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The Small Town Of The Super Rich

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Shortly before Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, reportedly Nigeria’s first black billionaire, and founding president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The royal honor came after he helped the British during World War II with his fleet of trucks. He was so wealthy that during the Queen’s visit in 1956, she was chauffeured around in his Rolls-Royce – apparently the only one in the country at the time – on the request of the colonial administration.

Profiled in September 1965 by TIME magazine, Ojukwu made his money by importing dried fish for resale, and diversifying into textiles, cement and transport. When he died a year later, his wealth was an estimated $4 billion in today’s economic value.

His son, Chukwuemeka, who also ended up a billionaire, returned from Oxford University at 22 with a master’s degree in history and led his fellow Igbos into the Nigerian civil war as head of the secessionist state of Biafra in 1967.

Their hometown Nnewi, in the southeastern state of Anambra, either by good fortune or hard work, has bred more naira billionaires than any other town in Nigeria, and possibly Africa. The Igbos, who sometimes refer to themselves as the ‘Jews of Africa’, have entrepreneurship in their blood. They have built themselves from the ground up, with little help from the government, after a controversial policy left them all with 20 pounds each, regardless of their bank balance, at the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970.

Nicknamed the Japan of Africa, Nnewi is famous as a hub for automobile spare part dealers, and most recently, Innoson, Nigeria’s first indigenous car assembly plant. The town is also known for its factories that manufacture household goods and is home to the biggest road transport companies in the country. Nnewi, with a little over two million residents, is a 30-minute drive from the Onitsha – the biggest outdoor market in West Africa – on the banks of the Niger River.

These are 10 of the most prominent naira billionaires from Nnewi, in no particular order:

  • Cletus Ibeto: The Ibeto Group has been described as the largest industrial enterprise in southeast Nigeria. Starting out as an apprentice to an already established auto spare parts dealer, Ibeto eventually branched out on his own and effectively ended importation of lead acid car batteries in Nigeria in the late 80s. The result is a conglomerate dealing in hospitality, motor products, real estate, petrochemicals, agriculture and cement.

 

  • Cosmas Maduka: One of the country’s foremost car dealerships, Coscharis Group, is the brainchild of a man who lost his father at four and had to drop out of school to sell bean cakes, a popular food staple. His company, one of the largest car dealerships in Nigeria that deals with BMW, Jaguar, Range Rover and Rolls-Royce, has diversified into agriculture.

 

  • Innocent Chukwuma: Another school dropout, he is the founder of Innoson Nigeria Limited which produces sport utility vehicles, commercial buses and passenger cars at the first indigenous assembly plant in Nigeria. The company has factories in Nnewi and Enugu and has the governments of Anambra and Enugu states, as well as a few federal agencies, among its customers.

 

  • Gabriel Chukwuma: The elder brother of Innoson, Gabriel is invested in sports, real estate and hospitality. As chairman of Gabros International Football Club, he oversaw its rise into the Nigerian Premier League and partnership with English side, West Ham FC before selling to fellow Nnewi entrepreneur, Ifeanyi Ubah. He began business as a patent medicine dealer.

 

  • Alexander Chika Okafor: Chicason Industries, and one of its products – A-Z Petroleum, are household names in Nigeria. The conglomerate has made significant inroads in the mining, manufacturing, and real estate in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Okafor is its founder and chairman.

 

  • Augustine Ilodibe: An orphan and mass server in the Catholic church, young Ilodibe was gifted £35 by one of the priests and he initially invested in motor spare parts trading. By the sixties, he pioneered the interstate luxury bus transport service; for years, he was the sole importer of these buses. After helping organize vehicles for the Biafran side during the civil war, he established the hugely popular Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport, his main cash cow and later diversified into brewery and agriculture.

 

  • Ifeanyi Ubah: The flamboyant businessman funded parts of the Goodluck Jonathan campaign ahead of the 2015 presidential polls and unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of his home state, Anambra, in 2014. His wealth comes from investments in oil and gas, as well as exportation of motor spare parts and, recently, from sales of football players. In June 2015, Ubah – described by one Nigerian newspaper as ‘the new sugar daddy of Nigerian football’ – completed the purchase of Gabros FC for N500 million and renamed it Ifeanyi Ubah FC.

 

  • Louis Onwugbenu: The head honcho of Louis Carter Industries dropped out of school in 1967 when the Nigerian civil war broke out. He got his nickname from weekly trips to Lagos to sell motor spare parts under the popular Carter Bridge in the city. His reinvested profits allowed him to diversify into manufacturing car batteries and pipe fittings, agriculture, food processing, real estate and, by the age of 30, he was already a naira multimillionaire. The headquarters of his conglomerate sits in the Carter Industrial Estate, spanning many acres in Nnewi.

