The chairman of Coscharis Group, Cosmas Maduka, is a rare businessman who has redefined the automobile industry in Nigeria with his vision. In this interview, FUNKE OSAE-BROWN, he talks about his life, growing his business to multi-billion-dollar empire and the African luxury industry.
Our appointment was booked for midday that sunny Monday in September. One would have considered a Monday to be too busy for a blue-chip CEO like Cosmas Maduka, yet he promised our interview would hold before the start of his meetings.
His office located on the upper of the floor of Coscharis Group head office at Awoyaya on Lekki/Epe Expressway is masked in quietness. His personal assistant was working on a desktop computer when we arrived. We were led into his office by his communications and marketing general manager, Abiona Babarinde.
It was exhilarating to come face to face with a man so much have been written about. He has graced the covers of some international magazines. His success story had been aired on CNN. Yet there was no air of arrogance around him as he welcomed our crew to his office for a photo shoot and an interview. One of our creative directors, Segun Adekanye, told him we may have to rearrange his large office for the photo shoot. “Feel free to do that,” he said calmly. At some point, he helped us to adjust the curtain for more natural light to come in.
His office is enormous, one befitting of a chairman that sits atop a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate with diverse interest in Manufacturing, ICT, Petrochemical, Auto care, and Auto Components, Automobile Sales and Services, Agric and Agro Allied business sectors of the Nigerian economy.
A hefty conference table surrounded by chairs was on the right side. At the top of the table sat Maduka with many files to attend to in front of him. He took a sip from the content of the flask by his side. He was ready for the makeup artist for a face makeover.
More than six decades ago when he was born, perhaps Maduka never knew he would one day have to recount his life story to the world. His story will surely make a blockbuster Nollywood movie. He had a rather challenging childhood. His father died when he was four years old. In his innocence, at his father’s funeral, he thought the family was having a festival. He never knew the lifeless body of his father was being laid to eternal rest.
“Quite many people were in our house, he recalls, it was very strange because it wasn’t a normal scene. A crowd was gathered in our house. There were masquerades too. People were singing, and some others were shooting the gun. In those days, when an important person dies, to commemorate his death, double barrel guns were shot into the air. I was asking myself: ‘wow what is going on in our house today?'”
But then, there was enough rice to eat. At the time, the most famous yet expensive food, eaten only when there was an important occasion like a festival.
“That was why that day was a memorable one for me because I ate all the rice I could, and people were kind to me, he narrated. I could request for rice four or five times that day and I was served. I told myself this should never end. What was I found strange is I looked at my mother confined to one corner of the wall. She was looking unhappy and crying. Her hair unkempt. I was wondering why she was unhappy when everybody was so excited around me. I saw my father dressed in a black suit with a black bow tie with a white shirt lying down, looking lifeless.” That was the last he would see of his father. It was later he realized it was his father’s funeral.
After the death of his father, fate would thrust on the shoulders of little Maduka the duty to support his mother to fend for their family of five – his two brothers, a sister, mother and himself. It was as if his parents had a premonition that something was going to happen. Hence, they had their children in quick succession. His parents had four children in four years of their marriage.
It wasn’t an easy task for a widow to take care of four children. And so, Maduka had to learn the hard way by assisting his mother to sell Akara otherwise called bean cake. This brought out the entrepreneurial side of little Maduka. “My mother would fry Akara, people don’t want to believe my story they say it was out of this world, he tells me.
Obviously, he was a smart kid who did so many things way ahead of his time.
“My mother will fry Akara for me to go and sell in the morning, he says of his experience as a kid entrepreneur. I will sell two trays full of Akara before my older brother will finish selling his own because I would smile at customers holding their clothes. They will tell me ‘no’ but I will respond: ‘my mother said you cannot say no to me’. They will all burst into laughter. They wondered where I got the wisdom from. Hence people would buy from me even when they are not in the mood to eat or buy Akara. I grew up very optimistic that nothing can stand before me. Nothing is impossible for me.”
With that mindset and having learned the power of no from his mother, Maduka would later conquer the world. A devout Catholic woman, his mother has become a critical reference point in his entrepreneurial journey.
“She discovered my entrepreneurial spirit what you now call child abuse explains Maduka. When you talk about strong women who knew where they were going in life, and why my mother was my angel, sometimes I don’t like to talk about her because It brings me to tears. Some years ago, my mother looked me straight in the eye and told me to believe in myself. She told me people won’t believe in me unless I believe in myself. She told me that people cannot say no to me unless I say no to myself. She convinced me that people like me that I am a likable fellow. People don’t understand what it means to encourage children to enable them to actualize their potentials. After God created Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26, the first word he spoke to them was to be fruitful. Be there is an active verb. A command on a potential, I have put something inside of you, bring it out. That was just what my mother told me that there was something about me.”
As a successful entrepreneur, Maduka now identifies with children who hawk on the street. He has been there, he empathizes with their plight. He knows what it feels to hustle at such a tender age. “I never drive past any one of them without buying what they are selling because that was where I used to be.”
