His father’s death when he was four years old deprived him the benefit of formal education, but with only N200 as investment capital way back in 1975, he built a conglomerate with impactful presence in many countries of the world. How did Cosmas Maduka create the Coscharis phenomenum despite the inherent challenges in his background and the vicissitude of a developing nation?
His story may not be entirely strange or unique, but it clearly signposts the thorny paths which many determined and courageous men thread in their determination to make meaning out of life. His story is very touching and perhaps, indeed, the story of Cosmas Maduka who now sits atop the multi-million Coscharis Group of Companies is worth sharing.
He lost his father, the family’s bread winner at the age of four, and his mother, a poor bean cake (Akara) seller had to single-handedly raise him and his three other siblings. At first, his mother struggled to keep the family with Cosmas and his other brothers providing the leg work, selling the bean cake. This they did for some time until it became more and more diffi cult for his mother to cope with the financial burden of raising the family. Cosmos had to drop out of school. He was sent to live with his grandparents when his mother couldn’t cope with the four of them. The grandparents supported him till elementary three when they themselves could no longer cope.
At that stage, Cosmas, who then was a little above eight years old had to join his uncle who lived somewhere in Ebute- Metta, Lagos selling spare parts. While in Ebute-Metta as an apprentice with his uncle, he started out sleeping in the store. For six years under the tutelage of his spare parts dealer uncle, Cosmas worked without salary or any form of remuneration, though he was clothed and fed by his uncle.
As he recalled, his period of apprenticeship was without written contract, it’s done with ultimate good faith where you receive a stewardship fee at the end of your contract and God helps you if you misbehaves just for one day, you would be sent packing and you will not get anything for all those years of work.
As an apprentice, Cosmas grew up with some of the bad characters mostly associated with street children. He smoked, drank, swindled and watched pornographic materials. He was very rough.
Cosmas moved to Sokoto to manage the new outlet opened by his boss and it was while in Sokoto that he met a friend named Adolphus, who tried to straighten his wayward ways. His friend introduced him to a Baptist church, but as he later admitted, the devil fought him because within two, three months after the incident, his boss recalled him to Lagos and later sent him back to Nnewi to open a new store. While at Nnewi, Cosmas met another friend, Pius Egbuawa, who continued the pastoral work in the little Cosmas’ life from where Adolphus stopped and in no time, the spare parts apprentice had fully imbibed the religious way. He no longer smokes, drink nor watch pornographic materials.
Again, it was at about that time that his boss came visiting. But when his boss was told about his new found love in evangelism, he became uncomfortable with the young Cosmas. He would rather want someone who devotes full attention to the business than the one who closes shop in pursuit of ministration. So, on the fourth day, his boss returned and requested Cosmas to come with his brother for a meeting during which he simply handed over to him, N200 for his stewardship and brought his sojourn with him to a close. That was how Cosmas’ seven year apprenticeship came to an abrupt end. The young Cosmas felt he deserved more than what his uncle offered him. Bold and courageous, rather than murmur, Cosmas complained to his uncle that after being of good service over the seven years, he deserved something better. Rather than argue with the young man, his uncle said to him ‘even if I didn’t give you any money, I believe you will succeed.’ He blessed Cosmas by giving him the hope that there was something in him that would take him to the very pinnacle of business.
Rather than despair, Cosmas picked up his pieces. He did not allow the unfortunate circumstances surrounding him hinder his drive for success:
“Of course, my father’s death affected my education. There are things that will happen to you and you may think that is the end of the world. But I must tell you that there are some of us who have turned our diffi culties into dividends and problems into opportunities. I believe that if I had gone to school, I would have made a fi rst class because I have what it takes to make it,” he reminisced. Cosmas teamed up with his elder brother to start a business called, ‘Maduka Brothers’ at Nnewi. As the business continued, Maduka Brothers relocated to Lagos. By then, his elder brother had also completed his apprenticeship and they bought motor parts from Leventis motors in Lagos, which they sold at Nnewi. Sometime in 1977, Cosmas and the brother had differences that made them part ways peacefully, thus brought to an end, the Maduka Brothers as a business entity.
Shortly after the break-up, Cosmas again teamed up with a friend, David to form another company called ‘CosDave Motors’ with a start-up capital of N10,000 which they both contributed equally. They worked so hard such that by 1978, they had about N300, 000 capital to trade with. Two years after, by 1980, the fi gure had shot up to over a million naira. Curiously, like the MadukaBrothers he set up earlier with his brother, Cos- Dave Motors’ too did not last as the partnership also hit the rock in 1981 over alleged ideological differences.
Throughout his apprenticeship days, Cosmas spent a lot of time familiarising himself with the intricacies of the spare parts business. He was so good that he was able to help people match parts from different cars where they could not fi nd their specifi c models. He invested time in being excellent at what he did. Customers discovered his excellence in the vocation and were drawn to buy from him.