 

  • Obiajulu Uzodike: Nigeria is one of the foremost cable producers in the world due to many indigenous manufacturers across the southeast. One of the top cable companies is Cutix Nigeria, whose founder, Obiajulu Uzodike, cut his teeth in the business as a staff at a US-based aircraft and military wires and accessories company. By 1982, the Harvard Business School alumna and civil war veteran set up Cutix with N400,000 ($1,200), nurturing it to eventually become the first indigenous firm in the southeast to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

-Written by Eromo Egbejule

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Why Most Startups Fail In The First Year

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Paul Cook, co-Managing Director of Silvertree Internet Holdings, the investment growth partner behind some of South Africa’s internet brands, on what startup companies must do to survive.

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Billionaires

South African Billionaire’s Fortune Plunges More Than $2 Billion In A Day Amid Accounting Scandal

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Christo Wiese

The acquisitive plans of South African retail king Christo Wiese took a hit Wednesday when Steinhoff, the retail conglomerate he chairs, said its chief executive Markus Jooste had resigned amid accounting irregularities. It’s a major reversal of fortune for Wiese, 76, and Steinhoff, which has recently expanded its business across Europe and America.

Steinhoff shares have fallen more than 60% in a day, erasing $2.3 billion from Wiese’s fortune. He’s now worth an estimated $1.49 billion, according to Forbes Real Time Rankings. That’s down more than $4 billion from March 2017, when he was worth $5.6 billion.

Going forward, Steinhoff has tapped PwC to investigate the accounting irregularities, and with Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste out, Wiese will temporarily become Steinhoff’s executive chairman.

Since 2016, furniture and home good retailer Steinhoff has done more than half a dozen deals, including the acquisition of US-based Mattress Firm. Steinhoff is a part of Wiese’s discount retail empire, which the South African has been building since the 1970s, as a 2016 profile of Wiese in Forbes magazine details.

Wiese first joined the ranks of the Forbes Billionaires in 2011, with a net worth of $1.6 billion. His fortune rose as high as $6.3 billion in March 2015. In December 2015, Wiese moved Steinhoff’s listing from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to the Frankfurt Stock Exchange to concentrate more on the European market.

The retail king made headlines in 2009  after U.K. customs officials detained him at London City Airport with two suitcases filled with nearly $1 million in cash. They seized it, suspecting illicit origins. The British and South African press picked up on the incident – apparently suspecting Wiese had been nabbed for money laundering – and were further emboldened by Wiese’s stubbornness in fighting for the funds’ return and his insistence that the amount was “insignificant.” (The Daily Mail’s gleeful headline: “It’s Just Peanuts to Me.”) The government ended up returning the money to Wiese – interest attached. Wiese wouldn’t talk publicly about it.

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The Bottling Outpost Of The Buffett Billions

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Warren Buffett may not know the way to Midland Road, Worcester, yet be sure he has looked very closely at the cost of making the ocean of spicy, black liquid that emerges from it to add millions to his balance sheet every year.

You can’t help thinking of Buffett’s long-term investment homilies as you walk through the Victorian red-brick portals of the Lea & Perrins building. It is as steeped in history as it is in the pungent odour of churning vinegar and spices.

For this is a factory that is 120 years old; it grew from a family business that took root in this city 180 years ago. It survived two world wars and heaven knows how many recessions. Even a fire, in 1964, merely disrupted production for a few days. It also survived corporate takeovers; it sold out to HP Sauce in 1930 and became part of the Heinz stable, in 2005, through an $885 million acquisition from the French food outfit Groupe Danone. It is now owned by the world’s fifth largest food company Kraft Heinz, following a merger in 2015 – creating a food giant that made $26.5 billion in sales in 2016, according to company figures.

The Oracle of Omaha, through his holding company Berkshire Hathaway, owns 19.5% of Kraft Heinz – that is 325,634,818 shares, worth around $31 billion, his single largest holding.

Midland Road also makes Amoy Chinese sauce, another Kraft Heinz product in the competitive and crowded sauce market.

For Lea & Perrins, that market is that bit tougher because, despite the fact the sauce is made from a secret recipe, there are plenty of imposters. At least one, made far from Worcestershire, carries the name, but tastes like spiced caramel with bits in it.

“It is not a protected name. We are not like Champagne. We just have to hope people recognize our quality,” says Nigel Dickie, the London-based spokesman for Kraft Heinz, in Worcester.

READ MORE: Lessons And Ideas By The 100 Greatest Living Business Minds

Lea & Perrins enjoys a bit of snob value with its royal warrant, granted by Edward VII in 1904, to supply the regal household.

Nigel Dickie at the factory gates. (Photo by John Bray)

It was a foothold in the market created by two entrepreneur chemists, who saw an opportunity, thanks to a stroke of luck, and made a fortune from it.

