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The $500-Million Survivor

Seven years without pay, showering in the street, scrapping with his brother, fired by his uncle, fired at by his wife’s uncle. A rocky road for Cosmas Maduka, who started out fixing cars and now makes millions selling them.

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In 1967, there was growing divergence between two parts of Nigeria. Biafra, a secessionist state in south eastern Nigeria, at the time represented the nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the federal government. The desire for a separate state led to up to 30,000 Igbos being killed and around a million refugees fleeing to their homeland in the east. Anambra, the eighth most populated state of Nigeria, provided the base for dangerous relief flights loaded with food and supplies for the war-torn Biafran population. The area was also home to Cosmas Maduka, who was only six years old at the height of the civil war.

“We had a bunker outside our house which we ran into during times where the military opened fire and dropped bombs with their fighter jets. We did not know whether we were going to survive to see the following day,”

says Maduka.

Once, while on his way to the market, soldiers opened fire, killing a large number of civilians. Maduka narrowly escaped. In a bid to protect her children, Maduka’s mother sent him away to live with his grandparents before he later embarked on the journey that would see him become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

Maduka is the President and Chairman of Coscharis Group, franchise holders of over eight automobile brands and one of the largest distributors of spare car parts in Nigeria. The company also has interests in real estate, banking, technology, medical equipment, petrochemicals, elevators and agriculture.

Like his early childhood, getting his business to this point has been tough. While talking to FORBES AFRICA in his gigantic dealership, which houses over 300 luxury car brands, he is quick to credit someone else for

his success.

“My mother was the lady who inspired me to greatness. At a young age in my life, she looked at me and told me I am going to be successful. She said people will always like me and people will struggle to say no to me,” says Maduka.

It’s easy to see why. He is composed as he sports his trademark Jesus broche. He has a quiet confidence about him without being arrogant. His mother’s “indoctrination” would later be the impetus he needed to turn N200 ($1) into a $500-million conglomerate.

On average the company sells more than 400 cars per month with prices around N150 million ($752,787) for the top end of its luxury fleet, which includes Rolls Royce, BMW, Jaguar, Range Rover and Ford. This year, the company partnered with Ford to build one of the largest manufacturing plants on the continent for its pickup trucks.

Coscharis’ medical supplies business represents GE Healthcare, Philips and Siemens in Nigeria. Coscharis also holds the number two position in the ICT market through its own brand, Coscharis Technologies Limited, and their pool of partners which includes HP, Microsoft and Lenovo. Coscharis Technologies provides hardware and software applications to organizations.

Maduka’s success is all the more remarkable when you consider he lost his father when he was a toddler.

“The best I knew of my father was the day I saw a man lying lifelessly in a suit… It was like a festival, people were exceptionally kind to me that day and whatever I asked for, I got,” he says.

The four-year-old Maduka didn’t know it was his father’s funeral. The celebrations ceased immediately after this day. Maduka started street hawking to provide for his family. Every morning at 5AM, Maduka would wake up to sell bean cakes with his older brother, Pius, to generate money for the family. True to his mother’s prophecies, Maduka was a better salesman than his brother. As a result, his mother, who could no longer afford the tuition fees for both brothers, took Maduka out of school at the age of six.

 

At the age of seven and no longer attending school, Maduka was sent to live with his uncle and serve as an apprentice selling motorcycle parts. It was not a conventional apprenticeship. Firstly, Maduka worked for seven years without pay. Secondly, the shop floor that Maduka traded on during the day would be transformed into his bedroom at night. He would wake up early in the morning to have his shower on the street before customers arrived and then proceed to manage the shop by himself with occasional supervision from his uncle.

In most countries, these conditions would constitute some form of breach of child labor laws. Maduka has a different take on the experience.

“I believe this was the best university any young man can go to because it was a system where there was no contractual agreement. If you did not behave yourself, you were sent back home to the village, but if you performed, your master would give you start-up capital for your own business at the end of your apprenticeship,” he says.

