By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Chief Charles Mba is the Chief Executive Officer of CDV Properties and Development Limited, a real estate development company. In this interview, Mba, who clocks 50 today, tells his story, revealing how he became one of the biggest real estate gurus in Nigeria.
You are 50 today…
It is great to be 50. I regard it as a golden age. It is half time. Even in the Bible, 50 is golden. Attaining 50 years means a lot to me. It is a time someone could say that he has advanced reasonably in life. I feel great at 50. But at heart, I feel as if I am 40 years old. I don’t feel I am 50. My birth certificate is 50 years but when I think, I think more than a 50-year-old. When I act, I act like a 40-year-old. God has granted me good health. I don’t have any kind of underlying ailment. I have no issues. So, I feel great to be 50.
Are you fulfilled at 50?
I feel fulfilled. I am so grateful to God for keeping me alive till 50. I have lost some friends. Even at the age of 40, some died. I have lost close friends who didn’t get to 50 but for me, the most precious thing God has done for me is keeping me alive and healthy to attain 50 years. I know he will continue to keep me until I am 100 years old. I have achieved a lot. I have done so well in my area of discipline and other areas. God has been so kind to me and things have been working so perfectly for me.
When you talk about achieving a lot, do you mean materially?
The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively. So, achievements generally could not necessarily be achievements in terms of material things. There is a way I look at achievement. How many people have you impacted in life? How have you changed situations around you? These are areas where one needs to perform well before he is called an achiever. We have been able to give scholarships to different people, especially indigent people. We have been able to train people who are graduates.
Today, they are fending for themselves. Some are employed in our establishment, working for us and earning a living. These are civil engineers that graduated from reputable universities. We have been able to take care of people including the sick and the needy. We have also been able to provide amenities for our community. We have been able to construct roads. We are building a church. These are what I call achievements, not personal acquisitions.
We have expanded our company, CDV Property and Development Limited. We have built the company from scratch to where it is today. And by the grace of God, it is one of the outstanding building and real estate companies in Lagos. We have delivered a lot in the industry.
Can you share the memories of your early years with us?
I was born on December 4, 1971. I was born in Nsukka, Enugu State. It is a university community. That is the town that houses the University of Nigeria. I had my primary school in Nsukka and also my secondary education at St. Theresa’s Secondary School, Nsukka. I proceeded to the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I read Microbiology. Growing up in Nsukka was a lovely experience.
It is indeed a lovely place. It was a place that molded me to become who and what I am today. I am from Orba in Enugu State and you know our people naturally are good. We are very resilient and forthright.
We are highly respectful, sincere and we were taught a lot of morals. We take things easy and are never in a hurry to make money or do anything evil to achieve greatness. We were taught that hard work leads to success and that was the way I grew up. I was born in an average family with a civil servant father while my mother was a caring housewife. We had that basic home training of an average family where we had very close and tight family values. We were all brought up with discipline and did everything together as a family. My parents weren’t that rich but they made us believe that there is dignity in labour and that with determination we could be whatever we want to be. We could achieve our dreams and that is why everybody in the family is doing his or her best. We were trained to have self-confidence, self-reliance, believe in ourselves and believe in what we can do and not depend on people for arms. We learned to always be the best at whatever we do.
So, that is the way we were taught while we were growing up. I imbibed it and till today it is working out. I believe I can do it once I remain focused and keep my eyes on the ball. I will achieve what I want to achieve. My growing-up experience molded me so well. More importantly, the university I went to assisted a great deal. We had good lecturers and a serene learning environment. We were taught very well and today the results are obvious.
How did a microbiologist become a leading name in Nigeria’s real estate sector?
I like watching things grow. I like to watch things move from one point to the next point. I liked playing with objects as a child. I never knew I would end up in the real estate sector. I thought I would be a medical doctor. I intended to study Medicine but I ended up where I am today. But I always had this building tendency in me. I grew up dismantling and rebuilding things. As a child, I liked playing with objects and drawing different designs of homes. So, that habit of building by myself made me embrace the building profession.
