Business Leaders Conference, Maduka, outlines the simple laws of prosperity he applied to become wealthy and affirms that these are the tools Igbo youths should apply in business to build a new generation of millionaires. Senior State Correspondent, THANKGOD IVERE-IJOMAH was there.
You must begin very early to get rich’
I lost my father when I was four years old and my mother became a single parent. Where do I go? But my mother told me to believe in myself and to believe that I can go places in life. So, I believe that mothers are the real ones that make impact on the lives of their children, and I try to talk to young people to know that, ‘you make yourself when you are young; you don’t wait to become 40 or 50 to become something important in life.
Anybody can make it between the ages of 15 to 25. If you are a student, that is the age when you must decide what you want to become in life. By the time you are 20 or 21, you are already scratching the surface. We need to go back to the basics to start getting our young people to be successful, to truly re-orientate them, give them knowledge on what the average Igboman is known for so that they can begin to position for the future. If we miss them when they are young, we are never going to get them to go anywhere’.
I listened to my colleagues who spoke before me with their thought-provoking words on what we need to do and some of the difficulties we come across in business. Any good entrepreneur must know that his destiny is in his hands, you are not going to leave your destiny in the hands of the state. You must take control of your destiny.
To an extent, you cannot operate in isolation, but no matter the environment you find yourself, you can always find a way to survive. The issue we are discussing today is to ‘come home to invest’. We are under moral obligation. Some of us who have had breakthroughs and have become successful should come home to invest.
But it is about finding a balance between that moral obligation and comparing it with the fact that we are entrepreneurs and capitalists. As an entrepreneur and capitalist, you have to source for funds and you are trained to generate revenue to fortify the source of your funds. Investment capital doesn’t have a face; it always goes to where there is profit. So you look for opportunities that will work for you.
‘We must stop depending on crude oil’
Our governors are not here, but if they are here and understand what is happening, they should create enabling environment that will attract capital to their states. Look at Dubai; to some of you who have been there, if you knew the place before the Gulf War, that whole place was full of sand; a desert. But look at the place today. Under 20 years, they created a landscape and built a city that is one of the wonders of the world. This is because they understood that their oil is drying up.
We cannot continue to say that we have oil in Nigeria; that we are a wealthy people. Your intellectual capacity is what the world wants today not the money in your pocket, not the oil at your backyard. What a man has in his head is more important than what he has in his pocket. This is because oil will dry up one day. People like me are praying that this oil should dry up so that Nigerians will begin to think and find a way to develop this country. It has become more of a problem than blessing as we now depend too much on it.
If you come from a background like mine where I knew if I made a mistake in life, I would pay dearly for it. I ended my education as elementary 3 pupil; my father died when I was four years; my mother could not train me beyond elementary 3, but I was determined to survive. This is what the average Igbo man, before now, is known for; to be determined to survive. It is time we begin to re-inspire our people to know that no matter what life throws at them, they must make use of what they have and not lay emphasis on what they don’t have. So, I majored on what I have and not what I don’t have.
We need to understand the reason why we are here and we are called entrepreneurs. Our duty is to create wealth and we are asked to come home and create this wealth. You are not coming here because your governor is begging you to come and invest in his state. As an entrepreneur who knows that his destiny is in his hands, you have to look and say, ‘what kind of investment can I make and find competitive advantage in the environment I find myself so that the capital deployed can be justified’.
‘How I invested in agriculture
For years, different governments have called me to come home. I have always had my office in Nnewi, you know Nnewi is a town of auto parts business. I have a branch there, I have a store, I have an outfit, a zonal office is there to cover the South-East zone. But that is not enough investment in that place. So I have been thinking, ‘what can I to do to set up an industry? What kind of industry will I set up there that can give maximum returns on investment and still meet the need?’ But if you look well enough, you can always find the opportunity.
For instance, Nigeria spends over 10 billion dollars to import rice and spends about 4 million dollars to import wheat. You go to Abuja today, you will see bananas that are imported from Cameroun. Agriculture provides us competitive advantage. 29 years ago, I went to (Anaka?) and acquired a piece of land, about seven miles square, 5, 000 hectares. Each time I went to develop that land, the community people will come out and after collecting money from me and did all the needed ceremonies for land acquisition, they came out again to make demands.
I became a market to them and began to ‘clear me like you clear containers at the wharf’. So each time I went there, they felt their container ‘has arrived’. I have always had it in mind that this is what I can do in this part of the world which will be a worthwhile investment. I am very sure that if our agricultural business is fully developed to the level I want to be, it will create about 10, 000 jobs. We are not only going to cultivate seven square miles of rice, but we will harvest them, mill them, and also use their chaff to produce certain things, it has different dimensions in that industry.