When he turns seven, his mother had financial difficulty. He later had to live with his grandparents. He couldn’t continue with his studies after Elementary Three. After completing Elementary Three, his uncle who was his mother’s younger brother had begun a business in Lagos. He took him in as an apprentice. They lived at 88, Griffin Street, Oyingbo, Lagos, Nigeria.
“I was there last year to take a picture of the house says Maduka as he tries to document his childhood memories. There was no bathroom or window or toilet. That was where I lived for four and a half years.”
His uncle later sent him to Jos where he continued his apprenticeship. That was what Maduka calls high school. When he graduated from his Uncle’s store in Jos, another branch was opened in Sokoto, this he calls his first degree.
“That was the university I attended. After I graduated in Sokoto, he brought me back to Lagos to have another work experience and then he opened another branch at Nnewi in Anambra State. That was my postgraduate education. It was at Nnewi he later settled me after I had spent six and half years working for him without any salary. He only clothed me and fed me.”
By the time he was 14, he had a life-changing encounter when he gave his life to Jesus Christ after many futile attempts by his mother to make him religious because he was wary of people’s double standards with religion.
His belief later costs him his apprenticeship with his uncle who terminated abruptly his contract with Maduka after he closed his store to attend fast and attend a religious meeting in the church.
“I hailed from Nnewi in Anambra state, and to an average Igbo man, a shop is a religion, you don’t joke with the shop. Even one of our elderly kinsmen was at the point of death, three of his children went to visit him, on his sick bed, he called each one by name and asked them who they left the shops for? His death didn’t stop the shops from being opened. It is a taboo to close the shop. For those who do not know, if you are having a conversation with an Igbo man, and you are not getting his attention, close his shop. He will listen,” he explains jokingly.
His uncle didn’t find it funny he had to lock his shop because he was fasting. He was summoned by his uncle to be at his house that evening. Maduka and his brother mounted a borrowed bike to answer the summon. That was in 1976.
The news his uncle had for him wasn’t palatable. He was paid off for years of diligent service a paltry sum of N200. “I wondered what it was for, recalled a disappointed Maduka. He said he wanted to settle me so that I can face my religion. But you see when you obey the law you have confidence. There is a kind of confidence that comes when you do things right. I told him, Uncle, you can do better than this. He told me that is what he had. What do you want me to do with this money, to buy a car plug to sell or what? He said it was up to me what I want to do.”
I looked at my uncle and explained to him how faithfully I served him without stealing any money from him. I told him five years from, you will get to hear about who I have become, and it will make your head spin. I confused him by saying he didn’t count the money correctly that what he gave me was N20, 000. I had to say that based on the principles I have been taught by the word of God.”
With N200, Maduka ventured into selling motorcycle spare parts with a specialty in Honda C75. He didn’t have the capital to do any other business. “If you were in Nnewi market and you needed a spare part for Honda C75 and you can’t find it in my store, there no place you can get it. I didn’t have the money to keep the merchandise, but I knew everybody that had a C75 spare part and where I can get it. I did that so well with that little money I was given by my uncle. I was so good at it that I later began to do other Honda models. When I did Honda, I moved on to Suzuki, Kawasaki and then general motorcycle spare parts.”
After succeeding in selling motorcycle parts, he was able to increase his capital and ventured into motor spare parts, which nobody taught him. He sold motor spare parts successfully, and he was able to build the Coscharis Motors Plaza at Adeola Odeku Street Victoria Island without any automobile franchise.
Until he built the Adeola Odeku plaza, he never borrowed any money from the bank. He feels bank loan isn’t something you require to grow a business that you do not understand. “We grew organically at Coscharis by reinvesting whatever money we made back into the business. and understanding that capital is very important for our growth.”
Before he turned 15, he wrote the things he wanted to achieve by ages 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24. One of them was that he would get married before he turned 20. As God would have it, he got married on September 23, 1978, at 19. On September 23, 2018, was his 40th wedding anniversary. One of the things on his list was to have his first son by 21 or 22 so that when he clocked 40, people would think his son is his brother. But this was not to be.
“This didn’t happen because our first son didn’t come until I was 26 which was purely an act of God. If I had a child that 21 when I was struggling to find my feet in life, the responsibility of caring for my family who has inhibited my progress and eventual success in business. God for some reasons shut my wife’s womb. Our first child didn’t come until six years after marriage.”
However, by 22, he bought his first car, a preowned Passat car with 3, 000km mileage. It was an accident car he bought from Mandilas which he fixed.
In spite of all the challenges life threw on his path, Maduka set a goal to be a millionaire at 25. He made his first million at 24 when a dollar was N1.88cents to a naira at that time.