By the fifth year of his apprenticeship at the age of 13, Maduka had already proven that he had what it took to run a business on his own and was consequently placed in a new branch to manage. In Nigeria, as with many African countries, entrepreneurs are trained by trade schools, craft centers and vocational institutes. Proprietors in the small-scale industries also offer training programs based on an apprenticeship system. Whereas the government-established institutions are formal, apprenticeship training in the private sector is often informal. In lieu of this, there is an ongoing debate as to which system yields the best results. Maduka favors apprenticeship.

“I believe apprenticeship is the best university to go to. If you give a formally educated person N1 million and an apprentice N100, 000, I believe in five years, the apprentice will be able to catch up to the university student and overtake him,” he says.

Maduka learned everything about the automotive components industry outside the classroom. He learned about the internal combustion of an engine, carburettors and centrifugal regulators. He also discovered how to provide the best service to clients and where to go to get the best deals as a reseller.

He understood the power of building a trustworthy reputation with your buyers. He knew about cost price and profit margins and ensured the shop was always stocked with the products the customers often needed. That learning process ended when, due to his newly found Christian faith, Maduka closed his uncle’s store so he could fast for three days. He was immediately fired and, to Maduka’s surprise, his severance package after seven years of hard work was less than a mere $400.

“I looked at my uncle in the face and said to him I deserve something better than this, five years from now, you will regret making this decision,” says Maduka.

Adversity is a constant companion for entrepreneurs, but the successful ones learn to push through tough times. Maduka outlined three key targets for himself after being dismissed by his uncle.

“I wanted to get married before I turned 20, have children by 22 and become a millionaire by 24,” he says.

Maduka immediately put his plan into action. He formed a new company, with his brother, called Maduka Brothers, continuing to trade in automobile parts. The pair sourced parts from Lagos and resold them in eastern Nigeria. In just under a year, the brothers went their separate ways due to differing opinions on how the business’ money should be spent. After the split, the siblings became competitors with automotive shops across the road from each other. However, the apprenticeship experience Maduka had gave him an advantage over his brother.

“In business, knowing where to buy is just as important as selling. You need to buy well to sell well and I had a good relationship with all the major wholesalers,” says Maduka.

He used his relationship with large wholesalers to get his supplies at a competitive rate. Within a week, Maduka was selling enough components to get himself a three-bedroom apartment – by the age of 17. With the apartment secured, Maduka set the groundwork to achieve his first goal. At the age of 18, he met a woman who would become integral to the Coscharis empire.

“Her name was Charity and we met in church. I immediately knew she was the one. I asked for her hand in marriage and, after thinking about it for some time, she accepted.”

Maduka got married at the age of 19 and made his first million, as predicted, by the age of 24. The name of his company, Coscharis, was born by combining his name, Cosmas, and the name of the second woman he credits with all his success, Charity. Today, the group has more than 26 branches nationwide, with a presence in Ghana, Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire.

The automobile business of Coscharis Group started in 1983 when the company was incorporated with the business of importation and distribution of automotive parts and accessories of Japanese vehicles. The decision to incorporate the car business provided the breakthrough Coscharis Group needed. At a time where many businesses were choosing to remain sole proprietorships to avoid the bureaucracy and complex framework of a limited company, Maduka decided to break convention. That decision paid off.

“In 1983, the federal government of Nigeria decided to give import licenses only to motor companies and, because I had incorporated Coscharis, they placed me among multinationals like Leventis, even though it was only me and my wife,” says Maduka.

The import licenses granted to Coscharis was crucial. The Nigerian economy back then was dependent on external sources. By 1980, imports had reached a level equivalent to a quarter of the GDP. The federal government deficits had increased from $1.5 million in 1970 to $17.6 million in 1978. Nigeria’s total outstanding debt had reached the $2 billion mark by 1980. These dire economic conditions presented an opportunity for Maduka in a climate where other businesses were closing.

“It was a seller’s market then because there was scarcity of products. In every difficult situation, an entrepreneur knows that his destiny is not in the hands of his state but in his own hands, he creates his own opportunities,” he says.

Maduka was making margins as high as 200% during this time. The import license gave him protection against the military-run government’s scrutiny and he was able to capitalize on this to grow his business. Maduka had a clear vision for his company from the onset. In the early seventies, the Nigerian motor industry had a lot of major players. Coscharis had to find a way to differentiate itself.