Governor Willie Obiano, who has a vision for agriculture decided to call the villagers to a meeting. He then told them that if they continue to do that, they would be hurting him and Anambra State. To the glory of God, we started just in January last year and we have done our first harvest already this year.
It’s a place you will be proud to visit if you are Igbo. One of the things that also made it possible was that they, Anambra Government, were willing to fight crime. Without security, there will be no enabling environment for business. Today, I have people from Netherlands, France and Australia who are all working in that farm. If you go there, you will be very happy to be Igbo. We will be generating about 120 thousand metric tonnes of rice in the next three years. When the place is fully developed, we will use helicopters to tour the farm because within the farm we have about 200 kilometres of road built to evacuate the products.
The point I am trying to make is that it is not just investing in this part of the world, but you need to ask yourself, ‘what kind of investment am I making that will have a competitive advantage in that locality to many’, since you are an investor and your capital is working for you. It’s not charity; it is about creating business, jobs, and also getting something back from it.
‘I made up my mind that I must succeed with that N200, and three years of education’
All of this was possible because I made up my mind that I was going to survive in life, with my third grade of education. I worked for my uncle and after seven years of apprenticeship what I was worth was only N200. My elder brother was so angry that he said I should leave the money and go home. I asked him if he had anyone who was going to give me money when we get home. He said no, and I said I thought he had. Then I turned to my uncle and told him straight to his face, ‘seven years from today, if you hear my name, your head will spin’. He is still alive and is on my payroll.
You need to see this reality, and benefit from it. It’s about inspiring and making our young people believe in themselves and teaching them that you don’t make wealth by cheating others. But if you build a solid investment, it will stand the test of time. Why can’t we build a Walmart, MacDonald businesses that will translate from generation to generation?
‘The best university is the apprenticeship tradition, no matter the education’
The problem is that we have a problem of leadership, quality leadership. We also lack visionary leaders who are willing to build businesses with the right structures. When I set out to build Coscharis, it was not the capital that mattered to me; I could have spent that N200 in a restaurant and blamed everybody around me, including God on why He took away my father when I was just four.
But I had a different mindset and my mindset was that I will survive with the N200. The best university I attended was the apprenticeship of seven years, and I still advocate today that we get our young people to go through apprenticeship. There is no better university that can beat it because it remains the best school to prepare you for whatever you will face in life.
‘You must learn and practice how to save money’
It is a school, one of the best schools any human being can attend. I told my uncle that my excitement is not the N200, my excitement was that I am taking my destiny in my hands; to do with my life what I want to do. Thank you for training me; the things you taught me, I learnt them and you will find out that I am not going to disappoint you. I went out there and began to save.
If you are in apprenticeship you must learn to save. If you are in a hurry to show that you have arrived, you will never get anywhere; and this is the major problem. Our people are suffering from the ‘I have arrived syndrome’. People who I can pay their salaries are flying private jets in Nigeria, crazy lifestyles that will not lead them anywhere, because they have no clear vision in life of what their goals are.
Maybe I am talking too much, but forgive me, what I am saying in essence is that, with N200, we were able to create an institution that will be timeless and provide employment, while making profit; a little nobody like me, running a one-man show; today, people who had worked in banks are happy to get employment under the Coscharis Group.
‘You must be committed to your obligations to earn trust’
We have been able to attract the respect of our peers in the industry. All the banks in Nigeria, without an exception, including First, Union, GTB, Fidelity, name them, borrow me money to do business. I didn’t pick it in the streets, it is something I worked for; it is also about vision; it wasn’t an accident, so you need to have a clear vision. What really do you want to achieve in life? Because I have all those resources in my hands, it didn’t make me to dance naked on the streets.
I am committed to an obligation and the banks equally have an obligation; in fact, some people from their banks even joined me because they knew that I keep to my obligations. Somebody joined me from one of the banks when the exchange rate jumped from N20 to N80, and if we made payment at that time, we will lose N100 million which is a lot of money.
He said we will call the supplier and explain to him. I said, at Coscharis, we don’t have such culture. The man didn’t do business with Nigerian culture. If he did business with us, we must pay, and we must pay that N100 million. That was his first shocker. He told me that he had never seen anything like this in his life. I worked with the Japanese who thought me what obligation is all about.
‘Write down clearly what you want to achieve and pursue it’
Let me conclude by saying that where there is a will, there must be a way. Your destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. It is a choice, not a chance that determines one’s destiny. Those of us who come from this part of the country, it doesn’t matter what the Federal Government is doing, all of us are in the tempo of progress, what we want to do is to create the change that will bring progress, but a change that is a necessity that must come. Whether you believe you can or not, you are right because it is your choice.