In 1982, a year after the collapse of CosDave Motors’, Cosmas, now married, decided to go it alone. For him, it appeared that partnership was not his calling. He fl oated Coscharis Motors, a name formed from the combination of his name and his wife’s, Charity.
Incidentally, it was the year Coscharis Motors was formed that there was a turning point in his business. Between late 1982 and early 1983, the Federal Government introduced the import license regime. At that time, very few companies had import licenses issued by the Federal Government, and whoever wanted to import anything into the country had to go through the import license holders. At that time, Coscharis was the seventh company, among 10 motor companies, that were pencilled down to be given import license by the Ministry of Trade. He probably wouldn’t have been part of the benefi ciary, but luck and providence played the key role. Because Coscharis Motors Limited sounded like a Greek name, the government felt that being a ‘foreign” company, it would stand a chance to use the import license effectively. It was a seller’s market. The returns were astounding and Coscharis made loads of cash.
The shrewd Cosmas, known for his modest disposition, remained disciplined in spite of the boom his company experienced during the import license era. Not used to a fl amboyant lifestyle, Cosmos continued to live in his old home in the densely populated neighbourhood at Ajegunle, in Olodi Apapa, Lagos; driving a second hand vehicle even as he continue to channel his business proceeds into solid investments such as property. Many of his mates did not realize that he was sitting on loads of money. Up till date, he continues to maintain a simple, austere life, and does not engage in unnecessary purchases, nor indulge in spending sprees like most rich people do. He believes in being different, and yet remaining an inspiration and role model to the younger generation.
His words: “An average Igbo trader would build some high rise to announce to people that he had arrived. But that was not my idea. As I am talking to you, I don’t own any of such buildings but I own some few prime properties like our corporate offi ces in Lagos and Abuja and the new place I just moved into as residential quarters. I don’t want to do what everybody does; I believe I can create my own idea. I believe I can do something and become a role model and act as a source of inspiration to others”.
Today, the Coscharis Group has about ten subsidiaries and it is regarded as the numero uno in the Nigerian automobile market. Coscharis motors specialize in the sale of BMW and Land Rover, through a partnership agreement with BMW of Germany. However, it was a dream come true for Cosmos Maduka to be the sole representative of BMW in Nigeria because he personally has a penchant for BMW cars. “As an individual, I am a very dynamic person and I have always liked BMW cars. After I drove it fi rst in 1978, I fell in love with the car. It is a car that characterizes excellence. Any time you are driving it, your mind will be at rest as it moves. When you are driving a BMW on the road, you are not just standing out for status sake, but prestigiously. You are making a statement, an expression of self. So, being a sole representative of the auto company in Nigeria is a good development not only for me but for the nation,” remarked Maduka.
Coscharis is today diversifi ed into many areas including vehicle distribution, property, foods, spare parts, car rental services, medical equipment, air conditioning and engineering. The company has grown tremendously from where it started out to about $100 million (about N15.5 billion) in shareholders’ funds as at the year 2010 and is still growing.
Cosmas, an uncommon marketer has the franchise of a good number of manufacturing outlets across the globe. One of them is the America’s auto care products-ABRO. The ABRO Auto Care household product is a division of Coscharis Motors Limited saddled with the responsibility of managing Abro franchise in Nigeria. Cosmas moved Abro from a very little beginning to become a household name in Nigeria, and today, he is the biggest and best Abro distributor in the world with a network of seven branches and dealers in every city in Nigeria.
The success of Abro product in Nigeria and other parts of the world is attributed to intense consumer-oriented philosophy with management, manufacturing, sales, and distribution all dedicated to giving consumers value for their money. With a product range of less than fi ve at the inception of the brand distribution in Nigeria in 1992, Abro product portfolio has grown to more than 120 lines, making it the only one stop auto care shop in Nigeria. The number has increased systematically every year and this has helped Abro maintain its leadership position in the auto care industry.
To underscore the importance of Coscharis to his organisation, the vice president of ABRO U.S.A, Tim Demarais, in 2009, personally graced the occasion of Cosmas’ 50th birthday in Lagos, Nigeria. Demarais was full of praise for the exploit his most valuable distributor has brought to the over 65 years old company. In a special birthday address delivered by ABRO at the event which had over 1,000 guests in attendance, Demarais said: “We would like to take this opportunity to wish a belated but heartfelt birthday salutation to Cosmas and Charity Maduka on behalf of all of the members of the ABRO family in celebration of their half century mark. Dr. Maduka epitomizes the old adage that hard work, strenuous effort and smart business sense lead to success which is characteristic of all of our successful ABRO distributors worldwide”.
From the very beginning, Coscharis established a solid relationship with overseas manufacturers of genuine spare parts, mostly from Japan and other South Asian countries as well as from Europe, making it supplier of genuine spare parts.
