I STARTED COSCHARIS GROUP WITH JUST 200 NAIRA
Have you ever read the story of how Coscharis started?
The story of How Cosmas Maduka , the billionaire founder of Coscharis Group started is a confirmation that neither family background, educational qualification, nor age can hinder a man who is determined. After losing his father at the age of 4 hawking to support his family at the age of 6 and dropping out of school for lack of support at the age of 9 Cosmas Maduka did not allow any of these to deter him, rather he went ahead to build a conglomerate that is today worth about $800 million dollars and ranked among the top 10 richest Nigerians.
How did he achieve this type of feat? Did he perform magic or were there things he did right when he started Coscharis that brought him this far?
Spending money does not require sense but making it does – Cosmas Maduka
“When you want to succeed in life, you must have an allergy to failure”. That was the introductory sentence from the man Cosmas Maduka. A man who was sacked with only NGN200 for serving his God as an apprentice. But Cosmas turned that NGN200 to a conglomerate worth over Five Hundred Million dollars in just over thirty years.
HAWKING TO SURVIVE
Cosmas Maduka was born to the family of Mr.Peter and Mrs.Rose Maduka. He was born in the city of Jos, Northern Nigeria on 24th December, 1958. Unfortunately he lost his father at the age of four. Poverty quickly settled as a permanent member of the family. With six children to cater for, his mother had to enlist Cosmas and his brother in the hawking of her products – bean cake popularly known in Nigeriar as akara. So Cosmas was already hawking at the tender age of six.
It was not only hawking of akara that Cosmas could do, he would do any legitimate business that will fetch him some money to support the family. At a very early age in life circumstances had forced him to become a breadwinner. He would work in other people’s farms to be paid or climb palm tree for elderly women who will pay him three pence for his services.
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But even with all of Cosmas’ hard work and support, it was still difficult for the family of seven to cope. The earning from this family business was insufficient to pay all their bills, particularly school fees. So young Cosmas had to drop out of school at the age of nine, he was just in primary three then and that was the end of formal education for him as a child.
FROM HAWKING TO APPRENTICESHIP
And when it was becoming more and more unbearable the mother sent Cosmas to live with his grandparents. From there, his maternal uncle took him to Lagos to be an apprentice. The uncle had a spare parts shop at 88 Griffith Street Ebute-Meta, near Oyingbo Bus-stop. Because his uncle had no home of his own but stayed with a friend, Cosmas had to spend the nights in the store while his uncle went home with the key to open again the next morning.
“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. Even customers laughed and made jest of me as they will always query my ability to learn anything at such a young age.” He recalls.
Cosmas soon proved not just a fast learner but a promising entrepreneur and his uncle was observant enough to note that. Despite not having “enough” formal education, he tried to do some research and find out how he could take some parts from a Volkswagen car and fix them into a Honda. He was always curious to know which automobile parts would work on another brand. For three years, he worked tirelessly in that business with his uncle.
LEADING FROM BEHIND
Under Cosmas’ stewardship the business did so well that his uncle opened another store in Jos. Cosmas had already proved himself good enough that the uncle could send him to go and manage the Jos branch, he soon did a good job there that his uncle opened another branch in Sokoto and once again he was moved to Sokoto. Cosmas was there in Sokoto when he met the ‘giver of life’ and he became a born again Christian, he recalls. But that experience was soon going to ‘turn soar’. He reminisces:
“My uncle opened another branch in Nnewi, again, I moved there and I became a new personality entirely since I was now born again. Then, I was just 14 years old but I had already been involved in certain sins—I watched pornography, smoked, and drank. So, imagine my repentance when I discovered the truth. I was going to church and didn’t open the shop as often as I used to do.
WHAT CAN 200 NAIRA DO?
When my uncle discovered that I was leaving his shop unattended to on some evenings, his anger knew no bounds, no amount of pleading or explanation could pacify him, the result was that I was disengaged with just ₦200! This was a man I served for seven years without any contractual agreement and I never stole his money for once. I told him as I collected the money, ‘five years from now, you will be amazed at what God would do with this ₦200.” boasted Cosmas.