I want to urge everyone of you listening to me to make up your mind, whatever you are planning to do or that you are doing, let us begin to ask ourselves who we want to be in the next five years. It starts from your thinking processes. A hope without a plan is a wish. When I planned to do something, the first thing I did when I got that N200 was that I told myself what I wanted to do. ‘I am going to marry, I wrote it down that I will do that and at 22, I want my first car; at 25 I want to be a millionaire. I wrote that down. True to the fact, I got married when I was 19 years plus, under 20, and I have been married to the same lady till today.
It’s about challenging the status quo that it must become this way; it’s about asking yourself if there a way in which it can be done? I bought my first car at 21, and actually became a millionaire at 24. That was when exchange was one dollar, 88 cents. I was already a dollar millionaire by then.
‘Be humble in wealth’
But the things I learnt made me ride my motor bike. The first car I bought was a Passat. I was sitting on wealth, but I didn’t want anybody to know, because that is how Igbo people are trained to behave. All these classifications before the time are not what we are used to. So we need to get our children back to proper orientation, to get them to make wealth before announcing it.
So, let us have a plan of what our next five years should be. Every journey must begin with the first step. Our journey at Coscharis began 38 years ago with only N200. The journey has been long and hard, and many times we have been tempted to throw in the towel, but I had a clear vision, a dream. Those who cannot dream big dreams cannot accomplish big tasks. Only those who have tried to do things no other person has done will accomplish that which none has accomplished.
Hardly has anyone put up a great building without thinking through the architecture, nor did anyone build a great business empire without a business plan. It all starts from our head. If you are an entrepreneur, whatever vision you can come up with should be driven from the current perspective in terms of perceived competitive advantage. This strategic visioning process must entail that you and your managers must all think collectively as one family, giving you optimistic thinking in terms of where people come from or reside.
I don’t care whether you are Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. What I want are people who are gifted and can make money. When you are there, all my Igbo brothers will start saying that they have used charms on me, but I told them to go and get the same charm, or one that is stronger because there is no better charm than somebody who has common sense and channelled himself into productivity.
Whether you are a Ghanaian, Yoruba, Hausa, it doesn’t matter. ‘Na akom ogwu ahu ka ona atum’ (keep using the charm on me, so that it influences me), so that I can make more wealth. If the process is successful, your visioning will soon become the organisational feature and the chances of focusing the energies of the members of your team towards the achievement of the corporate goal and objective will greatly improve.
Those of you who are familiar with reverse engineering know that in the early stages of any organisation, many in the research and development start development by reverse engineering, imitation, not imitating a competitive product of a person, but an idea. You must think, you must ask yourself some questions – who do we want to look like? What company do you want to benchmark your organisation against? What should we do to achieve the desired results? What are the key benchmarks, timeliness and so on?
You see, our being here today is not mere coincidence, I believe it was planned by God. I want to provoke every one of us gathered here by suggesting we set a five year growth and development goal for our organisations and decide today, which company, country, organisations we want to benchmark ourselves within these five years. We have everything that we need to build something far bigger than what we have now. Why should we then settle for anything less than excellence?
You can build enormous capacity. When we were children, people from this part of the world had what we called ‘welfare system’. We were a family, that is where the word ‘onye aghana nwanne ya’ comes from. We were a collective. When I started my business, we didn’t write agreements to get money. If you are going to market, you ask your brother, ‘onwere ego iletalu?’(Do you have money you can give me?) And he will say yes, and give you which you will refund after you have sold your goods. No agreement is written.The point I am making is that we can do something far greater than ourselves. We shouldn’t settle for anything less than excellence.
My listeners, fellow entrepreneurs and importers in this great gathering, our time has come; we must understand the reason why we are called entrepreneurs, our ability to create wealth and educate ourselves. Ours must be education that must bring justice to the unjust, we must seize our economy, tell our stories, find clean sources of energy, build ethical businesses to take over the five Igbo states.
We must develop technology for the next century and bring hope and justice to those that are coming after us, and it is possible in our day, in our time, with our hands and through our hands that Nigeria can move from mere possibility to reality, more prosperous than we ever imagined.
Ours will be the time when Nigerian children should hunger and thirst no more; where our brothers and sisters will not be cut down by violence in their prime; where our uncles and aunties will not be killed trying to clean gasoline from a fallen tanker because of poverty. We must draw a thin line between our past and future. We must have a new beginning. Let us roll our sleeves and get to work with a clear vision and comprehensive plan and let people mobilize it into cohesive action.