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Cosmas Maduka’s Japan

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Cosmas Maduka Coscharis

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.

The Cost:

First-class air ticket from Lagos: $6,000

Hotel room per night: $200

Meal at a five-star hotel: From $80 to $100

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Executive Travel: Kwesta’s Senegal

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The South African musician on how he finds culture and creative inspiration in the West African country.

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Executive travel: Ola Orekunrin’s India

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For Nigeria’s high-flying doctor, Ola Orekunrin, being a part of the booming global air ambulance services industry presents opportunities to save lives as well as visit places she hasn’t seen before.

Orekunrin, a medical doctor and helicopter pilot, is the founder of Flying Doctors, an air ambulance service launched in Lagos to transport patients from areas with low levels of healthcare to those with well-appointed facilities offering better medical aid.

READ MORE: Flying Doctor Shoots For The Stars

Over the years, the demand for her organization’s services has risen due to the healthcare challenges Nigeria faces. And there are many. On top of the list is the burden of infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, followed by non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The country has a high rate of trauma-related incidents such as accidents and violence.

According to national statistics, Nigeria has the highest number of deaths from road traffic accidents in the world.

For Orekunrin, her business presents an opportunity to fulfil her desire to serve. The motivation for the launch of her company, Flying Doctors, was the loss of her sister, who had tragically died for want of urgent care.

Today, Flying Doctors swiftly moves patients from across the African continent to some of the best healthcare destinations, saving thousands of lives in the process. The job means Orekunrin is constantly on the go.

READ MORE: Magda Wierzycka’s India

With so much time away from home and in the air, Orekunrin has become somewhat of an expert when it comes to the most exciting destinations to visit both for business and leisure on the African continent – and beyond.

“My favorite destination in the world right now is India,” she says.

“It is a place I spend a lot of time because we have a huge Indian diaspora in Nigeria and when they get sick, they usually request to be flown back home. So I have had a lot of experience with India. I think India is in the process of cracking healthcare. For example, they take the best medical students from the whole of India and put them in one hospital. This means the [number] of procedures that get done there are a lot and the advanced medicine that is practised there is equivalent or better than what you get in some first world countries,” she says.

But that is not the only reason Orekunrin is in love with the subcontinent.

“It is such a vast country that moving from state to state, you can find different types of productivity everywhere. In places like Bengaluru, everybody is running a startup and it’s like the Silicon Valley of India. You go to a place like Goa and that is like a beach resort and you go to Kerala and it is completely different like a spa resort with some sort of Indian medicine being practised and infused with conventional medicine. So it is an incredible country where you can find so much variety, culture, language, tribes and so many successful people coexisting together and identifying as Indians. I think that is another lesson that Nigerians can learn.”

Her favorite past-time in the country is getting her eyebrows threaded and going to remote oil and gas exploration sites.

Ola Orekunrin moves from state to state in India exploring cultures and languages. Photo provided.

“The companies there inspire me because I think about their [the companies’] history in terms of growing from a sole proprietorship to eventually growing into the biggest businesses in the world. It makes me think about Nigerian businesses; I run my own business but I also invest in other businesses as well,” says Orekunrin.

Within West Africa, Orekunrin’s favorite destination is Cape Verde. The country is particularly interesting for medical evacuations because it is made up of remote islands and the influx of tourists to that destination means medical logistics are in very high demand.

“It is four hours away from Nigeria and is a fusion of a lot of cultures; from South America, to Africa and European cultures all in one. I visit it frequently most of the time for work. I also really love the different food. I was born and brought up in England but always had a craving for Africa. My connection to Cape Verde is the closeness to Nigeria but also some of the similarities we share in terms of the food and the culture and the music and that is a strong connection.”

In the next few years, Orekunrin is hoping to grow her medical business into a pan-African player. She continues to look forward to the travel it will entail. For Orekunrin, the air ambulance business is all about saving lives. And being at the right place at the right time – for sick patients in need.

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Entrepreneurs

Living Like Mandela

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Tourists in Soweto, the township southwest of Johannesburg in South Africa, now have more options for staying in the same neighbourhood that was once home to two Nobel laureates, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Here, through accommodation app Airbnb, locals are increasingly turning entrepreneurs throwing open their homes for visitors wanting to savor Kasi life. As many as 20 Soweto homes are listed hosts on the Airbnb search engine – and the list is growing.

Take Nelson Tiko Mashele, a 33-year-old born and bred in Soweto, who founded Vilakazi Backpackers on the famous Orlando West street with his father, and which is located five minutes from the homes of Mandela and Tutu, and 10 minutes from the Hector Pieterson memorial.

Mashele is one of the youngest Airbnb hosts in Soweto, and his establishment one of the newest in the area. He says 70% of his guests are locals, the rest international, and business is looking good.

READ MORE: The Sharing Economy: 400,000 Guests At Home

The day we visit, we are ushered into his spotless living room. A coffee table in the middle of the foyer is laden with sightseeing pamphlets. Hip hop music is playing in the background. The seven-bedroom house is well-appointed and Mashele charges R299 ($25) a night.

A room at the Vilakazi Backpackers costs R299 ($25) a night. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

That’s not a bad bargain for the local life that his guests, who he says are mostly from America, Germany, Brazil and France, want to experience.

According to Airbnb, most guests choose to live like locals. Mashele says they would rather walk to tourist destinations and buy local food from the outlets on the famous Vilakazi Street.

One of Mashele’s partners is Soweto Outdoor Adventures run by Kgomotso Pooe, also his long-time friend. Their collaborations offer his guests quad-bike tours, paddling and boating rides, trips to Orlando Towers and indulging in local cuisine such as magwenyas (deep-fried dough balls) with atchar and white liver and kota (half loaf of bread filled with curry), ending the day with a shisanyama (meat cooked over an open fire).

On the opposite side, in Orlando East, is a bed-and-breakfast in operation for over 16 years. TDJ’s BnB is a home-owned business catering for local and international visitors. Their aim this year is to start using the Airbnb services to help increase their profits.

“We are looking forward to getting new guests from all over the world,” says TDJ’s manager Nomthandazo Ntshingila.

READ MORE: Staying In Hotels

She says joining Airbnb will give her an edge moving her numbers higher than the average 30 visitors she receives per month. Currently, a room at TDJ’s costs R454 ($38) a night.

For a more authentic experience, tourists can taste African beer brewed at the guest house. Another hotspot guests can visit is Sakhumzi, a Sowetan shisanyama restaurant and bar.

A key difference between Mashele’s and Ntshingila’s businesses is that the former has Wi-Fi on site allowing him to stay active on social media.

“One of the requirements to host with Airbnb was to offer Wi-Fi services to potential clients. We then got Wi-Fi before listing on the app,” says Ntshingila.

Hosts need to be constantly connected to an online platform and keep the most updated information on their availability and business.

The accommodation hosting platform tells FORBES AFRICA they are working on refining their offerings and making “regular updates to ensure people get exactly what they are looking for”. It’s clear that for the app to take off in townships like Soweto, homeowners need to be empowered with technology.

Airbnb says it’s planning to invest $1 million from 2018 to 2020 to promote and support community-led tourism projects in Africa. The project aims to support training in hospitality and technology for township residents.

Indeed, such investments will also help upskill those living in less-developed areas within Soweto such as Kliptown and Pimville, and as a result, reduce the barriers for entrepreneurs wishing to rent out their homes and bring in precious tourism dollars, much-needed in today’s difficult times.

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