By Gift Gabriel
The Chairman/CEO of Coscharis Group of Companies and sole distributor for BMW in Nigeria, Dr. Cosmas Maduka, has a success story filled with intrigues. Imagine a seven-year old boy going to serve as an automobile apprentice because of poverty! Who could ever have imagined the outcome of such for this Nnewi-born business tycoon?
At age four, Cosmas Maduka lost his father, and therefore started hawking bean cake (akara) and climbing palm trees before the age of five, to assist his mother. Three years later when life became more miserable, his mother had to send him to her parents to lessen the task of providing for him and the other three children. By the time he was seven, little Cosmas was withdrawn from Elementary Three to serve as an automobile apprentice to a maternal uncle in Lagos.
“My maternal uncle lived at Ebutte-Metta in Lagos and had a store at 88 Griffy Street, near Oyingbo Bus-stop. He took me to work as an apprentice for him, and people laughed at me and questioned what I could learn at my age”, he recalls.
His uncle had no home of his own but stayed with a friend, and Cosmas spent the nights in the store while he went home with the key.
As common with many young people, Cosmas had along the line drifted from the Catholic faith shown him early in life by his mother and had taken to trivialities like smoking and drinking. He, however, found Christ again through a friend who led him to the Redeemed Christian Church of God at Ebutte-Metta while still in Lagos, and, this time, he was dead set on serving the Lord.
Having mastered his craft effectively by the age of nine, Cosmas would single-handedly travel to Nnewi to purchase items for his boss and, by the age of 14, he was smart enough to be sent to work in one of their branches at Sokoto and, later, at Nnewi! Little Cosmas was actually working without any contractual agreement with his uncle.
Something eventful happened at Nnewi in 1975, and that marked a new beginning for young Cosmas. “While at Nnewi at age 14, we had a church camp which I went for and when my boss came on the fourth day to the shop and didn’t meet me, he sent for me and my elder brother that evening and then gave me N200, saying I should go and concentrate on my new found faith.
“It was done to punish me, but having known a little about God, I looked at him in the eyes and said, `God hardened the heart of Pharaoh to show His might in the land of Egypt. I served you well, and I don’t deserve this. But if this is what you have to offer me, five years from today, you will be amazed at what you’re going to see out of this”, he painfully recalls.
He continues: “I’ve always been very positive from my childhood and this often made people laugh at me to scorn. I still recollect those days at Oyingbo Bus-stop when school children would mock me, and I would tell them I was going to be better than them in six years. I do not know why I was so confident, but the truth is that my mother inspired and encouraged me always.” He thereafter teamed up with his elder brother who had concluded apprenticeship to set up a company, Maduka Brothers, selling spare parts. They had to part later due to ideological differences. His capital then was N300.
The big break
With that, he started his my own enterprise by coming to Lagos to buy goods. “I had my first breakthrough when I went to Boulous Enterprises to purchase motorcycle spare parts. I stumbled on a new innovation, motorcycle crash ban, and I bought several and then removed the address of Boulous from the carton so that others would not know where I bought them from.
“I sold everything the next day and joined the night bus again to Lagos to buy more. I did that four times in one week and my capital rose from N300 to over N3,000. I settled down in marriage at age 19, and I ventured into importation with the little capital I had. Lo and behold, I received the wrong consignment and therefore, had a serious setback which left me indebted even to my landlord for months. My shop was also locked.”
Dignity in labour
Having grown up to believe in the dignity of labour, Cosmas was not ashamed to start all over. He searched out a scale which he got as a wedding gift, took it to the market, and from everyone who climbed it, he got 10kobo. His wife cried when she knew what her husband was going out to do every day. She decided to pick up a job to support the family while Cosmas gradually built up another business capital through the scale.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life, but the grace of God has been sufficient. Unfortunately, when a lot of people look at me today, they think I was born Coscharis. I believe life is not so much about what happens to you, but about the opportunities and obstacles God puts in your way to get the best out of you”, he says.
Later on when he had gathered enough capital, Cosmas teamed up with a friend, David, to set up a company called CosDave. “I formed Coscharis when Dave and I also parted ways due to some ideological differences. Coscharis is a combination of three letter words from my name and that of my wife, Charity. The real breakthrough came in that same year in 1982 when the Nigerian government decided to grant import licenses to ten motor companies and Coscharis Motors was selected! We’ve continued to expand since then, and we now have several subsidiaries”, he explains.
Success, a journey
From his experience, Cosmas advises: “You can start any mean job as a stepping stone to where you want to be. The best skill you need is simply the ability to manage money properly and rely on God for grace. Blackberry is somebody’s brain child; same with Nokia. Unfortunately, many of us do not want to have brain children. Truly, many young people need to be completely reoriented because they have wrong conceptions of what it takes to be wealthy.
“They hit the wall because they search for success in wrong places like Yahoo Yahoo. Why not be practical about life if white collar jobs are not coming to you as a graduate? Learn to set goals for yourself! There are millions of jobs you could train yourself to do! If it takes serving as an apprentice, do it. Many of us die of frustration because we do not want to pay the price.
“I have five children and I ensure they go to school in Nigeria despite that some of them are American citizens, because I believe they need to learn street smartness! My oldest son graduated from the University of Lagos, and till age 25, he didn’t have a car because I didn’t give him any! He has done his MBA abroad, and now works with one of the banks in Nigeria. He now earns his own money and can buy himself whatever car he desires!”