IF life gives you lemons, go ahead and make lemonade. With God, nothing shall be impossible. Nothing can stand in the way of a man with a dream and determination. These sayings proved true in the life of Dr. Cosmas Maduka, the chairman of Coscharis Group of Companies, a Nigerian conglomerate. Jack of all trade and master of all, best describes the man who rose from the proverbial dunghill to the mountain top.
In this chat with Financial Vanguard, Maduka speaks of his humble beginnings, how he started with virtually nothing to build a multi-billion naira business in the space of 32 years. All these, he attributes to the Almighty God whom he confesses, has made all these achievements possible. Excerpts: The early years: I am Dr. Cosmas Maduabuchukwu Maduka. My middle name is kind of inspirational; my parents alone knew the reason they gave me that name. Maduabuchukwu means ‘man is not God.’ I lost my father at the age of four years, automatically, my mother became a single parent. For some reason, they had four children in four years. It was as if they knew something was going to happen. I was the second in the family. I have a senior brother and two younger ones. It was a rough time for my mother taking care of all of us, but she was a godly woman, a very devout Catholic who worshipped God the best way she knew; never missed her morning mass. She taught us to pray the Catholic rosary. She was my angel. I owe everything I am today to her. She told me stories about my beginning, she told me they were scared when I walked at six months instead of the usual nine months; things that sounded incredible then. The stories only inspired me because she made me believe I could go places and that I should believe in God and in myself. So I believe that mothers play very important roles in moulding their children’s future. My mother could have told me I was useless and never going to amount to anything, abused me mentally and think she was trying to help and mentor me, but she always said inspirational words to me and that kept me motivated and gave me the courage that no matter the odds, I could go places. She did her best; she made me go to church regularly, she trained me in the way of God to the best of her knowledge. Questions my mother could not answer led me to Christ: But by the time I turned 11/12 years, I started asking questions that she couldn’t answer and of course, when I turned 15 years, I made a commitment to Jesus Christ. I became a born again Christian. This gave me the faith and courage to really take inventory of my life. The greatest book that is greater than any human intellect is God’s word, the scripture, because it is written by inspiration. Prophets of God spoke God’s thoughts not man’s words. Sometimes they themselves did not understand what they were saying but by inspiration, they said it. Otherwise, how could Isaiah have said a virgin will conceive? Scientists and intellectuals would have laughed him to scorn, but he went ahead to say it. It was over 700 years later before a virgin conceived and some people are still asking whether a virgin truly conceived. All the things that my mother said to me made me believe in myself. The death of my father deprived me of the opportunity of going to formal school. I dropped out of elementary three. I could have practically become a hunter or at best, an okada rider, but God’s grace was upon me, moreso as I had embraced the gospel. When I told my mother that I had repented, she said; “What? What did you repent from?” Of course she thought she had an angel in her house but growing up as a young man, I had peer pressure like every other young person. I did things that many of my peers would never even consider doing. By age 14, I had smoked, drank, watched pornography. So I had things to repent of that my mother did not think I did. She said that only retired criminals needed to repent of their sins; that I was too young for that. Too bad, I knew enough to repent. We have all sinned and need to repent and make peace with our creator. That kind of put me on the right foundation. Working as an apprentice: I worked for my uncle for six years as an apprentice. Many do not realise that the people that trust us are those who educate us. It was Robert Koizaki that said; ‘Work to learn, don’t work for money,’ so my uncle was my mentor. I slept at No 88 Griffin Street Oyingbo Bus stop where his store was for several years and at the end of my six years apprenticeship, in the 7th year, he gave me N200 as my start-up capital. N200 start-up capital: Like many youths, I could have spent that money in a restaurant that evening in frustration and cursed everybody around me and blame God for taking my father when I was four years old, but I had a different mindset. In fact, my senior brother who went with me asked me to reject the N200 and I asked him if he had anything to give me and he said no, so I told him I better hold the N200. That was how I started life. Launching out: I had a mind to succeed so I teamed up with my brother and we set up a company called Maduka Brothers at Nnewi, Anambra State. Somebody gave us one quarter of his store free of charge because we could not pay for a store. We were there for six months. We would come to Lagos, buy merchandise and sell. We