By Olayinka Ajayi
Zekeri Mudi Usman is the founder and CEO of Zuab Motors Ltd and co-founder of Infometriq Data Network Ltd. In this interview, Usman speaks about growing up and how to be successful in a hostile business environment like the one we have in Nigeria.
Tell us about your early life, education and family…
I was born into the family of Mr. & Mrs. Usman from Edo State. I am an alumnus of Lagos State University and having spent five years of my life in England after my undergraduate degree in LASU, I returned to Nigeria. I am happily married with one wife & three children.
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What can you tell us about growing up?
Growing up as a child, my parents never had it all but they worked to see that we the children got good education which shaped my decision to choose the path of entrepreneurship. Some of the lessons I learnt from my parents are the virtues of patience, hard work, perseverance and belief in oneself. I also learnt that one doesn’t need to cut corners to be successful. From tender age, my aspiration had been to be a successful person in life and that’s why I started business early in the year 2000. Later in 2005 I incorporated Zuab Motors. With this, I believe that, gradually, my quest to build a global and bigger brand would be fulfilled because we want to create a niche for luxury cars in our society.
What about the story of how you started in terms of business and also Zuab Motors?
I have been in business since 2000, but I started Zuab Motors in 2005 with just four cars at our head office in Lekki where I happened to be one of the first car companies on Lekki Expressway Lagos.
As an entrepreneur, there are lots of challenges on ease of doing business in Nigeria. How do you think government can address some of the issues to improve the lives of business owners?
The key role of government in creating environment that enables business growth can’t be overemphasized. It ranges from creating a stable policy framework that makes business owners feel secured about their businesses. This is one key challenge business owners face and it has further affected business growth and, in turn, reduced the country GDP. Government should as well innovate strategies and schemes that will help expose business owners to funding engagements through grants, support research and development, and host education and training programs for players in the sector.
Some of the challenges in the automobile industry include customs examination in terms of duty payment and the number of days vehicles spend at the port before being cleared. What do you think can be done to address the issues knowing that the previous government launched the 72 hours clearing initiative to decongest the ports?
It is evident that small medium scale businesses are underperforming which has greatly been caused by unstable policies. Government economic policies have greatly led to the persistent inflation we see today in the country, business owners are left with no choice than to raise the prices of goods and services.
Amid the wobbling economy following the COVID-19 pandemic, how have you managed to remain afloat in business considering that many businesses have been shut down?
I am strongly of the view that COVID-19 was for us and not against us in Nigeria; it helped to ensure that many businesses adjust to modern and global best practices that enable growth rather than our traditional approach. If business owners are able to think thoroughly they would definitely create strategies and identify opportunities within the sectors their businesses fall in. There is high demand for exotic cars; we know our target audience and we have strategies that help us get across to them. We are fully digitalized and that enables our customers to access us from any part of the country. The lockdown had no effect on us but rather exposed us to untapped opportunities within the sector.
You are a committed person to the development and growth of youths across Africa. You are also an ambassador of several youths organisations which you have supported. What is the motivation?
We all are products of our thoughts and preconceived ideas. I have always been intentional about everything I want to do. Being an entrepreneur is a challenging role in this area of the continent where you get to face unprecedented situations. But what gives me the ability to unwind is my consistent passion to be a solution provider and always getting to work with the right team. It’s smart enough to have this strong adaptive ability to survive all odds because you should always be prepared to face challenges but our approach is what makes us different. I am committed to supporting youth centric organizations because I believe there are potentials in these vibrant youths which haven’t been well managed and harnessed. The number of talents we have in the continent is massive but there are not enough pipelines connecting them to opportunities. We need financially and successful individuals. I am happy to see the number of lives I have transformed with my wealth; there is this immense joy I get. I just want to create more values directly to the youths, this is something I am passionate about.
What are your thoughts on solar powered vehicle looking at how it’s still seen as a luxury here when other nations are taking advantage of it to protect their ecosystem from carbon dioxide pollution? Does your company have any plans for solar powered vehicles in the near future?
The problem is not just about it being conceived as luxury but electric cars have challenges before they can be adopted for commercial-scale deployment. There is the challenge of high cost and the fact that the country doesn’t have EV policy yet. Zuab Motors is ready to play a key role in the electric car deployment because it truly will protect our ecosystem and reduce our dependence on crude oil.
It is believed in some quarters that some automobile dealers have illicit source of wealth such as drug and engage in other vices. Being an ambassador of change, what are your thoughts to this?
Our youths no longer want to invest in knowledge and improve on their skills. They want to make money in the fastest possible way. I can only encourage the youths to be persistent and invest more in knowledge and skills which will, in turn, make them successful. We have many successful automobile dealers whose sources of wealth are genuine; those with illicit source of wealth can decide to cover up with any form of business. It’s all about doing what is right.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are global projections that the automobile market size by 2030 will be worth 9 trillion dollars. How prepared is Zuab Motors with innovation before 2030 to remain relevant?
We are always prepared and we are assured of our relevance till 2030 and beyond. We are creating value for our business.
As an entrepreneur, how do you cope with the issue of getting dollars to import vehicles amid ongoing forex crisis?
With the new system put in place by the Central Bank, we can get forex through commercial banks although things have been tough with the devaluation of the Naira.
What is the projection of Zuab Motors and its subsidiaries for the next 5 to 10 years?
The sector has enough space for competitors and the number will keep increasing. Our projection is to become the most valuable and trusted dealer in the country.