BUILDING FOR TOMORROW
With the abrupt end to Cosmas’ apprenticeship, going back to the mother was not an option. The mother would probably give up the ghost if she gets to hear that Cosmas has been sacked. There was equally no time for self-pity as some would resort to, as far as he was concerned, it was a challenge he was ready to face, after all he had learnt a lot working with his uncle and most of the uncle’s success could actually be attributed to him.
He immediately called the attention of his brother who was fortunate to finish and passed Standard Six, both of them teamed up to establish a company called, Maduka Brothers, but the partnership didn’t last and after some months the two brothers differed in ideologies and parted ways. “We didn’t make enough money but I had ₦316 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” recalls Cosmas. From the money made Cosmas bought a motorcycle which was of great help to the business.
Two very powerful things that worked for Cosmas was that in the absence of credit power to borrow from any financial institution, he adopted what he called ‘organic growth’ That meant re-investing every profit from the business into the business and making sure he created goodwill everywhere by religiously honouring all credit obligations. He had a large customer base that believed so much in him, so if he travelled to Lagos to buy any product, he would return to Nnewi and sell it and travel back to Lagos that same night to balance up his supplier and get more. He grew from one bar to two, from two to four, from four to eight and from eight to sixteen and so on.
DREAMS DIE HARD!
Cosmas was a dreamer. 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 with me, ‘One day, I will build something like this.’ He looked at me and wondered if it was the same boy sleeping in a shop that is talking like this.
Physically, Coscharis hadn’t started but within him the vision was clear.
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 and that is where their problem starts from. 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 then. Instead, I built Coscharis Plaza (my first building in Lagos) on Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island. I was a tenant then, but I had to build for the business”.
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He would later relocate to Lagos from Nnewi, he teamed up with a friend and they established a company called CosDave. By 1982 they parted ways and he started afresh with Coscharis. The word Coscharis was coined from his name, Cosmas and that of the wife, Charity. He started the automobile business, became employers of labour and by 1992, he made enough money to set up a branch in Ghana. Then, another one came up in Gabon and Ivory Coast as the expansion continued to spread through Africa.
DISCIPLINED AND BUSINESS-MINDEDNESS
He has always been very clear business minded, prioritizing well and avoiding ostentatious living as much as possible. Some people even accused him of been strict when he started Coscharis. Others may have even thought he was stingy. But he maintains that his background had taught him how to manage his resources judiciously. Even his family members can testify to that effect. After graduation, some of his sons wanted to join Coscharis Group but he opposed it. He told them to work elsewhere and get the experience, besides they need to prove themselves in another establishment to be qualified to manage his. In fact, he refused his first son a car insisting he must finish his post-graduate studies and get a job before he will be entitled to such luxury.
“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 being too strict but I don’t think so. My idea of life is that it is not what happens to you but what happens in you that matters. I didn’t have any formal education as a young person but today 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.” He reaffirms. I knew what it took me when I started Coscharis.
For every entrepreneur there is always a breakthrough point where everything just seems to work in your favour. Unfortunately many people give up just before they get to that point in their business. For Cosmas Maduka and his Coscharis brand, that breakthrough came in 1982, when the Nigeria government led by Shehu Shagari granted import license to ten motor companies in Nigeria and Coscharis happened to be one of those selected. He has done very well right from when he started Coscharis. But it was from this point in time that his expansion became geometrical in nature.
THE TRANSITION TO CONGLOMORATE
Mind you that today, the Coscharis group is a conglomerate with interest in diverse business areas such as banking, technology, auto sales, auto parts, health and many more, but it was not so from the beginning. In fact it was a major challenge to refuse to be distracted from the core businesses when they started recording so much success initially. For over ten years, Cosmas stuck to the business where he had cut his teeth-motor parts. He understood the “ins” and “outs” of the business so well that Coscharis became a resource pool for policy makers seeking suggestions for ways to protect Nigeria’s interest in the international auto parts trade.
When you get to the level Cosmas has reached then you will immediately be faced with so much difficulty and pains associated with making a transition from the successful one man show that you have over the years built from scratch to a structured, system driven organization. For most self-made men, it is not always easy at first to accept that system driven operations may be better than one’s own gut feeling. He was; however, ready to make that move even though he was not too sure what the outcome would be. This would prove to be one of the best business decisions he ever made.