The two, John Lea and William Perrins, owned a chemist’s shop in Broad Street – the street where I bought my first beer – in the heart of Worcester. They were trying to make a sauce with onions, garlic, tamarinds, vinegar, anchovies and spices in a barrel; concluded that it tasted foul and cast it into a dark corner of their cellar. Nearly two years later, during a clear out, Lea and Perrins came across the barrel and tasted the contents. They found that maturation, unbeknown to either of them, had woven magic. The sauce was spicy and beautiful.

The two didn’t waste any time. They set up a makeshift operation at the back of the chemist shop and by 1837 it was selling fast; by 1843, it was selling 14,500 bottles a year.

It didn’t let its humble origins, in a humble county, hold it back: its spicy richness splashed across the food of the rich in New York steakhouses; into the cocktails of Manhattan and on the battlefields of Africa.

There is evidence that the handful of defenders of Rorke’s Drift, in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, splashed the sauce on their food as they steeled for the fight of their lives against 4,000 equally brave Zulu warriors.

“While here we lived like fighting cocks as we managed to get potatoes now and then and occasionally a bottle of Worcestershire Sauce, without which you could not distinguish the ration beef from leather,” wrote one red-coated soldier at Rorke’s Drift before the famous battle in the heat of January 1879.

Nearly 140 years later, around 40 employees in Worcester make the dark sauce that tastes much the same as it did on the eve of battle against the Zulus.

READ MORE: The Night Of The Century

They turn out a staggering 26 million bottles every year. That’s almost enough to give the entire population of Mozambique one each. A mere eight million are sold in the United Kingdom and the rest are exported to 130 countries.

Of these, 100,000 bottles are sent to South Africa; another 400,000 to the Middle East from where, the manufacturers believe, many of these are re-exported to Africa.

It’s a massive job that belies the low key, yet industrious, operation in Worcester. Everyone in the factory has work clothes on; you expect to see suites of offices, filled with suits, until you remember the head office is in Chicago.

Most of the noise comes from huge plastic barrels full of onions and garlic. They swirl for weeks as part of the nearly two-year maturation process – about 30,000 liters of the stuff is on the go on this day. These days, huge paddles do the stirring; in the old days, there were workers called barrel rockers, whose job it was to turn wooden barrels every few hours.

Workers mix in anchovies, tamarind, molasses, salt and sugar. Then it is pasteurized to make sure the sauce never goes off whatever steamy clime it ends up in.

One of the men in charge of the process is Joe Neary, a racing man from Liverpool, who married a Worcester woman and runs a few livestock on his smallholding near the city. He came to work at Lea & Perrins, 25 years ago, from the Guinness factory in Runcorn and believes the sauce ages like wine.

“The taste improves with age over about seven years. What I do is buy a six pack and every time I take one out I buy a new one to put at the back,” he says.

Joe Neary inside the Lea & Perrins factory. (Photo by John Bray)

There is something worse that has longevity too – the unholy odour. Now, I love the smell of malt vinegar, but even I was knocked back at the door. I can shut my eyes and suffer it now. It is a pungent, sickly, sweet stench, that is hard to describe and even harder to get rid of.

“I used to go out at lunchtime to put a bet on the horses. The bookie used to tell me that until late afternoon the punters would come in, sniff the air, and say: ‘I see Joe has been in!’” chuckles Neary.

As for Worcester itself – population around 100,000 – the sweet sound of industry, of which Lea & Perrins is a vestige, has long gone. When Worcester City played its last ever football game at its doomed St George’s Lane ground in April 2013 – before developers covered it with houses – the club put a bottle of Lea & Perrins on the center spot before the game. It was a sad, unconscious nod to industrial decline; the sauce is one of the last manufactured products of the city.

READ MORE: The 29-Year-Old Who Was Named Chief Financial Officer Of Kraft Heinz

I grew up around Worcester; my family has lived in Worcestershire for nearly 400 years. It was where I kicked my first ball, earned my first penny, had my first kiss and wrote my first story. In the 21st century, my city looks down-at-heel.

Journalist Mike Grundy, Worcester-born-and-bred, has chronicled the county for 60 years and believes the hi-tech industries that have come in place of heavy industry have not yet caught up when it comes to employment.

Grundy also believes the city missed a trick in the destructive years between the 1930s and 1960s when town planners pulled down scores of picturesque black-and-white Tudor houses around the cathedral. They had become slums, but foresight could have saved them.

“We could have been a real medieval tourist town like York,” laments Grundy.

“Maybe we need a Donald Trump character to make us great again,” he chuckles.

Trump probably doesn’t know the way to Worcester either, but at least Buffett is keeping his millions in Lea & Perrins alive and, like the sauce itself, he is in it for the long run.

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