That Coscharis has become almost synonymous with auto spare parts in Nigeria and some parts of the Central and West Africa sub region is as a result of the vast range of spare parts supplied and marketed in these regions by Coscharis. The company has elaborate operational bases in Gabon, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
Besides the auto business where Coscharis has become a household name, the Nnewi man is fast diversifying into other viable business line, including Computers and Accessories, Medical and Foods, General Goods, and Engineering.
Coscharis Technologies Limited is a subsidiary of the Group which deals in Computers and Accessories with presence in key centres of the fast growing Information technology, IT market in Nigeria. The General Goods Division remains perhaps, the youngest within the Coscharis Group. Founded in 2003, the division is saddled with the responsibility of developing and managing the general brand of Air Conditioner and Motorcycle products from manufacturers in countries like Japan, India and China among others. Coscharis noted that effort at capacity building resulted in the addition of the ABRO brand of motorcycles, Cosmos brand of air conditioner, Cosmos brand of CRT television sets, LCD, Plasma among others.
Coscharis Beverages Limited, the Group’s food and drink division came into existence about 10 years ago, blazing the trails and creating remarkable customised beverage for companies, eateries, parties, weddings, conventions, e.t.c. The company’s products include Coscharis table water, Coscharis water hot/cold dispensing machines, creamy yoghurt drink called Coscharis creamy yoghurt and the kids’ Creamy Yoghurt Drink which comes in different sizes.
CG BIOSTADT Limited is another subsidiary of the Coscharis Group which has carved a niche for itself in the area of supply and distribution of high effi cacious drugs and medicaments like immune boosters, medical laboratory equipment and HIV test kits. The company is a representative of Aloha Medicinal Inc of USA amongst others. It also acts as distributors to Syngenta Nigeria Limited and distributes products like Long Lasting Insecticide Nets (ICON LIFE) and Indoor Residual Spray (ICON 10CS & ACTELLIC 50EC). The company is also involved in rendering professional services to the health sector, especially in the areas of sales, marketing, distribution, installation and maintenance of medical and laboratory equipment. “We supplement our expertise and resources by constantly drawing upon those of more than 20 accredited manufacturers from Europe, America and Asia” he explained.
The group has also extended its business activities into the engineering sector of the economy through the CG Engineering Limited, involved in the design, construction and consulting activities for various states and institutions in the country.
Though he was not privileged to take his education beyond the elementary level, he has successfully built on the training he got from the traditional “Nnewi School of business studies” to effectively place his name in the national record as one man who defi ed all encumbrances to achieve a towering status in life. Today, he has what the circumstances of his birth and upbringing deprived him off years back as he was awarded a honourary Doctorate degree by University of Nigeria Nsukka.
However, Dr. Cosmos Maduka’s life is not all about grabbing; he says as you earn money, a portion of it must go back to those who make it possible for you to grow wealthy. So, as a social responsibility, the company invests in sports sponsorship and invest time and energy in mentoring younger managers and entrepreneurs. He helps some of his managers to start up a new division or branch and then turns the company over to them. Cosmas is very much interested in empowering people with education too. At the Nnewi Convention in Michigan, U.S.A. sometime in July 2011, Cosmas was said to have made a signifi – cant contribution of $50,000 to build an ultra modern library in Nnewi. The effort according to a participant at the forum was to ascertain that the culture of reading is reintroduced among the younger generation.
Taking a cue from his own background, Cosmas is said to be encouraging philanthropists like him to work towards bridging the gap between the elites of Nnewi and the less educated men and women. He has repeatedly emphasised the need for those who acquired education overseas to return to Nigeria and put it to use for Nigeria rather than stay outside and criticize what those in Nigeria are doing.
Cosmas remains a deeply committed christian, and attributes all his successes to the blessings of God, and his Christian faith. He maintains the values of honesty and integrity in life and business. The success story of Cosmas Maduka would be incomplete without the mention of his wife Charity who has been through the years, a partner and a pillar of strength in their lives and businesses. Charity played a key role in helping them get where they are today. The road to success has been fi lled with many challenges and in one instance in the early eighties; Cosmas lost everything he had built up due to a bad business decision. He went back to square one. Charity had to support the family by taking a job as a teacher. Slowly, they rebuilt until the business took off again.
A remarkable Nigerian, who through peerless effort, dint of hard work and enormous energy made a voyage from grass to grace. Well gifted and endowed, he has a high level of creativity and excellence in business management. Cosmas Maduka’s success secret lies is his ability to picture whatever he wants to achieve in his mind and stop at nothing to make it happen. “Unless you have a vivid picture of what you want to create in your mind, you will not be passionate about pursuing and actualising the goal. The Coscharis Group’s journey to becoming a conglomerate is the actualisation of a dream”, he said.