Listening to Dr. Cosmas Maduka is like listening to a lecture at Harvard Business School. Very rich, engaging and quite inspiring.
To have built a conglomerate like Coscharis (established in 1982) meant hard work, determination and resilience. “It meant having a drive and a passion to succeed. “When you want to succeed in life, you must have an allergy to failure. I did. I lost my father at the age of four and we had only our mother trying her best to raise us. We experienced poverty and I started hawking at the age of six. By the age of seven, I had learnt how to climb and cut palm tree for elderly women and I charged them three pence.
I became a breadwinner at an early age. All along, I had a passion to make a difference. I brought the money home to my mother and when she could not cope, she sent me to live with my grandparents. From there, my uncle took me to Lagos to be an apprentice. His spare parts shop was at Ebute-Meta. I slept in the shop and I recall some children mocking me on their way to school. They laughed at me for sleeping in the shop but I told myself that I would be better than them in the next six years.
“There was no formal education, but I went to school up to elementary 3. Though not enough, I tried to do some research and find out how I could take some parts from a Volkswagen car and fix into a Honda. I was always curious to know which automobile parts could work on another brand. For three years, I worked tirelessly with my uncle and he opened a branch in Jos. I went there to manage it, he opened another one in Sokoto, I was there and I became a born again Christian,” he recalls.
The Coscharis Group has the franchise of over eight automobile brands and also sells automobile spare parts. Other subsidiaries exist too. Coscharis Technology, Coscharis Foods and Beverages, Coscharis Medicals and Coscharis Agro-Allied. The Nnewi, Anambra-born businessman would not forget the experience that saw him breaking loose from apprenticeship to being an entrepreneur. He reminisces:
“My uncle opened another branch in Nnewi, again, I moved there and I became a new personality entirely then, I was just 14 years old. When he discovered that I was leaving his shop unattended to, he disengaged me with just N200! This was a man I served for seven years without any contractual agreement and I never stole his money once. I told him as I collected the money, ‘five years from now, you would be amazed at what God would do with this N200.’
“So, I teamed up with my brother, who passed Standard Six, to establish a company called, Maduka Brothers but some months after, we differed in ideologies and parted ways. We didn’t make enough money but I had N316 and someone gave me his shop for free. So, I started there and came to Lagos to buy crash bars, went back to the East and sold everything. The same night, I travelled back, bought more and made some money. I bought a motorcycle.”
Dreams die hard. Maduka was a dreamer (he remains one anyway). His is a story of visions and dreams. “One day,” he recalls. “I had gone to Lagos to buy my goods when I passed through the AG Leventis building in Oyingbo. I said to the man walking with me, ‘One day, I will build something like this.’ He looked at me and wondered if it was the boy sleeping in a shop talking like this. I have always believed that whenever you have a goal, you work towards it. Many young people don’t have dreams and they don’t have destinations. A destination is where you are going and not shifting from the path. In fact, when I got money to build a house, I didn’t build in Ajegunle like my people did. Instead, I built Coscharis Plaza (my first building in Lagos) on Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island. I was a tenant when I built that house.”
The father of five (four boys and a girl) would always tell you that his sufferings would not make him expose his children (his first-born is 25) to any luxury. “It’s laughable that some parents throw money at their children,” he observes. After graduation, my sons wanted to join the company but I opposed it. I told them to work elsewhere and get the experience. In fact, the first just got a car because I refused giving him any car until he finished his post-graduate studies and got a job. I have always told them that you don’t need sense to spend money; it’s making it that requires sense. They see me as too strict but I don’t think so. My idea of life is not what happens to you but what happens in you. I didn’t have any formal education but I have been to Harvard for courses. I read books and I don’t watch television at all. As a matter of fact, there is no television set in our home. I raised my kids not having a TV and I encourage them, including my wife, to read newspapers”.
Back to the days of small beginnings in his business, Maduka remembers relocating to Lagos from Nnewi. “I teamed up with a friend and we established a company called Cosdave. By 1982, we parted ways and I started afresh with Coscharis, which was coined from my name, Cosmas and my wife’s, Charity. We started the automobile business, became employers of labour and by 1992, we made enough money to set up a branch in Ghana. Then, another one came up in Gabon and Ivory Coast.”
He talked about his weight loss success. “Now, I feel like a 19-year-old boy, says amidst laughter. “I was fat. In fact, I had pains. So, I watched what and how I ate. I also did a lot of exercises (I still do). I walk a lot and I also ride on my power bike. I come from a family of riders— my mother, my sisters and grandparents had ‘okadas’. When I lost weight, I was excited. The only disadvantage was that I could not wear some of my designer suits again. Really, I love wearing suits.”
Question: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
Answer: “Success is not an event, it’s a process. It is not a product of chance, it is characterised by dream and visions, which when you nurture, becomes a reality. Go for your dreams.