“I can say I owned about $2 million before 25 years. Success goes like a wildfire. Once you are successful in one area in life it will replicate in other areas. I don’t regard anyone as my competitor. The only person who can compete with me is somebody who thinks like me. If we think differently, you are not my competitor because our value systems will be different. The things that motivate me are different. I live my own life in my own independent way. I have a clear thought on where I want to be in life when I embraced Christ.”
A millionaire at 25, two friends invited him to invest N1 million in a company they formed called Ultimate Motor. A time when N1 million could be used to set up a merchant bank. They got the dealership for BMW. However, the company was mismanaged. He lost the investment. And then, BMW shut down and left the country.
In 1998, BMW tried to come back, Maduka who had his nose on the ground got a wind of it and wrote BMW. They resisted. But he was able to convince BMW to give him a chance.
“I told them if I am given the opportunity, I told them in five years, BMW will be the number one auto brand in Nigeria. I was able to convince them. They invited us to Munich, I went with one of my general managers and they asked me to send a business plan which we did. They made their requests which include building a workshop to German standard. You need to see our former workshop located at Kirikiri in Apapa. It was former vice president Atiku Abubakar that commissioned it in 1998 just soon after he assumed office with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. We did BMW and did it very well. BMW at that time acquired Landover and some other brands. By 2000, BMW sold the Landover to Ford Motors. Ford took it over and had Jaguar also. Ford saw how well we did BMW and they appointed us their dealer and we had Ford franchise. Later Ford sold Landover to Tata, an Indian multinational company and Jaguar. So, Tata saw how well we had done Ford. Actually, it was when BMW appointed us a dealer for BMW and the Landover, we started doing the Landover under BMW, so Ford saw how successful we were with the brand, so they appointed us a dealer.”
Thank single opportunity give to Maduka open more doors to other brands, now he has the sole franchise to top global high-end automobile brands including Rolls Royce. “As I said earlier, success grows like a wildfire. The reward for a good job is an additional job. If you do one thing right, something else follows it. That was how we had all the luxury brands in our group because we were able to manage the other brands well.”
With Maduka’s understanding of the Nigerian luxury industry, Rolls Royce brand has been doing well and Coscharis Motors has become that rallying point for the super-rich who are Rolls Royce collectors.
“Before took over the Rolls Royce brand, we did a survey because we were surprised that Nigeria has over 400 car parks of Roll Royce. We shared the information with Rolls Royce and they appointed us a dealer. It has fared well in the country. Rolls Royce is not a cheap brand. There are not many people who can buy a car of N400 million today. It is like you are buying a house or building. It is a car for a select few. It is not a car you expect to sell 1, 000 or 100 units because there is a limited number of people who own it. If you made an investment of N400 million in a car you don’t intend to change it every year. Even in their model, each design last ten years or so before they change it. It is brand shaper for the group it is not a volume sale because you expect 10, 15 maximum 20 units sale in a year.”
For him, luxury is about exclusivity. Hence Rolls Royce is for very wealthy people who are exclusive owners. “Rolls Royce doesn’t compete with other brands. It is an art. It for people who can afford it. Those who know the value buy it.”
Recently, Rolls Royce introduced Cullinan an SUV variant of the luxury and comfort that Rolls Royce is known for. And Maduka believes the Cullinan will perform well in the Nigerian market. He says most people buy Rolls Royce to reward themselves for hard work. And he plans to buy one for himself as a birthday gift when he turns 70.
“I think it will perform well because, for those who have benchmarked themselves who have made money, truly after you have worked hard, you will need to reward yourself. People like me have worked hard, I have made a success if you did not drive Rolls Royce at 60 or 70 years old, will you drive it in the grave? You made the wealth, you are going to leave it for people to inherit. It is about you have worked hard, you reward yourself. It is out of quantum of resources you are leaving for generation unborn that you have taken from to make yourself feel you have worked for it. At the end of the day, if you did not drive it, your children will drive it. They may have valued life better than yourself.
The 4×4 will perform well in Nigeria because of the road condition. If you looked at the Ghost, Phantom or Wraith these are really big beasts that cannot be driven on some roads but when you talk about RR it is the best in class there won’t be anything like that in off-road capability. It is still Rolls Royce but it is a 4×4 RR. I expect that it will do well in the country. A few people have shown interest in the new Cullinan. We have our first order currently under production.”
Luxury to Maduka is comfort and exclusivity. “As an individual, luxury is what makes me comfortable. For many people, a luxury only comes with the value of a product whether they are comfortable with it or not? For some other people, luxury is a class, it is a status, a limited group where somebody will desire to belong. People have different interpretations for it. When you pick a luxury product, you too will know the reason you are paying more money. It isn’t just about the money, there is value created. Every car is an object but when you sit in a Rolls Royce, and the car enters a bump, you will not feel the same way when you sit in any other car. When you sit in a car the drive swerves it isn’t the way you are thrown about in another car that you will be in a Rolls Royce. You can travel in a car you can feel like your body has been punched. There are mechanisms in a Rolls Royce that absorbs the shock. It is the comfort. The type of comfort you decide to drive.”