The first house I built, I was building it to live in it, but somebody came and said he was interested. He asked if I could sell the house to him. I agreed and sold the house to him. I bought another piece of land and started building again. You know when you are building to live, you put in all the best in the house and that is still my secret till today. Any house I am building, I build it as if I would live there. I want to make sure I use the best of standards so that even if someone doesn’t buy it, I would be proud to own it. I can confidently tell you that this is my house and I will keep it for myself. From that moment, we started building houses to be sold.
My turning point was when I moved from high-profile buildings to medium-income homes. Though we started well in building luxurious houses, when the economy of the country started nose-diving, we switched to building affordable homes that more people can acquire because the economy wasn’t good enough to support the market for luxurious homes anymore. So, that was when we developed this idea of building terrace houses which are cheaper, affordable and less expensive for people to buy. When you watch the population of the country and you watch the distribution of wealth, you would see that the people in the average class are more than the people that can afford luxury. The market is huge in that average class. Switching to affordable terraces was the turning point for the company.
When you look back, would you say there were things you would have done differently?
There is nobody who doesn’t have what he wished for in life. It may not be regret in that sense, but not doing what one wanted to do at the right time isn’t fulfilling. The only thing I call regret is that I would have studied Civil Engineering instead of studying Microbiology. But I have made up for that. I have employed the best civil engineers working with us. I would have been so much fulfilled if I was a professional civil engineer. Apart from that, there is no regret as every other thing has been moving according to plans.
Did you embrace philanthropy simply because it is fashionable among the rich?
When we were growing up, I saw all the challenges people encountered. I saw poverty. I saw intelligent people who couldn’t go to school because their parents could not afford it. I saw smart kids who dropped out and today they are riding Okada and tricycles. It was not because they are not smart but because there is nobody to take care of them. I saw people who were held back in hospitals because they couldn’t pay hospital bills. I saw all those things. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that it was time to give those people the basic things they need. It is always nice giving back to society.
We started giving qualified students scholarships to study professional courses in the university. We have a board whose duty is to conduct the interviews, verify the students and make sure they are worthy of the programme and also ready to go to school. After that, we would give the person a scholarship on behalf of the company. There was a time we had a terrible experience. That was about five years ago when one of the beneficiaries got admission to study Medicine at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. This guy’s result was excellent. The guy enrolled in medicine, we trained him in the first year, second year and third year. We didn’t know the guy failed the second MB and dropped out of school. We were still paying and sending money to him. Eventually, one day, one of his classmates called me. I did not know how she got my number. She told me that this boy was no longer in school and that she noticed that the boy had been collecting money from me. I quickly called my coordinators and they went to his school and verified. It was true, this guy was out of school for almost two years and we have been running bills on him for those two years, waiting for him to graduate and become a medical doctor. So that was how we stopped the payment.
Notwithstanding, it did not make us change our attitude to others but now we have put a stiffer means of checking that kind of people. When we are training anyone anywhere, we put proper checks to be sure he or she is truly going to school and still doing well in the school. It gives me joy to see people go to school and come out because that is the first investment and first capital every human being needs. That is someone’s first start-up capital. Once one has education, that knowledge makes the person versatile and he will excel once he is focused and committed.
My advice for young people is to stay away from drugs. Drugs are ruining our kids these days. Our younger generation should stay off drugs so that they would be normal and act like normal human beings. What I see on the streets now is horrible and if not properly checked, it might ruin the nation. A lot of young kids are going into hard drugs.
What do you think could be responsible for that?
If the country is frustrating you, would you further frustrate yourself by going into drugs? It doesn’t make sense for you to further frustrate yourself. You should try and find a way to come out of the frustration by being self-reliant and focused on what you can do to bring a change. There is no job that doesn’t give returns. For instance, a welder starts with nothing but it doesn’t take long for him to buy a car, land and build a house. It is because he is committed to his job. It is the same with bricklayers and carpenters. Tillers come from Cotonou, they come here and in a short time they buy cars and build houses for themselves from what they make in Nigeria. But when you are on drugs, you can’t do all these types of technical jobs.