struggled, and by the sixth month, we started differing in ideology. I would go to church and give an offering of N1 and he would feel it was too much. He told me that they give 10 kobo in their own church and I told him he drank beer and I did not. So, flimsy things created problems between us and we parted ways. Going solo and first breakthrough: I was on my own and he was on his own. Things started working together for me. I had my first breakthrough when I came to Lagos and went to Oregun, Ikeja where I bought some motorcycle crash bars from a company representing Suzuki. I went to the East, sold them and made a lot of money. I took the night bus back to Lagos, bought some more and went back. Before people got to know where the crash bar was coming from, I had made enough money because each time I went; I will tear off the address from where the crash bars were coming. I bought myself Honda 175 motorcycle which was like a BMW 7 series then and everybody was saying ‘this boy got rich overnight.’ That was my first breakthrough in business. By this time, I was 19+ and was thinking about getting married. Dr Cosmas Maduka Role models: I had embraced the gospel and did not want to fool around, so I got married before my elder brother. I will be 54 years on December 24 and I celebrated my 34th wedding anniversary on September 24. It’s all about mindset. I had a mindset that I was going to not just survive, but I was going to succeed. It did not matter the odds in my life. I found characters in the Bible like Joseph and David who became my role models. They inspired me. Coscharis is born: At a time, I teamed up with a friend of mine, David Nwosu and we formed a company called CosDave Motors and later we parted ways. In 1982, I formed Coscharis, a combination of my first name and my wife’s name. I am Cosmas and she is Charity. We have grown the business to what it is today and by the grace of God, today we do various things – from sachet/bottled water, to yoghurt, to motorcycle parts, to automotive components, to representing big names like Ford, Landrover, Jaguar, BMW. We are into medical equipment, and a whole lot of other things. By the grace of God, we have built a Nigerian conglomerate, and that is something that many people find incredible. Advice to youths: The matter is simple. It is not too late for anybody to become anything he chooses. But it is good when people do not waste their youthful years. Statistics show that 86 per cent of success occur between 16 – 25 years. Many young people live a wasteful life, hoping they are going to catch up down the line. I think it is best if no time is wasted. Somebody who is going to be a doctor, by 16, he should already be reading science subjects. You cannot be at that age and still not be clear about what you want to achieve. If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there because there is no clear sense of direction. You can still make it at 40, 50, 60 but the chances are very slim because when you are young, you have all the energy and zeal. You need to sow the seed at younger age that you are going to reap when you grow old. So when you waste your youthful age, you pay for it down the line. Not all rosy: There was an agony period. I went through different things in life but you know, it is easy to talk about success, you just tell all the good sides but I can tell you that I had rough times growing up. Even when I started my business, there was a time things went bad. A young man was asked to differentiate between finish and complete and he said; “A man who marries a good woman is complete and a man who marries a bad woman is finished. A man who marries a bad woman from a wicked family is completely finished. I thank God for my wife because after I got married, she supported me with her meager salary and we lived peacefully. So it’s all about determination to believe that with God, all things are possible and that you can succeed. We have been able to build an institution today called Coscharis Group of Companies. Our success story sounds actually incredible, it is like a paradox; the reality is that it stares you in the face that you cannot dispute it and it leaves a clear example that with dogged determination, and a sense of purpose, anybody can achieve his goal. Entrepreneurship programme in school: It is a step in the right direction. Like I said, although mine was not through a formal school, but my mother did exactly what you are referring to. She did not just inspire me to success but at the age of five, I was already hawking. People do not believe it. I will get up in the morning to go and sell akara before going to school. That was in elementary one. People would see me and say, ‘who is sending this child out?’ They looked at me as a child that was being abused but my mother discovered the entrepreneurial capability in me. I learnt to smile at people, get their favour and sell things to them; so I have been selling all my life. So growing up to become an adult selling, I know exactly what the customer expects. He wants service, he wants a good smile, somebody who can explain, invalidate their objections and tell them why they should deal with him. So if it is incorporated into the curricula, I think that will be a right foundation for our people. What that will do is to create more people who are independent-minded. We all have an inherent capability God has put in us to be creative so we need to get to a point where we should begin to challenge our imagination. It was Napoleon that said ‘Imagination conquers the world,’ and Ivan Aston said ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’ and when you get to a position where you can task your mind to start thinking, that is actually being creative, that is being like God. That is why God said ‘BE FRUITFUL’, a demand on the potential He has put in man. But in the African context, people think about making babies whenever you talk about being fruitful. But in brain work, they are not fertile. People do not task their brains to give birth to ideas. Everything we enjoy today is somebody’s brainchild – electricity, automobiles, airplane, computers etc. Somebody thought and created them. Mono product economy: Way forward: The truth is ‘No light, No future’. Energy is power. When God started the work of creation, the first thing He said was ‘Let there be light and there was light.’ God did not say let there be seed, when there was light, because the seed was already in the heart of the earth, the light came on it and the seed sprung up. If we don’t solve the power problem in Nigeria, we are living in a dark age. That is fundamental to everything. Once there is light, many industries will spring up. Many things are dependent on it so the authorities should know that they need to fix power. It is wrong that we are all depending on oil because before the advent of oil, Nigeria’s economy depended on agriculture and many Yoruba elites went to school on scholarship from Cocoa Board. The Easterners with their palm plantations, did what they did with Okpara and the northerners with their groundnut pyramids. This nation is blessed. We have eight climatic conditions and we can farm eight times in a year. Malaysians came here to take oil palm seedlings and today, if you go to Malaysia, palm oil contributes 30 per cent of the GDP. They have crude oil but that contributes only about 30 per cent of the revenue, other things come from agriculture, tourism etc. So we know what to do but we mismanage things because we lay too much emphasis on oil and sharing oil revenue, therefore, so many people have become lazy and other aspects of our lives are actually being wasted. There is so much disequilibrium between the rich and the poor today, everybody wants to migrate to the cities, the rural areas are neglected so they are not attractive to people. So it is a problem that needs to be solved but the leaders need to think right and begin to put things in order. They need to make the rural areas attractive for people to come back and stay and be able to make a decent living so that everyone does not migrate to the city. For the first time, I see the government is not paying lip service to power. I think they are on the right course. Finally, PHCN has been unbundled and they are going to be selling it. They just need to attract private investors. It is not something Government can do anymore. The regulatory authorities should know that you don’t neglect people’s investment when you are not putting any money. I was discussing with someone recently and he told me that one of the GSM companies pays N1 billion in tax. All of these things were possible because the telecommunication industry was liberalised and there was competition so phones going for N20,000 those days have come down. In commerce, they tell you that availability comes first before affordability so the thing has to be available before you can think of whether someone can afford it or not. We are still living a wasteful life. So they should allow investors who take risk to invest in the power sector, produce and sell. Let those who want to buy, buy, and people will become more economical. Today, you do not tell people not to stay on the phone for too long because they pay. In those days that it was government phone, you could sit and cross your legs and speak for hours because you are not the one paying. Let power be available then we can talk about the cost. The same thing goes for the Petroleum industry, we should deregulate it. Deregulation is the answer. Outside of it, we are still living a wasteful life and creating a fertile ground for fraud, making few people multi-billionaires at the expense of others. Advice for President: I think our president has the right vision to make a difference; unfortunately, never in the history of this country has any president been distracted like himself so it is unfortunate that he met a situation like this but I see him as a very courageous man who is very resolved in spite of all of the things that have been done to break his spirit, he is still very determined to make a difference. The situation we find ourselves in, in this country today is unprecedented. It should distract anybody and you cannot talk about economic development in insecurity, when you are not sure you will be alive the following day or the citizenry will be alive the following day. So the Boko Haram issue has been a clog in the wheel of progress. Nevertheless, I am still very impressed that he is determined to make a difference, the situation he finds himself notwithstanding.