He would later be quoted as saying “Professionalizing our operations was a critical step in our journey to conglomerate-hood. This ensured that I was not forever mired in operational matters best delegated to professionals who, with the authority attached to their positions were too willing to accept the responsibility. Though initially, that decision to professionalize the business and compete in a structured form was not an easy step for me in our growth, it would however become a major turning point in the business later on. It brought the introduction of new roles in the company for people with expertise in specific areas”.
He would recall that in those days it was difficult to secure a loan from bank as most of the banks were not there actively to help the entrepreneur but to take the little he had. “Their well-dressed officials will ask for your business plan, marketing plan, strategic plan and every other kind of plan. When you tell them you haven’t got one, they wonder how you can run a business without all those documents” he mused. So the banks were cautious as they were not ready to lose money. But by virtue of the transition, today with professional managers in the Coscharis team, the company has the capacity to anticipate what banks usually ask and look for before granting loans to indigenous operators. So it is now a choice of which bank to do business with.
SMART MARKETING MOVES
It is a common saying that “no matter how smart your ideas, products and services are if you do not have customers, you have no business irrespective of the values you seek to bring”. When you enter a line of business, you will have difficulty getting new customers because established clients already have those they patronize. Cosmas admitted that “at the beginning, it was really tough trying to sell to people who were used to buying from more established sources. And even though by the nature of the product we were selling, our potential customers were spread all over the nation.
Moving goods to the market posed (and continues to pose) a daunting challenge because of the poor road network in Nigeria. Our response was therefore to make sure we created a first class market intelligence system that helped us figure out what people were looking for before others did. It took some time to build a market perception that made customers believe Coscharis was the place to go if they were in a hurry and if others didn’t have what they are looking for. And so, rather than look for the customers; the customers looked for us. It is still so today”. He said.
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To find themselves with products for which there is no market is a luxury Coscharis couldn’t afford. That explains why they spend a lot of resources to track the market. And any product you see them parade, even if it can’t be found anywhere else, it is because there is a market for it. With this they also try to keep it very simple: know your customers and keep in touch with them.
WHERE ARE THEY TODAY?
Coscharis started with 200 naira. Today Cosmas Maduka has grown it to one of the biggest conglomerates in Nigeria. He is still the group CEO and very much involved in the day to day running of the business even though he admits that his absence no matter how long can no longer pose a bottleneck to processes. In 2015 he featured on the front cover of the highly regarded Forbes Magazine with an estimated networth of 500 million dollars. That networth as at today is about 800 million dollars. Cosmas Maduka is today regarded as one of the richest living Nigerians whose source of wealth is known to all.
Today, 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. In 2019 he unveiled a 12 billion naira rice mill in Anambra State. That project now generates over 3,000 jobs and still counting.
In 2015, Coscharis Motors became the sole distributors of the BMW in Nigeria. The company also became the first company to build an Assembly Plant of Ford Ranger in Nigeria. They also won the Auto Brand of the Year at the Marketing World Awards held in Ghana. Top 50 Brands Nigeria has rated Coscharis Group as one of the top 50 brands in the country .
Cosmas Maduka seats on the board of several reputable companies and organization. He served as a Director in Access Bank Plc’, one of Nigeria’s leading banks for 12 years between 2000–2012.
On a rather sad note, Cosmas lost his wife who has being a big part of his business and success story in their 43 years of marriage on November 27, 2021.
ADVICE FOR YOUNG AND UPCOMING ENTREPRENEURS
Mr. Maduka has this message for the Nigerian youths, “Success is not an event rather it is a process. It is not a product of chance, it is characterized by dream and visions, which when nurtured, becomes a reality. Go for your dreams.”
Knowing Cosmas story and how Coscharis started, it is always a joy to behold his face pictured on the front cover of the November 2015 edition of the highly respected Forbes Magazine. The caption of that magazine “The man that turned $1 to $500 million” tells how far he has come.
Lessons From How Coscharis Started
- If God be for you, nobody can be against you.
- Hold unto your values and your conviction even if you will lose money or position at the moment
- Hard work pays
- Never let your background define nor stop you
- Always set a goal for your life and business and let that goal drive you
“Editor’s Note: This story was first published in the book, HOW THEY STARTED by Kachi Ogbonna in 2016″.
How Coscharis started has been a great inspiration to me.
What about you?
Don’t let anything stop you from reaching your goal in life.