“Leventis was one of the foremost automobile sellers, followed by Mandilas, who were known for their excellent service. We also had some Peugeot dealers… By the eighties, almost all these companies collapsed and cars were being sold under trees with no service centers.”

Coscharis was responsible for revolutionizing the automobile industry in Nigeria by building showrooms fully equipped with in-house service centers. A second factor for Coscharis was its philosophy towards its employees. Being an entrepreneur at heart, Maduka only hired individuals with strong business acumen to ensure that the culture of innovation and competitiveness continued with the group. Maduka credits this strategy for the success of the group. The company currently has more than N50 billion ($250 million) in shareholder funds, generated in just under 40 years.

Overcoming adversity has always been one of Maduka’s strengths. Four years ago, he was faced with a scandal that threatened to scupper everything he had worked so hard for. In what he considers his worst day in business, Maduka was left with a devastating financial burden of N22.4 billion ($113 million) when he secured a loan for a business associate. At the time, Maduka was on the board, and owned a 25% equity stake, of Access Bank. He was approached by Ifeanyi Uba, the CEO of Capital Oil, for a loan to import petroleum premium spirit. After sympathizing with Ifeanyi’s inability to raise capital to save his business, Maduka took a calculated risk.

“I have never defaulted on any loans. Every bank works with Coscharis at an open credit and we are one of the few companies in Nigeria who have that relationship due to our strong financial position,” says Maduka.

He guaranteed the loan of $278 million for Ifeanyi to secure his goods, which was never repaid. In what was a huge scandal at the time, Coscharis had to repay the debt.

“I don’t think even Bill Gates can walk away from $150 million without it having an effect on him,” says Maduka.

Fortunately, the investments the organization had already made were enough to absorb the heavy shock.

Today, there is a new strategy in place. Maduka has set his organization the target of turning over a billion dollars in the next five years. Ever the entrepreneur, he has identified key sectors to help him achieve this goal. One of these is agriculture.

“Nigeria spent over $3 billion to import rice; almost 90 percent of Nigerians eat rice and we see an opportunity to create a billion-dollar business in rice over the next three years,” he says.

The current government supports Maduka’s decision and has made attempts to curb the importation of rice by raising the duty of the crop to 100%. Coscharis has acquired more than 3,000 hectares of land in Anambra State and is due to harvest the first batch.

These days, life is very different for Maduka. He has six children, two of whom are involved in the Coscharis Group. His family might not exist, however, if it was up to Charity’s uncle.

“When I told her family about my intentions to marry Charity, her uncle was so annoyed he got his gun and shot at me,” says Maduka. Luckily, he missed.

He is a firm believer in each one of his children receiving a Nigerian education before progressing to the classrooms of the United States. This way none of the children will forget their roots.

Maduka is passionate about the potential in Africa’s largest economy.

“Ten years ago, the Dangote you see today was not the same back then. The government showed goodwill and supported Dangote and today Nigeria will be a net exporter of cement instead of being an importer. Vodacom came into Nigeria and left, and now they are trying hard to return to the market without any success. A subsidiary company of a South African independent company, MTN Nigeria, has more turnover than its parent company. The potential in the Nigerian market is untapped. Saudi Arabia is selling over 150,000 units of Ford with a small population.”

“If we unleash the potential of this industry, and the government handles corruption, the true potential of this market will be unmatched anywhere in the world.”

If Nigeria does reach this potential, Maduka will be on hand to make the most out of it.

Cover Story

Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing

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As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed. 

Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.

 Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.

 Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.

 A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.

 We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.

 As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”

 With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.

 Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.

 In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.

For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.

 Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.

– Unathi Shologu

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Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

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Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.


In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.

On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.

In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.

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 “I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra. 

Beyond economics.

That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.

The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.

The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”

He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.

“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”

Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.

It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.

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But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”

And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.

The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

READ MORE | Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.

“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”

Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.

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Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died

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The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.

It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.

READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.

That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.

READ MORE | WATCH | Making Of The Women’s Month Cover: Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.

One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.

Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.

-Jill De Villiers

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