For inspiration, former FORBES AFRICA cover star and Nigerian multi-millionaire Cosmas Maduka heads east, to the city that taught him courtesies, culture and the value of keeping promises.
Nigerian automobile entrepreneur Cosmas Maduka is unassuming and soft-spoken. His hallmark is a ‘Jesus is Lord’ brooch that he wears and has over the years become synonymous with his style. Maduka is 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. On average, the company sells more than 400 cars per month with prices around N150 million ($420,000) for the top end of its luxury fleet, which includes Rolls-Royce, BMW, Jaguar, Range Rover and Ford.
But the man who also holds the number two position in the ICT market in Nigeria through his brand, Coscharis Technologies Limited, and its pool of partners which includes HP, Microsoft and Lenovo, had to overcome some extreme difficulties to become the success story he is today.
Maduka lost his father at the age of four and had to fend for himself and his family selling bean cake (a local delicacy) on the streets. By the time he was seven, he was already working as an apprentice and continued for seven years without pay with the shop floor he was trading on doubling as his bed at night.
Today, with those dark days firmly behind him and an estimated net worth of $500 million, Maduka spends most of his time on the road, or in the air, building new partnerships for his various entrepreneurial pursuits. We chatted with him as he waited in the business class lounge at Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos for a flight to Bangkok, about what it is like to travel the globe and how certain cultures resonate with him more than others.
Life in Nigeria seems to be a constant whirlwind for you and your family. Where is your favorite destination to get away?
My favorite getaway location is Japan and there are a number of reasons. I have learned a lot of things from the Japanese and I see them as an inspiration. I went to Japan for the first time in 1979 and I was so impressed by the culture and courtesy of the people. It was strange for me to witness, even at the tollgate, that men who collect money from passengers, on behalf of the government, bow to as many vehicles as they collect money from. It was a big surprise for me because this was not their personal money but the level of dedication was amazing. That courtesy is seen everywhere you go, from the airport to the restaurant and that embodies the type of person I am. From the early 80s, I used to go to Japan for business and even after that, I would spend some more time moving around to see more of the culture and their way of life influenced me as a person and Coscharis as well.
What is it about their culture that has influenced the way you run your business?
If the Japanese are not happy about their boss, they actually over-deliver instead of other places where most people will cut back on their output or even go on strike or protest. I have never heard that employees in Japan have gone on strike even when they are angry. They are efficient with time and they always keep to their promise; that is why in my organization, I always under-promise and over-deliver.
What is your favorite airline to travel on?
It used to be KLM in the early days but, in the last 10 years, I travel with Emirates.
What is your favorite city to stay in?
I am mostly in three cities in Japan – Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.
What is your favorite hotel?
I usually stay at the Hotel Plaza Osaka and Imperial Hotel Tokyo. I look for a decent and clean hotel. I want to stay in a place where there is no smoking and the staff is warm and pleasant. The cleanliness in Japan is also very impressive.
What are your favorite activities in Japan?
I usually go to Japan for work but I have also been there on holiday with the family and sometimes I combine the two. I go to work in the morning and during the evening we go out for dinner. If I am in Tokyo, I like to take a walk after dinner around the ‘emperor park’. The park is very large and beautiful and it is around the castle where the emperor lived. I also visited Disneyland Tokyo with the family during one vacation and have also seen the famous Mt. Fuji which is an active volcano, as well as other rural areas. I have been to Kyoto where there is a lot of beautiful scenery and mountain areas to explore. I like to go during the springtime when you see the beautiful cherry blossoms. It is a really amazing sight and many people travel all over the world to watch this spectacle.
How much do you spend on your travels?
Japan is quite expensive. First class tickets to Tokyo are on average about $6,000. The country has efficient train systems, both the local and express trains, which can help you save some money on your travel. You will hardly find a hotel for $100; so on average you are looking at $200 a night unless you want to go very far out of the city. Depending on where you eat, the prices also vary. Most five-star hotels are averaging about $80 to $100.
What is your biggest takeaway from the Japanese culture?
I will be honest and admit that there is no way I will have my success story without the Japanese. Meeting the Japanese transformed my way of thinking. I started setting up my office model the way I see them set up their office model. I drew inspiration from them in many aspects of my business. I learned integrity from them. It is a way of living for them. Respect for time is paramount. If a Japanese man gives you an appointment for 10AM, by 9.30AM, he is in a restaurant next door to your office. They don’t come 15 minutes before or 10 minutes after. Once it is 10AM, they knock on your door. If he comes two minutes late, he apologizes for almost 10 minutes for being late because it is simply not accepted in the culture. They helped me learn the value of making a promise and keeping it and that has completely transformed the way I do business.
First-class air ticket from Lagos: $6,000
Hotel room per night: $200
Meal at a five-star hotel: From $80 to $100